A little bit of Vegas, a lot of Springfield

The lobby at the MGM Springfield, a new casino-resort that pays homage to the Western Massachusetts city where it's located.
The lobby at the MGM Springfield, a new casino-resort that pays homage to the Western Massachusetts city where it's located.
Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

The first impression of the MGM Springfield hotel and casino is that it does not look like a casino at all. From the outside, it is smaller and subtler than you might expect. Not a gleaming, glass tower, but a mix of brick and stone just six stories high. 

In fact, MGM's newest resort, which opened in late August with a price tag of just under $1 billion, looks less like a Vegas casino parachuted into Western Massachusetts and more like a piece of Springfield's historic downtown, albeit still shiny and fresh from construction. As such, it represents not just a foray for MGM into an East Coast city, but also a blueprint for how the company can adapt its integrated resort model into different markets. 

In some ways, the MGM Springfield feels entirely familiar, with all the touchstones of MGM's massive Strip resorts. There's the casino floor: 125,000 square feet flashing with more than 2,500 slots, 120 gaming tables and a high-limit lounge and poker room. There's the restaurant collection, including the South End Market's fast-casual outlet, Adam Sobel's coastal Italian at Cal Mare, the glam Chandler Steakhouse and a location of TAP Sports Bar imported from Vegas's MGM Grand. There's a 34,000-square-foot convention space, a full spa, a movie theater, a handful of retail shops and 252 rooms and suites with whimsical art and a residential aesthetic that evokes the ambiance at the Park MGM, MGM Resorts' latest brand on the Las Vegas Strip.

But for all the recognizable elements of the Vegas casino resort, this is not a property that could be picked up and plopped down in another city. The details woven throughout the space are thoroughly local, both of and for its home of Springfield. 

First, the resort has integrated pieces of the buildings that made way for the project, including once-proud structures damaged in a devastating tornado that ripped through Springfield in 2011, killing three and causing millions in damage. A beautiful church was lifted and shifted across the lot to house a shop and cafe from regional institution Kringle Candle, and the beaux arts facade of the United Electric Company building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was preserved as part of the casino exterior, its dramatic rotunda reconstructed inside the resort's convention center. A portion of the historic Springfield Armory set on a plaza just outside the main casino now serves as an elegant event space complete with twinkling chandeliers.

In the hotel area, meanwhile, the check-in desk is backed by vintage letterpress letters and adjacent to a two-level library that pays homage to the city's literary past. At the Lobby Bar, stocked with furniture and decor from the nearby Brimfield Antique Show, mixologists turn out cheeky craft cocktails inspired by classic books, like the Romeo and Juniper, a dressed-up gin and tonic, and the Tequila Mockingbird, served inside a delicate bird-shaped glass. 

Hotel hallway carpets sport quotes from Emily Dickinson, who published poems anonymously in Springfield's newspaper, while lighting fixtures assembled from copper piping nod to the city's industrial history. Inside standard guestrooms, art vignettes add a whimsical touch unique to each room, while oversized suites feature live-edge dining tables made from local trees. The Presidential Suite, inspired by Dr. Seuss (born Ted Geisel just down the street), boasts a round living room ideal for entertaining topped with a chandelier composed of quirky hats. 

"It's almost a museum to Springfield and its heritage," said Saverio Mancini, director of communications for the MGM Springfield. In fact, artifacts from the Springfield Museum are even on display in the hotel elevator lobbies.

Which is not to say the resort feels stale or dated. 

On the contrary, on a recent visit it was full of life, servers striding through the Chandler's dimly lit dining room bearing smoked cocktails and oyster platters, groups of bowlers hitting the lanes at TAP Sports Bar under memorabilia from Boston's pro teams and a Thursday night crowd dancing late into the evening inside the Commonwealth cocktail lounge in the center of the casino floor. 

History is everywhere at the MGM Springfield, and guests who are paying attention will register the curated decor pieces, the respectful nods to the city that hosts this new casino. But plenty of visitors won't. They'll be too focused on Cal Mare's fantastic rolled lasagna, on the Lobby Bar cocktail served in a glass milk carton, on the virtual driving range inside the Topgolf Swing Suite or the winter ice rink spread across the Plaza to notice. And that's okay too.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI