| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – If the obvious progress on the construction of the MGM Springfield casino was offering enough proof the nearly $1 billion project was swiftly moving forward, then the string of announcements made on Sept. 27 and 28 underscored it.
Michael Mathis, the president and COO of MGM Springfield, led his team in updating the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at its meeting on Sept. 28. He said that since the casino was now about a year out from opening “it’s appropriate to share a little more detail.”
At a press conference on Sept. 27, city and MGM officials announced the 95 percent completion in design point had been reached.
With the Gaming Commission the next day, Mathis discussed some of the retail spaces and how they would be used. The corner of State and Main streets, now the home to Focus Springfield, will not change in the foreseeable future with the city’s cable TV channel staying for the time being. Because of the prominence of that corner, Mathis said, “We want to get that one right.”
Mathis said MGM is considering adding an entrance to the corner of the MassMutual Center at the corner of State and Main, across from its campus.
Speaking about other retail locations, he said at the former offices of Develop Springfield on Main Street would be a “local tenant.” Other retail locations include a salon, and a jewelry store – a “local regional operation.”
Sarah Moore, the vice president of brand marketing and retail, announced that Kringle Candle would be the tenant for the former First Spiritualist Church building. That company’s presence will involve both retail with some offerings of food and drink.
Mathis said the selection of vendors “works both ways … they want to protect their brand as much as we want to protect our brand.”
He described the process to select vending partners as “very competitive” and added in relation to Kringle Candle “the minute they saw the building we knew we had them.”
Mathis also explained that when the casino opens in September 2018 there would probably be some retail space still open and available for leasing. He said this is a common practice in the industry and allows companies to see the final product before committing.
Moore added the Springfield Museums would be exhibiting artifacts in the casino from its collections that detail the history of Springfield called “Cabinet of Curiosities.”
Kay Simpson, the president of the Museums, called the new partnership “an outstanding opportunity.”
The other detailed announcement by made by MariKate Murren, the vice president of Human Resources. MGM Springfield has selected Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start as the vendor to supply daycare services for its employees. A new facility will be built nearby on Union Street and will accommodate 68 children.
Janis Santos, the executive director of Head Start, said, “The parents are most excited about this opportunity.”
Mathis said he has the vision of MGM employees walking from their home in nearby Springfield neighborhoods to the daycare center before reporting to work.
The building planned will be a LED Platinum Net Zero structure, the highest level of energy efficiency.
Mathis said the number of table games and the space for the poker room has been increased with slot machines decreased due to research that indicates Millennials enjoy the social and participatory aspects of table games and poker as opposed to the slot machine experience.
The former Dave’s Furniture building at the corner of Union and Main streets will be the location for a chain restaurant that is prominent on the West Coast and would be new to this market, Mathis said.
MGM is currently looking for a vendor to operate its movie theater, which Mathis said would have “the recliner seat experience,” as well as a dining option in the theater.
The Armory building is “a challenging building” that is “bulky but fragile,” Brian Packer, vice president of Development and Construction, explained. The building will have its remaining chimney restored, the back wall where once the drill area stood will be secured and the interior demolition and renovations will be completed.
A final use of the building has not yet been determined, but Mathis mentioned it might be used as wedding venue. He envisioned with final renovations completed the roof may be used for some nightlife purposes.
“It’s a very cool and exciting space,” he added.
When completely done it will have 5,000 square feet of space over three and half floors, Mathis said.
At the Sept. 27 press event with city officials, Mayor Domenic Sarno said of the Armory building, “there’s a lot of character in this building and MGM is going to capitalize on it.”
At that meeting, Mathis said, “it’s a building you don’t want to rush."
Alex Dixon, the MGM Springfield general manager, said talks are underway to try to secure Pioneer Valley Transit Authority service to accommodate employees who get off work late at night. The trolley service is also being discussed.
Placing locations for the Massachusetts Lottery to sell it gaming products in the casino is also underway, Dixon said.
There are still some compliance conditions with the Host Community Agreement that must be approved by the City Council. Those include the proposed smoking areas for the casino, as well as details on the Dave’s Furniture building, and the Armory.