Jay Minkarah got it right.
Far too often, strategic plans, redevelopment plans, master plans, and even business plans usually wind up sitting on a shelf gathering dust — until some agency decides to do another one.
But that didn’t happen with the plan devised to revitalize Springfield’s entertainment district (or what came to be referred to colloquially as the ‘blast zone’) following the November 2012 natural-gas explosion on Worthington Street, noted Minkarah, executive director of DevelopSpringfield.
Instead, that plan was followed, and as a result, there is plenty of momentum in and around Stearns Square (see story, page 6).
The script, or plan, called for transforming that area of Springfield into a vibrant urban district defined by dining, entertainment, innovation, and entrepreneurship, a model, if one wants to call it that, being followed in many cities across the Northeast as young people, especially Millennials, spark renewed interest in urbanization.
This area would become a bridge between MGM Springfield in the city’s South End and Union Station in the North End, but a true destination in its own right. And while there is still a great deal of work to do, this is the picture that is taking shape.
While there are many morals to this still-evolving story, maybe the most compelling is that the time-worn phrase ‘public-private partnership’ is not merely a cliché — it’s how to get things done.
Let’s go back to the plan for a minute. It had a number of components, but at its core, it called for a project that would become a catalyst, one that would draw interest and inspire others to make different kinds of investments.
That project became the new innovation center taking shape on Bridge Street. It will house Valley Venture Mentors and its various programs, including its many accelerator initiatives, but also co-working space and offices — the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. currently resides in one of them.
There would also be public improvements in the area, again to spur interest and create momentum, and these would in turn be followed by private investments — by those already located in the district, and those thinking about joining them.
And that’s exactly what’s happening.
The public investments come in many forms, from planned improvements to Stearns Square and nearby Duryea Way and an aggressive restaurant loan fund, to DevelopSpringfield’s acquisition of the Trinity Block on Bridge Street for the purpose of creating the innovation center, to MassDevelopment’s purchase of the former Skyplex building right on Stearns Square with the intention of making that a potential game changer in this equation.
These investments were designed to capture the imagination of the private sector, and there are signs they are just doing just that. For example, as the Community Foundation of Western Mass. commenced a search for space that would provide more flexibility and visibility, Executive Director Katie Allan Zobel said, it was inspired by what was happening at the innovation center and elsewhere in that district and wanted to be a part of it.
The same can be said of the Women’s Fund and United Personnel, which both now also call Bridge Street home, and also of those expressing real interest in the many vacant storefronts that still dominate that area.
Those storefronts, some bearing the names of nightclubs and retail businesses that closed years ago, provide ample evidence that there is still a lot of work to do in this emerging new urban district.
But there is also excitement, anticipation, and momentum in ample quantities, showing what can happen when a plan is followed, and when that plan comes together.