— Voters on Tuesday rejected Hard Rock International's proposal to build an $800 million resort casino with a live-music venue, retail and hotel on the campus of The Big E.
The total unofficial results were 3,413 in favor and 4,165 against. The casino plan was defeated 55-45 percent. Turnout was 45.6 percent of the 16,589 registered voters in town, more than the 30 to 35 percent in a typical city council election.
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West Springfield, MA, USA
Tim Maland, president of the proposed Hard Rock Hotel & Casino New England, said the people of West Springfield didn't want a casino — regardless of who might operate it.
But, he said, that doesn't mean Hard Rock won't expand in some fashion elsewhere in New England.
"Hard Rock is a powerful brand. ... So, there's a place for Hard Rock in either Massachusetts or in New England," Maland said. "Whether it's going to be the casino environment, or hotel resort environment, or another cafe, there will be other opportunities for Hard Rock to be represented."
Nathan Bech, the president of No Casino West Springfield Inc., said the small legion of volunteers he organized in the past five or six weeks did well getting their message out.
"It's wonderful, the heart and soul of volunteers that live here and care about our town, who went out and talked to their neighbors and talked to their friends," Bech said.
"It shows that that's more important that spending a million dollars on a campaign," he said.
Bech said he and others in his organization will remain committed to fighting any plans to build a casino in their region or anywhere in Massachusetts.
The debate over the proposed development — just a few miles from the Connecticut line — was evident along the streets of the community Tuesday as both sides tried to sway any last-minute undecided voters.
Mittineague Congregational Church on Westfield Street, one of four polling places, bustled with a steady stream of people around 5:45 p.m. The curved driveway to the church was lined with signs. A cluster of supporters and protesters waved to new arrivals at the foot of a parking lot.
"I voted yes. I am for the casino," said Karen DiClementi, a paraprofessional at an elementary school.
She supported the construction jobs the casino would bring and said she probably would go to the music and comedy shows. DiClementi said she goes to Boston and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, so why not stay closer to home for entertainment?
"I've seen the plans and it's not just a casino," DiClementi said. "It's a total entertainment facility. And if you're going to have concerts that come here, and you're bringing attractions in, why not have it in your own backyard?"
The proposal included a casino, a live-music venue, a hotel and retail shops.
"I would definitely go down there on a Friday night to watch a concert as opposed to giving my business to Hartford or the Boston area," DiClementi said. "I've done both."
Elena Martin, a teacher who lives in town, voted against the casino. She said the money it would bring to West Springfield in the short run was tempting, but she was concerned about the long-term ills of a gambling resort.
"What will the price be in the long run?" Martin said.
She said that she believes property values could decline and that a casino would send the wrong message to the young, productive families that West Springfield wants to retain and attract.
"I think we're selling our soul to the devil," Martin said.