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Town begins contract negotiations for casino

Date: 5/24/2013

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The creation of a host community agreement (HCA) between the town of West Springfield and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino New England progresses as clarification of the overall referendum process for the proposed casino was obtained.

At a press conference on May 21, Mayor Gregory Neffinger stated that the HCA process is "moving forward" as its structure and possible dollar amounts are discussed. "We're having the preliminary meetings," he said.

In regards to the voter referendum, Neffinger said, "My feeling is that people want to have a voice; they want to express their opinion and vote on the matter."

At the Town Council meeting on May 20, attorney Jonathan Silverstein from Kopelman and Paige, P.C., addressed the councilors to explain the casino application process. He said that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is currently vetting the applicants. At this stage forums and meetings are being conducted to educate residents about the proposal; at the same time, the mayor is working with Hard Rock International to establish an HCA.

Silverstein told the council that once the HCA is negotiated, the request for a special voting referendum must be submitted to the Town Council within 60 to 90 days of its execution. He said at that time, Hard Rock will go into "campaign mode" where it makes every effort to convince the public why its proposal is the most beneficial for the region.

He stressed that the HCA is signed by the mayor and the applicant. He said that before Hard Rock can proceed to the next step, upon vetting of the MGC, the special election and zoning changes must be complete.

"The zoning changes must be in place, but Hard Rock doesn't have to have all of the permits acquired," Silverstein said. He added that other communities with proposed casinos plan to establish an HCA, conduct the special referendum election and then make the necessary zoning changes. He said at this time, the MGC has set the deadline for the Phase 2 applications for the end of December, but that it may change to Dec. 1.

Mark Rivers, president of Bronson Companies, the developer for the site, addressed the council as well by introducing Tim Maland, president of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino New England. He stated that Hard Rock is the only applicant already committed to a senior staff member. Rivers cited Maland's experience as a chief financial officer and as director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism as reasons for his selection.

Rivers notified the councilors that Hard Rock is conducting weekly meetings with the department heads for the town and said that all have been "very generous with their time and talent." He said that in addition, more than 20 public meetings had been hosted within the community over the past several months. Rivers pointed out that the West of the River Chamber of Commerce had endorsed the project and that Hard Rock is working with the chamber to promote the proposal.