What more can I say about MGM but that it is a game changer, and not just a game changer but a life changer. Since the development opened in August we’ve spent time on the property every weekend but one; at the movies, playing games in the arcade, listening to live music, or just resting while we people-watch.
Weird stuff is happening. Red Rose lowered the curtain rods, ever so slightly, along their Main Street frontage. Where before I could only assess how full the tables were by making an effort as I walked along, now it displays itself for all to see quite easily; the bar opens the curtains completely. Last night there was nothing going on at Symphony Hall, the Mass Mutual Center, or City Stage, but Sun Kim Bop was busy every time we walked by. Groups of people were walking, walking, from Fort Street to the South End and back again; not hopping in their cars and driving 5 blocks.
There are shops where once another boring bank had a branch office. Last night there were horses, loads of them, just meandering along State Street. A group of black men assembled on Court Square chanting Christian slogans decrying white racism and declaring that God and Jesus were black. Jehovah’s witnesses were by the courthouse with their literature eager to tell people about the apocalypse. Or something. On the other end of the building kids were engaging with the architecture of H.H. Richardson with a multiplicity of wheeled contraptions. Earlier in the day a gang of tuxedoed groomsmen drifted by our house in an open top double-decker bus. There were old ladies wearing fanny packs getting pizza (bad choice*) at City Pizza.p, and North African women sitting on the brick sidewalk waiting for a bus.
And just people. People everywhere. Nice people, excited people, interesting people, clearly heading someplace they want to go, looking for an experience, a story to tell, or some free money. We’ve seen friends and neighbors there, but mostly we see people who look like they’d never been to Springfield in their lives. Last night we had brief conversations with people from southeast Connecticut and Pittsburg, PA. Pittsburg. Stopping on their way to Vermont to grab something to eat, listen to some live music, and stretch their legs.
(This is 4 blocks from the casino…the group in front of us here ended up going there)
As someone who loves cities, who vacations in cities, who visits cities, who reads and writes about cities, and who has lived in a handful of cities in Spain…it has been like it should be; bustling, unexpected, familiar, surprising, comfortable, beautiful, but most of all filled with people.
(Find the horses. Were they offering pony rides?)
Lots of locals have mentioned, including me, how expensive the food and drink offerings are. Spectacular. They’re busy, and on weekends they’re packed; MGM getting the most return on their billion dollar investment they can I’m sure. But anyone with any prior experience knows that, depending on the time of day, Raices, Frigo’s, Milano’s, Red Rose, Mom and Rico’s, La Fiorentina, and Homei (to just name places in the South End) are just around the corner. At City Pizza you can get fries, a drink and the best gyro* I’ve ever had for $7 ($9 if you get the lamb). At Raices you can get some great pollo asado with arroz con gandules for the entire family for $10. The empanadas are $1.50.
Time will tell what the net effect will be on local establishments and how location relative to the casino impacts them. We’ve never been out of the house so much and, apart from two beers and two adult milkshakes, some soda and some popcorn, we’ve done all of our eating outside the footprint; from Panjabi Tadka and the Student Prince in the north to the aforementioned eateries in the south.
For long time readers you might recall that I mentioned that the anti-casino movement made a short list of reasons for opposing the project; the list included both the idea that MGM would prove horribly unpopular and that the traffic would be horrendous: All of the people NOT going to the casino creating horrible traffic tie-ups! What has happened has been the opposite: almost no change in overall traffic with many times the expected number of people taking advantage of the resort on a daily basis.
The recent court ruling against the Connecticut tribes running a casino on non-tribal land has put a stop to the competing East Windsor development and probably puts expansion of gaming in Connecticut on hold for the foreseeable future; any changes to their casino scene puts their guaranteed revenue from the two largest casinos in the world at risk. That would seem like an overreaction to a relatively small casino in Springfield.
The 50+ units of market rate housing are yet to be built. The links to Union Station, the Quadrangle, and the Riverfront are still under construction. The Massasoit/Paramount hotel/theater project appears to be moving ahead. The dining district is “under construction”. Hopefully progress will continue to be steady.
The Red Lion Inn, an institution in the Berkshires, is looking to expand into downtown Springfield. If they were to find a location that could serve as a link from MGM to the museums that would be amazing. I hope that the combination of the energy of MGM and the potential of Union Station becomes a catalyst for business relocation to the downtown. Silverbrick and Davenport are doing their share when it comes to improving the housing stock for would be downtown dwellers, Davenport will move ahead with some kind of retail project on the Zorzi site as soon as the deal for MGM placing its housing at Court Square is completed I’m fairly certain.
There’s never been a better time, in my lifetime at least, to be an optimist about downtown Springfield.