Holyoke mayor seeks officials’ input on proposed casinos
Holyoke mayor Alex Morse at the press conference about the opening of a casino in Holyoke Monday morning.
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A view of the gate to Mountain Park, an outdoor concert venue in Holyoke, and the Mountain Park Access Rd. overpass over I-91 that leads to it. The two-lane bridge off of Northampton St. (Rt. 5) provides the site's only access.
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HOLYOKE — Mayor Alex B. Morse is reaching out to area mayors and town leaders as he moves forward with plans to host a potential resort casino in Holyoke.
Morse has sent letters to local officials in nine surrounding cities and towns seeking a group meeting to discuss any ideas or concerns they may have regarding the prospect of a gaming resort in the Paper City.
“I believe this is a necessary step in order to have a public discussion about how to share any benefits and burdens that could accompany a project of this type in our region,” Morse wrote in his letters. “We encompass one metropolitan area; we share the same workforce, infrastructure and economic linkages throughout the Pioneer Valley. I am sure you recognize this and are likely to have begun to consider the impact of a project near your community.”
The letters went to municipal leaders in Springfield, Easthampton, Northampton, Chicopee, Southampton, South Hadley, Hadley, Westfield and West Springfield. Morse seeks a meeting with representatives from these communities on Dec. 13 or 14, according to his letter.
Local officials interviewed said they have loads of questions for Morse, and despite the short notice plan to attend or send a representative to the requested session.
Easthampton Mayor Michael A. Tautznik said he is particularly concerned with the lack of detailed information on any casino resort proposals, two of which have been slated for properties along the Mount Tom range.
“There is a significant lack of detail on any of this stuff,” Tautznik said of the Holyoke proposals. “Without specifics, it’s pretty difficult to have a serious conversation of what the impacts are and whether they are viable proposals to begin with.”
Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz last week said he is opposed to a Holyoke casino, saying it was a “serious potential threat to the social and economic vitality of Northampton.”
Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon said he plans to discuss Morse’s request with the Select Board Wednesday night, and said he was grateful that the 23-year-old mayor sought to include Hadley in the discussion.
“I do have a lot of questions as it relates to our quality of life and some of the economic vitality of the Connecticut River valley.”
In a reversal that startled many of his supporters as well as city and town leaders nearby, Morse announced last week that he was open to considering a casino development in Holyoke. He had run for mayor last year on an anti-casino platform and had even written an anti-casino piece for CommonWealth Magazine in October stating, “a casino in Holyoke would not aid our economic rebirth, but would ultimately undermine that effort.”
In announcing his change of views last week, he said he was considering a casino proposal by Holyoke businessman and resident Eric Suher at Mountain Park, which is currently home to an open-air music venue.
Morse stressed that he personally remains opposed to casinos, but changed positions on a gaming development out of fear of the economic threat that two proposed casinos in Springfield may pose for Holyoke and the upper Valley.
Those proposals have been put forward by MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming. Mohegan Sun has proposed a casino development in Palmer, plans that have been known for years.
As for Holyoke, a second company, Paper City Development Co. LLC, also has put its hat back into the ring to develop a casino resort at what is home to the Wyckoff Country Club off Route 141 near the Easthampton line. The company had earlier teamed up with Hard Rock International Co., though it is not entirely clear whether the latter firm is still in the mix.
In his letter to municipal officials this week, Morse included a wide-ranging, 14-point list of “criteria to be addressed” by any casino proposal put forth by developers. He also included an aggressive time line for the city to conduct its review of proposals, which ends around Jan. 10, 2013, just five days before the Jan. 15 deadline for casino developers to submit preliminary applications and a $400,000, nonrefundable application fee to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The commission will issue one of three licences for a resort-style casino in western Massachusetts.
Tautznik said gaming is coming, and cities and towns near any casino development will need to react to it. But he also said it is best for such proposals to be vetted over many months and not six weeks, as will be the case in Holyoke.
“What’s missing are the details,” he said. “The unknowns are what give us pause.”
Dan Crowley can be reached at email@example.com.