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Etess sees Holyoke plan as evidence rural is best

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published November 28. 2012 4:00AM

Mohegan - Proponents of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's plan to build a casino in Palmer, Mass., say they're encouraged by one aspect of a competing project that's sprouted in Holyoke.

Like Mohegan Sun Palmer, the casino proposed for Holyoke's Mountain Park would rise in a decidedly rural setting.

The latest addition to the field expected to vie for the one available western Massachusetts casino license "reinforces the concept that the rural model is really the best model," Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan authority's chief executive officer, said Tuesday.

Etess stressed a rural versus urban theme several weeks ago in addressing local business people in Palmer. He said then that New Englanders have demonstrated that they prefer rural casinos to those located in cities - such as any of three proposed for Springfield, Mass.

"I think that's really important," Etess said of the rural-urban distinction. "Maybe Springfield is not really everything it's cracked up to be. We look at it (the surfacing of the Holyoke proposal) as confirmation that Palmer is the premier project - we've got the best rural site. People are seeing that rural is the way to go."

Etess noted that MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas-based gaming giant proposing an $800 million casino project for downtown Springfield, first proposed a casino in Brimfield, a small, rural town located next to Palmer.

"Then they went to Plan B - Springfield," Etess said.

The Holyoke proposal, a partnership planned between Holyoke businessman Eric Suher and the Waterford-based Waterford Group, is in a preliminary stage. It would include a hotel, convention center, indoor/outdoor amphitheater and restaurants.

Holyoke's mayor, Alex Morse, angered many of his constituents Monday when he announced at a press conference that would consider the Mountain Park project. He had previously objected to casino development in his city.

Paul Burns, a Palmer town councilor who has long supported the Mohegan Sun plan, weighed in on what he called Morse's "lukewarm support" for the Holyoke proposal.

"The mayor's statement makes clear that his support for this project is a defensive move to protect his city from the negative consequences of a Springfield casino," Burns said. "As a result, the statement can best be viewed as an endorsement of a truly rural site such as the one in Palmer."

Burns called the Mohegans' Palmer plan "the only truly rural proposal in the state."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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