Seeing the “Vote Yes” on MGM signs all along Main Street in the South End is very entertaining, especially given the claims that MGM’s $800,000,000 development will destroy local businesses. I took a walk around the block to survey the lawn signs and placards for and against the casino development, only venturing down Maple, State, and Main Streets. The tally (I excluded any signs in the windows of buildings that would be part of the development itself, as their support could be due to a view that it is an opportunity to “take the money and run” and not necessarily a belief that the development will improve the neighborhood) was 1 against (predictably, a church) and 12 in favor (businesses and residences). I had the chance to actually speak to two of the owners of the businesses and they both held the same view: they’ve been barely holding on as the city has declined, and while they are fully confident that their regulars will continue to take the time to patronize their businesses, they believe that the people a resort casino will bring in can only improve their prospects. I think the project will end up eviscerating some regional businesses, just not the ones people think, not the ones around it in Springfield’s core. An analysis from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specifically focused on URBAN CASINOS located in neighboring states to SUBURBAN CASINOS found that the losers are the suburban casinos and the states whose revenues rely on them.
Beyond that national and demographic trends favor walkable urban communities, especially when those communities possess opportunities for entertainment and culture in architecturally significant surroundings. Springfield is an opportunity like no other, and not just for MGM. The losers may well be every mall, strip mall, big box store, and suburban pod in the area, that is if MGM serves as the catalyst for a positive feedback loop recentralizing the entire region…as the region should do if it hopes to compete in the post cheap energy future.
Those who claim that the MGM development will be “wedged in” to the city do not understand cities. There is at least as much underutilized and underdeveloped space contiguous to its footprint, between Union and Central Streets just for starters, as there is within the footprint of the development itself. Beyond the all too numerous vacant lots and empty buildings, there are acres and acres of horrid surface parking: beyond being almost valueless it denies the urban center the critical mass it needs to become the magnet for people which traditional urban design creates. At most there are 150 linear feet of Union Street, that’s both sides of Union Street, NOT dedicated to surface parking. That is to say nearly two sides of a larger than average city block of a major cross street with Main Street almost completely devoid of value added of any kind. There is too much empty space, and too little value being created in the core of the city.
Just some of the empty space across Main Street from the proposed MGM Resort Casino(Note the boarded up homes in the background. I’m sure the owners are worried about MGM negatively impacting their property values!):
Bustling Union Street…if you have an excellent imagination!:
The other criticisms of the casiNO crowd are irrelevant, comical, and contradictory.
“In spite of the fact the no one will come to an urban casino, the traffic will be horrible!” Cars without drivers swarming around the casino? Don’t we WANT traffic in a city? Does gambling create a vibrancy that attracts disproportionate automobile traffic? Wasn’t the current infrastructure designed when the downtown attracted thousands and thousands of shoppers and workers? Don’t hockey games and concerts actually create a more problematic circumstance as they begin and end at specific times and let out “all at once”…and yet we survive them? Isn’t the downtown the ONLY place in the region that could bring in thousands of people who DON’T come by car, but rather by bus or by train, on foot or by pedal power(Not that this will happen, but isn’t any other location in the region LESS able to offer alternatives?)?
“Casinos are net takers from a community.” True, but Springfield is already within the sphere of influence of two enormous casinos AND there WILL BE a casino located even closer to the city whether or not MGM is selected as the site for the already approved western Massachusetts casino. Isn’t it better to have the ability to harness the upside, if the downside is unavoidable?
“MGM has been unresponsive to the community.” Apart from the storefront they’ve maintained at the very center of the city with a total open door policy, and the dozens of workshops they’ve held, and the hundreds of community meetings they’ve attended, and the thousands of hours they’ve spent in conversation with individual citizens (including hours and hours with yours truly), and the changes they’ve made to their plan to improve historic preservation, and the commitment to maintain public park land…except for that I guess, maybe they have been unresponsive. Not once have they weeded my garden! Maybe if I asked? (And yes, I realize that their attitude may change once they are ensconced, but at least they are wooing us with a great deal of respect.)
“Gambling will bring crime and prostitution.” I know half of my neighborhood’s prostitutes (No, not in the biblical sense), and she seems nice actually. I hope she enjoys her work, but on the off chance she doesn’t, perhaps she can get one of the jobs the project will provide. Critics charge that many of the jobs will be low paying service sector jobs. The median household income in the neighborhood is $16,291., I think MGM can beat that. As far as other crime is concerned, most property crime and violence thrive on darkness and isolation, a bustling resort with anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 visitors every day might just discourage knucklehead on knucklehead stupidity.
“The design of the facility is second rate and does a disservice to the city.” Well it is an almost totally revolutionary design that has only been used when a resort was being located in an already prosperous and vibrant area: the idea being to suck people in from the already vibrant street. In this case, though, it has to be said that MGM is taking at least as big a chance on Springfield as Springfield is on MGM. All of the aprés gaming will be part of a permeable design, permeable to and inextricably linked to the urban center. MGM is counting on its ability to harness the surrounding streets, storefronts, buildings, and cultural institutions to set it apart from its suburban competition, magnifying the urban advantage found in the MIT report. If that permeability turns into a weakness and not a strength, which is to say if the community around the casino DOES NOT POSITIVELY THRIVE, then the casino itself will no doubt wither and die, as the plan itself does not permit for enough space for the development to be an island unto itself.
There are sincere pessimists who want to see the city thrive and honestly don’t believe that the MGM plan will move the city forward. I respect them, but reading most of the comments online of the naysayers it must be said that they seem to have an antipathy for the city and the truth is, they seem more worried that it will succeed than anything else. What I see is a city that is already a great place to live, that’s why I live here. I’m not leaving if the MGM plan doesn’t materialize. Cities are the future, the suburban sprawl horizontal development of the past 70 years has been an anomaly made possible by the extraction and use of millions of years of solar energy stored in fossilized carbon which has allowed for our civilization to become bloated and unfit to survive in its current form once the flow of energy begins to diminish.
Right now it may seem that MGM is doing Springfield a favor by locating here. Within a generation it will be MGM which is viewed as fortunate for being part of such a vibrant community.