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Two more developers may be looking at the city

Date: 8/29/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — While the four casino companies that have identified themselves so far as having an interest in Springfield — Ameristar, Penn General, Hard Rock and MGM Grand — had their first official meeting on Monday with Mayor Domenic Sarno and Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, there may be other players in this game.

Kennedy confirmed to Reminder Publications that two other developers have contacted Shefsky & Froelich, the Chicago, Ill.-based law firm the city has contracted to assist it in the development of a host agreement.

Kennedy did not say which new companies are potentially interested in the city.

Kennedy explained after a meeting with the City Council and members of the Casino Site Selection Committee that if those developers were interested, they would have to file the first of two Requests for Proposals (RFP) to the city by the Sept. 5 deadline.

Sarno and Kennedy made brief comments to the two groups before Attorney Cezar Froelich made the bulk of the presentation. Addressing the Council, the mayor said, "It's important we work together as a team."

He also said the process over the next few months to select a developer to present to the voters would be "a succinct process, very professional and transparent."

Kennedy emphasized the city has more economic development activity planned than just a casino. He listed the Union Station project, the repair and construction of three schools and road improvements providing construction jobs. He also said there would be an announcement of the construction of a new business and the potential income of the Palmer Renewable Energy facility, if it is approved by the state.

Kennedy also opened the door to a possibility that until today had not been discussed publicly: the potential of presenting two host agreements to city voters for approval.

Froelich then explained the first step would be the initial RFP that contains "vanilla questions" about each company's background and financial resources and strengths.

Those RFPs would be evaluated and the results announced on Sept. 25. The companies would then go onto the second RFP that would be due Oct. 2.

According to the press release about the process, the second RFP would "ask all proposers to address how their proposed project will assist the city in achieving the following core goals: (i) making a significant and lasting contribution to the city and the Commonwealth and increasing sustainable economic benefits from tourism and conventions; (ii) being a catalyst for additional economic development in the City; (iii) creating good paying jobs and new employment opportunities for city residents; (iv) utilizing local and small business suppliers and vendors, including minority business enterprises, women business enterprises and veteran business enterprises; (v) utilizing the city's existing entertainment venues; (vi) mitigating any adverse impacts of the project on the city and surrounding communities; and (vii) providing additional revenues for the city. It is expected that the project will be competitively unique, providing a standard of service and excellence that will be known throughout the Northeast region of the United States."

The rest of the timetable, according to Froelich, is that city officials will select one or more companies with whom to "negotiate and execute a host community agreement" by mid-December. Those talks and a final document would be settled by the end of January 2013 and go to the City Council for approval.

"Any host community agreement will be published and posted no later than seven days after signing and the question of locating the project in the city will be submitted to the city's voters no earlier than 60 and no more than 90 days after a request for such vote is made by the gaming license applicant," according to the timetable.

Froelich said a referendum in April would be ideal. He added that Sarno would be the person "who pulls the trigger" on the final decision of a developer to present to the City Council for approval.

This timetable would allow Springfield to conceivably get its candidate for the single casino license for Western Massachusetts before any other community.

"We think it's good to be first," Froelich said.

Although the state legislation indicates the voters involved in approving a casino proposal would juts be those living in the ward where casino would be located, City Councilor Michael Fenton noted the law allows the City Council to change the referendum to city-wide. Froelich said a citywide option is the one Sarno wants because the impact of the casino would be greater than just one ward.

Although Kennedy opened the door to the concept of more than one host agreement for the City Council and the voters to consider, Froelich said his firm was advising to select just one.

"We still believe at the end of the day, one is the way to go," he said.

Although, Froelich added, a multiple choice gives the city greater flexibility.