There is growing enthusiasm for a planned economic development district involving multiple city blocks around the MGM Springfield gaming property. Now, the planned downtown district in Massachusetts’ third largest city is marked by many older buildings which are often vacant, foreclosed upon, or require significant investment to reduce blight.
As envisioned, the city will encourage revitalization around the $1 billion casino through economic incentives and zoning changes. The MGM Springfield opened in 2018 on property in the Metro Center section of the historic community, which is situated along the Connecticut River.
The casino was seen as a cornerstone to spur further economic renewal and builds on earlier efforts that date back to the 1950s. There are challenges, however.
A 2019 study released by MassINC, a public policy organization, revealed the city’s cost for housing is among the least expensive in Massachusetts. That is based on median price per square foot.
Nine percent of the city’s buildings are empty. Close to 40,000 of Springfield’s population of about 155,000 reside in neighborhoods where the poverty rate falls above 40 percent, the study reports.
“Springfield has a level of concentrated poverty that looks like New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina,” Ben Forman, research director of MassINC, told the Associated Press last year.
But city officials hope to change that outlook with what they are calling a “downtown casino impact district.” As planned, the Springfield MGM will be a magnet for further redevelopment.
Despite MGM Springfield recently struggling to meet pre-market projections of gross gaming revenue (GGR), the casino is providing substantial tax revenue and financial aid to the state, city, and surrounding communities. The GGR goal was an average of about $34.8 million per month.
MGM management has admitted the venue’s struggles, acknowledging they did not anticipate gamblers’ loyalty to Connecticut’s two tribal gaming properties, among other factors.
To prevent further competition, MGM has gone to court to block a proposed tribal satellite casino to be built in East Windsor, Connecticut. That property is located some 13 miles away.
Momentum Praised by MGM
“As a partner within the community, we are encouraged by the economic momentum that is growing in the region and we look forward to working with the city on the revitalization of this great American downtown,” MGM Springfield said in statement to Casino.org this week when asked about the ambitious project.
The local chamber of commerce backs the initiative, too, according to Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber. “The Springfield Regional Chamber fully supports the city of Springfield’s efforts to create a downtown casino impact district,” Creed told Casino.org.
As the regional business chamber for western Massachusetts and beyond, we exist to champion local business growth and catalyze thriving communities. Expanding commerce around MGM Springfield seems to check both boxes,” Creed added.
She explained that the economic development plan “is another resource in Springfield’s toolkit for attracting potential developers, spurring investment, and, ultimately, generating positive growth throughout our region.”
Massachusetts Gaming Commission Updated on Springfield Plan
Last week, city officials explained the development plan to apparently sympathetic members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Though still early in the process, the plan may encourage mixed-use development with buildings having ground-floor retail tenants and residences in upper floors.
The commission met in Springfield as it focused on local gaming and related issues. Springfield Chief Development Officer Timothy Sheehan said the plan will require multiple steps and focuses on development near the casino.
One building that is being considered for development is the Old First Church at Court Square, now owned by the city. It could house residences and somehow be connected to art and culture, Sheehan said.
“It’s not hard to imagine the potential on a lot of those buildings you mentioned as foreclosed upon and the neighborhood around it,” commission member Enrique Zuniga was quoted by MassLive.