MGM pulls $600m Brimfield casino plan
MGM Resorts is abandoning plans to build a $600 million casino resort on a secluded site in rural Brimfield, saying that the land would not meet the needs of its ambitious project, but that MGM will continue searching for an appropriate site, the company confirmed Tuesday.
MGM, one of the world’s biggest casino operators, still intends to compete for the sole casino license for Western Massachusetts, a region that has drawn heavy interest from casino developers.
MGM operates some of the highest-profile gambling resorts on the Las Vegas strip, including Bellagio, the pyramid-shaped Luxor, and Mandalay Bay.
In January, the company announced with great fanfare that it wanted to build a rustic casino, dubbed Rolling Hills Resort, on a site just north of the Massachusetts Turnpike in tiny Brimfield, population of about 3,500. Before the proposal for the New England-themed casino from the Vegas gambling giant, the town was best known for its outdoor antique fairs.
But after months of study, MGM said Tuesday that its vision was too big for the remote, 150-acre parcel of undeveloped woods and steep hills.
“The unique nature of MGM’s plans for an all-inclusive world-class resort on the Brimfield site and our growing understanding of the needed scope for its infrastructure simply do not allow us to pursue the comprehensive MGM resort originally envisioned here,’’ Bill Hornbuckle, MGM’s chief marketing officer, said. “MGM remains committed to developing an MGM-quality project in Western Massachusettsm and we are actively pursuing other potential development sites.’’
Hornbuckle said MGM was grateful for the reception it has received in Massachusetts. “It has been our pleasure to get to know the people of Brimfield as we’ve worked to find our place in Western Massachusetts,’’ he said.
MGM gave no hint Tuesday of where the company may look next, but officials in Chicopee and Springfield have signaled a willingness to discuss casino projects. Ameristar Casinos is already pitching a resort project in Springfield. The operators of Mohegan Sun in Connecticut have proposed a casino in Palmer. The Hard Rock Cafe and Penn National Gaming have also been linked to that region.
The state’s casino law authorizes up to one license in each of three regions of the state.
The Brimfield site had posed significant challenges for MGM from the beginning. To calm fears about casino traffic overwhelming local roads, the developers offered to build a new interchange on the Mass. Pike and proposed restricting resort access on local roads to emergency vehicles. That was not entirely possible because transportation authorities said they would require any new offramps to be connected to public streets.
The company came up with a plan to connect an interchange to a public street in the neighboring town of Warren.
MGM suggested Tuesday that its vision for the resort, possibly including a golf course, may not have been possible to build without crossing town lines into Warren, which the state’s casino law places in the Greater Boston and Worcester region. One factor in its decision to look elsewhere was uneasiness about how state regulators may define a project that straddled zones.
Tuesday’s sudden announcement shocked both supporters and opponents.
“I am very disappointed,’’ said Diane Panaccione, chairwoman of Brimfield’s Board of Selectmen, who bemoaned the loss of millions of dollars in local tax revenue for a town still recovering from last year’s devastating tornados. “It would have been a great revenue opportunity for years to come.’’
MGM representatives broke the news to Panaccione early Tuesday afternoon, she said. “All they told me was that the footprint did not fit the property.’’
Opponents were elated. “Very, very relieved,’’ said Charlotte Burns, a Palmer resident and copresident of the regional citizens group, Quaboag Valley Against Casinos. “It would have been a crime to put a casino there.’’
She said the wooded site should be preserved. Her only concern is that the developer has promised to find another location in Western Massachusetts.
The overtures from MGM had divided Brimfield residents, as casino proposals have in other communities around the state.
“At this point I wish they had never come,’’ said Tony Bys, a retired postal carrier who had expressed a willingness to hear details of the proposal. “This has set neighbors against each other. I am stunned that they pulled out without even a vote.’’