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MGM holds ‘coming out party’ for Springfield casino

MGM Resorts International’s ambitious Springfield project would include a mix of new construction and the renovation of some existing architecture over three city blocks.

MGM RENDERING

MGM Resorts International’s Springfield project would include a mix of new construction and the renovation of some existing architecture over three city blocks.

SPRINGFIELD — Red Rose Pizzeria has been a fixture in downtown Springfield for 50 years, and its owners plan to keep it right where it is for another 50, despite the possibility of an $800 million casino and entertainment facility being built around them.

James Murren, chief executive of MGM Resorts International, spoke in Springfield.

Associated Press

James Murren, chief executive of MGM Resorts International, spoke in Springfield.

“On the surface you would think that it would help us if it brings thousands more people downtown,” said Tony Caputo, whose Main Street restaurant is within the three-block area where MGM Resorts has proposed building a gambling resort and hotel complex. “But if more restaurants come downtown that increase the choices . . . does that cancel out the benefit?”

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The one certainty is he won’t sell the business that his mom founded in 1963 and that the family expanded from “a hole in the wall” to a 400-seat restaurant, surviving every downturn in the city’s economy — and last year’s tornado.

“I think of this as another chapter,” he said. “I can’t be upset if the city becomes more vibrant.”

MGM formally revealed its Springfield casino plans Wednesday in an elaborate presentation at the MassMutual Center that included rock music, colored lights, and huge video screens flashing renderings of the proposed development and images of prominent MGM properties, such as Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and the glass pyramid Luxor. Costumed Cirque du Soleil performers mingled in the crowd of some 200 civic and business leaders, and the company sent visitors home with gift baskets.

MGM executives outlined the scope of the project, first reported in Wednesday’s Globe. The plan would mix new construction and the renovation of some existing architecture on about 10 acres in the city’s South End, just two blocks from City Hall and adjacent to Interstate 91. Plans call for a 25-
story hotel with spa, pool, and roof deck, 89,000 square feet of gambling space with slot machines and table games, about 15 shops and restaurants, and a parking garage to accommodate more than 3,500 cars.

The company also envisions an adjacent retail and entertainment district with 25 additional shops and restaurants, a 12-screen movie theater, an upscale bowling alley, and an outdoor stage, as well as more than two dozen market-rate 1- and 2-bedroom apartments.

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“I want to build a landmark here,” Jim Murren, MGM chief executive officer, said in short remarks to the crowd.

The highly anticipated announcement was attended not only by MGM supporters, but by its most devout opponents.

“I must say, quite an impressive presentation,” said Timothy Paul Baymon, president of the Council of Churches of Greater Springfield, which is organizing opposition to a casino. “They brought out the bells and the whistles, and they have a lot of folks believing. But it doesn’t move us in terms of what we think is right for the city. We would see an increase in crime and all the other things that go along with a casino. It just doesn’t work in an urban community.”

Murren took care in his remarks to explain how the pro-
ject could work in Springfield. He complimented the city’s existing amenities, such as Symphony Hall, the MassMutual Center’s concert and convention space, and the Basketball Hall of Fame. “You have great bones here,” Murren said. “Our job is to knit them together.”

In an interview, Murren said the complex would directly employ about 3,000 people and would create another 3,000 jobs indirectly in the region.

“Those people are going to be from here,” he said. “They are going to want to eat. They’re going to want to shop. We will generate more business for small businesses.”

Bill Hornbuckle, MGM chief marketing officer, said the company intends to “create an outward-looking environment,” contrary to the reputation of the casino industry, which is often accused of trying to keep customers inside its walls. He said the complex would be designed to allow patrons to use the hotel, parking deck, and entertainment center without having to pass through the gambling floor. The company will not build its own indoor entertainment venue, promising instead to establish partnerships with existing area venues.

The announcement marked the beginning of MGM’s campaign to build public support. A website for the project launched Wednesday, www.mgmspringfield.com, and during its presentation, the company showed off a  TV ad for the project that will run in the Springfield market.

The company has also delivered its $400,000 fee to the state gambling commission, to officially apply for casino development rights. MGM will have to compete for Western Massachusetts rights with other casino companies.

Ameristar already owns land in the city and is developing its plans; Hard Rock International and Penn National are also reportedly pursuing projects in Springfield. The owners of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut have proposed a casino in Palmer.

City Council President James J. Ferrera was impressed by the professionalism of the presentation, but was not ready to back the project. “There’s input we need from the neighborhood residents and business owners in the downtown area.”

Residents and merchants around the proposed site, an area of the city still struggling to recover from last year’s tornado, generally greeted the plans with optimism Wednesday, and some trepidation.

“Something has to happen downtown because I’ve seen it go down, getting worse and worse,” said Tony D’Angelo, inside his Main Street business, Tony’s Tailoring. “Would a casino be good? I don’t know about that.”

Janet Roberts, 40, of Springfield, paused on Main Street to consider a rendering of the project MGM officials had displayed outside the original MassMutual headquarters.

“This could look like that?” she said, sounding impressed. “With the tornado, it sent a lot of business out of this area. [The project] could bring a lot of business back.”

Resident Ozzie Cruz, 41, said he looks forward to seeing the area remade. “It seems we’ve been lost for a while,” he said. “Hopefully this could lift the economy up.”

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark

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