MGM apartments might include affordable housing

June 1, 2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The Springfield City Council may be considering another amendment to the Host Community Agreement (HCA) between the city and MGM Springfield concerning the 54 market-rate apartments the casino giant is supposed to build and maintain.

The revised deal could be, according to MGM Attorney Seth Stratton, a 60-unit complex with 20 percent of the apartments offered with subsidies and 80 percent market-rate. MGM would not own the apartments, but would only help finance their construction at 31 Elms St. also known as the Court Square building.

When it comes to the development of the apartments as dictated in the Host Community Agreement, MGM “is on the bus, but not driving,” Stratton said.

Orlando Ramos, president of the City Council told Reminder Publications, “The city council will do its due diligence to ensure that MGM meets the terms under the host community agreement. Like many residents, I was very disappointed when MGM announced their intention to eliminate the 25-story tower from their plans.  Further changes to their original proposal would not be good for public trust.”

Stratton made the statement as part of the conversation at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission meeting on May 25 about the status of the apartments.

Stratton explained the city had asked MGM to slow down on its efforts to build the apartments at the former School Department building on State Street. The city’s request, Stratton explained, was to give the city time to create a deal to allow the apartments to go into the Court Square building, also known as 31 Elm St.

There was no member of the Sarno administration at this part of the meeting.

According to the Host Community Agreement (HCA), the 54 market-rate apartments were to be completed by the time the casino opens in September 2018. At the present time, it would appear that deadline would not be met, Stratton explained.

Stratton said the negotiations between the city, Peter Picknelly, who is the preferred developer for 31 Elm St. and MGM are “ongoing” but are “taking longer than what we, the city and the commission would like.”

Stratton said of the process of developing the deal, “It’s really out of our hands.”

He added it should be “a matter of weeks” until there is a formal proposal.

“We don’t have a lot of details what our participation will look like,” Stratton said.

Stratton admitted, “if this falls apart [the proposal] it goes back to the original plan.”

He added, “Trust me, we’re pushing every day to get this moving.”

Answering a question from Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, Stratton said the proposal at 31 Elms St. is to have a mixed-use building with retail and residences. He said the developer would be seeking tax credits to help finance the project, which would require the affordable housing component.

“Some of our employees could walk to work,” Stratton observed, predicting having affordable housing across the street form the nearly $1 billion casino would be a “win-win.”

The chair of the Commission, Stephen Crosby, characterized the news about the apartments as “a bit of a disappointment.”

He added, “If something goes wrong, we will not be happy.”

Later that day, Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a written statement: “As the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) report issued a number of years ago, the development of 31 Elm Street would be the number one ‘linchpin’ of a transformative downtown project. Make no mistake, though this is a very complicated and ‘bear’ of a project, we are bringing market rate housing with a retail component to this site. I have followed the ULI’s footprint with my administration completing and moving on many of these fronts. Though this project has been ‘an albatross’ around past administrations’ necks, including my own, I have committed to getting it done and getting it done the right way too. I’m very happy to have a local developer, Opal – Peter Picknelly, who’s family’s never forgotten their Springfield roots – working with Winn Development, MGM, the city and our building trades labor organizations in this public/private partnership to fulfill this commitment. Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, the Springfield Redevelopment Authority and I look very forward to making another positive announcement shortly.”

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