Springfield MGM-ed

With the field of casino resort developers narrowed down to 11 statewide candidates and a mere four in western Massachusetts, it’s looking more and more likely that Springfield is shaping up to be the front runner in the race to capture one of the prized locations.

Only Mohegan Sun’s Palmer bid, it seems, stands to have a shot at toppling Springfield’s Big Money! dreams. (You can forget about Hard Rock’s option at the Big-E in West Springfield. That candidacy is DOA.)

Here in Springfield, we have two options: MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming. Of the two, it looks like MGM Resorts may have the upper hand these days, and they have it backed up by support from both the Springfield Police and Springfield Firefighters unions.

Both developers are touting their willingness to support local venues and help keep law-and-order in their respective zones of business. I suspect neither promise will amount to much, though. MGM has said they plan on a 160-member security team, which is commendable, but they won’t be patrolling the city’s streets away from the resort grounds. Additionally, politicians can dream all they want, but neither MGM nor Penn is going to be showing people the way to the exit so they can spend their money elsewhere. Of the two developers, it seems more likely that MGM will use the MassMutual Center as a dump-off for some of its entertainment. But I suspect the price of doing business with MassMutual will be quite low.

If MGM Resorts does win out and they do get their casino in the South End of the city, it goes without saying that the map of Springfield’s retail downtown district there will change dramatically. Look for restaurants and nightclubs all around the vicinity to either adapt, move, or die in the months and years that follow a casino’s arrival in our midst.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the varying degrees of doom that some of our local establishments will be facing.

MGM SpringfieldAs this post’s accompanying Google Map shows (click on image to enlarge), there will be a distinct Red Zone of Death for any restaurants or bars in the area immediately around MGM’s resort. Other retail outlets may be adversely affected – primarily because of traffic woes (real or perceived) – but I suspect only those businesses that have to directly compete with MGM will penalized. (This also takes into account Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s past crusade against bars and nightclubs in the downtown district, seemingly “clearing the way” for a casino to do business.)

First, I color-coded the planned MGM resort grounds in green, using an MGM Resorts depiction found on Masslive for reference. A number of local businesses are currently located in this green zone, including the recently-repaired Dave’s Furniture (from the 2011 tornado) and Glory, Inc., so whether they remain at their locations or are relocated elsewhere remains to be seen. (It’s also possible the “green zone” of property allocated for MGM could change.)

I painted the property where the Red Rose Pizzeria is located (#1) in pink because, frankly, I think it’s rather obvious they will be in MGM’s way. In MGM’s “flyover” video (linked here), viewers can see that a single-story building remains where Red Rose and the Caring Health Center are currently located. Conspicuously, though, there is no name on the building in the depictions.

Also in pink, the former Visitors Center (#2) located to the west of the proposed casino is where Attorney and former Springfield City Councilor Raipher Pellegrino’s Lustra LLC investment group is allegedly planning to build a Luxe Burger Bar. They bid nearly half-million dollars for the property – more than double the next highest bidder – over a year ago (Dec. 6, 2011), yet as of February 2013 they have not put so much as a broom to the site, which they purchased from the city last June. According to this Republican article, the group plans on investing another $1.9 million into rehabilitating the existing property. It seems incredibly bizarre, though, that Pellegrino’s group would put up such a huge investment to open a restaurant in an area where three others – McDonalds, Pazzo, and Onyx – failed. And then to sit on the property for months, in no apparent hurry to start earning a return on their investment. Could it be that they have had other plans for this site all along, depending on the outcome of the casino issue in Springfield?

To the south of the former Visitors Center I put the LA Fitness and Mama Iguana’s property in orange (#3). Orange signifies that the business may survive, since it has a service that may not compete with MGM.

It’s worth noting here that the owner of the LA Fitness property is Peter Pappas, who was the second-highest bidder on the Visitors Center property mentioned above. (There were only two bids total for the site.) He placed a reasonable bid of $223,012 on the property, which makes sense if one assumes the developer will also be putting considerable money into the development of the building itself (which currently has only restrooms for plumbing and no existing kitchen facility). It doesn’t look like the City looked at it this way, though, and instead decided to take Lustra LLC’s money up front and then just hope for the best. What we’ve ended up with, predictably, is a still-vacant site.

Other properties in orange include businesses that I think stand a good chance of retaining local clientele – such as Frigo’s Market and Deli over on William Street (bottom of map, #4) or even the Sheraton and Marriott hotels (#5), which should do okay with visitors continuing to come to both the MassMutual Center and the Basketball Hall of Fame . It helps that besides the casino (wherever it may end up), both hotels will still be among the few larger hotels in the region.

Speaking of the MassMutual Center and Basketball Hall of Fame (painted in blue, #s 6 and 7 respectively), they should both do okay with the casino in their midst, since the Hall in particular will not be competing for visitors.

The third property painted in pink is the old Court Square Hotel complex (#8). OPAL Real Estate Group, headed up by Peter Pan Bus Lines President Peter Picknelly, was awarded preferred developer status of the site back in July of 2011. I gave this the pink because I think it may be useful as housing space for employees at MGM. The site is also supposed to provide office space as well as a selection of retail shops on the ground floor. (It is possible, too, that this may be bought up by MGM if things pan out.)

The downtown’s current “Entertainment District” (#9) will not benefit in the slightest from a casino coming to town. No one is leaving the comfort and safety of a casino resort building to venture down Worthington Street. Of all the businesses along this area, only the Mardi Gras strip club stands a chance of seeing any residual business flowing in. And grandpa and grandma aren’t coming to town with their social security checks to see Shawna show off her stuff.

Next, we come to the area between MassMutual and the Springfield Museums at the Quadrangle (#10). Some people might think that since MGM has said they want people to visit MassMutual and the museums, these businesses might benefit since the old Pynchon Park stairway may come back into use. No chance. If MGM comes through on its promise, they will be trolleying people from place to place, and they will always – always – end up back at the casino.

And finally we arrive at the riverfront (#11). God, just how this city managed to completely ignore –and even shun – this piece of real estate for generations-on-end I have no idea. But in order for this under-utilized property to be better used in the future, people and businesses will have to invest in a presence there – and it will have to be convenient for people to go there, as well. MGM says they will do this. We shall see.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom on the horizon if either MGM or Penn National gets their casino in Springfield. Both options would provide hundreds of jobs, either directly or indirectly – although I doubt they’d be the kind of “quality” employment opportunities they’re being touted to be. And they both would no doubt breathe new life – for however long or short a time – into communities seemingly stuck in the doldrums. One has to admit, too, that a stroll through a redeveloped MGM resort grounds in the South End would be quite a bit cheerier than the current experience there.

It’s also important to note that none of the proposed casino developers should be cast in a dark light simply for wanting to do business in Massachusetts or Springfield specifically. Both MGM and Penn are in business to do business, after all, and it’s only common sense that they should make an effort to open a casino here when the opportunity is rife for them to do so.

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