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Select Board forms new casino committee

Date: 6/6/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Board of Selectmen decided at its June 3 meeting to form a committee that would be responsible for engaging in conversations with MGM Springfield.

Attorney Frank Fitzgerald, a Wilbraham native representing MGM Springfield, Chuck Irving, president of Davenport Properties, a contractor for MGM and other representatives for the gaming company originally appeared before the board on April 8, but no substantive dialogue has been had since.

Board of Selectmen Chair James Thompson said that interaction with MGM Springfield "more of a meet and greet" than a real discussion.

"At that point, they had not been chosen as the only option for a casino in Springfield," he said.

As a community abutting the potential site of a casino, Wilbraham should have the opportunity to have concerns regarding effects on the town heard, he continued.

He added that those discussions regarding potential issues have been had internally.

"We do abut Springfield and we asked all department heads through an email to identify issues that they might see occurring," he said.

Thompson suggested a potential list of committee members that included Town Counsel Michael Hassett, Planning Director John Pearsall, Town Administrator Robert Weitz, Department of Public Works Director Edmond Miga, Police Chief Roger Tucker, Fire Chief Francis Nothe and a representative from the School Department.

The appointed committee would gather and prioritize that information and representatives would meet with MGM Springfield to establish plans for remediating those concerns in advance of the city-wide referendum vote that is set to take place in Springfield on July 16.

Selectman Robert Boilard vocally supported the formation of the committee, stating that he felt a casino in Springfield would have a profound impact on the town.

"Frank Fitzgerald said he thought the impact on Wilbraham would be minimal and I strongly disagree," he said, citing the effect on the Boston Road/Route 20 corridor as well as a potential increase in residents as two potential issues.

Selectman Robert Russell agreed, stating, "Frank gets paid to say that."

The Board of Selectmen also decided to grant the Council on Aging's request for a feasibility study regarding a new senior center.

Representatives from the Council on Aging stated that Senior Center Building Needs Study Committee had presented a strong case for a new location at the Nov. 5, 2012 Board of Selectmen meeting and the feasibility study would be the next step in moving such a project along.

Among those who had been contacted and expressed willingness to work as part of the feasibility study committee were East Longmeadow Council on Aging Director Carolyn Brennan, Gina Kahn, director of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District's Safe Schools/Healthy Students program, and Joan Paris, director of Development and Communications at the Community Music School in Springfield and former assistant town administrator. Both Kahn and Paris have extensive experience in writing grants.

Thompson said he supported the creation of the committee, but stated he would like to see more involvement from the Capital Planning Committee and also suggested advertising the committee and opening it up to the community at large for input.