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Planned casino extends potential reach up the valley

The closest that MGM’s roaring lion gets to Franklin County is the start of movies at Greenfield’s Garden Theater or people’s TV screens. So far.

But a proposed new MGM Springfield resort casino is already roaring up the Pioneer Valley, with representatives telling Franklin County Chamber of Commerce members and local officials they plan to spread the wealth from their $800 million project by buying products from, and encouraging tourism, around the region.

“We view ourselves as a tourism headquarters,” MGM Resorts International’s global gaming development Vice President Michael Mathis told a breakfast gathering of more than 100 chamber members Friday. “We would like to get people to Springfield and then have them explore, have a four-or-five day extended trip. We want to partner with Franklin County for a lot of those experiences.”

The bulk of the resort company’s revenues come not from casinos, but from accommodations, dining and entertainment, said Mathis. “The new view of the industry is to deliver a mixed use, diverse experience that creates longer stays.”

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission expects to decide next April on whether to grant a license for its western Massachusetts resort casino to either MGM’s Springfield site or to a Mohegan Sun resort proposed for Palmer.

With 90,000 to 100,000 cars a day passing by the proposed 14.5-acre site on Interstate 91, Mathis said, “It’s one of the best sites we’ve ever seen.”

The resort plans to bring between 8 and 8.5 million visitors to the site each year, and MGM plans to not only bring “a vibrant experience” to Springfield’s downtown — including concerts, shopping and an outdoor skating rink — but also stir the pot around the region.

“There are so many things, particularly in downtown Springfield but in this area, that frankly just need visitation,” he said. “We need to put eyeballs on them and get people out here.”

Franklin County is part of the western Mass. experience that MGM hopes to “leverage” for its proposed resort, but the corporation, which owns 15 resorts in Nevada, Mississippi and Michigan alone, also has the wherewithal to bring back to Massachusetts a lot of gaming revenue that’s being lost to Connecticut, said Mathis, especially since it already boasts 150,000 active New England customers without even having a presence yet in this part of the country.

“We control eight out of the nine Cirque de Soleil shows in North America,” he said. “This will be a great draw to bring people into the area that haven’t explored Springfield and visited this area.”

In addition to bringing 2,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, 80 percent of which would be full-time, the proposed resort plans to spend $50 million a year on goods and services, providing everything from bacon and eggs to furnishings.

Mathis said MGM has already talked with Berkshire Brewing Co. about providing a signature brew for the resort. It’s also talked with Yankee Candle Co. and Kringle Candle Co. about collaborations.

He said the company would like to use the Franklin County chamber as “a portal” for providing vendors, particularly if there are smaller businesses that could work together to fill large orders for the resort.

Chamber President Ann Hamilton, speaking after the breakfast meeting, said that MGM playing a bigger role in Franklin County tourism is “definitely a possibility,” and after several collaboration sessions with Mathis — as has Greenfield Mayor William Martin — she has invited the resort’s representatives to join her for a tour of county attractions to get a better understanding of what’s here.

“They’re hoping for their visitors to have longer stays and to come more than once, so they think they’ll be interested in doing other things,” said Hamilton. “We’ll have to do cooperative marketing with them, but we offer a lot of outdoor experiences they might not find down there, and there are always people who are interested in the history of the area. We’ll have to work on it.”

‘Destination’ packages

Hamilton said she expects that destinations like Franklin County’s candle villages or its zip-line attractions may offer special packages for MGM guests, but said those would more likely be “leisure travel” suggestions through promotional materials rather than planned bus junkets.

“It’s going to depend how they brand the area and how it fits in with what the rest of us are doing,” Hamilton said. “Without being part of MGM, how we can all market the area to the greatest advantage?”

The resort, she said, could even prove beneficial to area farmers.

“This whole farm-to-table thing is becoming increasingly important,” said Hamilton. “If we can find enough cucumbers, potatoes, onions, whatever, to supply them, that would be great.”

On the Web: www.mgmspringfield.com

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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