| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The city will be taking steps toward a major change in a downtown neighborhood.
The Sarno Administration announced a plan that would alter the Apremont Triangle area as well as restore two-way traffic on much of Chestnut Street. Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan explained to Reminder Publishing the city will host a series of public meeting with residents and stakeholders to go over the draft plan.
Sheehan said the goal of the changes would be to “improve public infrastructure, to build a growing demand for new good and services and increasing the supply of housing.”
The project would also assist in the redevelopment of the area that was affected by the 2012 gas explosion.
The public meetings are intended to make sure the residents and the city council have the opportunity of reviewing the plan
The plan, when enacted, would be to upgrade the intersection at Apremont Triangle, where Chestnut Street, intersects with Hillman, Bridge and Pearl streets, he said. The project would increase the green space already established by a small park as well as restore two-way traffic to the section of Chestnut Street running from Liberty Street to Harrison Avenue.
Sheehan said the park at Spring Street would also be upgraded.
He noted Pynchon Plaza, the restored park on Dwight Street, would serve as a way for parts of downtown will be connected, as it will establish a pedestrian walkway between Dwight and Chestnut streets.
Both Sheehan and Sarno see the project as another way the city is address the economic impacts of the pandemic.
“It is critically important that while we continue to deal with the immediate economic impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus that we continue to keep an eye on and dictate the long-term future development of Springfield,” Sarno said in a written statement. “This planning initiative considers part of our downtown residential and business neighborhood which experienced significant economic loss due to the gas explosion disaster in 2012 and recommends restorative public infrastructure investments that are aligned with the principals of smart growth and complete streets. The plan considers this public investment as a means to attracting further private sector development to the Chestnut Street corridor and Apremont Triangle neighborhood, which is focused on ground floor activation, growing the neighborhood’s housing inventory and revitalizing its historic assets – there is much potential here and it must not go untapped.”
The first phase of the program is estimated to be $6.6 million. Sheehan added he sees funding would come from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.
Ultimately, according to city officials, the plan would address the following:
• Chestnut Street would be transformed into a two-way corridor from Liberty Street to Harrison Avenue.
• The proposed redesign of Apremont Triangle could provide a key focal point for the neighborhood. The proposed reconfiguration of Bridge Street to become two-way between Dwight Street and Apremont Triangle creates the opportunity to close Pearl Street along the south edge of the park, resulting in a greatly expanded, activated public green space.
• Phased redevelopment could start with the adaptive reuse of buildings with historic qualities similar to the current redevelopment of the Willy’s Overland Building. Other key buildings in the neighborhood that might fit that description include the Collins Building, the Absorbine Junior Building and the Birnie Building – allowing for the use of historic tax credits. This would infuse the district with an initial crop of market-rate residential units, while revitalizing the ground plane along Chestnut Street with commercial uses.
• The District Masterplan calls for the future phased integration of new public spaces as well, including a ¾-acre park between Taylor Street and Worthington Street, near the gas explosion site, and a pedestrian greenway that ties the neighborhood together by linking Mattoon Street to the park and Lyman Street beyond.
• The development on vacant and underutilized parcels along both sides of Chestnut Street from Lyman Street to Apremont Triangle could result in 500-600 dwelling units and the potential for 30,000 square feet of retail / restaurant space within very close proximity to Union Station.
• Vacant lots would be cleaned up and blight is removed. Community gardens, basketball courts, dog parks, and flexible market spaces can be incorporated to become focal points for community interaction.