Travel All things Springfield
Gambling is the reason for the new MGM Springfield, a resort casino in Springfield’s South End. But it’s way more than that for pleasure-seekers looking for a decadent weekend away.
That 125,000 square-feet of betting space is the centerpiece of a bigger, and much prettier downtown complex featuring lush, upscale lodging, to-die-for dining, an array of entertainment, event space and for history aficionados, a grand homage to the city’s noteworthy past.
That’s the eclectic mix of New England tradition and Las Vegas bling, turning a dreary downtown into go-to town with Massachusetts’ first resort casino.
“Springfield is special and that was the whole idea behind how the casino was developed,” says MGM spokesman Saverio Mancini, explaining how a piece of a down-on-its-luck property was turned into 14.5 acres of money-making fun. “MGM spent nearly $1 billion to celebrate Springfield,” he says.
“We did not want a glitzy Las Vegas appearance but rather one that blended with the city’s architecture and celebrated its successes. And we think it has been done. ”
The grand entrance to the building is the reclaimed façade of Springfield’s famed Chandler Hotel, which when previously known as the Chapman Hotel boasted a guest list that included two former presidents, James Polk and James Buchanan. A contemporary aluminum sculpture, an artistic shout-out to surviving the 2011 tornado that destroyed several buildings in the area, graces the entrance.
Inside, an industrial-inspired but cozy lobby that invites guests to lounge and enjoy a drink from the well-stocked, well-staffed bar. Above, a library’s rich, dark wood stacks are filled with restored tomes ranging from classics to those by local authors. On the main floor an old hotel marquis shares space with a vintage printing press, an homage to poet and author Emily Dickinson, who lived in nearby Amherst; and George and Charles Merriam, whose Springfield company published the Merriam Webster Dictionary. Milton Bradley favorites like Parcheesi and Yahtzee, from the one-time local American board game manufacturer, are waiting for players who want a tamer kind of gaming challenge.
Table tops and an old, restored fireplace mantle are filled with an assortment of antiques and collectibles culled from places like the nearby Brimfield Antique Flea Markets. Art installations featuring the works of area artists and decor pieces hinting at some of the city’s other accomplishments, including its days as the headquarters for the Indian Motorcycle, and home of its most famous native celebrity, Theodore “Dr. Suess” Geisel.
“We had a lot of competitors to choose from for this project,” says the city’s chief development officer, Kevin E. Kennedy. Noting the state’s first casino is putting a cool $25 million a year into the city coffers, Kennedy says officials were vocal, shrewd and insistent on what they wanted if a resort casino was going to call their city home.
“For us, this was not just about gaming but developing something more,” says Kennedy. “We did not want a traditional fortress of a casino but rather something that would reflect and be part of Springfield”
And that included respecting its past and the site by using the old hotel facade, moving and repurposing the 129-year-old Victorian Gothic style First Spiritualist Church building, whose parishioners included gun maker Daniel Wesson. Wood from the trees that had to be removed for the resort casino was crafted into tables for the hotel. An outdoor courtyard, the site of Dr. Suess’ childhood home, features an ice-skating rink in winter and farmer’s market in warmer weather.
But first things first. It is after all, a casino, an all smoke-free one by the way. About 120 gaming tables, poker room, VIP gaming area and 2,500 slot machines sit center stage on a rug that, on closer inspection, is a street map of Springfield. The gaming area, with all its bells and whistles, is surrounded by restaurants, shops, a movie theater, event space, a “Top Golf Swing Suite” and a bowling alley.
Restaurants, all accessible from a dozen downtown street-side accesses, include the celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Cal Mare, which boasts “the best of Italian coastal cuisines.” The Chandler Steakhouse, named after the aforementioned landmark, is a New York City style steakhouse whose chef is “Hell’s Kitchen” winner Meghan Gill.
Choices for casual dining are housed in the resort’s appropriately named “South End Market” and include Bill’s Diner and Jack’s Lobster Shack. The Tap Sports Bar not only offers a traditional New England menu, but also is a who’s who picture display of area sport’s talent and the nearby Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Walk a little farther and there are pinball machines and the 10-pin bowling alley, with a décor mimicking Springfield’s 1907 YWCA. The Knox Bar is named after Henry Knox, of Fort Knox fame and the guy who built the nearby Springfield Armory. Jackpot winners might go to The Commonwealth Bar, with its “haberdashery” décor, for a $25,000 cocktail, a blend of cognac and Grand Marnier, served with an Indian Motorcycle to ride home and keep. A bottle of 1901 cognac is also thrown in as a nod to the year the iconic motorcycle company opened in Springfield.
Music and light entertainment are offered inside the complex, but the big shows, like Cher’s spring concert, are held at one of two city-owned venues, the MassMutual Center (Cher’s there April 30) across the street from the complex and the Springfield symphony hall, just a block away.
“That is part of the cooperative agreement between MGM and the city,” says Kennedy, noting the big-name entertainment the city expected the MGM brand would bring to town. “MGM had to agree to use our existing facilities. We wanted interaction with the community and wanted them to be part of us, not us them.”
That connection to the city is also clear in the 252-room and suite hotel. Step off the elevator and look down. Dickinson poetry is woven into the rug and wallpaper. Each room is an oasis featuring marble baths, sitting areas, luxurious linens and a decor that again is all part of the thousands of tributes to Springfield throughout the property. The tony Presidential Suite includes a one-of-a-kind chandelier featuring a collection of artfully crafted hats worn by characters in some of Dr. Suess’ most beloved books.
And while the city is ecstatic over the new draw to its community and the extra money that is underwriting improvements, including stepped up public safety resources for the revitalized downtown, officials say it is the way it was done and the final product that makes them happiest.
“We’re proud to have them here,” says Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno. “MGM has been a wonderful addition and partner to the city,” he adds, noting the entertainment and tourist boost the resort casino has added to the city. “They’ve not only had a positive effect in Springfield, but also in Western Massachusetts and New England.”
“This was a massive project to negotiate, but I am a good negotiator,” says Kennedy. “MGM offered us the greatest opportunity at success and we are very comfortable and happy with the effect this has had on our city,” he says, pointing to the burst in traffic and visitors since the resort casino opened five months ago. “This was a real shot in the arm, and we are proud to be a partner,” he says. “In a lot of ways, we feel we in Springfield have hit the jackpot.”
MaryEllen Fillo is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.