City's developments reviewed
|By Debbie Gardner|
SPRINGFIELD -- What is the status of economic development in the city of Springfield?
How much has been accomplished since the Urban Land Institute made its five-year recommendations in the fall of 2007?
Russ Denver, president of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, recently gave an economic update on the city to a group of corporators of the Mason-Wright Retirement Community. This speech, one of 17 such presentations Denver has made to groups large and small across the region since August, outlined the status of projects, some high- profile, some "little known to most individuals" that are underway in the city.
Denver explained that the chamber had invited members of the Urban Land Institute -- a group of professionals with careers in urban development, land management, city planning and related fields who volunteer to spend their vacations assessing the needs of cities and towns to come and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Springfield.
He said one of the first things the institute had noted in their report was that the city's downtown area was "very dark."
"This represented a safety issue," Denver said.
To date, Denver said, the city has spent $2.5 million on a revitalization project addressing the Main Street corridor from Union Street to the Arch.
During the first phase of the Main Street project, the city also addressed lighting issues along the Dwight Street corridor.
"At night now, there's enough light to get a suntan," Denver joked.
These projects, Denver said, are meant to "work on a variety of issues, and also showcase what the city looks like."
In a separate interview, John Judge, Chief Development Officer for the City of Springfield, told Reminder Publications that these upgrades were only a part of the city's plans to improve the appearance and safety of the Main Street corridor.
"Right now we're doing the South End [of] Main Street," Judge said of the $3.8 million second phase of the revitalization project, which kicked off in early October.
State Street upgrade
Moving out from the downtown issues, Denver promised his audience that the ongoing, $18 million upgrade of the State Street would be completed by the end of the year.
This ambitious project, which coincided with the construction of the new Federal Courthouse, involved the addition of "new utilities, new water and sewer lines, new curbings and the installation of new medians" on this well-travelled route into the city.
"One of the coolest things is the put in bus pull-outs, so you won't get stuck behind school buses in the morning," he added.
A firm believer that "private investment follows public money," Denver predicted an economic uptick along Sate Street based on the change in Boston Road following the state's $6 million upgrade in the 1990s.
"Now its one of the most heavily retailed streets in all of Western Mass," Denver said, citing the investments made by Raymour & Flanigan, Wal-Mart, Pep Boys, the Boston Road Animal Hospital, Big Y, and the revitalization of the Eastfield Mall.
Ramp reversal reaps rewards
Continuing with the economic changes in the downtown area, Denver highlighted the recent rebound on Columbus Avenue, courtesy of the I-91 ramp reversal project.
"We all knew what the ramp reversal was going to do for the river side and it did," Denver said, citing the success of the Hall of Fame properties.
But recently, this project has started to pay dividends on the other side of I-91.
He cited the investment by Berkshire Bank, which recently completed a $7-8 million building, the the interest that Panera Bread has shown in an outbuilding at the site of the old St. Joseph's Church, the renovations that the Pride plaza has made, the addition of the Starbucks and the recent $3 million renovation at Arlington Court area, which will soon host an insurance company from Northampton.
"You've got private investment following public dollars," Denver said."That's our hope for what's going to happen on State Street."
Judge said the impact is already being felt along the East Columbus Avenue corridor.
"You see East Columbus [improvements] expanding toward Main Street and Main Street improvements expanding to 3.8 miles. [These improvements] are impacting the blocks behind them as well."
Judge said one of the next projects in this "bookended" area of improvements is to find a re-use for the Alfred Zanetti school building, possibly as market-rate housing.
"We're doing a pretty thorough analysis of what the community wants and what developers want [to determine] what's a long-term cornerstone [use] for the neighborhood," Judge said
Mass Mutual antes up
In conjunction with the State Street improvements, Denver said Mass Mutual spearheaded the creation of something called the State Street Alliance.
"They brought together 30 entities ... raised a couple of hundred dollars and had a very sophisticated market study done" of the area, according to Denver.
This study, also funded in part by Bank of America, used the IRS filing of residents in a half-mile swath along either side of the State Street corridor to determine the income demographics of the area, factoring in the dollars brought into the neighborhood by employers such as the Federal Courthouse, American International College and Mass Mutual.
"There's a lot of money going into that area day in and day out," he said.
Comparing the income demographics and the availability of vacant parcels for development and redevelopment, the study identified the need for a new grocery store and two family-style restaurants such as a TGI Friday's or a Chili's.
Based on the study, Denver said Mass Mutual spearheaded a "forgivable grant/loan program in the area" which proposes to offer businesses a dollar-for-dollar $10,000 matching grant/loan for site improvements.
"This will be corridor improvements targeting small and mid-size businesses," Judge confirmed, adding that this project is scheduled to begin in late October.
Judge also confirmed that another program, launched in late September, is offering $5,000 curb improvement loans over a three-year period to homeowners in the Maple-High Six-Corners, Old Hill, Hill McKnight and Pine Point neighborhoods. These loans are being administered by the Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services.
IT Center a reality
Denver said construction on the long-anticipated IT Center at the site of the former Technical High School was to start in early October.
Though a site on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College had also been proposed, he said the Springfield chamber came out in favor of the old Tech High site because they felt it would "stabilize the neighborhood and stabilize the Quadrangle."
The $70 million project is expected to net 75 jobs for the city.
Chapman Valve cleanup
Denver said that the economic development work has extended into the Indian Orchard section of the city, where recent work has remediated 30 acres of the industrial parcel that was the former Chapman Valve complex.
"We have 25 more acres to go," he said. "This land will be for light industrial, not housing."
"We need that kind of inventory when companies come looking," he added
Denver noted that the city is essentially "land poor" when it comes to sites for industrial development, with only three parcels still available at the Smith & Wesson site on Roosevelt Avenue.
"There's about 54 acres at Smith & Wesson, and about 35 of that is buildable," confirmed Judge, indicating that land could be divided into either two or three building parcels. "The rest is used for storm water retention, or is [comprised of] peat bogs."
When complete, Denver said the Chapman Valve site will be "a great site ... access to 291 and I-91 make this a desirable location."
"We get lots of people coming in to ask us about it," Judge said of the site.
Judge also added that the city recently received a $150,000 grant from Mass Development to do additional environmental testing on the soil at the Chapman Valve site.
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