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Narkewicz doesn’t realize the golden opportunity he’ll have when MGM opens


Jan. 15, 2014
By G. Michael Dobbs

news@thereminder.com

OK, I can easily buy the MGM casino will have a real impact on Chicopee, West Springfield and Longmeadow. Although I congratulate Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse for getting some coin out of the company as well, I’m less inclined to buy the argument that the Paper City will somehow be affected by MGM.

Northampton, though – the arts and college town a full 20 miles north – will see some negative effect? Really?

The Daily Hampshire Gazette has reported that Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz has said a city-commissioned study showed the arts town would lose between $4.4 million and $8.8 million annually and would lose between 90 and 180 jobs.

According to the story written by Chad Cain, the study “derived its estimates by analyzing the total number of casino visitors from within an hour’s drive of Springfield; the amount of recreational spending to occur at the casino on such things as gambling, meals, lodging and entertainment; and the amount of recreational spending that will shift from Northampton to the casino.”

Cain quoted the study that stated, “If the casino were to open, it is likely that some portion of future investment will be directed to Springfield, in lieu of Northampton, to capitalize on the growth in visitation and increased demand for retail services around the casino.”

The issue with this approach is that in other affected communities the money they receive from MGM is to address traffic and other infrastructure concerns caused by traffic. How would Narkewicz divide mitigation funds among affected businesses?

I don’t know how anyone could really say that current visitors to Northampton would be in the same demographic group as the most likely casinos customers. How do we know how many people who come to the Paradise City Arts Festival, the Three County Fair, and events at Iron Horse, the Calvin or Smith College are the same people within a 100 miles who will say, “Hey, I’ve got a full tank of gas, a credit card with some wiggle room and an inclination to roll the dice – literally.”

Have the two Connecticut casinos hurt programming at the Bushnell in Hartford? Have the cultural offerings in New Haven been affected? What about the slots facilities in Rhode Island? Have they hurt cultural businesses in Providence?

Hey, I like Noho a lot. I worked at the Gazette – something I’m sure no one there would like to admit – and my wife and I lived there when we were first married. We enjoy going to Northampton.

I cannot see, though, how the kind of entertainment, dining and culture that represents the Northampton experience will be adversely affected over the long term.

Yes, when MGM opens in three or so years there will be a huge curiosity factor in play for a year, I would imagine. Will that take some money away from some Hampden County business? I’m afraid it might. That first year might be a rough one for restaurants and other attractions here locally.

What Northampton offers though is so singular in this region that it’s damn near impossible for me to see people really have to chose between the type of entertainment there and the glitz and ballyhoo of MGM Springfield.

Narkewicz doesn’t realize the absolute golden opportunity he will have when MGM opens. Northampton will be the counter programming to the casino. It will represent the alternative. It will be everything that MGM isn’t and it will attract an audience because of that.

Of course, all of the surveys and all of the commentaries have seemed not to take in account the real development issue in Springfield to lose sleep over: when and how Interstate 91 will be repaired or re-designed.

***


Speaking of I-91, the word seems to be a new design for the highway will be bring it below street level, but not put it in an uncovered tunnel for the part – not all of it – of the roadway that is now elevated.

It’s an interesting concept and apparently that approach could offer a solution to the problem of how Springfield’s downtown could better connect to the riverfront.

What do you think is the correct approach?

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.



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