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Casino developers would have helped Boys & Girls Club

Date: 1/2/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — As almost a footnote to the city's brief exploration into casino gambling, members of Paper City Development LLC and the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club released on Dec. 19, 2012 what would have been an ancillary benefit if Paper City had successfully developed a casino.

Paper City would have assisted the Boys & Girls Club in developing the property the club owns on Mount Tom. Club officials have hoped that announcing the deal might make Mayor Alex Morse re-think his latest decision to stop the process of casino selection in the city.

Eileen Cavanaugh, president of the club, told Reminder Publications the organization has owned the parcel for 12 years and has wanted to create a center that could be used by the youth served by the club.

She said she hopes Morse would "take another look" and added she does not "consider this a dead issue."

Once Morse had announced he was starting a casino selection process, the club's board of directors and Paper City began discussing how to make an outdoor center a reality.

The following is what the two parties planned: "Construction of an ecology / conservation-driven conference center with a 'great room' and dormitory-style, overnight accommodations for a maximum of 150 guests (for use of Holyoke and other local Boys and Girls Club chapters throughout the Pioneer Valley — Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, etc.).

"Possible Adirondack-style architecture and theme, or replica of the old Mt. Tom Summit House. The footprint of new buildings can't exceed 35,000 square feet under the terms of the Conservation Restriction and Easement. Surface parking provided on site can't exceed 150 vehicles.

"Once constructed, the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club would own, operate and manage the facility. While not a hotel or motel, this facility could also be rented out by the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club on a nightly (or weekly) basis to other community and nonprofit organizations, or to local companies and businesses for corporate conferences/ retreats.

"Other elements of this conference center would likely include event/conference and classroom space, a kitchen facility, a reception/guest registration center, first aid/ nursing center, a picnic pavilion with outside BBQ grill, volleyball and basketball courts.

"Final 'build out' to be largely determined through a feasibility study/needs assessment driven primarily by Boys and Girls Club programming vision for the facility.

"Feasibility study and market analysis evaluating the restoration of passive, 'low-impact' winter outdoor sports activities not requiring significant capital outlay — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing (for both paid public use and Boys and Girls Club programming)."

John Counter, co-chair of the club's Mt. Tom Development Committee, said, "We did not halt our negotiations or work because of Mayor Morse's most recent decision. We are announcing the vote of the board today in the hopes that this new development, this incredibly positive thing for the city of Holyoke, might be recognized by the mayor as one of many reasons offered by Paper City Development to consider pursuit of a viable casino proposal for Holyoke. To that end, we are also requesting a meeting with the mayor immediately to discuss this proposal in greater detail. There is still time before the state's Jan. 15 deadline and West Springfield just entered the competition the day after Mayor Morse said 'no.'"