The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is scheduled to come to Springfield on December 3 for a public meeting where officials from MGM are expected to present a comprehensive cost and design analysis of the latest plans for a casino in the city.
MGM officials say the budget to develop a resort casino in Springfield has increased to $950 million -- $150 million more than the estimated investment when the gaming commission awarded a license for the project in June 2014.
Rising costs, and other factors, have led MGM to redesign the project, reducing the total square footage by about 10 percent and eliminating a 25-story hotel tower that would have been the first change to Springfield’s downtown skyline in a generation.
MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle, at a public presentation for 250 Springfield officials and residents this week, offered assurances that his company is not deterred by the rising costs and project delays.
" We are fully committed to this," Hornbuckle said. " We are going to get this done to a point that you are all going to be exceptionally proud of it."
Hornbuckle defended the design changes as a natural evolution for a complicated project that has been on the drawing board now for almost three years.
Although the redesign trims about 122,000 square feet from the project, MGM officials insist it will not adversely impact non-gaming amenities such as retail and dining. The number of lanes in a proposed bowling alley will be reduced by three. Other changes impact “behind the scenes” operations including a smaller loading dock and employee dining room.
The size of the gaming floor is not being substantially changed.
Hornbuckle said the proposed six-story hotel, with the same number of rooms – 250 – as the tower, is a better fit in the South End neighborhood where there are many four-five story brick buildings.
Another change to the project, which MGM officials also insist is an improvement over the original plans, will relocate 50 market-rate apartments that were to be built on the grounds of the casino to other locations in the city.
MGM touched off a furor in Springfield last month when the project changes were revealed in a regulatory filing with a state environmental agency. It caught Mayor Domenic Sarno and other city officials completely by surprise.
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis promised the company will be more open and transparent.
"We recognize we stumbled here, but as you can see we are as committed as we've ever been, in fact $150 million more committed," said Mathis.
Mathis said all the commitments made in the host community agreement with Springfield will be fulfilled. These include annual payments to the city totaling $25 million, 2,000 construction jobs, and 3,000 permanent jobs.
MGM’s presentation was warmly received. Springfield resident Mark Boisvert said he’s confident the casino will get built.
" People in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley just have to be patient," He said. " We'll reap the benefits once all is said and done."
Sarno, the Springfield City Council, and the gaming commission must all approve the design changes sought by MGM.
Earlier this year, the gaming commission approved MGM’s request to delay the opening of the casino for one year, until September 2018, because of the reconstruction of I-91.