Thursday, May 09, 2013 • 10:57 AM Post a Comment

Sarno, Ferrera Lock Horns on Casino

posted by Maureen Turner

Are the Sarno administration and City Council President Jimmy Ferrera headed into a stand-off over the city’s agreement with casino developer MGM?

On the heels of his move to halt a City Council vote on the agreement earlier this week, Ferrera yesterday released a letter to Mayor Domenic Sarno and William Hornbuckle, MGM’s president, calling for a change to the document. Specifically, he wants the deal to include a minimum-investment figure for the project.

In earlier documents filed with the city, Ferrera notes, MGM had referred to an $851.5 million project. More recently, however, city officials have described the total cost as around $800 million. Ferrera had cited that discrepancy as one of his reasons for delaying the vote at Monday’s City Council meeting.

“Let’s end the confusion and what can be misleading to the public and adopt the simple little sentence” clarifying the exact cost, Ferrera wrote to Sarno and Hornbuckle.

Ferrera ended his letter with a shot over Sarno’s and MGM’s bow: “Quite frankly if the Mayor and MGM can’t quickly agree to inserting a ‘not less than investment amount’ into the host agreement I would have serious reservations about the entire project.”

The mayor’s office responded quickly with a prepared statement attributed to Cezar Froelich, a consultant hired by the city to guide it through the casino process, that described the agreement between the city and MGM as “heavily negotiated” and including “extensive safeguards guaranteeing MGM will build a world class casino resort and entertainment destination exactly as MGM promised to the residents of Springfield.”

The deal, Froelich went on, “describes in great detail the exact project MGM will build, specifying each of the constituent components including the various project amenities such as hotel, spa, retail, office, residential, back of house, child care center, parks, skating rink, number of restaurants and minimum number of yearly entertainment events.” The deal also includes the project’s minimum square footage and compliance requirements that will ensure “the City knows exactly what MGM will build,” the statement said.

“While we believe the ultimate cost of the project will be $800 million or more, we are more interested in making sure MGM builds what it promised and we are confident it will,” it added.

The next round in the casino bout is scheduled for tomorrow evening at 5 p.m., when the City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss the MGM agreement.

Meanwhile, it’s been fun this week to track reaction to Ferrera’s delaying of Monday’s vote, which has ranged from the effusive praise offered by the anonymous Casino Whispers website, which portrays Ferrera as the lovechild of Winston Churchill and Superman, to the highly suspicious take of Western Mass. Politics and Insight’s Matt Szafranski, who sees the councilor’s move as little more than political posturing during what could be a tough election season.

If Szafranski’s analysis is correct, it might not be a bad strategy on Ferrera’s part. According to my highly unscientific polling over the past few days (read: talking to various City Hall watchers and tracking the comments section on MassLive.com), even people who aren’t necessarily Ferrera’s greatest supporters agree that the deal was being rushed through and that city councilors would be wise to take some time before signing off on such a tremendous project.

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