When people talk about the revitalization of Springfield, the conversation inevitably starts with what we’ll call the big-ticket projects.
This would be the ones with the large price tags, and all those zeroes. Start with MGM Springfield at more than $900 million, the CRRC plant in East Springfield at nearly $100 million, and Union Station, roughly $90 million and counting.
And maybe that is the place to start, because these projects, all coming to fruition this year or next, are expected to have a catalytic effect on life in the City of Homes in terms of jobs, momentum, public relations, psyche, and much more.
But as we’ve said before, these are not necessarily the kinds of projects that actually transform a community. Cities like Springfield are all about neighborhoods, many of them far removed from the casino and Union Station. It is when neighborhoods are revitalized and families and businesses want to move into them that a city really begins to move forward.
Which is why we want to take this opportunity to praise the work of DevelopSpringfield, the nonprofit agency dealing in projects with far fewer zeroes but that are already having a real impact in the unofficial capital of Western Mass.
The agency was created nearly a decade ago, which makes this a good time to assess its relative impact on the city and what to expect moving forward. We could call this a work in progress in every sense of that phrase.
The agency specializes in taking neglected yet important properties (for various reasons, including location, historical significance, and others) and giving them new life, with the hope that these investments — usually five figures in nature instead of eight or nine — will inspire additional development and momentum in those neighborhoods.
Early projects include several in the Maple Street area that have changed the look and feel of that historic area and should incentivize others to make similar investments. There are other projects, such as those on Carew Street and in the Mason Square area, including plans to create a supermarket in that underserved neighborhood, that also expected to generate much-needed momentum.
Then there’s the Innovation Center project on Bridge Street, being undertaken in conjunction with several other partners, including the state, MassDevelopment, Valley Venture Mentors, and MassMutual. The project will breathe new life into two historic but recently underutilized properties on Bridge Street and likely serve to reinvigorate an area that played an important role in the city’s past and could play an even bigger role in its future.
That would be as a site that would foster entrepreneurship, create the new vibrancy that comes from more people working in that area, and likely inspire more businesses of all kinds to fill the many vacant storefronts in that area and become part of the story.
Already, the Community Foundation is moving its offices out of Tower Square and into a row of mostly vacant storefronts on Bridge Street because of everything else happening here and out of a desire to be a part of this neighborhood transformation.
These are not big-ticket projects like MGM Springfield or Union Station, but they are significant building blocks that will go a long way toward making the revitalization — or renaissance — of Springfield real and lasting.
It begins with neighborhoods and making them places where people want to live, work, and locate a business. That’s what DevelopSpringfield has been doing for nearly a decade now, and the work is vitally important in the ongoing efforts to remake a proud city. v