MGM CEO Apologizes to His Wife, er, the City of Springfield…
UPDATED 11/1/15 10:25AM: For clarity.
SPRINGFIELD—Seeking to quell the biggest public relations catastrophe since helicoptering into the city three years ago, MGM Resorts International bigwigs stood shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Domenic Sarno and reaffirmed their commitment to the city and the multimillion dollar casino complex slated for downtown.
A contrite Jim Murren, MGM’s Chief Executive Officer, standing beside MGM President William Hornbuckle and MGM Springfield president Michael Mathis, apologized for recent communication lapses between his company and the city as an icy Sarno looked on.
“I first want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry MGM has not communicated as much or as clearly as it could have done,” Murren said during a City Hall press conference, repeating the penance in public given to Sarno beforehand.
When he opened the press conference, Sarno unequivocally affirmed his support. Yet, days before likely winning reelection, MGM’s design revisions had the potential to be an October surprise.
Last month MGM announced it was deleting the tower from its casino design and replacing it with a six-story structure facing Main Street between Howard and Bliss streets. That caused an uproar in the press, the public and among city councilors. At the time, Sarno expressed support for the changes.
But an environmental regulatory filing, in which MGM’s sought a 14% reduction in the project’s square footage, poured gasoline on the press conflagration and ignited rebellion among city councilors, who are up for reelection next week, too. Sarno was outraged.
“It is important that we continue this process as a partnership with the city of Springfield,” Sarno said Thursday, in his lowest, coolest voice, reserved for when he must fully suppress his ire and displeasure.
Later, as the MGM CEO spoke, Sarno eyed him closely while the mayor’s chief of staff, city solicitor and chief economic development officer flanked the MGM trio.
Thursday was a textbook case of damage control stagecraft. Indeed, it is far from over. Murren indicated that he, Hornbuckle and Michael Mathis would attend community presentations slated for the week of November 16.
Those appearances are part of the Las Vegas company’s efforts to reassure, if not completely convince, Springfield residents that MGM’s shrinkage will not jeopardize its performance where it counts—jobs and economic development for the city.
In issuing his mea culpa, Murren said there had been notice to the city as to the tower, but the MEPA filing with the state without notifying the city was an oversight. He called stories about the desertion and closure MGM’s community office “ironic” as, “no one stepped foot in there for months.”
Asked about future changes, Murren only promised more would come, but he insisted his company would fulfill its employment and investment commitments.
During one of the day’s odder moments, Murren likened the spat between the city and MGM to ones he and his wife have over a failure to communicate, but not over any substantive disagreement.
Murren also addressed questions about a legal company MGM formed to own some real estate assets. Earlier he was in New York to unveil MGM Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust, and to announce upbeat earnings for the third quarter.
Some of MGM’s most iconic properties will be transferred to the REIT, including the Mandalay Bay, the New York-New York and the Luxor. The Associated Press reported that facilities in Maryland and Massachusetts could be moved to the REIT at some point.
Murren told reporters in Springfield the REIT would remain firmly within MGM Resorts’s control. The gaming company would continue to run the facilities themselves, “Properties that we love and operate today will be in this new group. It doesn’t mean that they will be operated differently.”
As part of his plea for forgiveness, Murren emphasized his roots in Connecticut and affection for Springfield, developed during visits here while a student at Trinity College in Hartford. This appreciation factored into his preference for MGM’s design without the tower in keeping the city’s character.
The tower “was certainly not the leading aspect of the design,” he claimed, explaining why it had originally been included. “We wanted to develop a resort that had high quality luxury rooms.” The tower was described on the ballot for the referendum Springfield voters approved on July 16, 2013 58-42%.
But Murren rejected the notion that Springfield voters should vote on the issue again to approve MGM’s changes as some councilors had attempted a few weeks ago. “This has been voted on twice,” he said, referring to the 2013 referendum and the 2014 statewide ballot question that would have repealed the Massachusetts gaming law.
“Some towns said ‘no.’ Some said ‘hell no’ and Springfield said ‘hell yes,’” Murren declared.
At that point, Sarno, Murren and company scrambled out and took no more questions.