Springfield delays creating development district near MGM casino to expand dialogue on improvements, concerns

A proposal to create a zoning district to encourage development near the MGM Springfield casino was tabled Monday to allow city officials to consult further with property owners and other stakeholders. The City Council delayed a public hearing on the proposed Main Street and Convention Center and Overlay District, as requested by the Office of Planning and Economic Development.

The district is intended “to encourage and facilitate near-term redevelopment of priority sites that surround the convention center, casino and the (existing) Casino Overlay District,” the zoning proposal states.

Timothy Sheehan, the city’s chief development officer, said Tuesday he expects the zoning district proposal will be ready for council consideration at its next hearings night, Feb. 22.

“Changing the underlying zoning for an area, you want to be sure that you have the balance right — in terms of what you are trying to incentivize and ultimately ensuring that you have contemplated to the best of your ability the unintended consequences associated with the change,” Sheehan said.

A key issue is making it very clear to the private sector what the city wants to see for development in the area, Sheehan said.

The district is generally bounded by Main, State, Court, Dwight, Willow and Union streets and Harrison Avenue.

Encouraged uses for the district, as defined in the proposal, include: ground-floor retail supporting tourism and entertainment; restaurants, taverns, entertainment, places of amusement and specialty attractions; multifamily housing; uses that support conventions/business meetings; office uses above the first floor; and mixed-use projects. Such purposes are proposed for Tier 1 administrative reviews, rather than City Council approvals and special permits.

Other guidelines includes a prohibition on demolition of historic buildings unless deemed an emergency or court-ordered. The proposal encourages reuse of older and blighted buildings.

Recent revisions include flexibility added for the locations of doorways and entrances, and removing specific sizes for glassed areas “to allow more flexibility with regards to future tenants,” a Planning Department analysis stated.