On Tuesday, the City Council was urged by representatives of business and area residents to support MGM Springfield’s latest design, which includes some significant changes that have been the subject of controversy and debate.

While four of the 16 speakers expressed questions or concerns, twelve spoke favorably of the project during the first of four City Council hearings scheduled to take place over the next two weeks, according to MassLive. Among other issues, design changes and site plans will be considered related to the South End area’s $950 million casino project. City Hall’s council chambers were overfilled by the crowd who attended the 90-plus-minute meeting, which will resume in the council chambers today at 7 p.m.

Advancement of the casino project is necessary to bring major economic development, jobs and revenue to Springfield, said those who spoke in favor of the latest design. The council was urged by many to support significant changes to MGM’s original proposal, including changing the casino’s 25-story hotel tower to a six-story low rise, without reducing the number of rooms or quality; a proposal has garnered criticism in recent weeks. However, speakers said the change and moving the hotel from State Street to Main Street will increase the vitality of the downtown and South End area.

South End resident Carol Kerr said MGM’s new design allows the city to maintain its “unique personality.” She said, “This isn’t MGM’s first rodeo,” and, “They are spending a lot of money and will ensure that they will build an entertainment complex that is the best it can be. It isn’t in their best interest to build something less than spectacular,” according to the MassLive report. Similarly, Springfield resident and former city councilor, William Foley, said that he hasn’t seen an opportunity for the city such as this, which promises $25 million in annual revenue and thousands of jobs.

Questions regarding the likelihood of MGM making good on all of its job and revenue promises should economic challenges arise, as well as the project itself, were raised by a few speakers. The city has guarantees on the majority of its revenues, according to a city consultant. Consultants for Springfield, which included a representative of Chicago Consultants Studio Inc., of Chicago, urged approval of the plans, and said market rate housing changes and the hotel change improve the project. Beyond today’s hearing, a hearing regarding road closures and amendments to the Host Community Agreement is scheduled for Monday, January 25 at 5:30 p.m. Votes on the site plans as well as other issues related to the casino may be taken by the council on January 26, unless members of the council want to add hearings.

MGM Resorts International’s project was one of three proposals for the Western Massachusetts casino license. In June 2014 the MGM Springfield officially received its license, and more than a year later in August, the Gaming Commission voted to allow the casino to open in September 2018.

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