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Developer holds off paying fee until city defines its process

Date: 8/22/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — The only casino developer that has actually bought property in the city may not pay the $400,000 to the state that would give it access to state officials for the preparation of a host agreement.

Troy Stremming, senior vice president of Governmental Affairs for Ameristar Casinos Inc., said on Monday before the company pays that fee, it wants to learn more about the process set up by the Sarno Administration on how the selection of a casino developer will be made.

Stremming was at the meeting Monday night of the Casino Site Selection Committee formed by City Council President James Ferrera III and chaired by former Police Chief Paula Meara. Near the conclusion of the meeting, Councilor Michael Fenton revealed that Mayor Domenic Sarno and Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy would be meeting with representatives of the developers interested in the city on Aug. 27.

The announcement of the meetings with Sarno and Kennedy came two days before MGM Grand was reportedly going to reveal a proposal for a casino in the South End of Springfield.

Ferrera's committee will convene at 5:30 p.m. on Aug 27 to hear a presentation made by the city's casino consultant about the city's process.

Ferrera also outlined the responsibilities of the City Council in the casino issue. The council must ratify the host agreement between the city and the selected developer and must approve any zoning changes or special permits. The council could also determine if a citywide referendum vote was necessary or just a vote of the residents of the ward in which the casino would be located.

Stremming noted the way that Kansas City, Kan. a site of one of the eight Ameristar Casinos — handled its host agreement issue. The City Council drew up one proposal from which developers could start in their negotiations.

City Councilor Timothy Allen thought that would be a good model to adapt.

"It would be a target for people to aim at," he said.

Ameristar has bought the 42-acre location of the former Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard.

Stremming told the committee many of the same points he and other Ameristar officials have already presented to other groups in the city. He explained the Springfield casino would be unique to the city and would create about 2,000 construction jobs and about 2,800 to 3,000 permanent jobs. He also said the company is already speaking to the building trades about using union labor.

The casino would be the largest in the company with 4,000 slot machines — a number of slots that dwarfs the Las Vegas casinos, Stremming said. There would be 100 table games, 650 hotel rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, a full service spa, retail shops and dining venues with "local flavor but with national flair."

There would be "structured parking areas," and the casino would have a small entertainment venue. Stremming said his company has already had conversations about using the MassMutual Center and Symphony Hall abiut using those facilities.

Ameristar is prepared to pay $50 million to make sure there are changes to the traffic infrastructure to the Page Boulevard area.

The casino would be placed as close to I-291 as it could be, Stremming said, for better exposure and to help screen the development from the residential neighborhood.

"Our focus is to an integrated part of this community," he added.

When asked by Allen what are the best characteristics of his company, Stremming offered three points. He said the company has never had a regulatory issue and will "fly through the background investigation with the Commonwealth."

The company has the financial ability to build the casino, "which could easily exceed the $500 minimum set by the state," he said.

Finally he said that Ameristar is a "regional destination operator" that understands the customer will be coming from within a radius of several hundred miles and that Springfield will not be like Las Vegas, Nev. or Atlantic City, N.J.