MGM tells Commission of progress and changes for casino

March 22, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

The former Howard Street Armory building is being prepared for its new use as part of the MGM Springfield casino project.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

BOSTON – MGM Springfield officials emphasized a fall opening of the nearly billion dollar casino is on schedule.

Casino officials met with the Massachusetts State Commission (MGC) on  March 15 to discuss the status of the casino’s development and changes made to the plan. The downtown free bus, the status of the childcare center and the market rate apartments were all part of a letter the company sent the MGC on March 12, prior to the March 15 meeting.

During the meeting Alex Dixon, MGM Springfield general manager, spoke of the timeline between now and when the casino opens in the fall. He said in the second quarter of this year the company will move from workforce development to actually recruiting. He explained MGM will have “a huge event” at the MassMutual center at which applicants will be able to walk away with job offers.

In the third quarter, Dixon said all systems will go live, the company will apply when it is ready for a Certificate of Occupancy and go through a testing period.

Once the casino is ready and certified, Dixon said, “We’ll open our doors and never close them.”

In the letter to the MGC,  Seth Stratton, MGM vice president and legal counsel, underlined the status of numerous elements of the project.

The future involvement of MGM in the restoration and redevelopment of the 31 Court Square building was discussed in the letter and it set a deadline for a commitment from the city that they company will be part of the 31 Elm St. project.

“MGM understands that the Commission remains very interested in ensuring that market-rate residential development ancillary to the casino development timely occur. MGM is likewise interested in timely satisfying this requirement. MGM, therefore, proposes quarterly status updates to the Commission on this commitment and a March 1, 2019 deadline for a firm commitment and documentation for the 31 Elm Project along with a realistic construction timeline from the City. Absent, such certainty, MGM would proceed with independent residential development to satisfy the residential development requirement within the timeline set forth in the HCA [Host Community Agreement], as amended. MGM does request, however, that residential development be removed from the Project construction schedule and instead be treated as an ongoing license condition commitment as it is unrealistic for MGM to continue what will likely be a third-party development project under the existing Project construction schedule managed by its construction manager, ” Stratton wrote.

The company has shifted the number of table games and slot machines which they explained was due to “customer preference trends in relevant markets.” These  “have demonstrated a patron preference shift toward table games, poker and interactive high tech slot play and away from traditional (smaller) slot machines. Moreover, those trends are reinforced by some lessons learned in connection with MGM’s recent opening of its very successful National Harbor property. Accordingly, MGM has increased its table game and poker offerings and reduced its slot machines. Ensuring comfortable spacing between larger slot machines and ample table game offerings has resulted in minor reductions to overall gaming position numbers,” he explained.

MGM has finalized a proposed floor plan that we believe is optimal, which we intend to submit for approval by the Commission.”

The use of the former Armory building was also mentioned in the letter in that it will be “a flexible multi-use event, food and beverage and retail space.”

Stratton continued, “We will provide additional detail during our presentation on March 15, but currently contemplated programming include: an MLife experience center; pop-up night club events; a Halloween haunted house; comedy club; Holiday Marketplace; and yoga and beer with a local craft brewery. Such programming will be planned to complement uses in the outdoor plaza surrounding the Armory, which will likely include: Farmer’s Market, ice skating and hot chocolate, CityBlock Concert Series, a Taste of Springfield, local brewery/food festivals, Food Truck festivals, and more.”

This is change from the original use, he noted: “While MGM initially anticipated in 2012 a three- floor high-end restaurant and lounge space (a concept that we continue to actively explore) as the highest and best use for the space, the ultimate programming here should be one that drives the most customers across all spectrums to our site (and Springfield generally) throughout the day and week.”

The impact on downtown parking was discussed by Stratton saying, “Together, MGM, the City, MassDOT, Tishman Construction and the Commission have actively participated in the successful comprehensive management of parking in downtown Springfield during the MGM Project and I-91 viaduct project. Through the use of subsidized lots, offsite parking locations, parking restrictions in construction contracts, regular coordination between the interested parties (including biweekly meetings with MassDOT) and innovative programs such as the Commission’s use of Community Mitigation grants to fund a valet service, the impact on downtown Springfield parking has been nominal.”

One change to the original plan was to allow the general public to use the garage. Stratton said, “While use of MGM’s garage by the public was contemplated with the best intentions in 2014, the realities of allowing the public to park in a facility located on an active construction site prior to the garage being fully functional – including the use of elevators and required safety and security measures – proved this plan untenable. The loss of this option has not impacted ability for all the interested parties to manage parking impacts throughout the construction of the Project, especially as allowance of construction worker parking in the garage has reduced demand on nearby alternative parking.”
    MGM and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority are still in the “final stages” of talks for a free downtown circulator bus, which would operate form 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Stratton explained. The bus would be an all-electric vehicle and “The circulator bus will follow a mutually agreed to route stopping at all major tourist attractions in downtown Springfield with a 60-minute route interval. The bus will be ‘skinned’ with images of the Springfield cityscape. A historic trolley will be made available for special events.”

The day care center now under construction is now planned to be turned over the HeadStart by July 30, he noted.

There is a change in plan for the space at Main and Union streets. “MGM originally anticipated having the proposed retail and/or food and beverage space planned for the corner of Main and Union Streets shelled and available for leasing by Operations Commencement. This space has always been contemplated to be leased and operated by third parties. As discussed earlier, MGM is discovering that there is less demand for traditional retail space than there was when the project was proposed over five years ago – referred to colloquially as the “Amazon effect.” Accordingly, we have found that food and beverage and more interactive, uniquely designed spaces driven by tenant preferences and brands are more prevalent … We are pleased to report that we have very promising leads for a tenant and anticipate being in a position to develop the site for an exciting tenant for an opening well within the first year of Operations,” Stratton said.

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