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City to seek consultant for casino host agreement

Date: 5/15/2012

May 14, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic Sarno is taking the city's efforts to land a casino license to a new level. He announced on May 10 the city would be seeking to hire a consultant who would work to craft a host plan with the casino developers interested in the city.

The city has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the position that day.

In an interview with Reminder Publications on May 9, Sarno emphasized that a casino is part of his overall economic development plan and said the city needs blue-collar service jobs as well as white-collar jobs.

"It's one piece of the puzzle," Sarno said.

He noted the state commission governing the three casino licenses has not yet released the rules under which the selection process will be determined, but Sarno wants to be prepared.

"I want a specialist in this game who knows the ins and outs," he added.

Although casino developers have reportedly expressed interest in sites close to the Amtrak station and in the South End, Sarno noted that Ameristar, which has purchased the Westinghouse property on Page Boulevard, is the only company definitely interested in the city.

"If it's the only horse in the game, that's the horse you ride," he said.

Sarno said that his Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy is pushing for a downtown casino. When asked how a casino would affect existing businesses, such as bars and restaurants, Sarno said he was not worried.

As mayor he would negotiate an agreement that would protect those businesses and require the entertainment offered by the casino to use Symphony Hall and the MassMutual Center as venues.

"It [a downtown casino] has to be a spin-off of downtown," Sarno said.

He plans not to be bashful when working on a host agreement with a casino company.

"I would ask for the world," he said.

The RFP is looking for "qualified firms with substantial experience in representing municipalities and developers with regard to negotiations over gaming industry projects including regulations, licensing, permitting, construction and land development, impacts and impact fees," according to the press release.

"The siting and construction of a $500 million casino would be the largest single construction project in Springfield's history," Kennedy said. "Procuring the reimbursable services of an experienced advisor is a prudent course of action to provide expert advice throughout the negotiations of a host community agreement. The construction of any $500 million development will not only provides thousands of construction jobs, but will also create thousands of new permanent jobs. We want to be in a position to negotiate the best agreement we can."

The deadline for the RFP is June 12 by 2 p.m.

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