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Sarno declines to participate in Morse's regional casino development meeting

Date: 12/10/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Thanks, but no thanks.

Last week, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno declined to participate in a regional meeting on casino development hosted by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. Morse had invited the mayors of Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, Northampton, Easthampton, and West Springfield, as well as the town managers of South Hadley, Southampton, and Hadley to a meeting that would be conducted Dec. 13 or 14.

"I think it's unfortunate," Morse told Reminder Publications. "It's never too early to talk about the impact of casinos."

Morse added that until recently the discussion about casinos has been "Springfield-centric."

In his invitation, Morse wrote, "The arrival of a large-scale gaming project to any of our communities will have a tangible effect on all of us, so I am hoping we can all come together to discuss one of the most important decisions to face our region. We encompass one metropolitan area: we share the same workforce, infrastructure and economic linkages throughout the Pioneer Valley. I am sure you recognize this and are likely to have begun to consider the impact of a potential project near your community."

Sarno wrote in his decline, "As mayor of the third largest city in New England, I am always willing to participate personally or to send a representative, to consider important issues that require regional cooperation. The world class gaming developers in Springfield have proposed the largest private economic development project in the history of Western Massachusetts which, while not a panacea, has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to the city and the region and a catalyst for needed economic vitality, and a proper subject of discussion at the appropriate time.

"However, developers' participating in Phase II of Springfield's process have until Jan. 3, 2013 to submit their proposals. Under the RFQ/P (Requests for Qualifications/Proposals) process they are required to submit, among other things, information as to how they plan to mitigate any adverse impacts of the project on the city and surrounding communities. Without the submission of traffic studies, engineering reports or other expert analysis, discussions at the proposed meeting may lack the substance required to address any of the relevant criteria on any objective basis," he continued.

Sarno also wrote that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) would be the body to define what constitutes a "surrounding community" and "impact."

"We believe that the MGC will have to determine which communities constitute surrounding communities on a case-by-case basis depending upon the location of a particular casino, traffic patterns to and from the proposed casino, infrastructure leading to, surrounding and impacted by the proposed casino and so on," he wrote.

Sarno concluded, "Once Springfield has chosen one or more developers to negotiate a community host agreement, it will consider the impacts based on direct impacts and objective evidence. Thereafter, host community agreement negotiations will be initiated and will include input from regional tourism, business, restaurant and convention entities to engage in a dialogue to bring consensus around the issues confronted by surrounding communities, and, hopefully, to have support a casino proposal in Springfield."

Morse's invitation followed an endorsement of three area mayors — Daniel Knapik of Westfield, Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee and Michael Tautznik of Easthampton — of the "Regional Progress Plan" put forth by Paper City Development Company LLC, the group that has proposed building a casino at Wyckoff Country Club.

According to a recent press release, "Under Paper City's 'Holyoke NOW!' Partnership for Regional Progress Plan, the city of Holyoke would receive 1.25 percent of the net gaming revenues to be generated annually at a Holyoke casino and several neighboring communities would share in a pool of an additional 1.25 percent under a distribution formula determined by population size (largest to smallest). The surrounding communities eligible to participate are Chicopee, Westfield, Northampton, West Springfield, Easthampton, Southampton, South Hadley and Hadley ... Under this formula, Paper City officials estimate that Chicopee would be in line to receive upwards of $1.4 million, followed by Westfield ($1.05 million), Northampton ($716,000) and West Springfield ($707,000). South Hadley ($434,000), Easthampton ($408,000), Southampton ($149,000) and Hadley ($118,000) round out the list of eligible recipients."