By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marie Angelides joined officials from other local communities, MGM Springfield and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a presentation marking the annual mitigation payments under their respective surrounding community agreements.
As part of Massachusetts gaming legislation, MGM Springfield required to negotiate these monetary agreements to offset costs associated with mitigating adverse impacts of the $900 million development in the city of Springfield’s South End neighborhood. In total, MGM doled out nearly $1.8 million to eight communities, including $281,875 to Longmeadow.
That figure represents one of the largest of the annual payments among the eight communities, which also include West Springfield ($475,000) Agawam ($200,000), Chicopee ($200,000), East Longmeadow ($175,000), Ludlow ($175,000), Wilbraham ($175,000) and Holyoke ($115,000).
“With the gaming statute, we really wanted to make sure that not only the host community had an agreement but also the surrounding communities that didn’t know what would expect from the presence of a large casino and that the agreements that were in place would work,” Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said. “We’re just happy that the lines of communications stayed open between our licensees, the host communities and us.”
Longmeadow’s agreement was the result of a lengthy process that included arbitration, through which the town was successful in securing a total of $4.4 million, including an $850,000 up-front payment as well $275,000 in annual mitigation payments with a 2.5% inflation escalator. The agreement is valid through the end of MGM Springfield’s initial gaming license.
MGM’s best and final offer to Longmeadow totaled $1.6 million.
During the presentation, Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel for MGM Springfield, noted that Angelides was a voice of reason during what he described as some contentious negotiations.
“It was not an easy process, but I’m glad we stuck it out,” Angelides said.
The primary purpose for the funding Longmeadow officials fought for was improvements to Longmeadow Street and the adjustment of signaled intersections such as Longmeadow Street, Forest Glen Road and Western Drive; Longmeadow and Converse streets and Englewood Road. Angelides told the Longmeadow News that the design for this project “began the day after arbitration” and continues to evolve. She explained the town is currently working on incorporating the road work into the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Pioneer Valley Transportation Improvement Program. Some money was also rolled to the Fire Department to address public safety concerns.
“The costs of the Longmeadow Street [improvements] are going to be very, very expensive. Converse [Street] was $5 million and you can imagine how much Longmeadow Street is going to be,” Angelides said. “The focus has been on Longmeadow Street because of the traffic issues that we frequently get. Longmeadow Street is not a state road; it’s a Longmeadow Road and the town is responsible, ultimately, for the cost of that road.”
When asked if the town has seen any increase in adverse traffic conditions due to the casino, Angelides said, “It’s hard to tell because whenever there’s a problem on [Interstate] 91 everyone comes over and it’s a nightmare. It’s also dangerous because once you’ve blocked up that main artery and 91 is down, that’s a big issue. We need to get all of those lights coordinated in case of emergencies as well as for enjoyment of life in Longmeadow.”
Angelides added that because Longmeadow is now a Complete Streets community, there are bike lane and sidewalk improvements that need to occur.
Stratton said while there were contentious portions of the process, negotiations helped the company gain an understanding of various communities’ priorities.
“I think the Gaming Commission and the Legislature had some good foresight in putting this unique process into place,” he said. “It was frustrating at times. When you’re excited to try to get this license and there’s a lot to do and to negotiate complex agreements with a number of surrounding communities on top of everything else you had to do, it was certainly a hurdle. But it really set up, I think, good relationships and good dialogue early to think proactively on what the issues might be.”
The surrounding community agreement also includes “look back” studies, which were required to begin within 15 months of the casino opening. MGM Springfield celebrated its one-year anniversary at the end of August and Stratton said the studies are underway now.
Baseline studies were performed shortly before the facility opened and will be used to determine if there were any unforeseen issues or measurable differences between anticipated impacts and reality. While there is no set timeline for the completion of those studies, Stratton anticipated it would be after the new year.
“I think that gives some comfort to the communities,” Stratton said of the look back studies. “I think that being in place has helped create that dialogue because they know we’re always going to be looking at it and will be a willing participant in the conversation.”