|By Carley Dangona
The town of West Springfield and Hard Rock New England announced the completion of the Host Community Agreement on July 11.
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Just days before voters considered the MGM Springfield proposal and despite Massachusetts Gaming Commission chair Stephen Crosby’s cautioning that communities slow down, the town of West Springfield completed its own Host Community Agreement (HCA) on July 11.
At a press conference, Mayor Gregory Neffinger and Hard Rock New England (HRNE) officials announced an agreement had been reached. In the HCA, HRNE commits to spending a minimum of $800 million on the project, which includes nearly $42 million of payments and investments prior to the opening of the venue, to improve infrastructure and support community development within the town.
“I think we’ve signed a unique HCA that looks beyond West Springfield and makes this a project that benefits Springfield, Agawam and all the other communities around us,” Neffinger said.
Immediately following the July 11 announcement, the City Council conducted a special meeting and voted to move forward with the application process before the MGC completes the vetting process of each applicant.
City Council President Kathleen Bourque said the next step is to give voters the chance to voice their opinions by means of a special referendum election.
Brian Griffin, vice president of the council and chair of its Casino Mitigation subcommittee, said the subcommittee members will spend the interim seeking answers to questions that arise about the HCA.
On July 12, the Town Clerk’s office received a request to conduct the vote on Sept. 10, prior to this year’s Big E. The council is responsible for setting the date and will consider the matter at a special meeting, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 5.
In the HCA, HRNE promises to spend a minimum of $35 million to alleviate traffic congestion. HRNE committed to creating primary access to its site from U.S. Route 5 with an interchange south of the Memorial Bridge Rotary.
In addition to its pledge to abide by all applicable taxes, fees, licenses and permitting, HRNE will pay a Property Assessment Fee of $15 million annually to the town to support “blighted commercial areas” as designated by Massachusetts law. The fee shall increase between 1 and 2 percent yearly beginning in the sixth year of operations.
The Property Assessment Fee would be paid in lieu of “any and all real and personal property taxes.” If chosen, HRNE and the town will seek to establish legislation to authorize the payment in place of the tax liability.
The HCA gives HRNE the right to enter “good faith negotiations” with the town regarding the Property Assessment Payment, the Impact Fee and the fixed payments of the Community Benefit Payments if the Commonwealth increases the rate of taxes and/or fees on gaming revenue.
The first Community Development Grant of $400,000 was awarded to the town on July 16. Neffinger said he plans to ask the City Council to approve the use of the funds to purchase the Elks property.
If the HRNE proposal is supported by voters and is chosen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, HRNE will pay a second Community Development of $250,000 to support local operations such as the Senior Center, the West Springfield Public Library and the School Department.
HRNE will also pay $4 million to the town in quarterly installments to increase the staffing and equipment of the Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Service Departments prior to the opening of the site.
The HCA states HRNE will establish a Regional Partners Fund that will pay an estimated amount of $3 million annually that will rotate among West Springfield, Springfield, Agawam, Holyoke, Chicopee and Westfield for capital improvement projects.
The HCA states that HRNE will work in create “cooperative marketing relationships” with surrounding venues including the Majestic Theater, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall and City Stage.
There is a clause in the HCA that indemnifies the town of West Springfield from “any and all claims, actions, proceedings or demands brought against the city, its agents, departments, officials, employees, insurers or successors, by any third party in connection with entry into this agreement…”
HRNE anticipates the creation of 3,000 permanent jobs, and has committed to the creation of the Western Training and Education Opportunity Task Force that will work in conjunction with Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College, Lower Pioneer Valley Career and Technical Education Center, the Workforce Development Center, the University of Massachusetts, Westfield State University and others to hire directly from the Western Massachusetts area.
Griffin said, “The document the mayor created is a good document. He took the subcommittee’s recommendations to heart.”
He described the HCA as “the largest contract in the history of West Springfield, if not the region. It’s very, very generous.”
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