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Are entertainment districts at odds?

Are entertainment districts at odds?
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

The other night Mary and I wanted to get an ice cream. It was about 8:45 on a Tuesday and I was too lazy to drive to J.B.'s in East Longmeadow sorry J.B., you're the best, though and we went to Cold Stone Creamery in the Basketball Hall of Fame complex, which is essentially right down the hill from us.
I was expecting the place to be pretty quiet as, after all, it was a Tuesday night. The parking lot, though, was amazingly full with people patronizing the restaurants and newly opened LA Fitness.
Now a drive through the city's entertainment district on a Tuesday night at 9 p.m. is a different matter. Some restaurants are still open, but most of the bars with the notable exception of the strip clubs are closed.
So I'm wondering if the city has developed two entertainment districts. One, by the river, appeals more to adults and carries a potentially higher price tag, while the other is aimed at the 21-plus crowds. One has fairly standard hours for its kind of business, while the other is open largely Thursday through Sunday with the prime business time between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Does this situation create a rivalry or a synergy between the two areas that are separated by less than a mile?
The Urban Land Institute report on Springfield emphasized the importance of making the downtown work through the addition of more housing. Once more people start living downtown the retail and service businesses will follow.
That process seems to be going a bit slower than I would have hoped with all eyes on the former Court Square hotel property. The other property that has important development potential is the soon to be closed federal building on Main Street and the former Asylum nightclub next to it.
These projects are years away, though, and what worries me is that in the meantime there isn't enough forward movement downtown.
The Springfield Business Improvement District (BID) has released its schedule for the Stearns Square Concert Series and it looks like a strong season. These highly popular concerts have been a great way to bring folks downtown, but we need more. Don't get me wrong; I'm not knocking the BID at all.
So let me play gadfly for a moment and share a thought or two. We need to use the Old First Church building now for a use that will draw people downtown. I would like to see musical events at the Old First Church -- gospel, jazz and folk -- that could make use of that space. Who administers that building now and are there provisions in place that would allow a producer to rent the building?
Would it be possible to have a restaurant crawl downtown to show off what we do have?
We've had a successful developers conference, but what about an entrepreneur's conference that would try to match potential small business owners with downtown spaces and available support services?
As a former theater manager, I'd love to see a movie theater downtown, preferably an art house with four screens that would show commercial fare as well. The former U.S. Factory Outlets location at Tower Square has a lot of potential for that kind of use.
And I've wondered about a factory outlet store that would feature goods made here in Western Massachusetts from handcrafted artisan items to Hasbro games, Calloway golf balls, Yankee candles, etc.
Anyway, it's easy to talk about such things, but drop me a line if anyone reading this is interested in pursuing any of these ideas.

***
As a member of the Valley Press Club Board, I'd like to thank everyone who attended and participated in the roast last week quite possibly the funniest in recent memory.
I took a sacred oath not to reveal the barbs, insults and questionable humor that flowed from both reporters and politicians, but I can share two things: a poll of the audience showed that Ray Hershel beat Mayor Domenic Sarno for having the best head of hair in the Valley and that Sarno was the best sport as being the only elected official who stayed for the entire evening, much of it aimed at him.
That's about all I can repeat!
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to Reminderpublications.com or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.


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