SPRINGFIELD — The news was stunning, and it landed like a solid punch to the gut of this city that has been staggered by too many of them.
To the degree a city can speak in one voice, here’s what the reaction sounded like after reports emerged that MGM Resorts International just might leave Springfield at the altar and place all of its chips in Everett:
“Oh my gosh! I hope not. Uh-oh,’’ said Tony Cignoli, a local political consultant who grew up here and can remember the city’s halcyon days when there were two department stores downtown, the sidewalks were crowded, and Springfield was seemingly a city on the move.
But that hasn’t been true for a long time.
Springfield’s jobless rate is more than 6 percent, well above the statewide average. Its median annual income is roughly half of the state’s overall. The ruinous tornado that tore through here in 2011 delivered a cruel blow. The stain of municipal corruption is still fresh enough that it is not quite yet lore.
And now this.
There is widespread speculation that Wynn Resorts is looking to unload its Everett casino project as state regulators weigh pulling the company’s license in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against former chairman Steve Wynn.
And MGM is reportedly talking with Wynn Resorts, raising the specter that it could take over the Everett site — and that somebody’s else’s name would go up on the $960 million casino under construction here in Springfield’s South End
“In the world of big business when a company is wounded like Wynn is wounded, it’s natural that a competitor or another big entity would be looking to kick the tires,” Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief development officer, said the other day as we sat in his office decorated with a large aerial map of the downtown he’s working to rebuild.
“As a matter of fact, a competing company probably has an obligation to its shareholders to kick the tires to see if it is beneficial.’’
On Wednesday, Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox sought to tamp down speculation, saying on an interview on CNBC: “Boston is not up for sale.”
But as a small army of hard-hatted workers in fluorescent yellow and orange vests climbed over a labyrinth of scaffolding on the MGM casino’s facade the other day, longtime residents who see the city’s renaissance hanging in the balance had this message for the company:
Don’t go kicking anybody else’s tires.
“They’re spending $900 million here and they’ve got to finish the job,’’ Rico Daniele said last week after he finished making me an impossibly thick grinder at the Italian market he has operated in the city’s South End for more than 40 years.
“We can’t hold them back if they want to buy something else,’’ he said. “But I’ve got one of those big brooms and we’re going to chase MGM with that broom if we hear something goofy is going on.’’
Something goofy going on? In the gambling business? I’m shocked. Shocked!
But the people who have worked long hours to remake downtown Springfield into a place of spotlights in the skies, restaurants filled with diners, and Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga on the casino marquee say MGM is never going to play the part of Lucy, who in the Peanuts cartoon strip, cruelly pulls the football away before Charlie Brown gets to kick it.
“They’re invested here,’’ said City Councilor Michael Fenton, who chairs the City Council’s casino oversight committee. “It’s true that [MGM] has a duty to their shareholders to maximize shareholder value, but they also have a legal responsibility to the city of Springfield and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“It is possible that MGM acquires Wynn? Sure. Is it possible they want to get into the Boston market? Sure. Are there a set of circumstances that they would be leaving Springfield? I don’t think so,’’ Fenton said.
Like many longtime residents, Fenton has lived in a city where downtown streets are virtually deserted after 6 p.m. There’s little foot traffic at night and not a lot of places to eat and drink after the sun goes down. And market rate housing? Please.
For the record, MGM is sticking to its prepared statement that seeks to throw cold water on all of this hot talk about its imminent departure.
“We do not comment on rumors or speculations around transactions,’’ MGM Resorts International said. “We remain fully committed to the opening and success of MGM Springfield.’’
The casino here is set to open in September. State law does not permit a casino company to hold two licenses in Massachusetts.
For his part, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno scarcely seems rattled.
“I have consulted with our legal team and we are satisfied with our Host Community Agreement protections,’’ the mayor said in a statement. “I don’t want to speculate on what MGM might or might not do. [MGM officials] reassure me of their continued commitment to a first-class resort in Springfield.”
I’m never going to gamble in Springfield’s casino. I think the market is saturated in the Northeast. It isn’t my idea of an economic life raft.
But, come on. Anyone who is rooting for Springfield to be jilted by MGM at this point does not have a heart beating in their chest.
The casino is committed to spending $2.5 million a year for 15 years to pay for such things as more cops downtown. The 15 acres on which the casino site sits had been providing $635,000 in tax revenues each year. That number jumps to $17.6 million annually once the ribbon is cut.
The casino encompasses 125,000 square feet of gambling space, a hotel, restaurants, a movie theater, retail shops, a spa, a bowling alley. Some 3,000 people will work there, holding mostly good full-time jobs with an average annual wage of $40,000. About a third of those jobs will go to city residents and Springfield natives.
Even if MGM were to run into the arms of Everett, all of that brick and mortar, of course, does not disappear into the mists like some glitzy, modern-day Brigadoon.
But at this point, placing some second-tier name on the facade overlooking Main Street would be another kick in the pants.
“It’s that international brand coming to our city that could use a shot in the arm,’’ Cignoli, the political consultant, said over soft drinks at a downtown café. “MGM is the brand for us. MGM is the jazz. To have a company with that kind of cachet — that name and brand recognition — is huge for the city of Springfield. . . .We would lose our bragging rights.”
Cignoli said MGM’s dalliance with Wynn is the talk of the city.
“Initially, it was like, ‘Wow! Is this real or not?’ I hope not,’’ he said. “We would lose our bragging rights. For a city that’s been beat up and hit over and over and over again, this is a big thing for us. You know we really have been on a comeback.’’
When Rico Daniele was a kid, he and his pals would play stickball on the playground of the former Howard Street School, which is now part of the casino site.
A broomstick served as a bat. A ball through the infield was a single. Over the steps? A double. Hit the fence? A triple.
In those days, a manhole cover was home plate.
In 2014, Daniele and his pals — now ranging in age from 30 to 80 — played their last stickball game in the South End.
When the folks at MGM heard about it, they ordered their construction crews to deliver home plate to Daniele’s market, where the thick metal disk now sits out back ready for a more prominent placement.
“I see something in these people at MGM,’’ Daniele said. “These are people with a heart.’’
Certainly, he said, not the kind of people who would pull the rug out from a place they profess to call home.
How heartless would that be?Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.