In its eager embrace of casinos, the City of Springfield is betting on an unprecedented comeback. Like many smaller cities in Massachusetts, Springfield has been battered by decades of decline, leaving vacant storefronts downtown, faded blocks of Victorian housing, high poverty rates, and a pervasive sense that the city’s glory days are behind it. But now, with a warm welcome from the city, two casino companies have submitted detailed plans for downtown sites. The mayor, Domenic J. Sarno — who may back one of the plans as soon as Monday — envisions a new casino sparking economic development across the whole city, enriching its cultural life and attracting new residents.
It’s an unproven strategy. The existing casino model in New England, honed at the Connecticut resorts Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, has been for developers to bury casinos deep in the woods. One of the rival casino proposals in Western Massachusetts, near the Mass. Pike in Palmer, hews closer to that template. Urban casinos are not unheard of — Cleveland and Philadelphia each have them — but there is no model for a small city riding a single casino to revitalization.