By JARRET JOHNSON, P.E.
The MGM Springfield casino, west of Boston, incorporates the facades, ornaments, and structural elements of several historical buildings into its design, proving that modern developments can add to local entertainment and prosperity while respecting cultural roots and architectural heritage.
Located approximately 80 mi west of Boston, MGM Springfield is the first full-service casino in Massachusetts and is positioned to reinvigorate the downtown Springfield area. The six-story development includes approximately 775,000 sq ft and occupies 14 acres of land within three city blocks. The destination includes a 250-room hotel, a 125,000 sq ft casino, resort-style amenities, an array of dining options, a retail center, 46,000 sq ft of flexible meeting space, and parking for 3,400 vehicles. Coupled with the existing MassMutual Center, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and other existing institutions, the project is expected to increase the annual volume of visitors to the area.
Downtown Springfield is characterized by a mix of historic buildings, modern high-rises, and remnants of the city's industrial past. The city is also peppered with vacant parcels and damaged buildings because of a powerful tornado in 2011. The launch of the MGM development was preceded by five years of planning, design, and construction to ensure that the entertainment and cultural components would contribute to the city's central business district and embrace Springfield's rich history. This was accomplished primarily by incorporating several treasured landmarks into the development, including the First Spiritualist Church, the Union House Hotel, the United Electric Co. Building, the State Armory building, a building at 95 State Street, and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) building. From the project's inception, owner MGM Resorts International, headquartered in Las Vegas, chose to preserve and integrate these historic structures into the new development. The complex also includes partially adapted facades, entirely new buildings, and new public areas.
The design architect for the project was Friedmutter Group, of Las Vegas, and the structural engineering was conducted by the Boston office of DeSimone Consulting Engineers.
FIRST SPIRITUALIST CHURCH
Early in the planning stages, the triple-brick First Spiritualist Church was identified as a structure that should be preserved if possible, as it has been recognized for its historical and architectural significance. Completed in 1887, the house of worship was originally founded as the French Congregational Church to serve the French Canadian Huguenot minority group that was employed at the nearby Smith & Wesson Co. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Because of space constraints, reconfiguring the development's layout to accommodate the church in its original position was not feasible. Instead, a plan was conceived to relocate the 450-ton building to the eastern corner of the site in coordination with the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior's recommended guidelines (
Moving Historic Buildings
, U.S. Department of the Interior Heritage Conservation and Recreation Trust, 1979). An excavation was performed to create space for a new mat foundation for the entire structure, provide adequate headroom for a basement, and allow the cut line to be buried below grade. The structure was then relocated 200 yards across the site and rotated 180 degrees. An engraved boulder that sits outside the church was also reinstalled at the new location.
In its new spot, the building bookends-along with the State Armory located to the north-the development's outdoor plaza and ice-skating rink. The church now serves as one of the primary retail locations at the site.
UNION HOUSE HOTEL
LOCATED at the northern edge of the complex, the Union House Hotel, which was completed in 1846, is a traditional brick masonry structure with timber framing and wood-bearing walls. The Italianate-style property was considered the premier hotel in Springfield at the time it was built. In 1847, then-U.S. president James K. Polk visited the hotel for an overnight stay along with James Buchanan, then the secretary of state and later the nation's 15th president. The building served as a hotel until 1933, after which it was occupied by a variety of commercial tenants.
Unfortunately, years of neglect and makeshift repairs rendered the building structurally unsound. The existing wood frame and roof had been extensively damaged, with the lower floors shored up and the upper floors closed off and abandoned because of pervasive deterioration.
Extensive field surveys were conducted to ensure the stability of the facade and to adequately plan for its incorporation into the future project. In collaboration with the Springfield Historical Commission, MGM explored viable options to preserve portions of the building. As a solution, the project team retained and restored the entire facade that fronts Main Street and about 12 ft of the street wall after it turns the corner on the former Bliss Street-facing elevation.
During this phase of the project, the existing facade was temporarily supported by a steel-frame exoskeleton while new pile foundations were installed to support the new building and the facade in its permanent state.
The historic facade now serves as one of the main frontages for the new hotel. The element was renovated to reflect the original mid-19th-century configuration. This includes the return of existing window openings to their original sizes, the installation of "six-over-six" windows, and the addition of period-appropriate storefronts. Original stone pediments and sills at the upper levels of the building were used as templates to replicate window openings that had been modified.
UNITED ELECTRIC CO. BUILDING
The development also incorporated the United Electric Co. Building at 73 State Street, one of the last remaining examples of the Beaux-Arts architectural style in Springfield. Located at the northwestern boundary of the development, the building was constructed in 1910 and originally housed the offices of the United Electric Co., which later became the leading provider of electricity to all of Western Massachusetts. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The project team recognized the architectural significance of this building and studied alternatives that included relocation or entire or partial retention of the structure. After significant analysis and consultation with the Springfield Historical Commission, it was determined that the State Street facade could be maintained and incorporated into the new development, with new construction set back from the street. The original canopy, entry stairs, and entry doors were also preserved as part of the building's new function.
The team also developed a comprehensive program to carefully remove, store, and reuse a prominent stained-glass dome above the lobby of the United Electric Co. Building. The dome was removed by Stained Glass Resources, one of New England's preeminent stained-glass studios, and stored in the company's climate-controlled facility in Hampden, Massachusetts. The team also worked to restore and reuse a decorative octagonal rotunda, original railings, marble wainscot, wood-paneled doors, plaster pilasters, capitals, and other ornamental elements.
At the structure's foundation, existing footings were enlarged to support new building columns and minimize potential differential settlement.
Today, 73 State Street is known as South End Market, a casual dining hall with six restaurants connected by a central atrium. South End Market also offers direct access to the casino's poker room.
THE STATE ARMORY
The State Armory at 29 Howard Street was partially leveled by the 2011 tornado and had been vacant ever since. Originally constructed in 1895, the armory served as the headquarters for the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, now the Massachusetts National Guard. A portion of the building along Howard Street resembling a castle was known colloquially as the Head House and features granite masonry, brownstone, and brick ornamentation. Two cylindrical towers now create a dramatic entry plaza.
The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Given its prominent stature and significant architectural presence, MGM envisioned the structure as a centerpiece of the development. Early planning also identified an active plaza centered around the State Amory and an open-air market framed by its exposed steel trusses.
To repurpose the formidable structure, the building was completely gutted; all its floors and interior bearing walls were removed to accommodate an expansive dining and entertainment venue. A complete steel structure was erected inside the 70 by 70 ft shell to support the ground floor and roof, including approximately 15 tons of steel erected 50 ft in the air to support the existing 24 in. thick masonry turret walls above. As a defining characteristic of the building's exterior, the massive walls of the existing turrets extended the full height of the building and isolated areas of the ground floor. To preserve these important features, DeSimone engineered a transfer system of needle beams and transfer girders that allowed for the sequential demolition of the walls below, which freed up valuable floor area and improved the flexibility of the space. A new foundation mat was constructed entirely within the footprint of the existing load-bearing walls. The elaborate exterior masonry was also carefully repaired, and damaged and missing elements were replaced in-kind.
The rear of the building was repurposed as an outdoor plaza and skating rink and features a decorative truss from a former drill shed. This pedestrian plaza is the vital human-scale link to the gaming and entertainment complex. As an anchor to the southern half of the development, the armory serves as a flexible venue for large events, entertainment, and meetings.
95 STATE STREET
Recognized as historically significant by the Springfield Historical Commission, the building at 95 State Street was originally constructed in 1929 for the newspaper
; it was constructed as an annex to the adjacent State Building. The Classical Revival-style building features a three-story granite- and limestone-clad podium with an 11-story structure atop and set back from it.
Because of a lack of historical information on the original design, the building, located immediately north of 73 State Street, underwent a careful rehabilitation, including extensive load testing to verify its structural capacities. In areas at which casino operations required additional live-load capacity, the existing concrete-encased steel-floor framing was load tested. This occurred in three locations and was accomplished using up to 500 55-gal. drums filled with water.
A portion of the existing below-grade mechanical room protruded past the building and into the casino footprint. The structure and foundation wall were partially demolished, and a new two-story foundation wall was built that did not interfere with the casino foundations. Geofoam backfill was used to minimize lateral pressure on the large unbraced wall.
Today, the building houses casino operations on the upper floors, with the casino's main poker room located on the ground floor.
THE YWCA building was a Renaissance Revival-style building constructed between 1907 and 1909. The YWCA of Western Massachusetts, founded in 1868 to provide affordable room and board for young, working-class women, played an important role in the social welfare of the community. The three-story brick and terra-cotta building later provided a nursery and educational programs for women as well.
The project team studied the reuse of the building in its existing location, immediately opposite the State Armory. Unfortunately, the size and location of the building precluded incorporation into the development. Instead, the team proposed incorporating masonry elements-including friezes, medallions, and quoins-into the facade of a new structure. Today, the building constructed in its place functions as a sports bar and entertainment center with an enclosure that contributes to the historic texture of the Howard Street streetscape.
HONORING THE OLD WITH THE NEW
While the development adapts and reuses much of the existing and historic structures, the project also includes approximately 550,000 sq ft of new construction. These areas are positioned around the main podium and include the main gaming floor, the hotel and restaurants, a banquet hall, and an entertainment zone. Demolished structures include a parking garage, the former YWCA, and several single-story retail buildings.
To ensure a harmonious streetscape, especially along Main Street, the new facades feature large articulations that mimic the surrounding buildings. These articulations and the building scales led to the innovative use of a hollow-core, precast-plank structural system in combination with cantilevered, cast-in-place planks. This system minimizes the new building heights-to 80 ft-and maximizes the flexibility of the new facade designs.
To further pay tribute to the city's industrial history, the underside of the planks remains exposed in select guest rooms to create a rugged, industrial look.
A comprehensive architectural salvage program was implemented to save, preserve, and repurpose architectural elements and historical artifacts throughout the property. As part of this effort, historians helped identify artifacts and memorabilia that vividly convey Springfield's story to visitors. The effort to salvage these artifacts is evidenced throughout the development and includes the following:
- the original vault door found in the basement of the MassMutual bank at 1200 Main Street and now installed in the Knox Bar
- a decorative wood fireplace mantle from an office at 73 State Street that was reinstalled in the hotel lobby
- seating from two other structures-the French Congregational Church and Howard Street School-that was used throughout the convention area and food market
- salvaged doors from multiple properties that are featured within retail components
- a neon sign from a Veterans of Foreign Wars property that formerly stood on Bliss Street and was reinstalled within the sports bar
- a 15 ft long wood dining table from the State Armory that was restored and is used for communal dining in the food market
Additionally, an interpretive signage program was installed to guide visitors to nine significant historic sites throughout the project.
MGM Springfield opened its doors to the public in August 2018. The project's successful completion involved design professionals, specialty contractors, the developer, community advocates, historians, and preservationists. Today, MGM Springfield stands as a superlative example of how a new development can not only preserve and honor the rich history of its surroundings but also contribute to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of a community.
Jarret Johnson, P.E., is an associate principal of DeSimone Consulting Engineers in Boston
PROJECT CREDITS Developer MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Design architect Friedmutter Group, Las Vegas Structural engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers, Boston office Civil engineering Allen & Major Associates Inc., Woburn, Massachusetts Geotechnical engineering Sanborn, Head & Associates Inc., Boston General contractor AECOM Tishman, New York City Steel contractor Berlin Steel (Oxford, Massachusetts location) Masonry restoration, State Armory Sullivan & Narey Construction Co., Holyoke, Massachusetts Mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering NV5, Boston office Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) engineering Andelman and Lelek Engineering Inc., Norwood, Massachusetts Permitting and historical consultants Epsilon Associates Inc., Maynard, Massachusetts Relocation of First Spiritualist Church Wolfe House and Building Movers, Bernville, Pennsylvania.
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