Northampton hails plan for offsetting casino impacts

  • The TAP bowling lanes seen during a media preview of the MGM Springfield resort casino on Monday, August 20, 2018.

  • A view inside the casino at MGM Springfield during a media preview on Monday, August 20, 2018. The complex is set to open on Friday.

  • The hotel lobby of the MGM Springfield resort casino features a literary theme. Photographed during a media preview on Monday, August 20, 2018.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/18/2018 11:56:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After four months of work, consultants have unveiled a road map for how the city can market itself in the face of competition from MGM Springfield.

The final version of Rhyme Digital’s marketing plan centers on the creation of a website to promote events and attractions in the city, paired with data-driven digital advertising efforts.

However, another entity will have to step up if the plan is to succeed in the long term.

“The plan’s very solid,” said Terry Masterson, the city’s economic development director.

“I think it’s excellent,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz.

The plan was commissioned by the city using $15,000 of the $100,000 it received in casino mitigation funds last year from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The funding was given by the commission to help mitigate the effect of MGM Springfield, which opened last month, on Northampton’s economy.

“Phase 1 was to come up with a plan,” Narkewicz said.

Blair Winans, president of Rhyme Digital, said that many different businesses, organizations and people in the city were talked to in the of crafting the plan.

Speaking on its specifics, Winans said that running digital campaigns through a new website would be the best use for the remaining $85,000, known as Phase 2 in the city’s plans.

“We’re really trying to be as nimble and efficient as possible,” Winans said.

In the plan itself, the website is described as a central platform for all local events involving dining, nightlife, entertainment, retail and the arts. Local contributors would assist in this by contributing photos and videos, the lack of which in past marketing efforts is noted in the plan.

Part of this would also involve collecting data, which would be shared with the business community.

“They can do their own marketing (utilizing the data),’” said Winans.

The advertising push would focus on millennials and young professionals making more than $50,000 a year, women making more than $75,000 a year, the LGBT community and those living within a 45-minute drive.

“We’re actually going to be really driving traffic,” said Winans.

The focus of Phase 2 will be on promoting downtown Northampton, with the idea that this would extend benefits to surrounding areas in the city and that the plan would eventually expand to the entire city.

Winans said that at the end of Phase 2, a detailed summary of what the campaign accomplished would be turned over to to private businesses.

Winans grew up in Sunderland, and he said that most of the team in his Easthampton firm are from western Massachusetts.

“Our whole team was really excited about this,” said Winans, on getting to craft the plan.

Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and the Hampshire Regional Tourism Council, serves on the committee Narkewicz formed to advise him on how to spend the mitigation funds. She praised both Rhyme and the plan it had created.

The timing is perfect,” said Beck. “I’m really impressed.”

Narkewicz could not say exactly when Phase 2 would begin, as the city will have to get the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to release the remaining $85,000 first.

A vendor for Phase 2 will also have to be selected, and Winans said that Rhyme would be interested in implementing the plan it crafted. At the same time, Narkewicz said that the details of how Phase 2 will be carried out have not yet been determined, and that he will need to talk to the Gaming Commission about this.

Asked about the casino’s effects on the city so far, Narkewicz and Winans said that the casino is in a honeymoon phase and that people are currently visiting it out of curiosity.

“I think I’ve heard a lot of ‘It’s nice,’” said Winans.

He also said that it has yet to be determined how much of an overlap there will be between Northampton and the casino’s audiences.

“I want to be proactive,” said Narkewicz, saying that he doesn’t want to wait until a shift of dollars goes to MGM Springfield.

As for what kind of edge Northampton has in competing with MGM Springfield, Winans said Northampton has an authenticity that MGM Springfield lacks.

After the mitigation funds are finished, Narkewicz said that the city has no plans to fund the website and advertising efforts.

“Ultimately, this has to be carried forward by some other entity,” said Narkewicz. “It can’t really be the city.”

He also said that as the city talks about implementing the plan, where it will ultimately be housed and who will fund it over the long term will be examined, although he said he thought that a collaboration between different organizations would be best, naming the Downtown Northampton Association, the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, the Hampshire Regional Tourism Council and the Florence Civic and Business Association.

Beck also spoke about the importance of continuing the marketing on after Phase 2.

“The only way to sustain this is to keep that marketing engine running,” she said.

The minimum yearly funding requirement given in the plan is $45,000 a year, with the ideal level given as $75,000 and a comprehensive level given at $125,000.

However, Narkewicz did say that the city would pursue getting follow-up mitigation funding from the commonwealth if the opportunity presents itself.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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