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DevelopSpringfield releases progress report of tornado redevelopment

June 5, 2014 |

The houses being built by Viva Development along Central Street were open to inspection after a press event announcing the progress made in redeveloping the neighborhoods affected by the June 1, 2011, tornado.
Reminder Publications photo by Peter Spotts

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – On the site where a house destroyed by the June 1, 2011, tornado once stood at the corner of Beech and Central streets, city officials noted the progress made in redeveloping parts of the city damaged by the weather event and announced future efforts.

DevelopSpringfield released a report at the press event of development projects and their status that are underway not just in the neighborhoods affected by the tornado, but throughout the city.

Nick Fyntrilakis, co-chair of the Rebuild Springfield Plan, noted that more than 3,000 residents took part in the development of the citywide strategy for redevelopment.

“The plan wasn’t developed in isolation and wouldn’t sit on a shelf,” he said.

According to the progress report, in the three districts established for tornado relief, the following advancements have taken place: the rebuilding of Square One and the Caring Health Center in the South End; the design work is in progress for the new South End Community center; the rehabilitation of the Outing Park Historic District is underway; improvements to Emerson Wight Park have been completed; the new Brookings School is under construction; five new single family homes are under construction on central Street with more homes planned; Commonwealth Academy has opened on the campus of the former MacDuffie School; the repairs to the Dryden School are completed; more than 5,000 tress have been planted in the tornado neighborhoods; and insurance and federal funds have been finalized for the rebuilding of Cathedral High School.

City-wide in the last three years, the report noted that the renovation of Union Station has begun; there is an enhanced downtown police presence; the Central Cultural District has been approved; the city’s first bicycle land has been built along Plumtree Road; the University of Massachusetts is establishing a satellite campus at Tower Square; and plans have been started to bring a full-service supermarket to upper State Street.

Fyntrilakis said the plan “has been used as a tool and a blueprint for the development of the city. It’s not over today. It’s a work in progress.”

After the three years of rebuilding, Ward Three Melvin Edwards said, “We have hope in the [Maple High Six Corners] neighborhood again.”

Edward said that he was at first skeptical about the rebuilding plan.

Ward Seven Councilor Timothy Allen said that 95 percent of the damage to the city was in Wards Three and Seven. He spoke of how people helped each other recover.

“It was a traumatic time. We learned a lot,” Allen said.

He added the biggest challenge in his ward is the reconstruction of Cathedral High School.

“We’ve just got to get Cathedral rebuilt,” Allen emphasized.

Redeveloping the Maple High neighborhood is more than business for developer Alberto Ayala. His company, Viva Development, is building four new single-family homes on Central Street and he recounted how he grew up on Beech Street. He noted that his sister’s home was among those destroyed by the tornado.

“The tornado came through and put us down on our knees but it didn’t put us out,” he said.

Ayala told Reminder Publications he already has two “serious buyers” for the homes. He added he hasn’t started marketing the four homes, but has received “a flood of calls” and is taking applications. He said the first home to be completed will be this month and he will seek to build more home sin the neighborhood.

Jose Claudio of the North End Housing Initiative has partnered with the city and Bay State Health to build three single-family homes on a lot at the corner of Spruce and Central streets. The first home is underway and Claudio said they would be marketed to first-time homebuyers who complete a class and application process. Those homes will come complete with appliances.

Neighborhood resident Linda Bartlett is impressed with the changes in the Maple High area and said, “It’s getting better day by day. This is a good place to live.”

The full report is available at www.developspringfield.com.

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