Mass Mutual Civic Center, Springfield, MA

Springfield casino seeks to blend into historic downtown.

Most new “brick & mortar”casinos, such as future casinos Wynn Boston Harbor & Tiverton Hotel/Casino, are built on open land, set back from their neighbors. But a newer approach is on the rise in Springfield, Massachusetts – the “Urban Casino.”

What is an Urban Casino? Finding a definition is difficult because it’s such a new concept.  These new genre of casinos have certain criteria in common:

This church was moved from the area that will be the casino floor.
  • They are built, usually in already existing buildings, although major renovations or completely new buildings like MGM Grand, are not out if the area.
  • They are built in an already existing Downtown area.
  • They are made to fit in the existing landscape of the city
  • They are not dependent upon having a hotel – some suggest no hotel is best because it allows visitors to explore city areas more, instead of the old idea of self-contained “hold ’em & keep ’em” hotel/casinos.

MGM is bringing a $950 million casino and hotel to the heart of a city with nearly four centuries of history, including the overnight stays of President James Polk and his secretary of state, James Buchanan, who became president in 1857 – according to Sean Murphy of the Boston Globe. “Prodded by local history buffs, MGM has pledged to integrate its 14-acre development into the downtown cityscape by preserving all or a portion of several treasured buildings, including the Union House, the 129-year-old First Spiritualist Church in Springfield which was moved so it could be preserved as part of the casino complex, and will include two very citys landmarks as important bookends on either side – the sturdy Mass Mutual building, built in the early 20th century, and the columned facade of the United Electric building. MGM plans to restore the magnificent United Electric lobby, a masterpiece that features terrazzo floors, marbled walls, and a stained-glass dome, to be displayed at the casino.

Blending In

In this prominent historic district of Detroit, the 30-story hotel tower with 400 guestrooms and suites anchors the property while providing a high-visibility link to the adjacent casino and event center.The idea of an Urban Casino is not new, but MGM’s goal is to blend it into the city of Springfield better than any other urban casinos already built.

The trend began with downtown casinos in Detroit, one of which is the Greektown Hotel-Casino in the historic Greektown District.

MGM Springfield’s plan is similar to Greektown – hotel without tower, casino within a city.

“It’s a glimpse of what future casinos may look like,” said Andrew Klebenow of Global Market Advisers, a Las Vegas-based casino consulting company. “Rather than build an island in the middle of the city, MGM wants to connect to the street grid and allow for the free flow of pedestrians and tourists into and out of its property.”

The casino is only a couple blocks from Court Square, a wide patch of green surrounded by a white steepled church, a building designed by famed 19th-century architect H.H. Richardson, and the classically styled City Hall and Symphony Hall. Nearby is the Mass Mutual Civic Center, an 8,000-seat arena, an arena where MGM will be managing entertainment options in close proximity.

“The idea is for casino patrons to venture out into the city to go to the symphony or to the Civic Center for a show,” said Robert McCarroll, a retired city planner and longtime preservationist.

Other Urban Casinos – OHIO

Horseshoe Cincinnati, now Jack Cincinnati.

Horseshoe Cincinnati,  Cincinnati, Ohio – the first to actually use phrase opened on Monday, March 4, 2013, closed and reopened under the brand Jack Cincinnati Casino in June 2016

The Horseshoe Casino, Cleveland

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, Ohio (2012) – “originally planned as a temporary facility, but evolving into a permanent casino reusing already existing commercial property.

 

 

A City in Need

For decades, Springfield, the state’s third-largest city, has experienced a steady drain of jobs as factories moved or closed , with it’s current unemployment rate of almost 9 percent is about twice that of the state average. Many officials now look to the casino as the economic savior they were hoping it would be and promised by MGM and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Michael Mathis, president of MGM Springfield, said the company’s plan drew inspiration from the city’s “past and its future potential.” “We are very proud of our urban redevelopment casino model,” he said.

Main Street, Red Rose Pizza in the far left corner. In between is Howard Street to the Cinema, Bowling, and Event area

Here’s hoping the city of Springfield, with a new AHL Hockey franchise, a rise in entertainment options, and an improved transportation infrastructure, will rise to be a top New England destination.  With the connections that MGM International provides, and the comprehensive MLife Rewards Club with ties to 13 Las Vegas properties, MGM Springfield has the potential to become another success in the MGM’s portfolio.

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