No matter what side of the casino debate you come down on, MGM Springfield presents a magnificent opportunity for this great city. While no one truly believes that the Grand Opening of MGM in 2016 will be the catalyst for the local economy all on its own, it does present a once in a generation opportunity to alter the perception of our city not only with our neighbors in the capital city to the east, but with the whole of New England. The economic troubles of the early 90’s, the disproportionate focus and reporting of our crime challenges in the media and the loss of numerous manufacturing jobs over past decades had left Springfield without a seat at the grownup’s table in the eyes of many east of interstate 495. In two years, either due to the lure of gaming, the numerous entertainment options, or just plain curiosity, many will travel to see what all the commotion is about when MGM spends big dollars to promote its newest location and this city.
What will all of those visitors experience when they arrive? Will they find a beautiful new resort in a city they envisioned and expected, or will they be drawn in and surprised by the beauty, energy, walkability, opportunity and offerings of a city and region that recognized what this could all mean and pulled together to capitalize on the moment?
The recent designation of the Springfield Cultural District, the potential for the subterranean disappearance of I-91 thus reintroducing a city to her river, the Union Station project, and the flow of federal, state and insurance dollars to assist in the recovery from the double whammy of a horrific tornado and gas explosion, are all very positive actions that can work to build sustainable momentum for the continued resurgence of the “City of Firsts”.
However, we should not miss out on the momentum and let it end there. Now is the time to collaborate and look at ways to enhance the Arts in our city, it is a time to explore what we would want that new riverfront to look like, and a time to look at every way in which we can improve our schools and maximize investment and opportunity for small and big business alike. But why stop there? How about a new stadium and the reintroduction of professional baseball to the city? How about striving to be the most sustainable city in the commonwealth and looking at every opportunity to produce renewable energy while grabbing a leadership role in the new energy economy? What about working to co-market in new, innovative ways with so many of our neighbors in Western Massachusetts in order to showcase all of the opportunities and wonders that we offer? Why wouldn’t we capitalize on this chance to reinforce that our city, the Pioneer Valley and Western Mass is an all-encompassing recreational destination in the minds of all those new visitors?
There are some that will say it cannot be done. They will say that we have been down this road, dreamed it all before, and just had our collective hearts broken. I believe this time is different and that we are in the midst of a perfect storm where investment, political leadership, business leadership and that sense of possibility that Springfield has encompassed and represented so often in its past have all come together at once. Grab onto it Springfield! This is the time to dream and act big!