Home 2006 January
An historic neighborhood named for three streets that intersect to create a busy commercial district has seen highlights and lowlights over the past 50 years, but one organization is poised to shed new light on the X, through collaborative, arts-centered initiatives.

Springfield residents: try giving someone from out of town directions to Forest Park without using the term ‘the X.’

It’s not easy.
The historic landmark, which typically refers to the intersection of Sumner Ave., Dickinson, and Belmont streets and the surrounding area, has long been a center of commercial activity in Springfield and something of a source of pride for locals. We know why it has its distinctive name. We know to look both ways – twice – when driving through.

But there is a group of people who want the X to mean much more.

The X Main Street Corp., named as such due to its involvement in the federal ‘Main Street’ program for commercial district improvement and consisting of residents, business owners, and civic leaders, want the X to live up to its hip name, and are working to create a new hot spot in Western Mass.

The X, specifically, is a commercial district within the Forest Park neighborhood of Springfield, which some call a city within a city, due to its rich history, diverse ethnic and economic make-up, and its distinction as home to 25,000 of Springfield’s residents. But in the past, it has been known more for its flavor than its demographics.

Lyn Nolan, executive director of the X Main Street Corp., remembers a time when the area was bustling with shoppers, and the shops and restaurants were as unique as they were prosperous.

“Blake’s department store was a hub of activity,” she said, harkening back to her first year as a Springfield resident in 1980. “And there were specialty clothing stores, fantastic restaurants, a movie house where the Walgreens is now … it was definitely a ‘Northampton kind of place.’”

Even today, she continued, the X includes some of the city’s brightest gems – distinctive restaurants, unique clothiers, and a smattering of successful niche businesses.

It’s also home to a number of popular seasonal events, including the Farmer’s Market at the X, now entering its ninth year, and the annual Boar’s Head Festival, a medieval fair of sorts held at Trinity United Methodist Church. And year-round, several community organizations based at the X and within Forest Park work toward a number of goals, all aimed at bettering the neighborhood.

In addition to the non-profit X Main Street Corp., the Forest Park Partnership and Forest Park Civic Association are also active, as are neighborhood councils such as the La Broad and Avalon councils, centered on quality of life and crime-reduction issues, and the for-profit Concerned Citizens for Springfield, which focuses much of its time in the Forest Park neighborhood.

Still, the spark that once defined a crossroads has dimmed somewhat, now lacking many of those one-of-a-kind storefronts and the neighborly feel that Nolan remembers.

“There was some flight in terms of residents,” she said, “and malls happened. That had a huge impact on the commercial success of many small businesses that once thrived here.”

The X Main Street Corp. has been focused on re-lighting the fire at the X for the past decade. But one overriding theme has emerged within all of the X Main Street Corp.’s initiatives for 2006, which its members hope will help fan the flames: the creation and promotion of a cohesive arts and entertainment-based culture at the X – one that starts internally with X Main Street’s own efforts, and extends to other groups, residents, and, most importantly, other businesses.

They’ve Made a FoPa

The overall mission of the corporation, Nolan said, is to spearhead ongoing development projects within the X commercial district, and to promote those improvements in partnership with other community organizations and businesses in the Forest Park area.

“There is a lot of overlap between the different groups,” she said. “Some people work with all of them. We work with each other, not against.”

The renewed focus on arts and culture is one she also hopes will resonate within those other organizations, as one answer to many issues ranging from decreasing home ownership to lagging interest in commercial real estate.

Although Nolan said the commercial landscape at the X has seen some improvement in the past few years, and is showing signs of a continued climb, the business make-up has changed somewhat since its heyday.

“Economic development in the X commercial district is stable,” Nolan said. “We’re at a 92% capacity in the area. But, for example, we have four dollar stores. We definitely need some diversification.”

Essentially, the X Main Street Corp. hopes to cultivate a climate at the X that will ripple throughout its parent neighborhood of Forest Park. There’s business sense to it, Nolan said – the arts have been proven in other communities, including neighboring Northampton and Amherst, to serve as effective economic drivers – but there are also some intriguing marketing opportunities to be had.

Brian Hale, vice president of the X Main Street Corp. Board of Directors and Chair of the Bing Arts Center Committee (more on that later), said working toward a stronger arts and entertainment scene at the X could start with creating a buzz – a move that, among other things, is more economical than most.

“The X is the hub of Forest Park,” he said. “Or, as we’d like to start calling it, FoPa.”
Borrowed from similar nicknames such as New York’s Soho (‘south of Houston street’) neighborhood, or, more regionally, Noho, the abbreviation often given to Northampton, ‘FoPa’ is a small, simple way to start branding the neighborhood as well as its cultural attributes.

And the play on words isn’t an accident.

“A booming arts community in Springfield? Some might call the suggestion a faux pas,” Hale joked. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned as Springfield residents, it’s that you have to have a sense of humor.”

It’s important to note, though, that the X Main Street Corp. doesn’t just brainstorm catchy nicknames for the neighborhood. Rather, the organization is actively involved with a number of real estate improvement ventures, serves as an advocacy group for zoning, legislative, and public safety policies, and is one of the X’s primary grant-writing entities, forever in search of funds to keep various projects and business ventures going. The corporation is partially funded by a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant, but gleans much of its funding from local, state, and national grants and loans.

The organization also works with the city to enforce some code regulations at the X, which is designated an overlay district (a zoning change X Main Street kick-started), and as such, requires businesses to meet or exceed certain aesthetic requirements.
Signage must meet a certain quality threshold, for instance – backlit plastic signs are prohibited as are unframed, aluminum placards.

That aspect of the corporation’s duties can both help and hinder its relationship with X merchants, Nolan said. It allows for greater contact with businesses, but can also turn X Main Street into the “sign police.”

“We don’t want all the businesses to look the same,” she said, “but we want to achieve a certain level of quality, a certain look. The main goal of X Main Street is to increase arts and culture in the X commercial district, and the look of the businesses is one part of that. It’s what will make the most sense in terms of diversifying the area and bringing in more great businesses as well as visitors.”


As another part of that focus, the corporation soon hopes to make its new headquarters the historic Bing Theatre, which it purchased in 2003. The property, now known as the Bing Arts Center, has been vacant for years but is seeing some new activity: the X Main Street Corporation and the Bing Arts Center Committee, a group of concerned citizens and business owners committed to arts, culture, and entertainment endeavors in Springfield, are in the process of renovating the building to create a combination art gallery, community center, and, eventually, a movie theater and performance venue.

Hale said re-opening the cinema itself represents the last step in a long process, but he hopes to see the other components of the arts center fall into place within the next two years.

“The Bing represents exactly what we want to see more of at the X, in Forest Park, and across the city, and that is investing in the arts and culture as a primary economic driver,” he said, adding that he sees arts, culture, and entertainment investments as the logical choice in a city that is still struggling in most other sectors and is in dire need of some good news.

“Frankly, I think it’s the city’s only choice. Historically, Springfield has been a manufacturing center, but that’s long gone,” he told BusinessWest. “We need to face that, and work to get people into this city to spend their money, plain and simple. How do we do that? By having some cool things going on.”

The Bing actually sits on the periphery of the X, but Nolan agreed with Hale that it represents the heart and soul of the organization’s work.

“Creating an arts center at the Bing is a perfect example of how the arts can serve as a way to engage the entire community,” she said. “We want to see things going on constantly in that building, creating a buzz and at the same time opening up the arts to a whole new audience.”

Hale added that it’s important to sell that point, especially to X merchants, many of whom are struggling to make their ventures work.

“The arts might be one of the only economic drivers in which we can say you can put a little in, and gain a lot,” he said. “At the Bing Arts Center we’ll be able to hold art shows and performances, after school programs, fundraisers, sell artwork … the possibilities are endless. Merchants can do much of the same on many levels, and we want to work with them to increase their own profits for the overall good of the area.”

Blue Moon Coffee Roasters, Hale offered as an example, has already seen some success with just such an initiative. Located across the street from the Bing, the coffee, bean, and gift shop expanded its retail component recently to include an art glass gallery, and in December, owner Dan Higgins reported that sales of the artwork represented 30% of his total receipts.

“We need to reach a certain critical mass before people are going to notice this,” said Hale, “but we can start by marketing ourselves as an arts-oriented neighborhood, and a big part of the neighborhood is the businesses at the X.”

Turnip Turn-out

But it’s not just the Bing that’s getting attention from X Main Street, and the other organizations at the X and in Forest Park. The annual Farmers’ Market at the X, a Forest Park staple for nearly a decade, will be expanding its scope in 2006, welcoming artisans to the ranks of fresh produce, meat, whole foods, plant, and flower businesses, in order to add a new dimension to the event as well as a venue for artists and craftspeople.

“We want to work closely with artisans to give them a unique venue to show their work, but we’re also trying to move with the times,” Nolan explained, adding that the event is also moving from its spot near the Goodwill Shoppes to the Trinity church parking lot, visible from Sumner Ave. “Farmers’ markets in general are starting to suffer in New England – in the past, they were held specifically for farmers.”

But with a changing landscape must come a change in the event, she said.

“Adding arts and crafts to the market will add to the overall arts and culture thrust in the X commercial district, and give the market a shot in the arm.”

It’s also another way to capitalize on an already well-known event at the X for the benefit of local businesses.

Belle Rita Novak, manager of the Farmers’ Market at the X and a member of the Forest Park Civic Association and the X Main Street Corp. Board of Directors, said she has already seen the positive effect the market can have on surrounding merchants.

“Many patrons shop at the X while they are in the area for the market,” she said. “Throughout the country, farmers’ markets in urban areas are economic engines for the businesses nearby.”

Novak added that increased cooperation with X business owners would likely create a positive ripple effect in the district.

“I think that we have a strong X Main Street board now, but we need more input from the business and property owners at the X,” she said. “After all, if the X improves, it benefits everyone, including residents in the neighborhood.

“The X looks much better than it did 10 years ago,” she continued, “but if it doesn’t continue to improve I fear that it could backslide very easily. We are in this together, merchants, property owners, and residents. If we want a nice, clean business district then we all have to do our part.”

New Direction Home

Hale agreed with Novak that continued partnerships are the keys to spurring further arts-related initiatives, as well as projects aimed at the overall health of the commercial district.

“In order to revitalize any commercial district, there needs to be a certain camaraderie,” he said. “We can’t just start walking into stores and asking for money. We need to sell them on the arts and culture premise, and show them how it can benefit their businesses … and in turn, their businesses will benefit the entire area.”

And the members of the X Main Street Corp. will be keeping an ear close to the ground, listening for the sound of success – someone asking for directions to FoPa.
It’s easy to find – just start at the X.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Curt Edgin gestured toward a photo of the old chapel at UMass-Amherst.
It’s one of many framed pictures that cover nearly every inch of wall space at the offices of Caolo & Bieniek and effectively tell of the story of this half-century-old architecture firm.

Indeed, the photos display the full range of the company’s work — from design of modern classroom buildings at Springfield Technical Community College, to libraries both new and renovated; from a large number of police, fire, and public safety complexes designed for communities across New England, to the old chapel, which illustrates some of the more unique work this firm does — duties that might seem to fall outside the realm of what some might expect from an architecture firm.

The oldest building on the UMass campus and perhaps the university’s most recognizable landmark, the stone chapel was earmarked in the mid-’90s for what university administrators thought would be minor repairs, what amounted to caulking work. Caolo & Bieniek, which was commissioned to assess the structure and design restoration efforts, quickly determined that the chapel was in far worse condition than previously believed.

“Essentially, the building was being held up by the forces of gravity,” Edgin, the company’s president, explained. “The lime mortar was gone — it was essentially sand between the stones. Any good tremor would have brought that building down.

“It ended up that the building was taken down to its base and reconstructed,” he continued, adding that individual stones had to carefully removed and numbered in order to reconstruct the building as it was originally built.

The old chapel work, which earned the firm accolades from the Mass. Historical Commission, is an example of how Caolo & Bieniek works imaginatively to meet client needs and address concerns — blending form and function, to borrow terms from the industry.

Such customer-focused efforts have enabled the company to survive the economic ups and downs that have a dramatic and often immediate impact on construction-related businesses — and provide a deep sense of optimism for the next 50 years in business.

BusinessWest looks this issue at Caolo & Bieniek’s rich history, the solid reputation it has built, and its prospects for the future.

Step by Step

As they talked with BusinessWest about their company and its recent milestone anniversry, Edgin and fellow principals Ken Jodrie and James Hannifan would use the photos on the walls to punctuate their remarks.

When talking about the public sector and the importance of cost-effective, low-maintenance building materials and design, Jodrie pointed to a sequence of shots of three classroom buildings built at STCC during the 1980s.

“These are durable materials, designed to last,” he explained, referring to the brick structures designed to blend in with the historical Springfield Armory complex that surrounds them. “That’s what the owner wants, something that can be easily maintained. That’s why they typically use masonry in buildings like this — because masonry is a product that once it’s installed the owner can ignore it for a long period of time; he won’t have to do anything to it for 50 years.”

Meanwhile, as they talked about diversity and specialties the company has developed over the years, the three pointed to public safety facilities built locally (Chicopee and Easthampton are just a few) and well beyond the 413 area code — Ashburnham, Mass., for example.

“Public safety is one of the areas we’ve moved into and developed quite a reputation for quality,” said Edgin, pointing to photos of complexes designed for Northampton, Lowell, and other cities and towns. “This is a highly specialized field, one where we’re achieved a good deal of success.”

As the walls attest, the company’s portfolio is extensive, and the process of building it began in 1955, when Vito Caolo (now deceased) and Victor Bieniek (retired since 2001) set up shop in a small office on Pearl Street in Springfield. As the company grew, it moved first to bigger quarters in the old Gilbarco complex in West Springfield and, later, to still-larger space on Cottage Street in Springfield.

Eventually, after the addition of several employees and the emergence of the next generation of ownership, the company moved once again, this time into the former Falls Provision market on East Street in Chicopee, which was renovated into a suite of offices.

As Bieniek was nearing retirement, he took steps to expand the staff and put succession plans in place, said Edgin, adding that he joined the firm in 1987 after working for architecture firms locally, and also in New Jersey and Kentucky. Meanwhile, Hannifan became part of the new leadership team in 1993, and Jodrie joined in 1995.

Over the years, the company has built its reputation largely in the public sector, with dozens of schools, libraries (including the new facility in Chicopee), police and fire stations, the Holyoke Soldiers Home, and even a parking garage or two in the portfolio — and on the walls. In addition to the buildings at STCC, for example, Caolo & Bieniek has designed new buildings and renovations at Westfield State College, Holyoke Community College, UMass, and a host of other schools.

But the public sector is easily impacted by swings in the economy and the flow of tax revenue to Boston and Washington, said Hannifan, citing, for example, the current stagnation (and growing backlog) of public school building projects — work is expected to start flowing again in 2007. This phenomenon necessitates diversity, he told BusinessWest, adding that the firm has handled work across a number of business sectors — from retail (including preliminary designs for a new Starbucks on East Columbus Avenue in Springfield) to physician offices.

And while new building projects comprise a good amount of the firm’s workload, renovations, restorations, and modernizations — at sites ranging from the old chapel at UMass to the central library in Springfield — have kept the company (and area frame shops) busy.

Edgin noted that schools built a century ago, or even 30 years ago — were not designed to accommodate today’s communications technology.

“Quite often the infrastructure and the electrical capacity isn’t there,” he explained. “As recent as the ’60s, there was one plug in the front of the classroom, for the overhead projector, and one in the back; now you need electrical supply everywhere, because everyone has a laptop.”

The qualities that have enabled Caolo & Bieniek to survive a half-century in the often-turbulent construction field, are the same ones that will propel it forward, said Edgin. Elaborating, he listed diversity as an obvious factor, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the firm’s ability to generate repeat business from satisfied customers.

Quality of work has much to do with this, but there is also the “comfort level,” as he described it, that the firm works to create.

“At many of the larger firms in Boston, New York, and elsewhere, you have people whose job it is to sell — and that’s what they do, sell,” he explained. “And after they’re done selling, those people probably won’t be involved with the project again.

“Here, it’s different,” he continued. “The three principals are involved in every project … we’re accessible, and we’re involved every step of the way. That’s the way we do things, and it has helped us generate a good deal of repeat business.”

Room to Grow

If a picture is really worth 1,000 words, then visitors to the offices of Caolo & Bieniek should allocate considerable time for ‘reading.’

The photos relate a 50-year success story, one with many chapters still to be written. The company that takes a highly personalized approach to doing business has no plans to deviate from that pattern.

If there’s an immediate challenge, it might be the need for more wall space.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Edward Murphy, president of First American Insurance Agency in Chicopee, has a neat stack of poker chips sitting on the corner of his desk, ready for a friendly poker game.

But while Murphy might like to blow off some steam with a game of blackjack or Texas Hold ’Em every once in a while, in the ever-changing insurance industry, he never gambles with his own company. Instead, he has plotted a course for First American that, as the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, has allowed for steady growth, some national reach, stability in a difficult industry, and the creation of some community-focused business goals for the coming years.

And while the company remains ready for the current challenges within the industry – auto insurance reform and the trickle-down effects of Hurricane Katrina, which include price adjustments and an overall tightening of the types of policies that can be written, for instance – its specialty is anticipating the challenges ahead.

The company’s very reason for being, Murphy explained, is the need for services that didn’t exist in the mid-1980s.

“In 1986 when we first started, there were a lot of services that weren’t being offered in Western Mass.,” he said. “There was a need for new programs and new ideas, and it boiled down to providing the services that people needed most – insurance for life, as we know it.”

And that practice has become First American’s trump card. The company now enjoys a strong local presence as well as some reach into markets in other parts of the country, thanks to the niches created by addressing issues some other companies might have missed, and a growing strength within the small business community and industries such as manufacturing.

But despite that national success, Murphy said the company’s roots are in Western Mass., and that’s where they’ll stay.

“All companies, small or big, have to a part of their community,” he said. “And we’re not going anywhere.”

Movin’ On Up

First American’s first location was at the ‘X’ in Springfield, but as it grew, Murphy and his staff made a few moves to accommodate an expanding client base. The company moved from Springfield to West Springfield in 1990, and in 1994 moved again to Chicopee, where it has remained, having recently relocated to a new location on Front Street.

“We just kept growing beyond the space we had,” said Jim Lagodich, marketing director for First American. “We were continuously looking for buildings in which we could expand, that would remain customer-friendly and service-oriented.”

Lagodich added that First American has been a company that has worked to provide products that other agencies don’t offer in order to stand apart from the competition.

The company has been a front-runner, for example, in the areas of workers’ compensation and self-insurance, with programs such as COMPro, a workers’ compensation administrative service for stand-alone self-insureds, self-insurance groups, and large employers. Other specialties include bundled programs, which offer a number of insurance products within one package, claims administration, a service typically outsourced by agencies of First American’s size, and payroll deductible products for employers and the self-insured.

Dave Matosky, operations director at First American, said each of those products are good examples of initiatives that have led to increased flexibility when dealing with a diverse set of clients, and consequently growth within some specific areas, including small business.

“They allow us to react to market changes more quickly, “ he said, “and to serve clients more effectively. When working with larger employers, we can suggest programs and services they may not have known existed, or would be a good fit for them. And when working with smaller businesses or individuals, we can offer their core insurance needs in one package.”

That has made First American an attractive choice for many businesses, but also for municipalities, niche businesses, and, particularly, new start-ups.

“We get a lot of calls from people who are still just thinking about starting a business,” Matosky said. “Most have no idea what’s involved with things like workers’ compensation or group insurance at first, and they need a tailored approach and most importantly answers to those tough questions.

“The very fact that we don’t offer ‘the product off the shelf’ is what attracts those types of entrepreneurs to us,” he added, “and what helps us to retain them as clients and grow with them over the course of time.”

Soaring to New Heights

In fact, a greater push within First American to market itself through community outreach and educational programs has stemmed from that strength within the small business market. It began with seminars for managers and supervisors in a number of industries, addressing topics such as accident investigation, and the key points anyone in a supervisory capacity needs to know.

“We spend a lot of resources on education, for others and within the company,” Lagodich said. “That has allowed us to reach new audiences and has also expanded our boundaries – we’re not intimidated by new moves forward.”

One of the first educational seminars, that accident-investigation course, was open to new business owners and supervisors, and was held in Natick, Mass. But First American has also extended its reach into other locales, including New York, New Hampshire, and even Chicago, working with a large manufacturer.

“Educational outreach programs also contribute to retention of our employee base,” said Lagodich. “It fosters more contact with clients, helps build relationships, and keeps the job fresh, so overall, our employees are happier.”

But on the occasion of the company’s 20th anniversary, not all of the programs First American is rolling out are aimed solely at business growth. Currently, one of the most often-discussed initiatives within the agency’s offices is the S.O.A.R. program, a partnership with Chicopee’s Selser Memorial School that rewards students for good behavior.

The program – an acronym for staying Safe, Offering a helping hand, Aiming to achieve, and Respecting yourself, others, and your school – is a response to issues surrounding behavior, conduct and delinquency. The school originally solicited businesses in the community to sponsor the project in hopes of creating a turn-around within the young student body before the children reach high school age. But Corey Murphy, vice president at First American, said the company took the offer to partner with the school very seriously, and pledged support beyond financial assistance.

“Like most businesses, we’re constantly asked to help, but we really bought into this program,” he said. “It has become our one big, public program and has really helped to strengthen the ties between us and the community of Chicopee.

“As a business in this community, it is our responsibility to help the community, and we decided early on that our focus was going to be on the city’s kids,” Murphy continued.

And while programs like S.O.A.R. are sponsored by businesses across the region, First American has actually made community service one of its primary business goals for 2006, a move that Murphy said underscores the importance of such initiatives to the overall well-being of the region as well as to the business health of the company.

“We hope to begin more community programs like this within the year,” he said, noting that one such partnership might be with the Chicopee Boys and Girls Club. “It’s something we’ve decided to focus on in an effort to strengthen our role as a good corporate citizen.”

High Rollers

In addition to those community-oriented projects, Matosky added that additional goals for 2006 will be to continue to expand the company’s ability to find solutions to emerging issues within the insurance sector — the game is constantly changing, he said, bringing a new meaning to the word ‘proactive’ for all insurance agents – and to continue to foster steady growth.

“We’re going to continue to focus our resources on education, and there are the inevitable technology upgrades to think about,” he said. “Like a lot of offices we’re moving forward with going paperless, in part because of the changes in the industry. Things are moving at such a rapid pace that books are becoming obsolete. Now, it’s necessary that our resources be accessed quickly in order to stay current and do research for our clients – only online resources and databases make that possible.”

So as the stakes grow, First American plans to hold strong. And that’s a bet Edward Murphy is willing to take.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

The Construction Institute at the University of Hartford is technically a networking group for those in the building trades — and also businesses with facilities management issues and concerns. But its directors say its mission goes well beyond the pressing of flesh and, as the name suggests, focuses on education.

Bob Gonyeau draws a clear distinction between education and intelligence.
“Education is learning how to do something,” he told BusinessWest. “Intelligence is learning about things that you need to know about, getting the information you need to do your business better.”

Both processes are at the heart of the mission of the 31-year-old Construction Institute, which Gonyeau serves as assistant executive director. Based at the University of Hartford, but now serving a membership base that stretches from New York City to Boston, the institute was created to serve businesses in what is known as the ‘built environment.’

This means general contractors, architects, and engineering firms, obviously, said Gonyeau, but it also includes companies — like MassMutual, Baystate Health, area colleges, and other businesses — that have vast operational facilities and need to know how to manage them efficiently and cost-effectively.

And, in a broad sense, it includes virtually any business that will be impacted by skyrocketing energy prices this winter and wants to develop strategies to minimize those costs.

“It appears that these higher energy costs will be here for a while — they’re becoming a fact of life,” he said. “In that environment, it just makes sense to build smart and find ways to conserve energy and control your costs; we want to help people understand how to do that.”

This is what Gonyeau means by intelligence, and he says the institute provides it through a number of formal and informal gatherings — meetings of the minds, as he called them, involving people from across the broad spectrum of the built environment.

Such programs include the ‘North-Central Conn. & Western Mass. Construction Forecast,’ set for Jan. 26 at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Titled Bridging the Borders … There’s Work for Everyone!, the program will explore the challenges and opportunities for design and construction in North Central Connecticut and Western Mass., or the I-91 corridor, as it’s called, said Gonyeau, noting that it is one of many regional forecasts staged by the institute to inform members and potential members of opportunities within both the public and private sectors and to provide a sense of what the future holds for the construction sector.

The forecasts are just some of the institute’s many attempts at outreach, said Gonyeau, noting that the most significant of such efforts is the upcoming, two-day ConstruCT 2006, the 9th Annual New England Construction & Facilities Management Conference & Exhibition. Set for March 21st and 22nd at the recently opened Connecticut Convention Center, the event will feature a number of educational sessions to, as organizers put it, “improve the process of construction.”

Such process-improvement efforts are at the very heart of the institute’s mission, said Gonyeau, adding that beyond its basic goal of bringing a diverse set of professionals together to discuss common issues and concerns, the institute wants to help enable those in this sector to do what they do better.

“When that happens, everyone benefits,” he said, noting that ConstruCT 2006 and the annual construction forecasts represent just some of the many ways the Construction Institute moves beyond the realm of the traditional networking group.

Another example is its extensive educational component, which includes continuing education programs in the form of half-day workshops offered by the University of Hartford. Workshops are conducted on a wide range of subjects, from construction management to building codes and regulations.

Designed to fill educational gaps within the industry, the workshops help individuals earn certificates and advance within the industry. It’s all part of the institute’s global efforts to inform, enlighten, and develop business leaders.

In two words, Gonyeau told BusinessWest, the institute is all about building relationships.

Solid Foundation

A look at the agenda for ConstruCT 2006 reveals both some of the issues facing the ‘built community’ and the overall mission of the institute.
Individual educational sessions are slated in such topics as:

  • Energy management, conservation, and sustainable design;
  • Emergency preparedness, safety, and critical response;
  • Design and construction issues in higher education, municipalities, and public schools;
  • Marketing, business development, and customer satisfaction;
  • Successful negotiations, construction claims, and dispute resolution; and
  • “How to Succeed in the Connecticut DPW Design and Construction Process.”

The last of those items is a nod to one of the institute’s original charges said Gonyeau — helping firms across the construction sector understand the rules of the road in the Nutmeg State and successfully attain business there. The others? Well, they speak to the seemingly constant change that defines the built environment, and how the institute has continuously evolved in response.

“The industry is constantly changing, and we want to help people keep pace,” he explained. “You can’t be stagnant in this business — if you do, you’ll be left behind.”

The institute was created in the mid-’70s, said Gonyeau, in response to an emerging need for a forum, in which people in businesses across the construction industry could share experiences and knowledge, stimulate growth within the industry, and, in many ways, create opportunities through relationship-building.

This is the essence of any networking group, he said, adding that the mission has grown and evolved over the years, and the institute, while still Connecticut-based and, in many ways, Connecticut-focused, has broadened its geographical reach.

The institute was created at a time of turmoil and challenge for the Connecticut construction community, said Gonyeau, noting that in the mid-’70s, the industry was fragmented and many projects became bogged down by logistical problems and tangled lines of communication. The institute, a non-profit, non-partisan professional organization and one of the few organizations of its kind in the country, was seen as a mechanism for streamlining and strengthening what was then an industry in disarray.

Within a few years of the institute’s creation, there was a deadly collapse of a section of highway bridge in Southern Connecticut and the nearly tragic collapse of the Hartford Civic Center’s roof, said Gonyeau, noting that these events and others helped inspire the many educational components of the institute.

“Those events helped give the institute a sense of purpose — and some credibility,” he explained. “They provided a sense of urgency within the industry to focus attention on issues and improving communication.”

In other words, the institute helped create a dialogue among professionals within the construction community that simply didn’t exist before. Today, that dialogue continues, shaped by emerging trends, economic conditions, and factors that impact builders and end-users alike.

Things like energy costs.

“They touch everyone who owns a building or is thinking about building one,” said Gonyeau, noting that the institute recently staged a seminar, in conjunction with Northeast Utilities, on soaring energy costs and what can be done about them.

“We addressed it from a design standpoint, a construction standpoint, and an operational standpoint,” he explained, “and discussed what people can do, from materials for building, sensible design, and sustainable building.

“When you make a capital investment in a property you intend on keeping, the life-cycle costing is very important,” he continued. “You need to address matters such as where your windows face, how well the building is insulated, how your connections are made in the construction process so you don’t have a lot of air loss; these are all issues to be considered.”

Shedding light on such issues is part of the institute’s broad efforts to educate and disseminate information, said Gonyeau, noting that the educational component continues to grow. Indeed, several hundred students enroll each year in the workshops, administered by the University of Hartford’s Office of Continuing & Professional Education.

Workshop subjects are designed to address specific industry needs, he explained, and involve a hands-on, learn-by-doing style of training. The list of offerings includes subjects that are broad — “Environmental Health and Safety for Facility Managers” is one example — and also quite specific — “Construction on Contaminated Land: How to Prepare and How to Respond.”

Concrete Examples

And while the institute strives to widen the scope of its educational and informational initiatives, it is also working to broaden its audience.

The institute now boasts roughly 375 members, which represent every facet of the built environment. More than two-thirds of those members are from Connecticut, said Gonyeau, but the number of those from out-of-state has grown steadily in recent years.

A number of firms based in Western Mass. or with regional offices there have joined, including Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons Inc., the Mount Vernon Group, a Chicopee-based architectural firm, Tighe & Bond, an environmental engineering firm with headquarters in Westfield, and B-G Mechanical Contractors, also in Chicopee.

Efforts to recruit more companies in this region continue on both a formal and informal basis, said Gonyeau, noting that the institute stages a number of programs over the course of the year during which attendees can learn about the many benefits it offers.

New members have been recruited from New York and Rhode Island, he said, but the natural direction for expansion is north, to the Pioneer Valley. This initiative parallels other efforts, such as the creation of the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partner-ship, to bridge the border between the states — or effectively erase it.

The economic partnership is a now five-year-old effort designed to market the region from Amherst to Storrs, Conn. as one economic region. By combining the demographics of the two major cities and the region between them, organizers believe they can create more economic development opportunities for businesses and residents in both states.

Gonyeau added that the institute takes has adopted a similar philosophy, noting that development in Connecticut could yield opportunities for construction-related businesses in Massachusetts, and vice versa.

“There will always be some measure of territoriality,” he explained, noting that construction and architecture firms in some cities and regions aren’t enamored with the thought of companies from other area codes taking work that could go to them. “But, as the name of our forecast suggests, we really believe there is enough work for everyone.”

Attendees at the Jan. 26 North-Central Conn. & Western Mass. Construction Forecast can find out about some of that work, said Gonyeau, adding that they will hear about opportunities on both sides of the border.

Indeed, among the speakers will be Oz Griebel, president & CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, and Sandra Johnson, vice president of Business Development for the alliance. They will address current revitalization efforts in Hartford, including the broad Andrien’s Landing initiative on the riverfront.

Meanwhile, Peter Pappas, an East Longmeadow-based real estate developer, one of two partners who have forwarded a $9 million proposal to renovate and expand the old Basketball of Fame Hall building into an integrated sports, fitness, and entertainment complex, is scheduled to talk about that specific project and also the broad subject of riverfront development in Springfield.

Also on the agenda is Westfield Community Development Director James Boardman, who will detail a series of public (a new bridge over the Westfield River, for example) and private construction projects slated in that community.

The institute stages a number of regional forecasts each year, said Gonyeau, all designed to keep members and potential members informed about what’s happening, and also foster the relationship-building efforts that make the group successful.

Hard Hat Area

As he talked about the construction sector, Gonyeau said that large projects, and even smaller initiatives, are marvels of coordination and communication.

Fast Facts

Agency:The Construction Institute

Address:University of Hartford, 312 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, Conn. 06117

Phone:(860) 768-4459

Web Site:www.construction.org

Bringing a project to successful completion requires organization and a step-by-step approach to getting the job done, he explained. “It can be very complex … one hand has to know what the other is doing.”

Bringing together elements of the built environment can be equally complicated, he continued, but such efforts are vital to moving that sector forward and creating opportunities for companies and individuals.

The Construction Institute is succeeding in that mission because it has created a solid foundation and continues to build on it.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]


Speed Thrills

At right: heralded by spotlights and a red-carpeted walkway, Fathers & Sons Porsche introduced its newest addition to the showroom floor, the Porsche Cayman S, at a launch party at the dealership in West Springfield on Saturday, Jan. 14. Attendees enjoyed food and drinks catered by Spoleto of Northampton, which included European fare and signature martinis inspired by the Cayman S.

‘Ray of Elvis,’ an Elvis-impersonator by trade, takes a moment from the festivities to join the Frank Manzi band in entertaining the crowd.
And at far right, BusinessWest Senior Writer Jaclyn Stevenson tries out the new Cayman.

Answering the Call

More than 3,500 new toys, games and books were collected at Verizon Wireless stores throughout New England as part of the company’s annual Kids in Need holiday drive to benefit women and children living at local domestic violence shelters. Pictured here (left to right) are Eleanor Ansari from the Verizon Wireless Springfield store, and Maria Rivera and Stacy Bessonette from the YWCA ARCH program, recipient of the toys. An additional $1,500 in cash and gift cards was donated from Verizon Wireless employees.

Opening Ceremonies

Springfield Mayor Charlie Ryan chats with Fran Benoit, President of the Springfield Golden Age Club, during the Keystone Woods Senior Living Community VIP Grand Opening Private Reception. More than 250 area professionals attended the event, held to celebrate the opening of Greater Springfield’s newest senior living community.


The following bankruptcy petitions were recently filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court Readers should confirm all information with the court.

Carlson, Cindy A.
1233 South St.
Barre, MA 01005
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/22/05

Chaplin, Kathleen R.
Chaplin, Robert A.
73B Josylyn Road
Gilbertville, MA 01031
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/24/05

Haugaard, Paul A.
130 Woods Road
Florence, MA 01062
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/30/05

Hernandez, Jorge S.
56 Leyfred Ter.
Springfield, MA 01108
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 01/03/06

Lee, William E
229 Hillside Road
Southwick, MA 01077
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/18/05

LeSiege, Jeffrey O.
LeSiege, Mary E.
82 Monson Road
Wales, MA 01081
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/19/05

Parker, Tamaris
64 Ionia St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/30/05

Quinones, Trinidad
44 Bruce St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 01/03/06

Rancourt, David John
19 Thayer Corner Road
Cummington, MA 01026
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/23/05

Small, Camille M.
72 Kensington Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/26/05

Josephson, Keith A.
60 Pheasant Run Circle
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/16/05

It’s not uncommon for property owners to face significant capital gains (and the consequential tax) in the sale of real estate, either through accumulated depreciation or appreciating asset value, or the combination of both. Rather than pay the capital gain tax and reinvest the difference in another property, the 1031 Exchange allows the taxpayer to replace the property with an ‘exchange’ into another ‘like-kind’ property and essentially defer the payment of the capital gain tax by adjusting the basis of the newly acquired property.

Just over 15 years ago, the Internal Revenue Service instituted the long-awaited rules on deferred exchanges. Section 1.1031 of the Internal Revenue Code details the procedure for turning a sale/purchase transaction into an exchange. The opportunity to defer the payment of capital gains tax is available to owners of investment real estate if the owner intends to re-invest the equity of the sale of another real estate investment.

This deferment results in more equity to invest in the new property and allows the taxpayer to acquire a more substantial investment than had the original property been sold, and the capital gain tax paid.

How it Works

A properly structured 1031 exchange allows an investor (1) to sell a property; (2) reinvest the proceeds in another property; and (3) defer the capital gain taxes. This procedure allows for real estate portfolio growth while protecting the investor from capital gain taxes. Let’s say that an investor incurs $70,000 in combined taxes (depreciation recapture, federal capital gain tax) on a $200,000 capital gain. The investor has two choices:

• The investor incurs the $70,000 tax burden and reinvests the remaining $130,000. Assuming a 20% down payment and an 80% loan-to-value ratio the investor can purchase a property up to $650,000;

• With the 1031 exchange, the same investor can transfer all of the $200,000 in equity. Assuming the same loan constraints, the investor is able to purchase up to $1,000,000 in real estate.

When using this strategy, the taxpayer acquires the new property with a reduced basis, which results in the ‘deferred’ tax being due when the investor eventually cashes out. However, in estate planning, if the taxpayer/investor wills his property to his heirs, they will receive the property at the value at time of death and the deferred tax may be avoided altogether. Thus the 1031 Exchange can be a powerful tool in equity-building for the investor and his estate.

Of course, as with any investment strategy, the advice of tax attorneys, accountants, and real estate brokers familiar with these procedures is critical to compliance with the tax code and the enjoyment of the tax-deferral strategy.

Know When to Say ‘When’

Sound good? How do investors know if they are candidates for an exchange?
First, any investor completing a sale should have his or her tax advisors calculate the federal capital gains tax that would be due should the property be sold at the anticipated sale price to determine how much actual tax ‘savings’/ ‘deferment’ is at stake.
Then the investor must identify a ‘like-kind’ property to acquire. There are rules as to what is like kind, so be careful. The rovision for real property is broad and includes land, rental, and business property. Alas, no, you cannot exchange investment property for a personal residence for your retirement home.

Know Which Exchange is Best

There are various types of exchanges such as simultaneous, delayed, reverse, and an improvement exchange. Often, there is need for an ‘intermediary’ to hold title for either acquired property or the relinquished property to satisfy the rules. There are firms that specialize in providing such a service and can be thought of as an escrow agent for titles. They are known as ‘qualified intermediaries.’ They provide the safe harbor for title.

Various exchange arrangements call for different time limits for acquiring and relinquishing title to the involved properties. Also, the identification of the replacement property can be made several different ways.

Again, it is imperative to engage experienced professionals to ensure compliance and a valid transaction.

If an investor is facing a relatively significant capital gain tax in the sale of property, and desires to defer the tax burden, then it would be worthwhile to investigate and evaluate the 1031 Exchange opportunity.

Bob Greeley is owner of R.J. Greeley Company, LLC, a full-service real estate firm with extensive experience across the spectrum of commercial, industrial and telecommunication real estate transactions; (413) 734-7923

With cold and flu season upon us, some interesting challenges for employers and employees alike arise. ‘Presenteeism,’ a newly coined term which means being present at work while sick or for some other reason disengaged from your assigned work, can be extremely detrimental to organizations and their workforce.

Traditionally, the focus of most organizations has been on absenteeism and the opportunities lost when an employee isn’t at work. This focus, however, assumes that when people are at work they are productive. Unfortunately, many times, this is simply an illusion.

According to a recent survey by OfficeTeam, a staffing service based in Menlo Park, Calif., 80% of employees polled frequently show up to work while sick; with only a mere 8% of the respondents reporting they never come into the office when ill. Performance levels of sick individuals are rarely at peak or even at an acceptable level.

In fact, employees who come to work when they are ill may be costing employers more in lost productivity than their employers pay for sick days and other medical and disability benefits. In 2004, Cornell University cited in WebMD that presenteeism may account for up to 60% of employer health costs, and found that up to 60% of the total cost of employee illnesses come from people who continue to work despite illnesses that reduce their productivity.

Morale and contagion are also concerns associated with ‘presenteeism.’ Being in contact with contagious individuals jeopardizes the health and productivity of all employees. According to CCH Inc., a division of Wolters Kluwer, a provider of employment law information and software, organizations with already-low employee morale are at even greater risk of sick workers on the job, with 52% of companies with poor or fair morale reporting presenteeism as a problem.

But presenteeism isn’t just limited to physical illness such as allergies, headaches, colds, or flu. Burnout, stress, and depression from work/life or work-related conflicts also contribute to loss of productivity while on the job. These causes may include emotional problems, family issues, elder or child care concerns, employee vs. employer distrust, overwork, or workplace distractions ranging from heat, light, or air quality, communication breakdowns, lack of training, and many other variables.

Curing the Problem

Employers can take steps to discourage presenteeism and enhance productivity. During cold and flu season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends individuals to stay home when they are sick. It also provides helpful tips and posters that can be displayed within the workplace. Employers can also create guidelines to help the workforce understand the conditions for staying home, when it is safe to return to work, and when to re-evaluate a company’s absenteeism policies.

The single most common absence-control program utilized by 91% of organizations surveyed by CCH is disciplinary action. This approach is counterproductive to helping sick workers stay home when they are ill, especially when one considers that most of these programs allow five sick days per year and one bad cold or flu can wipe an individual out for that same amount of time or longer.

An alternative to traditional sick day policies is paid leave banks, also known as Paid Time Off (PTO) programs. Under a PTO program, personal, sick, and vacation days are combined into a single bank of days that the employee can use in any way he or she needs; allowing the employee to have more control.

Employers can also work to foster a healthy work environment and set a good example. A 2005 Workplace Productivity Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states that poor management is the number-one factor hurting employee productivity. Therefore, managers need to be aware of how not only their words but their actions are being interpreted by employees. Are your employees comfortable in asking for time off when ill or for other necessary reasons?

What message are you sending when you come to work sick, injured, or distracted?
Employers should be sure to keep communication open with employees. With many companies experiencing lay-offs, relocation, and expecting employees to do more with less, job insecurity and overwork may compel employees to put in excessive work hours, many unproductive. This can then lead to stress, burnout, or illness.

Executive and business coaching programs can be very valuable in establishing effective communication throughout organizations and creating engaged and resilient workforces. Coaches work with management and staff to enhance performance, morale and productivity.

Besides coaching, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and other wellness or work/life balance programs offer employees assistance beyond cold and flu season by helping them maintain focus on work while at work. EAPs provide confidential 24/7 counseling to employees and their families helping them to manage both physical and emotional concerns ranging from addictions to loss and grief.

Wellness programs, such as flu clinics, blood drives with free cholesterol screenings, etc., create opportunities for workers to receive preventative health benefits while at work. Something they may not otherwise take the time to do on their own and thus maintaining their health and welfare. Because of busy schedules, many work/life balance programs have been initiated that make services and/or resources easily accessible to employees so they can spend their time on work while at work. Child care, elder care, and financial concerns are among the myriad of issues addressed through these programs. Many times these work/life balance offerings can be provided at no cost to the organization.

Multiple Remedies

Just as there are many causes for presenteeism, there is no one solution.
Each organization and its workforce has different needs and requirements. These needs may shift with time, so it is important to re-evaluate your programs periodically. Get employees involved and ask for their input. No one enjoys being unproductive. Adopt healthy, flexible, positive work environments that meet the multitude of personal and professional challenges faced by employees. Investing in your employees will help alleviate this drain on your people, profits, and productivity.

Lynn Turner is an executive coach and owner of Ironweed Business Alliance, a coaching and consulting firm specializing in leadership development, team building and work/life balance strategies. She is also the host and producer of a local radio talk show/Web site Business Link Radio (www.businesslinkradio.com); (413) 283-7091.


Open House
Feb. 1: The Western New England College Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship will host an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Scibelli Enterprise Center, 1 Federal St., Springfield. The new center was established to provide graduate business and law students with an opportunity to offer practical consultation to entrepreneurs starting new and building existing small businesses in the community. From 4 to 5 p.m. in the Teleconference Room, a panel of intellectual property experts will discuss how entrepreneurs can legally protect creative output and innovations. Also, they will review patents, trademarks, and copyrights of small businesses. To register or for more information, E-mail Aimee Munnings, Director, at [email protected] prior to Jan. 25.

Contractual Liability Seminar
Feb. 6: Geoffrey Smith, senior vice president, TD Banknorth Insurance Group, will be the featured speaker at a free luncheon hosted by TD Banknorth Insurance Agency Inc., from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2077 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield. His presentation during the Lunch & Learn session is titled “Contractual Liability?” and will explore what to look for and what to look out for in the risk-transfer provisions found in everyday contracts. To sign up, E-mail your request to [email protected]. Seating is limited.

Western Mass. Economic Review
Feb. 8: The Regional Technology Corporation will sponsor a presentation on the economic profile of the region from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. in the TD Banknorth Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. The profile is based on Western Massachusetts Electric Company’s annual report to its customers titled Western Massachusetts Economic Review. The free presentation will summarize key findings from the 2005 Review and provide a regional economic outlook for 2006. Seating is limited and advance registration is required. For more information, contact April Cloutier at (413) 755-1314 or [email protected].

‘Double Bottom Line’ Lecture
Feb. 9: Lisa Fairfax, an associate professor of Law at the University of Maryland Law School, will present “Achieving the Double Bottom Line: A Framework for Corporations Seeking To Deliver Profits and Public Services” at 5:30 p.m., hosted by the Western New England College Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship. The lecture will take place in the S. Prestley Blake Law Center on WNEC’s main campus, 1215 Wilbraham Road, Springfield. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (413) 736-8462 or visit www.law.wnec.edu/lawandbusiness.

Outlook 2006
Feb. 10: Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek magazine, will deliver the keynote address for Outlook 2006, hosted by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield. The annual legislative event will be conducted from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam. In addition to Fineman’s presentation, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey will discuss the state outlook, and Northampton Mayor Claire Higgins will present remarks for the region. Higgins is also serving as this year’s president of the Mass Municipal Assoc. Tickets are $40 for Chamber members, $60 for nonmembers. Tables of 10 can be reserved. Deadline for reservations is Feb. 3. For more information, contact Diane Swanson, Events Manager, at (413) 787-1555.

Business Entity & Basic Contracts
Feb. 22: The Mass. Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) Network will present Business Entity & Basic Contracts from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Scibelli Enterprise Center, 1 Federal St., Springfield. The workshop will look at ways a business can be run, the advantages and disadvantages of corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships and sole proprietorships. In addition, the workshop will look at income tax issues as well as the minimum needed to protect the business owner in writing when they enter into contracts with third parties. The cost of the workshop is $25. For more information or to register, contact Diane Randall at the MSBDC Network, (413) 737-6712.

Running A Successful Restaurant
March 14: The Mass. Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) Network will sponsor Food For Thought: Tips For Running A Successful Restaurant from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, 75 North St., Suite 360, Pittsfield. The program will discuss the key ingredients of successful restaurants and the pitfalls that can lead to failure, and will offer tips for improving a restaurant operation from the dining room to the kitchen. The cost is $25. For more information or to register, contact Diane Randall at the MSBDC Network, (413) 737-6712.

Springfield City Councilor Tim Rooke wants to impose a tax on people who commute to Springfield to go to work.

That’s right, Rooke, the chairman of the council’s Finance Commitee, is mulling several ways to reduce Springfield’s soaring budget deficit. His concepts include a tax — how much he’s not sure — on those who merely drive into the city to make a living. He’s also looking into cutting the salaries for city department heads, employing a strange formula whereby someone making $100,000 would take a 10% cut, those making $90,000 would get a 9% hit, and so on. He’s also looking at ways to tax neighboring communities for what he calls an overflow of services like halfway houses, subsidized housing, and homeless shelters.

This is what it has come down to in Springfield, where officials are seemingly grasping at straws trying to find some way to erase a deficit that could grow to $300 million within the next seven or eight years, according to some projections.

The ideas include everything from selling golf courses to charging fees for trash disposal; from asking nonprofit, nontaxable institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, for payments in lieu of taxes, to Rooke’s nonsensical tax on commuters, something the councilor has proposed before, without success. Indeed, we want to encourage people to work in Springfield, not punish them because the Albano administration continuously spent more money than it had.

These are nickel-and-dime proposals that are not going to solve Springfield’s desperate budget problems, and would seemingly only delay what a growing number of people now consider inevitable: bankruptcy.

So why not get it over with, and thus begin the process of getting Springfield back on its feet? Because bankruptcy would be considered a failure, and no one — from Control Board Executive Director Phillip Puccia to Gov. Mitt Romney — wants to admit to failure.

But, and this is sad to say, failure is reality. In 18 or so months of work, the Control Board hasn’t made any significant progress in balancing Springfield’s budget. In fact, by playing hardball with the unions and continuing a wage freeze for city teachers, it has probably made things worse. A superior court judge recently ordered the city to fund increases for teachers’ salaries, and if other unions prevail in similar court challenges, Springfield will see its deficit swell.

However, control board members don’t seem too worried about the teachers’ salary rulings, or others that may come down soon, because they know that they can’t pay a bill if they don’t have the money — and right now, Springfield doesn’t have the money.

And it won’t, no matter how many golf courses or parking garages it sells.

Like an individual swamped with credit card debt, Springfield is desperate to find a way out, but there really isn’t one, except for a miracle bailout from the state, which legislative leaders say simply won’t happen.

Which brings us back to bankruptcy.

As we said earlier, this is not an attractive option, and for a lot of reasons. For starters, it would be another huge psychological blow to a city that has had more than its fair share over the past few years. And the stigma would have a decidedly negative impact on business and economic development: who would want to start a business in, or relocate to, a bankrupt city?

Meanwhile, bankruptcy would leave deep political scars, and it might even have serious ramifications on a Romney bid for the White House. How can someone lead the country when he is seemingly powerless to save the third-largest city in his state from fiscal ruin?

But as unattractive as bankruptcy might be, it appears to be Springfield’s best option. There would be pain — unions would lose all power, elected officials would have virtually no control of the city’s finances, and there would be major layoffs in an effort to put the budget into balance.

But the process of getting Springfield back on its feet would be started, and the current practice of treading water and waiting for a rescue that isn’t going to come would be over.

Rooke’s idea to tax commuters makes no sense and it won’t happen — major employers rely on people from outside the city’s borders to operate their businesses. But even the other, more logical steps, such as trash-collection fees, won’t be enough to save the city from the fiscal abyss.

That’s why bankruptcy might make the most sense.