Hard Rock International has struck a rich casino development deal with West Springfield. The agreement, announced last night by West Springfield’s mayor and Hard Rock officials, ups the ante in the fierce casino competition in western Massachusetts.
The host community agreement, signed Thursday by West Springfield Mayor Gregory Neffinger and Hard Rock officials after months of negotiations, commits the casino developer to annual payments of $26 million. At least $18 million would flow into West Springfield’s coffers each year with the rest doled out to surrounding communities, if Hard Rock gets to build a casino on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition.
Mayor Neffinger said Hard Rock will also pay $40 million upfront on improvements to traffic, infrastructure, and public safety in the town of 30,000 people.
Specifically, according to a summary of the agreement provided by Hard Rock, the casino will pay $15 million annually in local property taxes. West Springfield would receive $3 million in additional payments to mitigate the casino’s impacts on public safety and other municipal services. $4.5 million in mitigation payments would be made to surrounding communities. Additionally, the deal provides for $3.4 million in grants to be rotated annually among West Springfield, Springfield, Agawam, Holyoke, Chicopee and Westfield.
Mark Rivers, president of the Bronson Companies, the developer of the Hard Rock project in West Springfield, said the agreement should prove attractive to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has the final approval on who will receive the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts.
MGM Resorts International has signed a host community agreement with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno that calls for annual payments to the city of $24 million. MGM has agreed to finance a downtown public safety program ,pay for infrastructure improvements, and for other amenities if it secures a state license to build a casino in the south end of downtown Springfield. A city-wide voter referendum on the project is taking place this Tuesday.
Mohegan Sun has yet to finalize a casino development agreement with officials in the town of Palmer. Mohegan Sun officials said they hope to announce a deal later this month and hold a voter referendum in September.
Hard Rock officials want the voter referendum in West Springfield held on September 10th. Approval by local voters is a prerequisite for applying for a state gaming license.
Eugene Cassidy, CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, on whose fairgrounds the casino would be built, is confident West Springfield voters will back the project.
The Hard Rock host community agreement pledges 2,000 construction jobs, and 3,000 permanent jobs with local hiring goals. The company also pledges to purchase $50 million in goods and services annually from local vendors.
The agreement also calls for Hard Rock to establish to a local charitable foundation. West Springfield Town Councilor Angus Rushlow said he has been most impressed by Hard Rock’s philanthropy.
The Town Council took a necessary legal step last night by voting unanimously to approve holding a local referendum on the Hard Rock casino project before the state gaming commission determines if the company is suitable to obtain a license in Massachusetts.