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MGM Springfield a reflection of its host city

Springfield, Mass. — It will take some time to determine how much MGM Springfield can do for this city. Already, it’s salvaged some of it.

And it doesn’t open until Friday.

Built into the existing cityscape and remarkably devoid of neon, the nearly $1 billion resort casino — a Massachusetts first — neither scrapes the sky nor assaults the senses. Its 252-room hotel climbs only six stories.

But it is a casino.

During previews for the media Monday, tour guides pointed out such homages to western Massachusetts history as hotel-corridor carpeting bearing the poetry of Amherst-born Emily Dickinson and light fixtures inspired by Dr. Seuss’s spectacles. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel, was a Springfield native.

Naturally, a wall of the Tap Sports Bar wears a peach basket like the one James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, tacked up in a Springfield YMCA facility in 1891. Not so naturally, the room has a bowling alley.

Outside, the guides noted the fort-like Springfield Armory building that crews have refurbished and, nearby, a 130-year-old former church that was lifted and moved some 200 yards to accommodate the casino’s gaming floor. The former church now houses Kringle Candle, another regional favorite.

Other attention-grabbers included the South End Market, a food court with a half-dozen dining options; a 23-table poker room whose décor recalls a Rolls Royce manufacturing plant; and The Chandler Steakhouse, where curved, high-backed booths recall an earlier era.

Regal Cinema’s seven-screen luxury movie complex at the casino won’t open for several weeks, Richard Grover, Regal’s vice president for communications, said while offering a view of one of the facility’s 150-seat auditoriums. All feature full-recline seating, and there’s full-service bar and food service in the lobby.

So how is it that MGM Resorts International, a global outfit known for its glitzy Las Vegas casinos, settled on MGM Springfield’s understated design, a first for the company?

“All credit goes to senior management,” Mike Mathis, the MGM Springfield president, said Monday in an interview.

When MGM Resorts secured the western Massachusetts casino license, management went on a “listening tour,” asking Springfield officials and residents about what the city was like, where they went and what restaurants they frequented “when Main Street was vibrant.”

“We blended those places into the design of the casino. We call it ‘industrial chic,’ Mathis said. "It’s full of nods to Springfield’s manufacturing history, but it’s not just Springfield’s history, it’s a history that people in many New England towns will recognize.”

MGM Resorts saw embracing Springfield’s downtown — an area ravaged by a 2011 tornado — as a way to differentiate its casino from the sprawling resorts in rural southeastern Connecticut, Mathis said.

“Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are beautiful, the scale of Las Vegas casinos, even bigger than Las Vegas casinos,” he said. “What you lose with that is intimacy. … Back in the old days, if you wanted to go out, you took your family downtown. Well, we’ve reinvented the downtown.”

MGM Springfield, Mathis said, harks back to a time before anything like today’s Las Vegas existed.

Friday’s opening festivities in Springfield are scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m., when a procession that includes the Budweiser Clydesdales marches from the corner of State and Main streets to the casino’s Main Street entrance. The casino's doors open to the public at 11.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, respective owners of the Connecticut casinos, hope to break ground this fall on a medium-size casino in East Windsor, Conn., 13 miles from downtown Springfield.


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