You have to BELIEVE in Springfield
By G. Michael Dobbs
I recently had an interesting conversation with Peter Pappas. Pappas is one of the two co-owners of the Onyx restaurant and the complex housing L.A. Fitness in Springfield.
It seems that he is regularly receiving phone calls from people asking him if the rumors are true that he is closing his restaurant or that L.A. Fitness is out of business.
He is happy to report that both establishments are doing well and the rumors are unfounded.
But he is still troubled about why the rumors are so persistent and put forth a theory: there are people in this area who thrive on and manufacture negativity.
"Perception is reality," Pappas said. "If people perceive you are going out of business, eventually you will."
Pappas and his partner, Dr. Michael Spagnoli, put a reported $14 million in the renovation and development of the former Basketball Hall of Fame building. He wonders why this kind of investment in the city has been greeted by some people with skepticism and snarkiness.
In the world of real estate development where concepts are common currency, Pappas said, "I'm one of the few guys who put his money where my mouth is."
To make a permanent change in the city for the good, Pappas believes that local government and businesses must help each other out and encourage new development. He believes that "negativity feeds on itself" and that "we're going to save ourselves."
"There are people in Springfield who don't believe in Springfield," he asserted.
Although some people might think their community is an island, Pappas sees the bedroom community suburbs linked with Springfield as well as connections between the Springfield and other cities.
"If Springfield is dying then the region is dying," he added.
Pappas makes a very solid point. There is little chance of attracting additional investment in the city if the buzz is that it's not a place with potential. While some people think it's the job of the Chambers of Commerce to put forth a marketing effort, it's really up to all of us.
I'm not saying we should get out our buckets of whitewash. Let's be real. Our urban communities do have problems, but I do see progress. Look at how there is real forward movement in the redevelopment of downtown Westfield. When I worked at the Westfield newspaper in 1978 people were wringing their hands then about the fate of downtown. Today there finally seems to be a workable plan.
Travel to Holyoke and see how the Hope Six housing area has helped stabilize a key area in that city. Holyoke is starting to evolve into a city with young artists and entrepreneurs taking advantage of the city's great Internet infrastructure and affordable spaces.
The most troublesome part of Chicopee is its downtown area and yet private investment in market rate housing as well as businesses is making a positive difference.
If you're one of the types that find pleasure in seeing the glass half empty, that's your right. It's still a free country even freer now. But I would love for one of you to explain to me how your attitude is changing anything. What kind of contribution are you making? Do your comments help create a job? Lower the tax rate? Put more money back into the local economy?
I'm waiting for that answer.
It's interesting that my talk with Pappas came in between Gov. Patrick's state of the state address and our newly-minted President's inaugural address in which both men emphasized how ordinary citizens must be part of the solutions for the problems that face us. We no longer have the luxury of sitting around looking at someone else to make a move and then sitting back and snipe at him or her.
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