Casino giant MGM Resorts International will disclose plans Wednesday for an $800 million gambling resort, entertainment complex, and housing development in downtown Springfield, an ambitious project that would rebuild areas of the city severely damaged by a 2011 tornado, according to a draft of a company statement on the project obtained by the Globe.
The MGM project would be the first casino proposal in Massachusetts in a distinctly downtown urban setting, and a unique project for a company best known for its prominent Las Vegas Strip properties, which include the upscale Bellagio and Mandalay Bay and the quirky theme hotels Luxor and New York-New York.
A project of such a scale in Springfield, a city that has struggled financially and coped with high unemployment, would make MGM a legitimate contender for the sole casino license created for Western Massachusetts, but far from a sure bet. As many as three other reputable casino companies are preparing bids for sites in the city; another competing proposal is planned for Palmer.
MGM’s Springfield project would include a mix of new construction and the renovation of some existing architecture over three city blocks, covering about 10 acres, in the city’s South End. The development area is between Union and State streets, and Columbus Avenue and Main Street, about two blocks from Springfield City Hall. It is adjacent to Interstate 91, a major north-south artery through Western Massachusetts.
Springfield officials have been eager to entertain proposals from casino operators to help shore up city finances, to restore services that have been cut, and bolster employment. Casino opponents, lead by local churches, are promising a fierce fight to keep the gambling industry out of the city.
The company intends to preserve the original MassMutual headquarters building at the corner of Main and State streets as MGM offices. An existing building at 73 State St. would become an entrance to a new, 25-story hotel with spa, pool, and roof deck, about 89,000 square feet of gambling space with slot machines and table games, some 15 shops and restaurants, and a parking garage to accommodate more than 3,500 cars.
The company also envisions building an adjacent 130,000-square-foot retail and entertainment district it has tentatively named Armory Square, which would include about 25 shops and restaurants, a movie theater, bowling alley, and an outdoor stage, to be developed on land now occupied by the tornado-damaged South End Community Center and the Howard Street School. The company said in its statement that it will bid for those properties when the city auctions them “later this year.”
MGM said it controls “several land parcels” in the proposed three-block zone and has “many others under contract,” but the statement does not individually list all the properties in the development zone, nor does it address if there are any parcels MGM has been unable to secure options to buy.
The development area includes the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center, a minimum security residential treatment facility under the Hampden County sheriff’s department.
As unusual feature of the plan is that MGM also plans to build one- and two-bedroom apartments, totaling about 40,000 square feet, which it will market to “young professionals working in a revived downtown entertainment district,” according to the statement.
The company will not build its own indoor entertainment venue, promising instead to reach partnerships with existing Springfield venues to host acts. By agreeing to drive patrons to existing halls, MGM is attempting to address a frequent criticism of gambling resorts, which is that they keep their visitors inside the casino’s walls and starve other entertainment businesses. MGM will propose erecting a pedestrian bridge from its development to the MassMutual Center, the arena and convention facility formerly known as the Springfield Civic Center, at the corner of State and Main.
“Ours is a vision rooted in partnerships that would increase tourism by elevating the level of dining, retail, and entertainment not only within the MGM project area but hopefully opening onto Main Street, throughout downtown Springfield and the rest of this great city,” MGM chairman and chief executive Jim Murren said in the statement.
The company said its plans will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and “thousands” of permanent jobs.
MGM officials have scheduled an 11 a.m. announcement of its plans, to be held at the MassMutual Center. Murren and other members of the company’s executive team are expected to attend.
The same group of MGM executives gathered in Massachusetts in January for another casino development announcement. Back then the location was Brimfield, the budget was $600 million, and the proposal was for a rustic resort in the woods, so isolated that it would not bother local residents who valued the small-town character of a tiny community best known for its antique fairs.
But MGM had second thoughts about the Brimfield site. The project needed an expensive new interchange off the Massachusetts Turnpike, which would have required a long review by highway officials. MGM also began to doubt that its vision, which at that time included a golf course, would fit on the 150-acre parcel of rolling, wooded hills.
The company said in March that it was abandoning the Brimfield site and would find another location in Western Massachusetts. It searched quietly for a new site, but by early summer appeared to be focusing on Springfield.
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