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City ups the ante in race for casino development

Date: 7/24/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — In the campaign to land a casino license and developer, Springfield will have "a leg up," according to Mayor Domenic Sarno, with the hiring of a law practice with much experience in that field.

Sarno introduced Cezar Froelich and Michael Schaller of the Chicago, Ill.-based law firm Shefsky & Froelich at a press conference on July 17.

Developers are considering potential sites in Palmer, Westfield and Springfield. In Springfield, the Howard street block in the South End has been the subject of speculation as a casino location, while a grouping of properties near Union Station, including the Peter Pan bus terminal, the Republican newspaper building and the former Kittredge building forming another potential location, sources have explained to Reminder Publications.

Springfield's Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy told this writer earlier this year he prefers a downtown location for the casino.

The only real commitment to the city has been from Ameristar Casinos, which has paid $15 million for the former Westinghouse property on Page Boulevard.

Hiring the law firm is a "game changer for the city of Springfield," Sarno said. "They come with a great pedigree."

The law firm recently completed an Intergovernmental Agreement between the city of Taunton and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for a casino in that city. Froelich said that his firm has negotiated host agreements in cities both smaller and larger than Springfield.

Sarno said the host agreement must not only satisfy Springfield voters, but also the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Voters must first approve a completed host agreement between the developer and the city, which will then go to the Gaming Commission. That body will determine which developer and community will receive the one casino license set aside for Western Massachusetts.

Schaller said, "[Our] process is to listen, learn and advise the administration and the City Council in putting together the best economic development program that can be done."

The city will pay $125,000 for the firm's services for the first year of consultation and City Solicitor Edward Pikula explained that fee can be worked into the host agreement so the casino developer, rather than the city will be paying it.

What is aiding the city's quest to attract more developers isn't "sexy," Sarno said. The city's water, gas and electrical infrastructure are a plus, he explained.

Froelich said that competition among developers is "expected."

"Casinos are driven by population and demographics, Froelich said. "There will be significant interest and significant participation by three or four developers."