|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD The process to evaluate the final proposals and negotiate one or two host agreements for the voters to consider started on Jan. 3 with the delivery of the proposals from MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming to City Hall.
Kevin Kennedy, the city's chief development officer, explained to Reminder Publications that he believed the initial review of the materials would take seven to 10 days. The parts of the proposals that are not confidential financial information would be posted on the city's website for public review.
He described that information as "voluminous."
Kennedy said he has two meetings scheduled this month with the mayoral advisory committee on casinos and expressed optimism that body would make a recommendation on either negotiating a host agreement with one or both casino developers. He added the committee could also request more time to make a decision.
Those agreements could be completed by March, Kennedy said, however, the city can not put them before residents for a vote until the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) gives its approval.
"Remember, we're under no real pressure to get it done," Kennedy added.
The winner of the citywide referendum would then be considered by the Gaming Commission for the sole casino license available for the four western counties. According to Elaine Driscoll of the MGC, only four casino developers MGM, Penn, Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Racecourse have paid the required $400,000 fee at press time. The deadline to pay the fee in order to be considered by the MGC is Jan. 15.
Michael Mathis, MGM Resorts vice president of Global Gaming Development, released a statement that read, "MGM is excited to have reached this important milestone in the city's casino selection process. We believe we have provided a comprehensive response to the city's [request for proposals] that will exceed expectations and provide a significant value to Springfield residents."
MGM's final plan includes more details on its planned $800 million development on three blocks in the city's South End neighborhood. According to the statement, "The MGM Springfield plan envisions a revived Main Street area with people walking along vibrant tree-lined streets overflowing with restaurant choices, a variety of shopping options for everyone in the family, an outdoor stage, movie theaters, a casino and hotel that all respect and complement the area's existing iconic architecture. It also includes plans for an enhanced Riverfront Park, which is in close proximity to the proposed project, and integration of a revitalized Union Station."
The MGM plan would create "more than 3,000 permanent direct jobs, 2,000 construction jobs, generate millions in annual tax revenues, and spur economic development in Springfield."
As of press time, Penn National officials had not released a statement about its proposal for a casino that would be located at the site of the Peter Pan bus station and The Republican building.
According to a story last week published by the Boston Business Journal, "Springfield, Mass., which has among the highest unemployment rate in the Bay State, had the largest percentage drop in construction employment nationwide over the past year at 27 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of U.S. Labor Department data."
The timing for the final proposals also came at the same time the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield released what its members identified as the "main issues" the business community has with casino development in the city. They are:
• "A preferential procurement program for goods and services from Springfield businesses is needed with targeted and measurable goals.
• "Employing those unemployed and underemployed who reside in market rate housing in Springfield, now or in the future, will assist in rejuvenating the vitality of the city.
• "The enhancement of downtown development and Springfield at large is critical to continued economic development. The Chamber is strongly vested in the Urban Land Institute study done five years ago and will be looking at the continuation of those plans for development of the State Street/Main Street corridor, as well as other areas of the city.
• "Public safety, education and the promotion of a positive image of the city continue to be important issues to the business community."
Chamber President Jeffrey Ciuffreda said, "On behalf of its more than 550 members, the Springfield Chamber Board of Directors expressed its support for a Springfield-based casino development with the understanding that the business community still had some unanswered questions and were in the midst of formulating its concerns. After much due diligence, we continue to support such an economic development project but express some concerns, which we hope will be addressed by both Mayor [Domenic] Sarno and the Gaming Commission when making its determinations on the final casino licensing."
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