Springfield, Mass. Betting on a Future With MGM

(NECN: Alysha Palumbo, Springfield, Mass.) - Crime in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts is down year to year, but a recent wave of violent and deadly shootings has community leaders concerned.

"People should not have to live in fear," Reverend Talbert Swan with Spring of Hope Church said,

"I wish like any mayor I could snap my fingers and completely eradicate crime," Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said.

But Mayor Sarno knows tackling crime is much more complicated than that. The mayor is taking a multi-faceted approach by not only beefing up the police force, but working on building up the city's workforce and its economy. He says one key component of his plans for his beloved hometown is the MGM Springfield Resort Casino.

"So you put money in people's wallets and pocketbooks, they're less likely to get in the vicious cycle of poverty or public safety issues," Mayor Sarno said.

The $800 million project could bring a boom in business to the city's declining downtown area, as well as creating about 2,600 temporary constructions jobs and 2,350 full-time positions.

"Why not utilize this for the betterment of the whole city?" Sarno said.

The proposed casino site would be on top of abandoned lots, incorporated with blighted and boarded up buildings, and replacing eyesores still left behind from the 2011 tornado.

"In an area that was really ravaged to have a phoenix rising," said Mayor Sarno, "there's momentum here."

Springfield Police Sgt. John Delaney says MGM's plans would augment the resources they already have in place.

"There is an agreement with the city and MGM that they are going to hire more police officers, we'll have more police academies come in," Sgt. Delaney said, "Surveillance videos, more security in the area, I think it's a positive thing that's coming to Springfield."

But Reverend Swan says while that may help the city's South End, it won't necessarily impact neighborhoods that have seen recent spikes in crime like Mason Square and Forest Park.

"A casino, while it may provide some benefits to our city, is certainly not going to be the catalyst necessarily to reduce crime," said Rev. Swan.

Mayor Sarno argues that increased security around the casino site would benefit other sections of Springfield.

"That allows me to spread the tentacles out in every other nook and cranny in the city," he said.

Sgt. Delaney says he's realistic about what the project could mean for the city.

"I'm not looking at MGM as a savior," Sgt. Delaney said, "it's just part of a solution."

And the mayor insists he's not staking Springfield's future on gambling revenue alone - just seizing on an opportunity to try to improve the city's fate.

"I don't mind constructive criticism but to the naysayers I will say if not this then what?" Mayor Sarno said.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has agreed in principle to award the sole Western Massachusetts casino license to MGM Springfield. The formal vote is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Springfield's Mass Mutual Center.

Regardless of what happens with the gaming commission Friday, the state's Supreme Judicial Court will decide by July 9 whether to allow a ballot question repealing the state's casino law. If that happens, construction on the project will be delayed until after the November 4 vote, and the project would be halted entirely if the repeal passes.

As part of the terms negotiated between the commission and MGM is that even if approved Friday, the gaming giant will not have to pay the $85 million non-refundable licensing fee until after everything is figured out with the repeal effort.

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