Six years after Mohegan Sun planted its flag in Palmer with the idea of building a western Massachusetts resort casino, the Connecticut-based company is leaving the rural town and giving up control of a 152-acre site.
Mohegan Sun is terminating a 99-year lease on the former casino site -– a wooded hillside just off the MassPike — and giving up pursuit of a non-casino development there. Town officials and the landowner, Northeast Reality, were notified Monday.
Town Manager Charles Blanchard said a Mohegan Sun official told him the company was unable to find a big-name retailer to anchor a commercial development at the site.
" I am disappointed. It is a nice piece of property. It is a great location. It does have significant development costs for water and sewer and access to it."
Mohegan Sun signed the 99-year lease in 2008. The plans to build a resort casino were dashed last November when Palmer voters rejected the project by a 98 -vote margin. After losing the casino referendum Mohegan Sun said it would pursue an unspecified non-gaming development on the property.
Northeast Realty and Mohegan Sun are squaring off in court. Northeast alleges Mohegan Sun was secretly negotiating a casino deal in eastern Massachusetts before it lost the referendum in Palmer. Mohegan accuses Northeast of contract violations that undermined Mohegan’s campaign to win voter supporter for the casino.
Mohegan is competing with Wynn Resorts for the greater Boston casino license. Mohegan proposes a $1.3 billion casino at Suffolk Downs in Revere. The company is also pursuing a casino license in Sullivan County, New York.
Former Palmer Town Councilor Paul Burns said Mohegan’s decision to end the lease in Palmer is telling.
"They clearly expressed no real desire to do anything in Palmer except the initial casino proposal, and I question if they were all-in for that."
Burns said he remains optimistic that another developer will build on the former casino site.
"Short term is in convulted, but long term we are in a prime position with prime real estate. I think it bodes well for Palmer's future."
Jennifer Baruffaldi, who tried for more than a decade to bring a casino to Palmer, said Mohegan Sun’s decision adds insult to injury.
"I feel they are leaving Palmer in shambles."
Baruffaldi said she is considering voting in November to repeal the state’s casino gambling law because none of the proposed casinos are in rural areas.
MGM has been assigned the lone western Massachusetts casino license to build in downtown Springfield.