Live chat: Ask Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse ...
Mandy Hofmockel: 
Welcome to another segment in our Ask Mayor Morse series. We might start a few minutes behind schedule here as the mayor wraps up a meeting, but in the mean time please submit any questions you might have in the field below. We've already got several good ones lined up. Thanks!
Thursday December 6, 2012 2:53 Mandy Hofmockel
Mayor Morse: 
Good afternoon everyone, looking forward to the conversation!
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:01 Mayor Morse
Mandy Hofmockel: 
Thanks for joining us everyone! We'll start with a question from Ron Kozak.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:02 Mandy Hofmockel
[Comment From Ron Kozak Ron Kozak : ] 
If a casino is located at Mt. Park will there be on and off ramps for both North and South I-91 to eliminate neighborhood traffic? This seems to be a main concern of residents.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:02 Ron Kozak
Mayor Morse: 
I want to clarify a couple points in regards to the casino topic as I expect there to be many questions in regards to this issue. Last week, I announced that a new plan for a casino, one that I hadn't previously seen, was brought to the attention of the Office of Planning and Economic Development, then to me. I made it clear last week that we are only considering options at this time, and that we will decide soon if we think this is worth pursuing or not. I welcome public input and feedback, and I have received lots of calls, emails, and letters as well. I think it's a worthy discussion to have, and I think my job requires it. But again, no deal has been signed and nothing has been agreed upon. In terms of the ramps on I-91 as part of the Mt. Park plan, it is too premature to have that conversation, as that would assume the project is moving forward and also assume that the state Department of Transportation and others would give their approval. Furthermore, I don't think we can assume that ramps would alleviate all traffic - as Route 141 and Route 5 could also be impacted. We want to make sure this is addressed if we move forward.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:06 Mayor Morse
[Comment From jeff destromp jeff destromp : ] 
How much money could a casino bring into the city a year? Would it be a large percent of our budget?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:07 jeff destromp
Mayor Morse: 
Thanks for the question Jeff. A project of this size would yield millions of dollars in tax revenue and become a large percentage of our overall tax base, but it is too early to make hard projections on numbers and revenue. This would most likely be true for any city that gets the license. This is why I think it is important to have a regional conversation and why I think Holyoke needs to be at the table - the impact of a casino will go beyond the borders of one city, and impacted communities will not get the revenue of the host committee. Therefore, it's important we help shape this conversation to ensure that there are revenue sharing models moving forward.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:11 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Tom / Highlands Tom / Highlands : ] 
What information about the Mt. Tom Casino resort proposal was so compelling to reverse your stance on even entertaining a gaming license proposal? Was it the economic condition of the city or was it the proposal itself?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:12 Tom / Highlands
Mayor Morse: 
Most importantly, I am considering the plan openly because it is a new plan. I did not think it was appropriate for me to close the door without the public knowing that I had seen a new plan. I think the Mt. Park plan demonstrates the ability for any casino operator to construct a model in which gaming is a component of a larger facility. The economic situation is another tough reality - cities need to expand their tax base, make difficult budget cuts, and we want to make sure we don't continue to raise taxes for both residents and businesses. Third, the conversation around the casino has been very centric to one city - I think the conversation has now become a regional one, which has been a welcome and positive shift. As Mayor, I am doing my due diligence on this as I do other proposals.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:15 Mayor Morse
[Comment From wolfhawk wolfhawk : ] 
I have a question about the timeline - Tuesday the Council referred the formation of the casino committee back to sub-committee. Does that mean it still has to come out of committee, voted on by Council, members appointed and meet all before the Mayor signs off on one or more casino proposals for a host agreement? Mr. Mayor, can all of this be done by the State Gaming Commission deadline of Jan 15th? Are you comfortable signing off on a proposal for a host agreement without the recommendation of the committee?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:16 wolfhawk
Mandy Hofmockel: 
Read more about Mayor Morse's plan for a regional meeting on casinos here:
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:18 Mandy Hofmockel
Mayor Morse: 
I want the City Council to be involved in this process, yet the formation of a specific City Council subcommittee is optional in this process. My proposed Community Committee is separate, and I have made it clear to City Council President Kevin Jourdain that I would like his involvement on this committee, and perhaps a couple other councilors as well. I think we have an opportunity to explore this issue together, and I plan on appointing a diverse committee early next week. I am not comfortable signing anything at this time - and I will only do so if I am 100% sure that it will be good for the city and the region. January 15th is the phase 1 initial timeline set by the MGC, and this is why we plan on making a decision before then as to whether or not we decide to advance.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:19 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
Have you thought about the environmental impact a casino would have on Mt. Tom and reservoir? The increased light pollution, impacts to water quality, endangered species impacts?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:20 Guest
Mayor Morse: 
Yes, we think about these issues often, and we have included this concern in our initial criteria sent to all perspective developers. We want to be extremely sensitive to the environment throughout this conversation. I fully recognize that folks here in Holyoke (and others) see Mt. Tom and the Whiting Reservoir as a special, sacred place, and I pledge to keep this in mind as we move forward.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:23 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Siobhan - Ward 7 Siobhan - Ward 7 : ] 
This morning on WHYN you first said it could be zero, 1 or 2 proposals going to the public. Then when pushed you said it would probably not be two. Then you said 0 or 1. Why not both if they each meet your criteria? Why not let the people decide?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:24 Siobhan - Ward 7
Mayor Morse: 
We will evaluate all proposals objectively based on our criteria, yet we also want to make sure we are including the voices of the public in this process. It is too early to predict if none, one, or both meet the criteria to move forward. If we do advance, any plan would need the approval of the voters to even be considered by the MGC.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:26 Mayor Morse
[Comment From guest guest : ] 
Dear Mayor Morse, I've noticed in your recent press conferences hardly any mention of the proposed casino in Palmer. Since we hear about the two proposals out of Springfield so much, if Palmer is awarded the casino what would be the impacts for Holyoke if there are any?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:27 guest
Mayor Morse: 
I can't predict what all the impacts would be, and I still think there would be opportunities to work together if a casino is sited in Palmer. Entertainment venues and options would have to be negotiated to make sure performers can come to Holyoke to perform after performing at a site in Palmer or Springfield, etc.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:28 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Jesse Vanek, Holyoke Jesse Vanek, Holyoke : ] 
If the same proposal came across your desk two days after your inauguration, would you have chosen this same course then?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:29 Jesse Vanek, Holyoke
Mayor Morse: 
Yes, as both the public and elected officials last year had a chance to debate the Paper City Development plan openly, it's important we do the same for this proposal. Given the fact that this plan did not emerge until this Fall, and my commitment to transparency, it was important to let the public know we are evaluating it.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:31 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Mike Mike : ] 
Are you going to make the proposal Eric Suher made to you public?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:31 Mike
Mayor Morse: 
Hi Mike - again, we haven't decided to advance at this time, and if we do, plans will become public. There has been no final, comprehensive plan presented to me by Eric, other than the initial conversation around the components he would plan on having within the development.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:33 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Hiram Abiff Hiram Abiff : ] 
During the summer and fall months, the city holds the Farmers Market on High Street, tying up traffic and parking for local businesses. Is there a way to move it to the canal area, or Heritage Park?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:34 Hiram Abiff
Mayor Morse: 
Good question, and yes. We have been getting many complaints from small business owners and merchants on High St. We are looking into relocating the Farmers Market next year to Veterans Park (after the $1.4 million renovation is complete). We think this is a positive solution for everyone and we are open to thoughts and ideas as well.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:35 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Gloria Gloria : ] 
What is your "criteria" in selecting a casino proposal?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:36 Gloria
Mayor Morse: 
There are 14 points of major criteria. I'm searching for it now on the computer and will attempt to copy/paste.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:39 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
Have you considered the possibility that the casino may not be successful given potential market saturation (New Yorkers may still go to Foxwoods and Mohegan) and the current economic conditions, as entertainment expense is one of the first cut in personal spending budgets? Have you looked at unbiased revenue estimates (i.e., sources other than the casino developers)?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:40 Guest
Mayor Morse: 
Here is the criteria:
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:40 Mayor Morse
Mayor Morse: 
GLR Criteria to be Addressed

A favored GLR project proposal shall be judged by whether it best achieves and exemplifies the following criteria:

1. The Project shall be and detail how it shall be, not a convenience gambling location, but rather a regional tourist resort with gaming as one of its many amenities.

2. The Project shall address the potential negative impacts of gaming on the local quality of life, including but not limited to issues of addiction and crime.

3. The Project shall engage local ownership, make a sustainable and substantial commitment to all neighborhoods and provide for investment in the downtown.

4. The Project shall include and provide meaningful entertainment and recreation options other than gambling, and shall support local and regional entertainment options.

5. The Project shall not detrimentally impact local neighborhood traffic and shall fully mitigate any remaining such traffic.

6. The Project shall have identified, addressed and minimized any and all infrastructure hurdles, impacts and or limitations, including but not limited to traffic, highway access, water, electricity and other utilities, and public safety.

7. The Project shall incorporate and utilize sustainable development principles such as, but not limited to, LEED certification, incorporation of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and natural resource conservation.

8. The Project shall be committed to the revitalization of the City’s downtown and shall support, financially and materially, the City’s redevelopment initiatives.

9. The Project shall work with local partners on the hiring, training and promotion of a diverse and skilled local workforce.

10. The Project shall be committed to local business participation, with particular emphasis on minority, women and veteran owned business enterprises, both during the construction of said resort and its subsequent operation.

11. The Project shall enhance open space, recreation and natural resources and their utilization as well as mitigate and address environmental impacts.

12. During construction and operation, the Project shall maximize filling jobs with local residents, ethnic minorities, women and veterans, shall provide for labor harmony and shall commit to the payment of prevailing wages.

13. The Project should respect and reflect the history and character of its surroundings and City, including the integration of architectural characteristics and uses.

14. The Project shall reflect a true commitment to the people and neighborhoods of both Holyoke and the region.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:40 Mayor Morse
Mayor Morse: 
Yes of course, that is why I opposed the legalization of casinos altogether in the state of Massachusetts. Yes - I have done a lot of research on the impact of casinos on local economies and will continue to do research on it.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:41 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Tom, Holyoke Tom, Holyoke : ] 
Whatever happened to the plans for a skatepark?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:42 Tom, Holyoke
Mayor Morse: 
They are in motion - we already allocated $250,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to the construction of the park. That money was released July 1st, 2012, and we just went out to bid and selected a contractor. Construction will begin early next year and the park will be finished by the summer. Nothing happens overnight. Also - just yesterday we got a $175,000 state grant to go towards the park construction of the park, which allows us to reallocate our CDBG money to other parks and projects in the city. Thanks for your question - and just so you know, the skate park will be at the bottom of Pulaski Park near the spray park and basketball court.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:44 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
Why a casino in Holyoke? Why would you change your mind? Why should I support you again and not Jim Santiago?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:46 Guest
Mayor Morse: 
I've made it clear that I haven't changed my mind, but have changed our strategy. It's important for you and others to see this process and watch our words and actions closely. Again - I haven't decided to move forward on this, and will make that decision with the help of others. It's also important to note that mayors have to make difficult decisions that are not always popular, and it's often difficult to understand situations in the moment. I am confident Holyoke will emerge from this conversation in a stronger position then where we were previously. Lastly, we are making great progress on a number of key initiatives in education, economic development, public safety, and boosting civic pride. I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of the city. At the moment, I'm focused on being mayor and doing the best possible job I can. I think my record will speak for itself, and if you ever want to chat about this or other issues you are welcome to contact me and set up a time. It's much too early to discuss next year's campaign.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:50 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Matt Larsen Matt Larsen : ] 
I'm curious about the MGHPCC in terms of employees. How many employees are working there now? What is their background in terms of education and skills? How many are Holyoke residents? Have you been involved in discussions about job skills in tech or data management that they might need?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:51 Matt Larsen
Mandy Hofmockel
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse answers reader's questions in his office on Thursday, Dec. 6.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:51 
Mayor Morse: 
Hey Matt - yes we have had some of those conversations with folks at the MGHPCC and will continue to do so. Employees range from 15-20. Some low-skilled clerical and security jobs, but most of the jobs are high-skilled white collar jobs in which researchers from universities travel to and from the center when needed. Given the technological advances, much of the research generated does not require in person interactions with the equipment. I don't want to provide you false information, so I will get you a breakdown of the number of employees, where they live, what they do, etc.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:54 Mayor Morse
[Comment From H8er H8er : ] 
What is the status of the proposed wind power on Mt. Tom?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:55 H8er
Mayor Morse: 
No updates to provide at this point. This project has been spearheaded by folks over at Holyoke Gas & Electric, and there have been some roadblocks with the state Department of Conservation that they are attempting to overcome. We are trying to position ourselves as the state's energy testbed, given our hydropower, and the fact that Holyoke has the 2nd highest solar capacity outside of Boston.
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:56 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Sean Sean : ] 
What are the main advantages of a casino resort in Holyoke, as opposed to Springfield, which by some is considered the main economic center of Western Massachusetts? Do you believe that if economic conditions in Springfield improved as a result of a casino there that this improvement would naturally spread to Holyoke and the rest of Western Massachusetts?
Thursday December 6, 2012 3:57 Sean
Mayor Morse: 
Yes, often times I believe that a "rising tide lifts all boats." That is similar to what is happening here in the region. Both Holyoke and Springfield have much influence over the direction of the region moving forward. I think a strong Holyoke contributes to a stronger region, and a strong region contributes to a stronger Holyoke. Same goes for Springfield - while I am the Mayor of Holyoke and do all I can to develop our city, it's just as important to think regionally so that any project to our specific communities will have a spin-off benefit to other cities. This is why I have convened a meeting with all area mayors and town managers. In terms of the site, I think all sites have their pros and cons.
Thursday December 6, 2012 4:00 Mayor Morse
Mandy Hofmockel: 
Thanks everyone for all your comments and questions today. We appreciate the participation, and we'll look for you all at our next live chat with the mayor.
Thursday December 6, 2012 4:02 Mandy Hofmockel
Mayor Morse: 
Just want to thank all of you for joining me this afternoon and I look forward to the next chat. As always, feel free to contact me if I was unable to answer your question today. Have a great holiday season, and join us tomorrow night for the Christmas Tree lighting at Holyoke City Hall if you can. Starting at 5:00pm - carriage rides, arts and crafts, merry-go-round, food, Santa, music, etc. Free for all.
Thursday December 6, 2012 4:02 Mayor Morse
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