Transcript – Episode 52

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Tina D’Agostino:  I think the casino will bring more people downtown.  People will get more excited about coming to Springfield, and we hope that it will enhance our programming, as well.

Anita Walker:  Hi.  I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council.  Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud.  We are in Springfield today talking to Tina D’Agostino.  She is the President of the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corporation.  Welcome to our program.

Tina D’Agostino:  Thank you for having me.

Anita Walker:  Now, there’s a lot going on here in Springfield, and one of the things that is getting an enormous amount of attention is you will soon have a casino, one of the very first in Massachusetts.

Tina D’Agostino:  Yes, we will.

Anita Walker:  This had caused a certain amount of consternation, or concern, or fear, maybe is not too strong a word to put on it, but a lot of our nonprofit performing arts organizations worried about how the presence of a casino might affect their audiences, their ability to attract acts and performances.  How are you managing that here?

Tina D’Agostino:  So it was definitely a wild ride, and all of the performing arts centers in Massachusetts were very concerned, and I think fearful is a good way to put it.  But, you know, through a lot of hard work, and some great work by the MCC, as well, we were able to have a lot of protection in the legislation, so I think everyone has calmed down somewhat.  And Springfield is a very different situation, because, as you mentioned, we never thought we would have a casino here in our downtown, and it’s going to be opening next year, and it’s exciting.  So we don’t really have any formal programs in place right now.  There have been a lot of loose conversations, but we’re thankful for all the protections in the legislation, especially for our friends that run performing arts centers across the state.

Anita Walker:  So you don’t look scared.  You look very calm and actually pretty happy and excited.

Tina D’Agostino:  Yeah.

Anita Walker:  Has this affected the way you think about programming where you are, or even thinking far out in the future about, you know, locking down performances or acts to come to town.

Tina D’Agostino:  Absolutely.  For us, I think, you know, you’ve heard the expression, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  So for us, here in Springfield, it’s exciting, because I think the casino will bring more people downtown.  People will get more excited about coming to Springfield, and we hope that it will enhance our programming, as well.  As I mentioned, we’ve had some conversations with MGM about future booking, and they are actually providing us content right now.  They’re not supporting it financially, but they are just helping connect us with other agents and touring acts that may want to come to Springfield now, especially with the presence of MGM, so that is very, very exciting.

Anita Walker:  They don’t have a performance hall in this casino.

Tina D’Agostino:  They don’t, and that’s really interesting, because they can’t build, you know, one of a certain size, because of the legislation, but they will also be running the MassMutual Center, so they will be running that arena in the Convention Center, and part of their host Community Agreement was to present four shows per year for five years after they open at City Stage, at Symphony Hall, and at the MassMutual Center.  Of course, fast forward to now when they will be running the MassMutal Center, I guess, you know, that’s exciting, as well, but they will have to work with us to present shows that are smaller venues in town.

Anita Walker:  There was a lot of thinking that went into the relationship between the City of Springfield and a casino.  There are so many features of the casino coming here that really are a departure from the typical casino that you see elsewhere, everything from– what do they have, nineteen doors in and out?

Tina D’Agostino:  It’s wild.  Yeah.  It’s really wild, but, you know, I will say it’s been exciting to learn about the development and, you know, they are promising that it’s going to be, I think they call it an “inside-out casino.”  I think it’s an inside-out casino, so that they are really attracting people to come in and not like a typical casino where they don’t want anyone to leave.  There’s a lot of exciting elements to it.  And, again, I just think it’s going to elevate the city become more of a tourist destination, and, you know, there will be more things to do, more people here, and that’s what we need here.  You know, speaking for Springfield, we just need more excitement.  It’s a great place.  It has such great, you know, bones already, and a lot of structure, and there’s so much to do.  I know that you, you know, have been through our cultural district.  There’s so much here, but we need more people to learn about it.

Anita Walker:  So the first thing that the casino will no doubt do is inspire people to come who might not have come otherwise.

Tina D’Agostino:  I think so.

Anita Walker:  They would not have thought there was a reason to go to Springfield, but they want to go have a good time at a casino, and they’ll come.  How are you going to do a little come hither and say, all right, now come out of one of those nineteen doors of this permeable outside inside-out institution and come and see what we’ve got going on.

Tina D’Agostino:  Well, part of the host Community Agreement says that, you know, there will be some marketing collaboration.  That’s also part of the Impacted Live Entertainment Agreement that the state required as part of the gaming license, so we are really looking forward, not only to the marketing collaboration with their customers, but also the folks that will be working there.  I think we’re talking about three thousand new jobs, so that’s three thousand new people that could come to our venues and experience what we have, because maybe they don’t want to go to their place of employment, so I think that’s really exciting.  During this construction phase, too, there’s a lot of money being pumped into the economy from all of the construction workers and folks that are working on the casino, as well.  So I think the marketing collaboration is key, as well, and especially if we can become part of a, you know, loyalty program and reach all of their members.  That not only goes for the casino, MGM here in Springfield, but for the other casinos across the state, too, so I think those marketing collaborations are really, really important, and, you know, just working with all of the performing arts centers.

Anita Walker:  It feels like we’ve been talking about this casino issue for a very, very long time, but it is right in front of us.  A year out is not that far away.  So how are you deepening this relationship with the people who are going to be running the casino on the marketing collaborations, on the programming, and so forth?

Tina D’Agostino:  So we haven’t started talking about the marketing yet, and we probably should very soon.  And as I mentioned, we’ve had very recent conversations, and we’ve done some tours with their booking manager, their regional booking manager for MGM, and just really trying to connect with different agents and different touring productions to bring maybe better content into our venues, more popular content.  So I think it’s going to be a really important relationship, you know, just to help us with our programming, because we have a lot of challenges with programming.  Springfield is also in a really unique location, because we have a very rich environment for entertainment and culture.  You know, up in Northampton there are many, many venues, and Amherst, even south down in Connecticut in the Hartford area, so we already have a lot of challenges, overcoming those radius clauses that we’ve talked a lot about, you know, with the casinos.

Anita Walker:  And talk about that for our audience, in case they’re not familiar with that.

Tina D’Agostino:  Sure.  So typically when any venue is booking entertainment, you put in a radius clause.  It really just protects your ticket sales so that if an artist comes through, they may not be able to play within sixty miles, you know, for sixty or ninety days before or after the performance, so it’s really just a protection.  It’s not just the casinos that do it.  I mean, I know many, many venues, almost anybody will do that.  So, you know, with this rich area, you know, there’s a lot of buying power up in Northampton.  We have so many outdoor venues down in Connecticut, you know, the venues in Hartford, so everybody wants their own piece of the pie, and I think having the support of the casino will help us overcome that and strengthen our buying power, as well.

Anita Walker:  So it’s not just about the visitors.  It’s not just the people who are going to be coming to visit and stay in the hotels, and go to the casino, or participate in the other activities, and go home.  This is also for people who live here.

Tina D’Agostino:  Absolutely, yeah, I think so, and I think, especially for, and this may be a little bit off topic, but for our performing arts centers, we were really concerned about the ability to purchase entertainment, and now I think everyone is a little more at ease because of the protections in these agreements that are in place.

Anita Walker:  To elaborate on that just briefly, my recollection of our conversations and concerns at the time when the legislation was being crafted, is that casinos make their money off gambling, so they can give tickets away to a performing artist.  You can’t.  You make your money off the ticket.

Tina D’Agostino:  Right.  And sometimes we lose money off the ticket, too, so that’s the other interesting part of this.  But, you know, I think the casinos will say that they are entertainment companies.  I don’t think any of them really like to say they’re gaming companies, but at the end of the day it’s a casino.  A lot of people are going there to gamble, and that’s fine, but they do offer exciting entertainment, and great restaurants, and I think we should look at that as a positive, because, again, it really does promote more activity and bring more people into our area.

Anita Walker:  So if you were going to look ahead, say, five years, what do you see?

Tina D’Agostino:  That is so interesting.  I have no idea.  I hope that it grows, and it becomes so exciting, and it really spills out into the city and attracts more businesses outside of the casino.  To me that would be the most exciting thing that could happen to Springfield.  I mean, I grew up here.  I was here when there was a lot of retail.  I mean, retail is struggling anyway, but there was a lot of retail.  There were so many restaurants, coffee shops.  It was so exciting.  To me that would be amazing if we could have that again, and if the casino is a part of that, and I don’t think anybody should put the burden on them, you know, to create that, but if it becomes a part of it.  And we also have Union Station opening, too, so that is super exciting.  And our venues are right in the middle of Union Station, so you’ve got all of, you know, the new travel options coming right there on Main Street.  And then head south, down to the casino, maybe those two projects would make the middle part more exciting, which is very — I don’t know.  I think I’m really positive about it.  I know there are a lot of nay sayers, but, like I said, Springfield is already great.  This is just going to make it even better.

Anita Walker:  You know, as I’ve been watching this, and we, at the MCC, obviously our concern is our cultural nonprofits, and we want them to be healthy, and strong, and sustainable, so the casinos did a really, you know, as we discussed over the last few years, offer a bit of concern.  But I have always thought that Springfield has taken an approach and has started to build a relationship with the casino that could be very, it could really be a model for how a casino can really be a contributor in a community in a way that we don’t see elsewhere.

Tina D’Agostino:  I agree.  And I think, you know, I’m entrenched in the city, and on a lot of different committees, and, you know, have a lot of different colleagues that have fantastic relationships with the casino, and I think they really are community partners, so it’s exciting to see them support a lot of art and culture projects.  You know, hopefully the Cultural District, itself, but a lot of the smaller organizations, too, and that’s exciting, and encouraging to see that.  And I think if it does become a model for different relationships, why view them as the enemy?  I mean, all we want is really to have more people downtown, and if they can help us bring more people downtown, it’s a great thing for everybody.

Anita Walker:  Well, Tina, this has been– it’s been so much fun to see you so excited in talking about this, and we will absolutely have to check back after the casino is open, and see how everything progresses.  But I want to thank you so much for joining us.  Tina D’Agostino, President of the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corporation, another of our Creative Minds Out Loud.

Tina D’Agostino:  Thank you for having me.

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