Springfield has taken one step closer to becoming a casino town: Ameristar, the Nevada company that wants to build a casino at the site of the old Westinghouse plant off Page Boulevard, has closed on a deal to buy the land, the Republican’s Dan Ring reports this morning. The company paid $16 million for the 41-acre plot, where it hopes to build a $500 million “resort” casino.
But that kind of development doesn’t mesh with the vision Kevin Kennedy, the city’s new chief economic development officer, recently described in an interview with WMAC reporter Paul Tuthill that aired Monday.
As Tuthill put it, Kennedy doesn’t consider the Westinghouse site to be the “optimal” place for a Springfield casino; instead, Kennedy suggested a better place would be the area around Union Station, “coupled”—and here’s a blast-from-the-past idea—“with a baseball park.” (Kennedy’s former boss, U.S. Rep. Richie Neal, you might remember, has secured tens of millions in federal money for a rehab of Union Station, a troubled project that’s stalled repeatedly but that’s now slated to begin construction this summer.)
Kennedy also spoke of a potential casino using the MassMutual Center and Symphony as off-site entertainment venues, “with some type of trolley or bus system that went through the downtown. We spread out the casino and really take advantage of things, and it’s not going to be this giant fortress that sucks business in.”
Putting aside for a moment the very valid criticisms of the notion of casino as economic savior, Kennedy’s vision of having a casino that actually drives people, and their disposable income, into Springfield’s downtown, is a very appealing one. But it doesn’t seem to match up with the model that casino companies favor, of hermetically sealed compounds that attract and then hold visitors with shops, restaurants, theaters and, of course, gambling tables and slot machines.
In related news, if Ameristar does build a casino at the site, will one of its neighbors be the controversial wood-burning power plant being proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy? This evening, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals will take up two appeals to the building permits granted to the project by City Hall last fall. One of the appeals was filed by the City Council, which last year revoked a land-use special permit the developers had earlier won from the Council; the second was filed by opponents to the project, including a couple whose home abuts the proposed site.
“We are confident that the Zoning Board of Appeals will recognize the authority of the City Council and rescind the building permit,” Lee Ann Warner, of the group Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, said in a media release. “It sets a very dangerous precedent for Springfield to allow utility-scale incinerator development within the city limits without any special permitting. It would effectively eliminate the public’s voice in decisions that directly affect us.”
The hearing takes place at 6 p.m. at City Hall.