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Gaming Commission approves $100K for Northampton

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz testifies before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Springfield.  —Bera Dunau



@BeraDunau
Thursday, September 28, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has approved $100,000 from its Community Mitigation Fund for the city of Northampton.

The money, approved at a Thursday meeting of the commission in Springfield, will fund the development and implementation of an advertising campaign to get visitors to the MGM casino complex being built in downtown Springfield to visit Northampton as well.

“That is why we have put together this application,” Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz told the commission.

MGM Springfield, the first casino in western Massachusetts, is set to open in 2018. A study commissioned by Northampton from Camoin Associates, released in 2013, estimated that the casino would cut consumer spending in Northampton by $4.4 million to $8.8 million.

The commission rejected a 2014 effort by Northampton to get surrounding community status, and potential mitigation funds from MGM. Such a status would have forced MGM to negotiate directly with Northampton and come up with a mitigation agreement.

“It’s nice to leave a Gaming Commission (meeting) happy,” Narkewicz said Thursday.

Northampton’s application was approved unanimously by the commission, and members had positive things to say about the city.

“One of Katie and my first dates was to Northampton,” Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, said, referring to his wife. “She got bored because I told her I wanted to find every place that Calvin Coolidge lived.”

“I haven’t been to Northampton since I visited a girlfriend at Smith … back in the day. And that day was a long long time ago,” Commissioner Lloyd Macdonald said.

Stebbins also mentioned that cars actually stop when you’re in the crosswalks in Northampton.

“Wow, what country is this?” joked commission Chairman Stephen Crosby.

Crosby also said that MGM’s proposal for a casino talked about synergies with other parts of the region.

“I think MGM is sincere in trying to figure out a way to lift all boats,” he said, suggesting that Northampton bring it into its planning mix.

Prior to the vote, John Ziemba, the commission’s ombudsman, recommended approval, saying the application was consistent with the purpose of the fund.

The commission could have approved $35,000 for the drafting of the marketing plan, then vote on releasing funds for its implementation once it had been drafted, or authorized the full $100,000, with staff being in charge of its disbursement.

All commissioners expressed support for the second option.

“I’m certainly fine with trying to wrap this all up in one step,” Stebbins said.

Commissioner Enrique Zuniga suggested that Ziemba disseminate some of the lessons from Saugus, which received funds from the commission earlier, and Ziemba said that contact information for Saugus had already been provided to Northampton.

Asked by Stebbins to characterize Northampton’s economic health, Narkewicz started by calling it “the greatest city in America,” which produced chuckles.

He went on to say that there’s significant economic activity in the community, but that there’s a set amount of recreational spending in the region, and that Northampton would like to continue to be a part of that recreational spending picture.

“We’re really doing well economically,’ said Narkewicz. “We just want to make sure that we continue that.”

Speaking to the media, Narkewicz said he anticipates putting together a local committee that will likely help to hire a consultant to create the marketing plan.

“Those will probably be the first steps,” Narkewicz said.

Still, while Northampton received the maximum amount of mitigation funding it could be given, Narkewicz said $100,000 would not be enough to pay for the project in its entirety.

“It’s really seed money,” he said.

As such, he said, partners like Smith College, the Downtown Northampton Association and the Chamber of Commerce would have to “pick this up and continue it into the future.”