Home 2006 August
Opinion
Getting Moving on Health Care

People say nothing is happening in Washington on health care. They say the only thing that has happened is that the crisis has gotten worse. They’re right.

But while Washington waits, Wall Street has acted. Too many big businesses are deciding that to compete and win in the global economy, many jobs no longer will come with healthcare.

While companies such as General Motors struggle under enormous health care obligations, companies such as Wal-Mart are opting out of employers’ traditional health care responsibilities. Wal-Mart currently insures fewer than half of its employees — that’s 800,000 workers left outside the system, some turning to Medicaid just to get health care at all. It’s not right, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. Good corporate citizens are coping with a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace. GM pays $1,500 in health care costs on every vehicle it manufactures. Toyota pays only $200.

We’re stuck with a 20th century health care system that just doesn’t work for a 21st century economy.

The traditional employer-based health care system can no longer meet all our needs. Costs are too high, and businesses overseas are operating on a whole different playing field.

health care for a family of four now costs more than a minimum-wage worker earns in a year. Certainly, things have gotten worse. Under this administration’s watch, the number of uninsured Americans has grown by 6 million and premiums are up a whopping 73%.

This affects all of us. It matters if the kid down the block isn’t immunized. It matters to your tax burden when simple, treatable illnesses turn into expensive emergency room visits — often the only option for those without insurance. And it matters if we care about our moral obligation to others.

We need to cut health care costs. And we need a health care system that ensures quality, affordable health care for every American man, woman, and child.

We need big ideas and bold solutions, not more of timid Washington tinkering around the edges. If Americans can discover cures for the most devastating illnesses, we can surely find a way to make sure that all Americans benefit from those cures.

Right now the most expensive 0.4% of insurance claims account for 20% of all health care costs. We need to lower costs to businesses with a new federal reinsurance plan for catastrophic care — those with the most serious, and expensive, illnesses. Reinsurance is a simple concept: It’s insurance for insurers; a way for health plans to manage their risks and lower your costs.

Second, no child in America should lack health insurance. Leaving 11 million American children uninsured is wrong and, from the administration that brought us “No Child Left Behind,” it is breathtakingly hypocritical.

Most single moms raising two kids on $36,000 a year don’t qualify for any help. My Kids First plan would change that, covering all children up to three times the poverty level.

Finally, it is untenable for 35 million adults to go without insurance. We need to use every weapon in our arsenal until everyone is covered, including making the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program affordable and accessible for everyone in America with targeted tax credits for small businesses, middle-class families, and people between jobs. Members of Congress give themselves great health care and give taxpayers the bill — if it’s good enough for senators and congressmen, it should be good enough for every American who wants to choose it.

Doctors follow the motto “First do no harm.” So should Washington. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel on healthcare; we need to take what’s already working for those of us who are lucky and make it work for the millions of Americans being passed by. And we need to improve quality and lower costs for those with coverage today.

Americans have a choice. If Congress won’t fix healthcare, then Americans will fix Congress.

US Senator John F. Kerry is a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Departments

Stone Soul Festival

Sept. 1-3: Hampden Bank will continue its title sponsorship for the 18th annual Hampden Bank Stone Soul Festival at Blunt Park in Springfield. One of the largest multicultural events in the Northeast, the festival features fun and educational activities for all ages, as well as prize drawings, great food and live music. Festival hours are Sept. 1, 6 to 10 p.m., Sept. 2, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sept. 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free admission.

The Big E

Sept. 15-Oct. 1: The 2006 edition of The Big E will present more than $1.7 million in free entertainment, a ticketed Brad Paisley concert, the Miss Latina U.S.™ Pageant, the return of Marriage on the Midway, and BiggiE’s Character Breakfast as well as the Mardi Gras Parade, rides, crafts, good food, animals, and the best of the old and new that fairgoers have come to expect and enjoy. The Big E is located on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield. Advance discount tickets and 17-day value passes are available online at www.thebige.com and the Big E Box Office by calling 1-800-334-2443, now through Sept. 9. Tickets are also sold at Big Y World Class Markets now through Sept. 13.

“Generations …”

Sept. 20: At its September professional development meeting, the Women’s Partnership will present “Generations…Working and Living Side by Side.” A representative from Big Y Foods Employee Services department will be presenting material about preparing employees to face the everyday life of managing and working with people of all generations. The meeting will be held at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel and Conference Center in West Springfield. Networking begins at 11:30 a.m., the program and lunch will be begin at noon and end at 1:15 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance for chamber members, $25 for non-chamber members or payment at the door. To register and purchase a ticket to the meeting, book online at www.myonlinechamber.com or contact Diane Swanson at (413) 755-1313.

‘Team Creativity Disney Style’ Workshop

Sept. 26: The Center for Business and Professional Development at Holyoke Community College will sponsor an all-day workshop titled Team Creativity Disney Style from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development on the HCC campus. The Disney Institute will share with participants the motivational tools that can unleash the creative power of one’s entire organization. The cost is $349 per person which includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials. For more information, contact Maria at (413) 552-2122 or via E-mail at [email protected]

HCC Business Summit

Sept. 27: The Holyoke Community College Center for Business and Professional Development is sponsoring a free workshop for business owners and managers who are looking for more effective ways to train their employees. Titled Training for the 21st Century, the workshop is planned from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at HCC’s Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development. The workshop will introduce employers to a new training approach that uses real-life scenarios, follow-up sessions, ongoing contact with instructors, and actual homework for participants. The deadline to register is Sept. 13. For more information, call (413) 538-5817 or (413) 538-5815.

Western Mass. Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame

Oct. 5: The seventh annual induction ceremony for the Western Massachusetts Entrepreneurship Hall of Fall is planned Oct. 5 at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke. The event is sponsored by Springfield Technical Community College. Event hosts include The Fontaine Family (Fontaine Bros. Inc.); Jesse and Barbara Lanier (Springfield Food Systems); Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson (Smith & Wesson); The Balise Family (Balise Motor Sales), and The Grenier Family (Grynn & Barrett).

Super 60

Oct. 27: The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, Inc. will present its annual ‘Super 60’ program at Chez Josef in Agawam. The event is a salute to the entrepreneurial spirit of the region’s privately owned businesses.

Sections Supplements
Once Boarded-up and Abandoned, the Stately Temple House Has Been Resurrected
Attorney Raipher Pellegrino

Attorney Raipher Pellegrino in front of his new offices at 265 State St.

At first, attorney Raipher Pellegrino wasn’t thrilled with the pale green paint suggested for his main conference room.

Wrinkling his nose at the memory of the bright paint sample, he said that though he knew the color was an historically accurate example of shades used in the 1800s, when the Stately Temple House – the building that now serves as his local offices – was built, he just didn’t see it working.

“Turns out I was wrong,” he said, glancing around the recently completed conference room, with its striking green walls. “Once the color went up, I knew authentic colors were the way to go … they pull all of the rooms together and creates a flow that I don’t think we would have otherwise.”

That’s an effect he’d also like to see extend to other buildings in the area, too. Located at 265 State Street just across from the new federal courthouse, currently under construction, the Stately Temple House was purchased by Pellegrino in 2002, and, after months of renovation, celebrated its grand opening as the law offices of Denner Pellegrino LLP last month. The location now serves as one of four Denner Pellegrino offices, following the merger of Pellegrino’s firm with the Boston-based Denner Associates earlier this year.

The property was also recently honored with the Preservation Trust Award for restoration of an historic structure by the Springfield Preservation Trust, a member of Preservation Coalition of Massachusetts. The award is proof of the historic standards that were adhered to during renovation of the building and its accompanying carriage house, but it also underscores the resurrection of a property that had been written off by most.

A Vestige of the Past

The property (which straddles both State and Temple streets) has a rich history, but of late was best known as one of Springfield’s most dangerous eyesores.

The home was construcuted over a period of several years, with its first section completed in 1883. An addition was constructed in 1898. The carriage house at the rear of the property was also built during this time, and later in the 1900s, a final rear section of the main house was added. Its pre-Victorian style is similar to several other buildings in the Lower Maple Historic District where it’s located, featuring Ionic columns and tympanums (architectural panels), all of which were preserved during the recent renovation.

The 22-room house was used as a residence until the 1940s, when it was converted briefly into a theater and later used for offices. Similarly, the carriage house – one of only a handful still standing in Springfield – was used by the Wesmas Candy Corp. for candy making and packaging in the 1940s, and as an office building as well.

Until recently, however, both buildings sat vacant for years, serving as little more than magnets for crime. Pellegrino said he saw potential in the buildings due in part to their proximity to other historic structures in the city, including the Quadrangle, but added that, similar to the span of years in which the Stately Temple House was built, its rebirth also took a winding road.

Nailing it Down

He said he placed his first bid on the property in 1999, and was actually the only bidder when the deadline for requests for proposals was reached.

“But we had originally planned to tear down the carriage house for parking,” Pellegrino explained, noting that the idea didn’t jibe with the Planning Board and Historical Commission, which wanted the carriage house preserved and, ultimately, restored.

He said the property was returned to the market, and went out to bid again two years later, at which time he was again the only bidder. He purchased the front home and carriage house for $10,000, and in 2004 began major renovation projects on the two buildings.

Both were in a serious state of disrepair. The roof, second floor, and back wall of the carriage house had almost completely caved in due to neglect, and walls and flooring in the main house were damaged in all of its rooms. In addition, nearly all of the house’s mantles, wood paneling, and plumbing fixtures had been stolen.

Pellegrino explained that renovations included rerouting of all electrical wiring; rebuilds of several walls and ceilings; installation of walkways, fencing, parking areas, and a patio; rehabilitation of hardwood floors; construction of five new bathrooms and three new kitchens; landscaping, and the creation of handicapped-accessible entrances, as well as extensive shingling, beam replacement, and door and window replacement.

Rooms were also restored using standards of the ‘gilded age’ of the late 1800s, including those authentic colors – lilacs, yellows, and greens in particular – which were new offerings at the time due to the advent of blue pigments, and often featured in the homes of the wealthy.

A $25,000 community development block grant helped defray some of the costs of environmental clean-up, Pellegrino said, but the bulk of the improvements made to the property were privately financed; he would say only that the monetary investment was “substantial.”

“But I see it primarily as an investment back into the community,” he said. “No one wanted this property when it was falling apart and there was no federal courthouse being erected across the street, but this entire neighborhood has some amazing properties that would sell for millions in Boston, and we’ve just shown what can become of them.”

Indeed, the Springfield Preservation Trust was quick to recognize the renovation. Founded in 1972 by a group of homeowners living in the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, the trust works to preserve the city’s historic districts and historically significant buildings through education and advocacy, honoring restorative projects and hosting several tours of historic homes each year.  The award given to the Stately Temple House is the second Pellegrino has accepted; the first was for restoration of his own home – dubbed Derby Dingle – in the Atwater Park section of the city.

But beyond accolades, the renovations to the property have allowed two businesses to maintain offices in Springfield. In addition to Denner Pellegrino, the carriage house has been converted into an open-space, multi-use building with a lofted ceiling and a patio, and soon after its completion, Hawthorne Services Inc., an adult day health provider, moved in. Pellegrino said the partnership fit well into his overall community-oriented goals for the property.

“The timing worked, it worked for Hawthorne geographically, and it’s a good fit to have a service for the elderly in this area,” he said.

Green with Envy

The renovation also created a Springfield foothold for the 30-attorney firm of Denner Pellegrino, which also maintains offices in Boston, Providence, R.I., and New York, N.Y.

“Our other offices are cool,” Pellegrino joked, “but this one is like no other. And because it’s owner-occupied, we take a lot of pride in what we’ve done, and the maintenance of those improvements, too.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Hatfield Mill Finds a New Life As the Region’s Newest Banquet Facility and B&B
Tony Martino and Ted Jarrett

Tony Martino and Ted Jarrett at the Old Mill, the building they’ve recently converted into a banquet house and B&B.

It’s easy to find — only minutes off I-91 and now painted a bright yellow — but still tucked away and somewhat hidden.

The Old Mill on the Falls, an imposing building that towers over the Mill River in Hatfield, has a long, colorful history as an industrial center in Western Mass., dating back to the mid-1600s. Today, however, it has a new, intriguing life in the hospitality sector.

Once a mill for grain serving early settlers and later home to a bustling gun manufacturer, the mill had been vacant for several years, awaiting a new purpose. And after years of waiting and watching, Tony Martino, an executive chef and restaurant owner, and Ted Jarrett, a veteran of the hospitality sector, have created one.

Martino, the mill’s new owner, and Jarrett, who will manage the property, have established a unique banquet facility and bed and breakfast following months of renovations that were completed earlier this month.

Purchasing and refurbishing the Old Mill has been a dream come true, said Martino. He and Jarrett are already seasoned Springfield-based business owners – Martino owns the Fantastico Café downtown, while Jarrett, until recently, owned and operated the Maple Heights Bed and Breakfast, and continues to operate the Berkshire Folkstone Bed and Breakfast Reservation Service in Springfield.

They said they had long envisioned a distinctive space with a New England flair that could serve as a home for Martino’s eclectic cuisine, as well as a new destination for travelers visiting Western Mass. Martino and Jarrett had their eyes on the Old Mill for some time, but said that, until recently, the property was priced out of their reach.

Legend of the Falls

The Old Mill has a rich history that certainly adds to its appeal. Built in 1881, the three-story building was constructed on land that served as one of the first settlements in the Connecticut River Valley. Thomas Meekins, a miller, was granted the land on the Mill River in 1661, in order to use the river’s natural water power to grind grain for the local community.

In the mid-1800s, miller Harvey Moore purchased the site, and following the Civil War it became a center of activity as the manufacturing sector grew in the area. The Crescent Pistol Company was established on the north side of the falls, and it later became the Shattuck Gun Shop; that business operated at the site for 35 years.

The original mill, however, was destroyed by fire, and what is now known as the Old Mill on the Falls was constructed in its place. From 1881 to 1932, the building housed several businesses, including the Shattuck Gun Shop, a lathe-manufacturing business, and a manufacturing facility for automotive spark plugs. In 1932, it was purchased for use as a gristmill, then sold again in 1965 to serve as home for an antiques dealership. Finally, from 1980 to 2000, the Old Mill served as the headquarters for Advocate Newspapers, now located in the Eastworks building in Easthampton.

Despite its proud industrial history, though, the building that overlooks a man-made waterfall remained vacant for five years after The Advocate moved. Martino and Jarrett, interested in the property since it first went on the market, kept a close watch over the mill and its sale price as it gradually declined, until 2005 when, for just under $600,000, Martino bought the building. Jarrett signed on as the property’s manager soon after.

“When we bought it, the inside was just wide open space,” said Martino. “It needed a lot of work … a lot more than a paint job.”

Milling About

Martino said he and Jarrett put about eight months of work into the building, and opened for business officially just this month. The Old Mill now serves as a full-service bed and breakfast, with nine rooms – each unique, furnished with antiques from various locales and periods, and each with a private bath.

With the hope of attracting a diverse set of guests, rooms at the Old Mill are also priced reasonably. With what is expected to be the inn’s busiest season, the foliage months, just around the corner, rooms rates are between $100 and $125. There is a handicapped-accessible room on the first floor, and an ‘animal friendly’ room as well. Another plus, though, are the rooms with waterfront views. And at the Old Mill, that’s all of them.

Martino and Jarrett will also host weddings, rehearsal dinners, receptions, showers, private parties, and corporate functions for 20 to 60 people, and it’s in this arena that they hope to truly stand out, filling a niche as a distinctive venue that caters to more-intimate crowds.

“We’re hoping to specialize in banquets and showcase many different types of cuisine,” said Martino, a native of Italy who was trained at the Italian Culinary Institute. “Italian cooking will definitely be featured, but we’re well-versed in other things.”

A preliminary menu already created for Old Mill guests suggests an Italian flair, but with plenty of deviation; banquet selections include, for instance, bruscetta, Risotto a la Milanese, and chicken Parmesan topped with Martino’s homemade tomato sauce. But crabmeat stuffed mushrooms also appear, as well as roasted red potatoes, carrots with an amaretto glaze, and clams Casino.

In addition to a varied menu, Jarrett added that the Old Mill’s ambience is expected to be an equally strong draw for potential guests and banquet service clients.

“We’re nestled in a quiet area,” he said, “and we have room to fully accommodate many different types of events, but without feeling too cavernous. I think the bed and breakfast is also going to be a great fit for college parents visiting their children in the area, younger people, or weekend travelers.”

Falling into Place

The finishing touches were put on the B&B’s rooms only days before the Old Mill opened. Jarrett and Marino are hoping for a brisk opening season, one that introduces the property to a wider audience, and adds a new chapter to its compelling story.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

Philanthropy — to the Max

Max’s Tavern in Springfield recently staged the Max’s Classic golf tournament, an event, now in its third year, that raised more than $150,000 for Baystate Children’s Hospital. Staged over two courses, The Ranch in Southwick and Crestview Country Club in Agawam, the tournament drew hundreds of golfers, with teams from many of the area’s largest businesses.


The Max’s team; from left, featured Mark Conley, Rich Rosenthal, owner of the Max’s Restaurant Group, Ed Hoberman, and Marshall Ruben.


The Barr & Barr Construction team; from left, Peter Garvey, Donald Barr, Sean Gouvin, and Steve Killian.


The Lenox/American Saw team; from left, Craig Vogel, Jim Welch, Don Quinn, and Jim Karalekas.



The Williams Distributing team (two foursomes); from left, Al Colonna, Jace Sadowsky, Dave Madsen, Scott Sadowsky, Anthony Frasco, Jerry Shanahan, Stu Smith, and Rob Benoit.

Departments

PeoplesBank Expansion Planned

HOLYOKE — Within the next two years, PeoplesBank plans to open six new branches between Northampton, Wilbraham, Springfield, and West Springfield. Depending on land acquisition or lease costs, PeoplesBank expects to spend between $2 million and $2.5 million per branch. PeoplesBank recently opened a branch in Westfield and will open two branches this month, one at The Village Commons in South Hadley and the other in the Sixteen Acres section of Springfield. In other news, the bank recently reported that assets have increased by $200 million, or 18%, and loans increased by 25% to $950 million. Also, bank deposits rose by 22% to $863 million over the last 12 months that ended June 30. PeoplesBank has 14 offices in Amherst, Chicopee, East Longmeadow, Hadley, Holyoke, Longmeadow and South Hadley.

MassMutual Creates Structured Settlement Annuity Concept

SPRINGFIELD — Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company recently introduced MassMutual ® Structure Plus, a new concept using a structured settlement annuity that is designed to provide a more comprehensive solution for the life-care needs of catastrophically injured persons. The structure helps satisfy both the certain and uncertain needs of the injured party by providing access to trust services offered by the MassMutual Trust Company, FSB. With MassMutual ® Structure Plus, claimants place their settlement proceeds into a MassMutual structured settlement, which provides – for the convenience of the claimant – a lump sum payment which also funds a trust account for which the MassMutual Trust Company will serve as trustee. The advantage is that it works with the structured settlement annuity, and the structured settlement annuity is all that has to be funded by the initial settlement. A portion of the settlement proceeds will be directed from the structured settlement annuity to the MassMutual Trust Company, FSB, as trustee of a trust established by the injured party.

MassMutual Center Receives Positive Rating

SPRINGFIELD — The Pollstar Online listing recently ranked the MassMutual Center as one of the 100 most popular arenas in the world during the first half of 2006. The center was ranked 81st on its list of 100 facilities, according to total ticket sales. From January through June, the center held eight events, not including convention center programs and Falcons hockey games, and brought in more than $1 million with 60,276 tickets sold. Top-selling events included concerts by Motley Crue, Martina McBride and Larry the Cable Guy, as well as Disney on Ice and the Harlem Globetrotters. For September, country music star Alan Jackson is scheduled to perform and several children’s shows are planned.

Easthampton Savings Continues Strong Growth

EASTHAMPTON— Easthampton Savings Bank continued to experience steady growth during the second quarter of 2006, with total assets increasing $35.2 million from a year ago, an 8.8% increase over the last quarter. Total assets now stand at $647 million. In addition, the loan portfolio totaled $511 million at the end of June, an increase of $8.4 million, or 7%, for the quarter and $36.7 million or 8% for the year. Also, the bank experienced a deposit gain of $20.8 million from a year ago, representing a 4% increase since the end of June last year. In other news, the bank is now entering the permit phase of a new office in Westfield which is expected to open in approximately 15 months.

Roofing Contractor Receives Quality Award

SPRINGFIELD — Morris Roofing & Sheet Metal Corp. is a recipient of the 2006 Partner in Quality Award from Firestone Building Products Company. The award distinguishes the firm for its dedication to installing quality roofing systems and recognizes contractors who installed a minimum of four warranted Firestone roofs in each of the past five years, maintained at least 1 million square feet of Firestone roofs under warranty, and achieved an annual Quality Incidence Rating of 2.0 or less.

ValleyStone May Close Wal-Mart Site

SPRINGFIELD — Due to lower-than-expected traffic and earnings, the ValleyStone Credit Union may close its branch office in the Chicopee Wal-Mart since it will be forced to relocate its site when the company expands into a super center. Currently, the credit union is located just inside the entrance, however, with Wal-Mart’s expected super center expansion plans, ValleyStone will be forced into a new spot that will be less visible and have less square footage. ValleyStone officials acknowledged they had incurred considerable expense to build the current branch and would once again have to incur more costs to build the new branch. Wal-Mart has offered a small contribution to help offset the costs, according to ValleyStone officials.

Cover Story
Drive, Imagination Help Answer Catering Challenges
The Main IngredientMocktails for teenage guests. Organic meat stations. Chilean ingredients prepared in Lebanese fashion. Such catering requests are fast becoming the norm, not the exception, and caterers and event planners in Western Mass. are responding accordingly. Handling new and ever-more-demanding client needs is challenging, but those in this industry say it stirs their creative juices, while fueling their entrepreneurial fires.

Caterer Michael Sakey was reminded recently of just how much his industry has changed when a client made this request for her event:

“I want everything flat.”

“Flat?” Sakey said, still questioning the directive long after the event had passed. “I didn’t know what she meant, but she didn’t give me much more than that … just flat.”

Sakey, general manager of Spoleto Catering in Northampton, filled the request successfully by providing large platters for hors d’oeuvres, set side by side instead of tiered. He placed large pieces of slate in the centers of tables, scattered rosebuds in place of floral arrangements, and used stemless glassware for wine and champagne. The client loved it, he said, but the job was not without some anxiety.

“That’s a great example of what caterers face today,” he said. “We’ve seen a huge step back from all things traditional, and people are getting much more creative, if not eccentric. But they also have different expectations in terms of our level of service and expertise.”

Sakey said the new, more rugged demands on caterers are a relatively recent phenomenon – one that comes with its share of challenges, but also with a few perks.

“It’s funny how things change so quickly, because it wasn’t like this five years ago,” he noted, explaining that until recently, most clients played it safe, requesting foods or themes they’d enjoyed elsewhere. “Now, people want us to create an atmosphere that their guests have never experienced before, so more and more problems fall to the caterer. But at the same time, we’re having a ball with it, because this market is ready for creativity.”

Causing a Stir

A number of factors seem to be spurring this new trend in the catering business, among them a proliferation of food and event-planning television shows, magazines, and books that are introducing more-sophisticated themes to a larger audience and blurring the line between creative food preparation and full-on event management.

Kristen Rowell, event manager for the Garden House at Look Park in Northampton, said the only constant she’s seeing in terms of recent catering requests at her facility is a steady stream of clients with big ideas. Each request, however, is vastly different from the one before it.

“People want their events to be personalized,” she said, “to reflect who they are. Because of that, we’re seeing a lot of themed events – but those range from Hawaiian luaus to refined cocktail parties with signature martinis.”

Rowell said specific age groups are also influencing event-planning trends – the younger, 20-something set, for instance, tends to cut costs with a do-it-yourself approach – creating their own music mixes via computer programs, for instance, or having a friend with a good eye – and a great digital camera – take photos. But those money-saving tactics are aiding the catering boom, she explained, rather than taking away business.

“I’ve had a huge influx of events where the clients virtually put every cent they have into the food,”she said.

Similarly, Baby Boomers are also putting some new demands on caterers, looking for sophisticated, unique themes for their parties, although Rowell said this set, many of them celebrating a new found freedom of both time and money as children grow up and move out, are less likely to skimp on the other aspects of a party. Instead, she said, they’re going all out, requesting full-service cooking stations where guests can sample the food, but also learn how to cook it; they’re asking for specific cuisine such as Russian or Brazilian, or for fusion dishes, such as Mediterranean food with a Latin flair.

In short, Rowell said everyone is asking for parties that are absolutely fabulous.

“Clients know what they want and how to get it,” said Rowell, “but when it comes to the food and the presentation, they would still rather have a professional handling it, and that’s at all ages.

“I never expected to cater a prom, but we did recently, for the Pioneer Valley School of Performing Arts,” she continued. “They said, ‘we know you think we’re just kids, but this is what we want.’ And they had a laundry list of requests, which we answered.”

Meat of the Matter

The trend of specific, personalized service has not eluded the corporate set, Sakey added. Rather, corporate events represent some of the most uniquely catered events of late. When Fathers and Sons of West Springfield, for instance, held a launch party for the new Porsche Cayman S, Sakey was called upon to provide food that mirrored the car – European, but with bit of a hot, spicy touch. ‘Caymantinis’ were also concocted at the bar.

“But at the same time,” Sakey said, “corporate events are based around convenience for the client, and that means often, I never even meet my client face-to-face until the day of the event. Sometimes, all I get is a four-line E-mail and an AmEx number. But there’s always an expectation that the food will be of a certain quality. Essentially, they’re paying for me to take on that responsibility.”

Tabitha Mahoney, event manager for the MassMutual Center in Springfield, echoed his comments regarding an increasingly in-the-know public, and the effect that’s having on the catering sector.

“Customers are increasingly savvy,” she said. “They’re creative and well-versed in what is available, and they’re not afraid to ask for new things. More and more, we’re being asked to execute some very unique spreads, and it seems as though this is happening everywhere.”

Indeed, these trends are being seen not only across the region, but across the country as well. Diane Welland, a registered dietitian with the U.S. Food Service, listed several ‘hot trends’ in catering that have emerged in the last decade. Among them unusual starches (farro, quinoa, risotto, black rice, couscous), fusion buffets, homestyle desserts, and soufflés – once seen as passé, she said. Each illustrate the diversity of requests as people strive to create a ‘dining experience’ for their guests.

“In an effort to appease clients, menus have gotten bigger, better, and more sophisticated than ever before,” she said. “Variety and excitement are buzzwords in the industry and creative chef-manned stations and buffets specifically tailored for each event are the norm rather than the exception.

“To attract and keep customers, caterers must not only follow the latest ‘in’ foods in restaurants,” added Welland. “they must also create their own trends.”

Sakey agreed, noting that as demand increases, his job becomes more complex as well. Caterers are also being charged with other tasks that once fell far out of their realm, such as designing banquet space, or not only creating menus, but devising recipes as well.

“One major shift in this industry is that caterers are being asked much more often to be event planners as well,” Sakey said. “Once, I worried only about the food; now I’m worrying about tent rentals, lighting, and disc jockeys. I’ve even been asked to help coordinate wedding processions.”

And along with developing confidence about food choices, clients are also getting more comfortable with non-traditional event spaces as well. Sakey harkened back to an event he catered recently at a venue that began as an empty barn.

“The request was to create a beautiful New York-style cocktail lounge … but in a barn,” he explained, noting that instead of visiting gourmet food-sellers in search of ingredients, on this particular occasion Sakey spent more time at Home Depot than anywhere else. “I have a background in theater that literally saved me. We did some extensive lighting treatments, used contemporary tables and set the stage for the event, and it was beautiful, but it shows how much the media influences people. I know the clients saw something like this on T.V., thought it was great, and decided to execute it.”

Food for Thought

Sakey still marvels at the turn his industry has taken, but repeated that with these new, varied requests has come a new day for caterers and event planners that allows them to flex their creative muscle.

“Everything is breaking away from tradition,” he said. “Maybe it’s a reflection of what the world is like in general right now – people are becoming more worldly, and they’re trying their best to enjoy themselves in new ways.”

And sometimes, that means creating a world that is flat.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Features
Springfield Club Owners Take to the Sky with New Entertainment District Venture
Steven Stein and Mike Barrasso

Steven Stein and Mike Barrasso, at SkyBar overlooking Springfield, adopted the concept of a rooftop bar from several successful venues worldwide.

From their newest venture in Springfield’s entertainment district, club owners and developers Steven Stein and Mike Barrasso have an enviable view: one that includes the city’s skyline and comes complete with comfortable seating and a chilled martini.

Located at Stearns Square in the heart of Springfield’s club quarter, Skyplex is Springfield’s newest nightspot, replacing Stein and Barrasso’s former business, Rain Entertainment Complexes, with the goal of catering to an older, more sophisticated crowd.

The facility will include three separate clubs, each the product of months of research and redesign on the part of the business partners; the ground floor has been converted into a country western bar dubbed Buck Wild, while the second floor has become Vivid, an interactive, video-driven dance club.

But it’s the complex’s third component that is creating the loudest buzz. Modeled after similar ventures in other parts of the country, SkyBar is an open-air rooftop lounge complete with private VIP seating, cabana bars, and a view of the Springfield skyline.

Rooftop lounges are becoming popular venues in several major cities across the globe, including Las Vegas, New York City, and London. Stein and Barrasso, known locally for large-scale projects including the purchase and renovation of the Hippodrome, formerly the Paramount Theatre, in 1999, said they’ve tried to bring some of that big city flair to Springfield in an effort to improve the city’s economic picture as well as its overall image.

“We try to stay ahead of the trends, not follow them,” said Barrasso, “and rooftop ultra bars are huge right now. What we’re trying to do is attract more people from the disposable income crowd – it’s all in keeping with ongoing economic development.”

Leaping Tall Buildings

The partners said they embarked on a country-wide fact-finding mission last year in search of fresh, new ideas in the entertainment sector, and they happened frequently upon rooftop bars teeming with patrons. Such facilities capitalize on little more than some savvy design schemes and fresh, night air. Country-western themed bars, they said, have also proven to be lucrative in other parts of the country, and tend to attract an older, more sophisticated crowd. Similarly, they noted that dance clubs such as Vivid remain a constant draw for a diverse customer base, especially in urban areas.

But applying big-city formulas in a smaller locale, one that has seen its share of financial woes of late, isn’t the only risk the duo has taken in changing the property they manage. In completely overhauling the complex, Stein and Barrasso made some substantial financial committments.

In addition to the creation of SkyBar, Buck Wild, the complex’s country western offering, for instance, includes a mechanical bull that was installed at a cost of $15,000. It also features the first of what Stein and Barrasso hope will be many cross-promotional items with area businesses – a Harley Davidson from Tibby’s in Springfield.

Similarly, Vivid includes a full lighting system, private dance floors, couches for seating, and a 360-degree video-screen that is fully-synchronized with the sound system – allowing for dj-mixing and video presentations that reflect the beat of the music.

Technological upgrades such as these have been paired with more-pressing renovations, such as a new sprinkler system and handicapped-accessible elevator. All of these improvements have added up to a price tag that exceeds $250,000.

“The cost actually ended up being about double what we originally anticipated,” said Barrasso. “But we’ve done our best to use local contractors and local materials, and we expect that the amount of business we’ll attract will more than take care of it.”

Climbing to the Top

That’s not to say the partners are blindly optimistic about their new venture, Barrasso added; they are aware of the leap of faith involved with overhauling an existing club in a struggling city.

“We know this is a risk, changing the format completely at Stearns Square,” he said. “But the Hippodrome and Rain were also risks with which we believed we could serve a new entertainment market niche in Springfield.”

Indeed, both venues turned profits. The Hippodrome remains a popular nightspot that draws national acts to its stage regularly, and Rain, formerly the Hot Club, also maintained steady traffic prior to the format change and renovation project. However, Barrasso explained that over the past two years, its clientele began to shift toward a younger, rowdier set.

“There were a lot of factors that led to that,” he said, noting that among them were crime statistics that kept many older, more discriminating club-goers away.

We weren’t happy with the direction the complex was moving in, so we decided to shut it down and start over.”

Stein added that since the new venue has been modeled directly after similar venues in Vegas and California, he expects new audiences to visit if for no other reason at first than the curiosity factor.

“It’s something that is totally unique to Springfield,” he said, adding that a twist on the rooftop concept in Springfield will be the expansion of service not only at night, but during after-work hours and for private and corporate functions.

Stein said he hopes to see the Springfield business community leading the way toward utilizing the space for after-hours socializing or as a venue for events ranging from networking opportunities to office parties.

“We’re getting feedback already from the city’s professionals who work in the high rises,” he said, “because they can literally look out and see our progress in transforming the roof into an open-air gathering place. I think this beats any other function space you can find, and with the demographic we’re trying to hit, cooperation with the business community is a perfect fit.”

To further promote that idea, Stein and Barrasso have begun an extensive marketing campaign announcing the creation of Skyplex, targeting adult contemporary radio stations, local television networks, and private households through a direct mail campaign.

“We’re also very Internet savvy,” said Barrasso, “and that has helped us get the word out to our key demographic. We’re looking for a nice mix of professional, 25- to 45-year-olds, and using E-mail and certain Web sites like MySpace are a great way to reach them.”

SkyPlex’s page on MySpace.com – the well-known networking site that is increasingly prevalent in the marketing repertoire of many entertainment-based businesses – has already attracted more than 300 ‘friends,’ or MySpace users who receive regular bulletins and event listings from the club.

Watching the World

Stein conceded that even he is amazed at how much his industry has changed, both in terms of trends and the role that virtual marketing plays.

“It’s a new world out there,” he said with a laugh. “It’s our job to keep up with it.”

He and Barrasso have a vantage point, however, that allows them to see many things coming early – be it a rain cloud on the horizon, or a new venture – or adventure.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

The following building permits were issued during the month of July 2006.

AMHERST

Amherst College Trustees
227 South Pleasant St.
$3,500 — Divide existing bedroom into 2 bedrooms

Amherst College Trustees
Hamilton House
$4,511,834 — Dorm renovations

Amherst College Trustees
Converse Hall
$5,000 — Reset existing stair treads

Amherst Housing Authority
36-38 Tamarack Dr.
$180,000 — Set and complete modular duplex

Amherst Presidential Village, LLC.
950 North Pleasant St. (1-14 Washington House)
$12,001 — Replace shingles

Trustees of Hampshire College
205 West Bay Road
$75,000 — Replace roof, smoke detectors and alarms

Norwottuck Fish & Game Association
1348 West St.
$40,000.00 — Install wireless antennae

CHICOPEE

Mt. View landscaping
67 Old St. James St.
$135,000 — Building addition

EAST LONGMEADOW

Starbuck’s
66 Center Square
$142,000 — Interior renovations (new building)

HOLYOKE

Holyoke Mall, L.P.
50 Holyoke St.
$126,700 — Renovate Clinton Exchange

 

Sisters of St. Joseph
34 Lower Westfield Road
$8,000 — Convert corridor into changing room

Northampton

Clarke School for the Deaf
46 Round Hill Road (Gawith Hall)
$250 — Selective interior demolition

Kollmorgen Corporation
347 King St.
$330 — Reinforce steel columns

SPRINGFIELD

Big Y Supermarkets
1360 Carew St.
$304,000 — Frontal addition

Fountaine Prop.
66D Industry Ave.
$23,000 — Interior renovations to warehouse

Linden Shopping Center
459 Main St.
$46,500 — Interior renovations

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Botega Cocina
46 Morgan Road
$5,000 — Replace hood system

Verdi Club
58 Chapin St.
$8,200 — Kitchen exhaust hood

Opinion

At first blush, the numbers don’t seem too impressive, at least when compared to the $1.1 billion Bristol Meyers Squibb manufacturing facility recently announced for the Fort Devens site, and the hundreds of jobs it will generate.

This is a $4.9 million grant to study therapies for treating Type 1 diabetes, and the gain of possibly six to 10 jobs over the next few years for the company that won the federal contract, Worcester-based Biomedical Research Models Inc. But the news that broke early this month could have far greater implications for the company — and for the region and its still-fledgling biomedical research and manufacturing sector.

Taking the long-term and decidedly optimistic view, area business and economic development leaders believe the diabetes research grant could provide a significant boost to the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in Springfield, where Biomedical Research Models is a tenant, and to broad efforts to grow this sector in Western Mass.

And we concur.

In the case of both the company and the region, it’s a chance (another chance) to show what they can do, and that’s all both parties can ask for in what has become a highly competitive contest for research dollars and jobs that involves many regions of the U.S. and, increasingly, foreign countries, especially China.

For years now, the Pioneer Valley, which got off to a slow start in the biomed race at the expense of Worcester, Cambridge, and other Massachusetts communities, has been struggling to merely get noticed with regard to that sector, despite its oft-cited cost-of-doing-business advantages and ample land on which to develop. The Biomedical Research Models contract offers a chance to get that vital task accomplished.

Meanwhile, the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a joint venture involving Baystate Health and UMass Amherst, has been working over its first three years to spark growth of biomed jobs in the area, and has needed a highly visible opportunity to showcase its facilities and partnership-building capabilities. This contract should help with that mission as well.

Biomedical Research Models President Dennis Guberski, a native of Chicopee, is calling the federal grant a victory for small businesses trying to make it in an increasingly crowded field. His company has developed special lines of rodents used to study several types of diseases, including diabetes. The National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which has stepped up the fight against diabetes amid growing incidences of that disorder nationwide, has awarded Guberski’s company a contract to perform testing on several new compounds that could treat Type 1 diabetes.

The bid for the contract was submitted in association with the life sciences institute, and would not have been awarded without that alliance, said Guberski, noting both physical amenities at the center in the form of research facilities and the strong partnership between the university and the region’s largest health care provider.

Securing the federal grant should help officials at the institute in their ongoing awareness campaign to explain that the facility is not simply a mailing address for biomed companies, but a facilitating venture that blends science, health care, and economic development.

Taking the broad view, the federal contract could provide success stories on a number of levels. First, and most importantly, it could help advance the fight against a disease that is growing at alarming rates in this country. Second, it could help what must now be described as a regional company enhance its reputation within the life sciences research community. And it could, with time, give some real credibility to the Pioneer Valley’s efforts to promote itself as a center for biomedical research and manufacturing.

Thus, this is a small, but very important victory for the region and the life sciences institute, and something this area can definitely build upon as its seeks to add jobs and economic diversity.