By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Domenic Sarno said that a $35 million purchase of the Springfield Plaza property on Liberty Street and a planned $4 million improvement plan shows the faith investors have in Springfield.
Sarno announced the purchase at a press conference on March 4 in the parking lot of the Stop & Shop, one of the tenants. The purchase and renovation is a joint venture between Albany Road Real Estate Partners of Boston and Davenport Companies, also of Boston and the development partner for the MGM Springfield casino.
Charles Irving of Davenport said that his company had redeveloped the former Springdale Mall on Boston Road and then “stayed away” from the city. He explained his company was “comfortable with the investment climate” here.
“We wouldn’t be here if it were not for these two guys,” Irving said, pointing to Sarno and the city’s Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy. He said that his work with MGM had re-acquainted him with the city.
“We think the city is a great investment.” Irving added.
Christopher Knisley of Albany Road, said that buying the shopping plaza was a “great opportunity” and “ a big, big investment for our company.
He noted the center is currently 90 percent leased and is “performing well.”
Knisley said the partners should start their plans to improve the property around May 1. The effort would focus on upgrading building facades, entrances, lighting, parking lots, landscaping and property signage.
On a map of the property the current and future tenants were shown including a Planet Fitness in the location of the former bowling center.
Kennedy and Sarno both noted there has been a shopping center on the property since 1950s. During the 1920s and 1930s the Springfield Airport was located there, home to the Granville Brothers and their famous Gee-Bee airplanes.
Sarno said, “This significant financial commitment, to an important neighborhood, is further evidence of an impending citywide renaissance. There is a new vision for Springfield, anchored by the University of Massachusetts, the redevelopment of Union Station and MGM’s pending $800 million commitment to downtown Springfield. These urban planning milestones raise confidence in the future of Springfield and incent private investment throughout the city. I assure you, the Springfield Plaza is the first of many noteworthy 2014 announcements generated by the city’s long term planning and vision.”