The casino project proposed in downtown Springfield Massachusetts by MGM Resorts International has cleared another hurdle. The city council unanimously endorsed the project Friday night and authorized a city wide voter referendum.
The vote by the Springfield City Council came after about 90 minutes of debate during a special meeting Friday night and was greeted by cheers in the packed council chambers.
Councilors spent most of the meeting highlighting the financial payments and other benefits the city is to receive under the terms of the host community agreement signed last week by Mayor Domenic Sarno and a top MGM official. City councilor Kenneth Shea echoed many of his colleagues when he said the MGM casino project is the opportunity of a lifetime to reverse decades of decline in Springfield.
MGM is proposing to invest about $800 million to develop a resort casino in the south end of downtown Springfield, an area that sustained heavy damage in the June 1,2011 tornado. The company says there will be 2,000 construction jobs and more than 3,000 permanent jobs.
MGM is one of three companies actively pursuing a casino development in western Massachusetts. Mohegan Sun has been cultivating a project for years in the town of Palmer. Hard Rock International hopes to build a casino on a portion of the Big E Fairgrounds in West Springfield. Only one casino license will be issued in western Massachusetts.
Voter approval of the casino project is a prerequisite before MGM can apply for a license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. MGM must pay the expenses for holding the vote in Springfield and is expected to schedule it for mid-July. Michael Mathis, vice president of global gaming development for MGM said the company has worked hard to win community support for the casino.
MGM has been marketing its casino project in Springfield since last summer with a campaign that has included TV ads, billboards, lawn signs, a store front office, and dozens of neighborhood meetings.
Archbishop Timothy Paul , president of the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts vowed to mount a campaign to convince Springfield voters to say no to the MGM project.
Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said he had spoken with business people in Springfield who had backed a rival casino project by Penn National Gaming, and everyone is now on board with MGM.
The Sarno administration spent nearly two months negotiating with both MGM and Penn before picking MGM’s project.
The host community agreement commits MGM to $24 million in taxes and other annual payments to Springfield . MGM will also help fund improvements to parks and libraries and pay for public safety enhancements in a large area of downtown Springfield.