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Hard Rock yet to come to the table for mitigation

Date: 8/22/2013

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – With the referendum vote in Springfield now a thing of the past, Town Manager Stephen Crane said he has had ongoing discussions with representatives of MGM regarding a surrounding community agreement.

He added that he has reached out to Hard Rock, which has a proposal for a casino at the Eastern States Exposition, but has not received any reply.

Crane cautioned that while it may be tempting to think of it as such, the inclusion of a casino in the Greater Springfield area does not equate a “pay day” for surrounding towns.

“Managing expectations is a part of this because there is a limit on what we’re going to get,” he said.

First, the casino developer can designate certain municipalities as surrounding communities in its license application and if a town is not included in that application, it can petition the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for that distinction. In either case, the Gaming Commission has established a very specific set of factors that will be considered.

Those factors include geographic distance and proximity to residential areas; effects on transportation infrastructure; noise and other environmental factors; demand increases for public safety, water and sewer, as well as impacts on property values, retail, entertainment and service establishments.

Crane said he is using these guidelines as the basis for his discussions with MGM on mitigation.

“If that’s what the Gaming Commission says it will evaluate in determining if you’re a surrounding community, that is essentially the battleground on which these mitigation agreements are going to be decided,” he said.

Crane said the key words in legislation regarding surrounding community agreements are that the demands should be “fair and reasonable.”

He added that it was his belief that traffic would be the most significant impact on Longmeadow, which is beneficial because it is more “quantifiable” than some other factors.

“The good thing about traffic is it’s measurable and there are very mature practices and models that can be used to quantify with a reasonable level of closeness what the impact could be,” he said. “Is our property value going down specifically because of a casino? Who knows? Are we going to have a bunch of people living in illegal apartments in houses? We have that now. Will we have more? Maybe, but how do you count? Are we going to have more crime? Yeah, but how much?”

He also pointed out that traffic mitigation could be used for infrastructure needs.

Crane said he is in the process of hiring special counsel to help with the agreement, explaining the nuances of these kinds of negotiations, and the fact that there are no templates for such agreements, makes expert help necessary.

“It’s mostly to draft the agreement because these agreements don’t exist anywhere, that I’m aware of, in the country,” he said. “My understanding is that Massachusetts gaming legislation is the first in the country that requires surrounding community agreements as a condition for getting a license … There may have been some elsewhere that have been offered, but this is the first state that has compelled it. We are writing the best practices as we go.”

Crane added that should the town be unable to reach an agreement with MGM, it would go to a binding arbitration at which the level of mitigation would be determined.

“Even though you’re negotiating, you’re still in trial preparation,” Crane said. “So special counsel is needed to kind of play that dual track.”