Thursday, April 9, 2015
Will MGM's $800 Million Casino Revitalize Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield, Massachusetts is one of America’s great industrial cities that post-industrial America is leaving behind. It is a city of many firsts, starting with the famous Springfield Armory, established by General Washington in 1777. The Armory employed 10,000 highly skilled workers, providing a skilled work force and training ground for the Connecticut River Valley for two centuries. However, President Johnson hated Massachusetts and the Kennedys. He closed the Armory in 1968, signaling a great decline for the City. President Nixon also hated the Kennedys and Massachusetts. He followed up by closing the Boston Naval Shipyard. Springfield had many firsts. The first American automobile was built in Springfield. For a short time Springfield vied with Detroit, but Henry Ford’s Model T doomed the Pioneer Valley auto industry. The gasoline pump, fire truck, handcuffs, vulcanized rubber, and Barry ice skates emerged from Springfield. Long gone is Indian Motorcycle, while some companies, such as Monarch Life Insurance (1991) of the variable annuity and Milton Bradley (1984), were mismanaged and either went under or were bought out. The first Sheraton Hotel and Ames Discount Sore were in Springfield. The Great Depression hurt Springfield, as it did many industrial cities. Rolls Royce manufactured cars in Springfield from 1919-1931. World War II granted Springfield a reprieve, but the decline resumed. United Technologies closed the American Bosch plant in 1986, shipping the jobs to lower cost facilities in the South. One by one the other industrial plants in the Northend closed or shrank: Westinghouse, Crane (Chapman Valves), Danaher (tools for Sears). Diamond Match closed in the mid 1980’s. Mead-Westvaco lay off 130 in shuttering two envelop and packaging plants. Styrolution closed in 2014 a polystyrene plant with 58 jobs. The local banks, indeed the New England banks of three decades ago, are almost all gone, mostly merging over two decades into the bank of America. Absorbine, Mass Mutual, Merriam Webster, and Smith & Wesson are still based in Springfield. Friendly Ice Cream, founded during the Great Depression still survives, but it has shrunk in size. The Picknelly family of Peter Pan Bus Lines have become major boosters of Springfield. Similarly, the D’Amour family of Big Y Supermarkets, also founded around the same time as Friendly’s have turned the chain into a regional powerhouse. Unfortunately, most of the old money has left Springfield, and the D’Amours and Picknellys can’t overcome that loss in a declining city of 154,000 residents. Nor can an expanding Bay State Medical Center replace the lost jobs. Bay State Medical Center, a teaching hospital for Tufts Medical School, is one of the largest employers in Massachusetts. The local universities, especially Springfield College and Western New England University, my former employer, are expanding. The Museum Quadrangle has renovated its existing museums, added the new Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Theodore Geisel grew up on Mulberry Street in Springfield. The Basketball Hall of Fame is at its third location, across the freeway and several blocks from downtown, serving as a magnet for restaurants and a new hotel, but drawing business from downtown. The staples of Main Street, the Forbes and Wallace (1976) and Steiger”s (1994) Department Stores and Johnson Book Store (2002) closed. Baystate West, the downtown mall, is mostly a ghost. Serv-U Hardware Stores called it quits in 2001. The once great deli, Gus & Paul’s, folded two years ago. And now comes the next great hope, the shift from an industrial city to a post-industrial casino. Some believe casinos are the economic engines of the future. The two Indian casinos in Connecticut, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, paved the way, apparently opening the doors to unlimited wealth. Rumors are that Foxwoods has lost its lustre and is drowning in debt. MGM broke ground on a $800 million casino on 14½ acres in the Southend two weeks ago. MGM promises 3,000 jobs when the casino opens with construction jobs in the meantime. It will offer 3,000 slots and 100 table games. Casinos never brought Atlantic City back, and three casinos have not been the salvation of Detroit. Springfield will not be a destination for high rollers, thereby limiting the casino’s prospects. Springfield residents voted for the casino, out of desperation. It may be the last, great hope for the City of Homes. It's a gamble.