MGM revelations abound for Casino Oversight Committee

April 27, 2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Several revelations were announced at the Casino Oversight Committee meeting of the City Council on April 24.

City Councilors Michael Fenton, Justin Hurst and Tim Allen asked pointed questions which resulted in the revealing answers.

MGM officials said that one of the two restaurants at the casino would feature Italian cuisine.

At a City Council meeting on Feb. 22, 2016, Councilor Bud Williams asked whether or not MGM was planning to have an Italian eatery as part of the complex – an obvious reference to competition to the Red Rose restaurant, which is adjacent to the property.

At that time, MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis, while declining to say what kind of restaurants would be featured, did say in response, “The last thing I want to do is to put a business out of business.”

The other type of restaurant will be a steak house. The names or brands of the restaurants were not announced, although most of the food service in the casino complex would not be national chains, but in-house MGM brands.

On the status of the 54 market rate apartments, Attorney Frank Fitzgerald said there is some progress being made in the negotiations on the historic 31 Elm St. building “but the discussion has not resulted in a conclusion.”

For the first time, the phrase “affordable housing” was used to partially describe the project.

The Springfield Redevelopment Authority controls the building and Opal Development – owned by Peter Picknelly – is the preferred developer.

Mathis said the company is “exercising their due diligence” and added he believes MGM Springfield will be coming to the City Council for an “adjustment of commitment” for the project.

The 54 apartments were once part of the casino project itself, but were moved to another part of downtown when it was announced MGM would have to charge rents above market rate for them to return their investment. MGM Springfield subsequently bought the former School Department building on State Street as the location of 30 units.

At the meeting, Mathis said the project may not have some affordable – or subsidized – units added and that 54-market rate units may not be the final exact number. The final number of the apartments developed would be within “the spirit of the agreement” between MGM and the city.

Using the School Department building is now MGM’s “Plan B” in developing the commitment to housing.

As far as charging for parking in the 3,000-plus-car garage, Mathis said the company is “reserving its right to charge.” In the original plan parking would be free.

Seth Stratton, MGM Springfield vice president and general counsel, said MGM has not lobbied for any change at the closing time for alcohol. Currently the closing time dictated by the state – municipalities can have an earlier closing time – is 2 a.m.

According to the proposed legislation the Massachusetts Gaming Commission would have the authority to grant a later closing time.

Stratton also said the council should expect future requests for approvals for a site plan for the MGM childcare facility, fuel storage permits, and a full exterior sign plan.

Mathis said of the overall progress, “We couldn’t be happier where we are at.” The project is considered at the 30 percent complete stage.

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