In the latest round of grant awards, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has authorized spending almost $2 million from a fund established to help offset costs related to the construction of the state’s two large resort casinos. The Wynn casino under construction outside Boston and the MGM casino that is being built in downtown Springfield are impacting traffic and parking.
The gaming commission voted to approve a grant totaling just over $31,500 to the city of Springfield to continue a valet parking program. It is for use at no charge to patrons of businesses located along four blocks of South Main street that have been impacted by the loss of hundreds of on-street and off-street parking spaces because of the MGM Springfield Casino construction project.
Last year, the commission voted to spend $200,000 from the Community Mitigation Fund to launch the valet parking program and operate it through 2017, pending an initial 90-day evaluation.
The additional funds should be enough to keep the valet parking in place until a large public parking garage MGM is building as part of its project opens in 2018, according to Tom Moore, the interim director of the Springfield Parking Authority.
"I think it was a good common sense solution to what was clearly an impact felt by a small group of businesses right at the epicenter of the construction," said Moore.
The city applied to the gaming commission in 2016 for money to set up the valet parking program at the urging of officials with Caring Health Center, which operates a large medical clinic right across the street from the casino construction zone.
Caring Health president and CEO Tania Barber said the parking woes caused a real hardship for the patients.
" A lot of our patients were not keeping their appointments, not showing up, or transferring their care to other facilities because they did not want to deal with not having a place to park," Barber explained in an interview in January.
When the valet parking program began in mid-January it was averaging 25 people using it per-day; now it averages more than 40, according to Moore.
" The majority is for Caring Health patients," said Moore. " We have plans to do marketing over the summer to let businesses in the area know it is available for their use at no cost based on the grant from the state."
Moore said he does not foresee the need for the valet parking program to continue after the casino opens in late 2018.
" Two things will happen: the parking garage will be open and the on-street parking will be restored, so the need for the valet parking will no longer be there," said Moore.
The city recently announced plans for a $7 million infrastructure project, in concert with MGM, to pave streets, repair sidewalks, improve intersections and complete other upgrades to prepare for the opening of the casino.
In the latest round of awards from the Community Mitigation Fund, the gaming commission approved $150,000 to the town of West Springfield to pay for engineering design services for improvements to three streets to better accommodate casino-related traffic.
A portion of the non-refundable licensing fees paid to the state by the casino operators goes into the mitigation fund.
The fund had $14 million in 2015.