Hat Shop Owner Is Brimming with Confidence
Richard Littles original plan was to open a mens clothing store.
That was the thought process about seven years ago as he was pondering when and how to make the transition from corporate employee (he had worked for Verizon for many years) to small-business owner. But his research told him there was already enough, if not too many, of those establishments in the Greater Springfield area.
However, it also told him something else: that there was a real need for a hat shop to serve both men and women. There wasnt anything like this, he said, waving his arm toward the front of the Brim and Crown shop on White Street in Springfield.
This need was complemented by what Little could only describe as a passion for hats, which hes been wearing for as long as he can remember. I decided that, if I was going to do anything entrepreneurial, it should be something I love. And I really love hats.
Not only that, but he loves matching people, and their personalities, to hats, from individuals who have never worn one before (a large constituency) to those who wear one practically every day a group he calls absolute hatters.
Not everything has gone exactly according to script for Little, who opened the doors in 2005, but, by and large, hes doing as well as he thought he might when he put the Brim and Crown on the drawing board.
Hes been helped by a moderate surge in the popularity of hats, especially among younger professional men (more on that later), and also by the emergence of the Kentucky Derby party in recent years (hats are a mainstay for such events) as well as the race itself, and even some larger special functions like the recent fund-raising tea for Square One; many attendees bought hats from him for the occasion. Meanwhile, hes been hurt by the recession. Im in the want business, not the need business; people dont really need hats, he explained, adding that, in most respects, this is a luxury item.
But its one that has certainly turned into a sound business opportunity.
Like the optician who adorns his shop with photos of models wearing glasses, Little has his walls covered with pictures of people decked out in all types of hats. Many are actual customers, including some who needed items for the Square One tea and this years Kentucky Derby parties. There are also some models, and even a few actors: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., in one of the famous scenes from the original Oceans 11, and also Johnny Depp wearing a brown felt model.
Hes not a customer yet, Little said of Depp. But Im working on it.
The current client list includes mostly Springfield-area residents, but there are some from Northern Conn. and others from Boston and other points east. I get a lot of customers from the Boston area, he said. More than a few of them are salespeople out on the road. Theyve heard about me or found my Web site, and they stop by when theyre in the area.
And while clients mailing addresses vary, so too do their wants and, on some occasions, needs. Many women need what Little calls church hats, which are worn regularly on Sundays but also on other special occasions. Meanwhile, more men are deciding that a baseball cap is not the way they want to go, or at least not the only way.
A lot more men are wearing hats now, especially young professionals, said Little. I have a lot of doctors, lawyers, and business people as customers.
Hats will likely never again be as popular as they were decades ago, when men wouldnt leave the house without one, said Little, noting that, contrary to popular opinion, hats were on the way out long before President John F. Kennedy conducted business without one. But they are making something of a comeback.
And there are several reasons why, he said, listing everything from changing fashion trends to a run of gangster movies that bring hats back into focus. Even health issues come into play; indeed, as Baby Boomers age, many of them are hearing their doctors tell them to put something on their head if theyre going out in the sun, said Little.
All this adds up to more of that aforementioned matching of people to hats, he continued, adding that quite a bit goes into this process, from the clients build to the colors they prefer to wear, to the image theyre trying to project.
A hat has to fit someones personality because, while everyone can wear a hat, no one can really wear every hat, said Little, who uses the word hatitude to describe those who make a proper match.
Those visiting the Brim and Crown will find ample opportunities to create a match, with a wide variety of selections on both the mens and womens sides of the store, and a host of well-known brands to choose from, including Stetson, Biltmore, Dobbs, Bailey, and Makins for men, and Toucan, Betmar, Ellie, and Christine Moore for women.
With any luck, this selection coupled with all those trends, from Derby parties to men dressing up more will create more absolute hatters.
Health Care Fails Small Businesses
Not long after President Nixon took the unprecedented step of imposing peacetime wage and price controls, the American people learned a basic economic lesson: artificial controls dont work unless underlying costs are controlled.
Four decades later, the Patrick administration is imposing controls on small-business health-insurance rates. The move will prove to be little more than an election-year reprise of Nixons failed effort.
The Commonwealths 2006 health care reform was supposed to address rising health-insurance costs for small businesses. It hasnt and small businesses are paying the price.
The Commonwealth Connector, an independent authority acting as an insurance-plan clearinghouse, was established to provide real choices and information needed to evaluate options. In theory, an informed and robust marketplace would bend the cost curve and get more of the working poor and lower middle class insured. The theory is right, but the implementation has failed in two key ways.
First, the Connector focused all its energy on providing nearly free products to the indigent. Its board seemed uninterested in market-rate products for small-business employees.
The Connector revenues come from selling plans, and selling nearly free products was the path of least resistance. Unsurprisingly, 90% of the Connectors operating revenue has come from the fee it earns for state-subsidized plans.
The lack of focus on small businesses is evident. The Connector took three years to make information about provider networks and participating primary-care providers for small businesses available on its Web site. It took over two years to launch a small-employer pilot program; in more than a year, it attracted just 65 businesses and has now been replaced by a new program that offers only seven plans.
Implementation also fell short when the Connector chose to build a top-down bureaucracy rather than leverage the broker and private-market community. The quasi-governmental Connector has a $40 million annual budget and 45 employees earning annual salaries that average $100,000. Its board is heavily weighted toward government officials and unions.
Paternalistic fears about confusing people have led the Connector to overregulate and minimize consumer choice. Instead of engaging the private market by providing unique products, it has rejected or failed to renew products, resulting in offerings that simply duplicate ones already privately available.
This bureaucratic setup cannot provide choices that contain costs to employees and owners of small businesses nor help address double-digit increases in small-business rates.
There is another path forward. Utahs Health Insurance Exchange was started with a $600,000 appropriation and has no board and just two employees. It provides a technology backbone that enables brokers and businesses to take advantage of consumer-based options.
As its mission is to promote small-business growth, the Exchange is part of the Governors Office of Economic Development. Private-sector partners provide unpaid policy advice on what businesses and employees need.
Fewer than 1,500 small business employees receive coverage through the Connector. In Utah, with a far smaller population, about 55,000 small-business employees have purchased health insurance through the Exchange. It offers 66 plans from a number of carriers, including the largest ones in the state.
The focus on business growth and input from the private market has helped promote other reforms. In its first year, the Exchange developed a database that compares the cost of care across all providers; four years after its creation, the Connector hasnt developed a similar tool. Unlike Massachusetts, Utah has also passed tort and medical-malpractice reform.
We applaud the Connectors success in insuring the indigent. But it has failed to give small businesses affordable, diverse choices.
Small-business owners cannot afford 25% annual hikes to already-astronomical health-insurance premiums, especially in this economic climate. Price controls will do nothing to control the underlying forces that drive health-insurance premium increases. And unless Massachusetts does the hard work of getting costs under control, Patrick could be remembered as the guy who tried to prop up the levy as the floodwaters surged in.
Jim Stergios is executive director, and Amy Lischko is senior fellow on health care, at Pioneer Institute.
Area Architects Have Designs on Business Improvement in 2010
The economic downturn hit the construction sector across the board, from builders all the way back to the architects themselves. While the historic effects are reportedly on the wane for this industry, local architects draw up their own tales of the Great Recession, and offer some thoughts on how they will recognize the signs of recovery.
Growing numbers of competitors from outside of the region, private-sector financing not readily available for new construction, and cutbacks in staff numbers and workdays … wait, wasnt this just reported about the construction sector?
Recently BusinessWest spoke to the people holding the hammers about the nature of the building trades and how the economy was affecting them in unprecedented ways. While area tradesmen knew the news wasnt very good, most reported on how they are successfully navigating these turbulent times.
However, another key component of the construction sector, the architecture industry, has also been finding its business hit, and hit hard, by many of those same forces, and they too have undertaken measures for successfully riding out the economic downturn.
John MacMillan is president of Rheinhardt Associates in Agawam. Like construction workers out in the field, he said that competitors from outside the area have been bidding on design jobs in numbers hes never seen in his 25 years in the industry. Its very fierce, he told BusinessWest.
But while industry analysts foresee the potential for grim times ahead in the construction sector, architects and those who monitor the industry have designs on a much better 2010.
Kermit Baker is the chief economist for the American Institute of Architects, and in that organizations Billings Index, a monthly measurement of the number of projects on the boards for architectural firms, he reported that, while billings were at historically depressed levels in March, that months confidence index of 46.1 reflected an increase from Februarys 44.8.
This figure is the highest recorded since August 2008, and while an index rating over 50 is a mark of growth in the industry, Marchs numbers indicate a four-point increase over the previous two months.
We could be moving closer to a recovery phase, Baker reported, expressing that old faithful known as cautious optimism. But he added that firms are still reporting an unusual amount of variation in the level of demand for design services, from improving to poor to virtually nonexistent.
Its a familiar story for architects in Western Mass., who say their firms have faced challenges like nothing theyve seen before. For this issue, BusinessWest looks at the blueprints for the business of architecture, and what designs some area firms have for a hopeful 2010.
Big Fish in a Small Pond
Leon Pernice has been designing buildings from his home office in West Springfield for close to 50 years office buildings at the Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, several area churches, the municipal center of Brimfield, and numerous senior residential facilities.
Like everyone else, he said that competition has reached numbers that hes never seen.
For such competition, he added, the number of jobs that his firm usually bids has dropped in reverse proportion. Theres work out there, he said, but much less private work and more public. And when I say more public work, that doesnt mean theres a lot of it, though.
For smaller projects, he said, firms are coming from far afield, which was once only the case for the largest regional jobs.
While large, high-profile projects typically had drawn architectural firms from all over the nation, something that Pernice said was perfectly understandable, the top-tier projects are often financed by boards of directors or trustees who have different criteria for their selection process, he said diplomatically, adding that he is unsettled by the fact that the smallest jobs also now see bidders from outside the area.
When you have municipalities assigning their smallest work to architects out of the area I dont know how that works, he said while shaking his head.
MacMillan agreed, noting that his firm has faced competition from outfits that never went after this market, meaning mid-scale to larger scale projects such as the Berkshire Medical Center, Belchertown Fire Department, Agawam police station, and currently the Holyoke Multi-Modal facility, among others.
A lot of those offices are Boston-based or, in some cases, from New York. We never used to see them before, he said. Were getting firms that used to work at a different tier high-design firms from Boston or Cambridge, 100-plus offices with business-development staff and marketers.
For ourselves, having this competition, with the bigger guys bottom feeding, he continued, weve had to shift some focus onto projects that used to be too small for us. Thats where we are now.
Rheinhardt Associates has been designing for the public sector for more than 50 years, he said, and with stimulus projects and municipal upgrades that cant be put off, that sector is where design work is holding steady.
In order to compete for the larger projects that come to bid, MacMillan said that his firm has taken a cue from the competition to remain a key player.
Weve teamed with larger firms, he explained. We realize that is what we have to do, because the day is not here where we can land the largest projects on our own, especially not with the competition.
When the projects are local, he continued, that regional expertise is what we can bring to the table. Sure, its a smaller piece of the pie, but at the end of the day, we are supporting this firm competing against other large firms. This is unusual for us. In a better climate, the locals might carry the day entirely, but these are not the times for that.
Back to School
As the current principal of Juster Pope Frazier Architects in Northampton, Kevin Chrobak said that some words of wisdom from one of the founders sketches out a winning plan for his firm.
Jack Frazier used to have this saying, you have to learn to enjoy the slow times as well as the fast times, he said.
As a means to that end, Chrobak said that JPF has a policy of flex time for employees, one of its techniques for riding out the economy. Its a win-win situation here, he explained, which gives people the ability to deal with their own schedules as they see fit. People have used flex time to spend more time with their families without really impacting our ability to do projects. It also makes them a bit more appreciative of working here.
And during straightened times, he added, the firm doesnt sweat the bottom line on a 40-hour workweek.
But JPF is fortunate as a smaller firm, with only six employees, not to be facing tough decisions at their drafting tables or their accounting ledgers.
We have a strong portfolio of repeat clients, with decent projects, he said. But our size allows us to stay largely outside the harsh effects of the downturn. The bigger firms might feel the need to constantly bring in new projects, but we dont really feel that burden.
For a small office, Chrobaks firm is responsible for numerous big-ticket projects, such as the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, the Longmeadow Fire Station, and the Springfield Visitor Information Center, to name just a few. He says that repeat clientele has been a major player in JPFs strength and vitality through the recession.
Having diverse clients and a diverse portfolio has helped us very well, he said. But while his office stays busy with numerous projects, Chrobak said that he is aware that the number of projects in the area is small. Theres just not a lot of new construction out there.
UMass Amherst is consistently a source for much of the areas vitality in design and construction, Chrobak said, adding that they are a real boon to our firm as a source of design work for us, and the construction industry in general. Theyre one of the few organizations that are doing any construction work on that scale. I dont think they get enough credit for that.
Christopher Riddle, a principal with Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst, made a wave-like motion with his hand to describe the variation he sees for this areas architectural business, specifically addressing the market for educational work that has neither real highs nor lows. UMass and the overall strength of higher education has been a great lifeline for the regions architects, he said.
They have fluctuations, to be sure, he said, but they dont go away altogether. They dont go up and down with a great amplitude, but stay fairly regular with a consistent volume. A lot of our business is either directly or indirectly associated with the health of the education industry in Western Mass.
Other sectors that are engaging projects are also known for their overall stability. Health care continues to draw new business, as does the transportation industry, which MacMillan said is responsible for a large part of his firms current planning.
In addition to the Maple Street project for the Holyoke transportation center, MacMillan said the PVTA is responsible for a good volume of work in rehabilitating many of its older structures. That repair and renovation market, he said, is a source of a lot of design work for many architects in the area.
Crediting UMass Amherst again, Chrobak applauded its House Doctor renovation program as a good source of work for many area firms, including his own for the past 20 years. Essentially it is a program whereby a small group of architects are hired on retainer to work on an equal number of projects for renovation.
A lot of local firms really rely on that, he said.
Sketching It Out
Riddles partner, John Kuhn, expects this recession to have a lasting impact on architecture.
There is a shift toward sustainability and green systems, he said. And I think the days of subdivisions with McMansions on cul-de-sacs with funny names is over. Thats a completely dead market.
In agreement, Riddle said that clients have had a renewed focus on buildings systems, with an eye towards energy efficiency and alternative means of making a building economically viable, not just at the ribbon cutting, but for a longer span of time.
Since the recession officially started in the fall of 2008, he said that KR has tackled four LEED-certified projects totaling $17 million. Its design for New England Environmental, an Amherst-based consulting firm, aims to be a LEED platinum structure, the highest level of certification.
Riddle said that energy systems are a particular interest of his, and he hopes this renewed enthusiasm drives more design projects in the future. We spend a lot of time trying to optimize new construction, he said, trying to keep the energy consumption of new buildings down. It doesnt matter how sophisticated new buildings are now. Thats easy. What you have to do is try to figure out how to deal with the enormous, vast numbers of existing buildings.
Opting to look at the current market in a positive light, Kuhn said that this recession brought a lot of creative change to the industry.
Its a very exciting time, in many ways, for architecture, he continued. The types of buildings that were working on, and the way we deliver projects, are all changing. The key is to stay nimble.
Responding to the positive forecast from the AIA, Kuhn said that he reads the industry reports, but he doesnt take them too seriously.
I dont track the stock market, he explained, nor do I take to heart what I read on the front page of the paper. What I think of as indicators are the people you run into every day on a job site, what you hear from them at the coffee shops. What is the housepainter or carpenter or building owner seeing and saying?
Those field notes are one way to find hope for an industry-wide turnaround, he said, but when all is said and done, hell know that business is picking up when the phones start ringing again.
Drawing upon the experience of increased firms at public bids, Pernice said that, for him, recovery will be manifest in smaller numbers of those competitors from out of the area.
Ill know it when you go to an open review session for a project to find eight people there instead of 28, he said.
MacMillan said that his projections are for a flat quarter ahead, with his firm staying busy, but with smaller-scale and shorter-term projects than he is used to.
We usually carry a backlog thats anywhere from five to eight months, he said, and thats very healthy. Today, its down to two months, max. When I start seeing a bigger backlog, Ill feel comfortable.
But echoing the hopeful uncertainty from most in this industry, he said that all it takes is one significant project to turn the tide altogether.
That would be a huge bump for us, he said. So, it could be next week, or next month.
Region’s Colleges Are Economic Engines
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno calls it “playing to our strength.”
That was his way of conveying the manner in which area colleges, including all those that call his city home, are becoming more powerful forces in local economic-development efforts.
It’s not exactly a recent phenomenon — colleges have always played an important role in the region’s economic health and well-being, from their local purchases to their huge payrolls to seemingly constant new construction. But in recent years, and especially over the past 18 months or so, area schools have been front and center with initiatives that can, and probably will, have enormous benefits for area cities and towns.
Sarno was responding to news that American International College has been granted preferred-developer status for a project involving three key pieces of the Mason Square neighborhood — two sections of the massive former Indian Motocycle building and the long-vacant fire station next door. The college is looking at everything from a cyber café to a new home for its radio station in the fire station, and everything from housing options to incubator space in the Indian building.
The project is still very much in the due-diligence stage, and the college will move forward only if several funding sources can be tapped. But even if the vision for the properties doesn’t become reality, area colleges will clearly continue to be huge forces in economic-development efforts.
Start with the state university, which is playing a lead role in the efforts to bring a high-performance computing center to downtown Holyoke, a project that could change the face, and the fortunes, of the Paper City. UMass Amherst is also making its presence felt on Court Street in downtown Springfield. The university will be moving one of its departments into a building in that historic area — a project, conceived with generous amounts of encouragement and help from the city, that is expected to be the first of many that will increase the school’s visibility and impact there.
Meanwhile, Westfield State College is eyeing major investments in that city’s still-struggling downtown. WSC President Evan Dobelle helped change the landscape of some neighborhoods in Hartford when he was president of Trinity College through the creation of several public-private partnerships, and he is looking to do the same in the Whip City through a plan to put more student housing in the urban core, and thus boost existing businesses and attract new ones to the Elm Street corridor.
There are countless other examples:
• Springfield Technical Community College created a technology park in the former Digital Equipment Corp. complex across Federal Street from the campus, a gambit that has succeeded in bringing nearly 1,000 jobs to that complex of buildings. A few years later, the school opened a facility now known as the Scibelli Entreprise Center, that is both an incubator and home to agencies that help small businesses get off the ground and to the next level.
• Holyoke Community College is a partner in a project that will not only bring a learning center to a former fire station in the city’s downtown, one that will help give adults skills to succeed in the workforce, but also become another cornerstone in the revitalization of that city.
• Springfield College has, for many years, undertaken programs to improve quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding the school, which are some of the poorest in the city, if not the state.
• Bay Path College has, for 15 years now, organized a women’s leadership conference that has imparted key lessons on life and business, and it has initiated a number of programs to help spur entrepreneurship.
• The Five Colleges in Hampshire Country have contributed in innumerable ways to the cultural and economic health of the Amherst and Northampton area.
The list goes on. Every school has stepped up, and the involvement is becoming deeper and more imaginative.
“Playing to our strength.” The mayor got it right. The area’s colleges represent perhaps its greatest strength, and cities and towns must collectively work to help find and nurture new ways to tap into that strength.
You Don?t Need a Crystal Ball to Figure Out What They?re Thinking
Construction companies need the support of their bonding company to sustain the growth of their business. As a result of the current economic realities of the construction industry, bonding companies are spending more time scrutinizing the viability of their clients financial future and operations before issuing a bond.
Here are the 10 topics you need to be prepared to address the next time you sit down with your surety agent.
1. Banking covenants. Bonding companies want to know that you are satisfying the covenants as outlined in your loan or line of credit documents. If youre not meeting the covenants, you need to talk to your banker about rewriting the covenants or developing a strategy for meeting them. Bonding companies get concerned when they see that construction companies are not meeting their banking covenants.
In fact, this could result in an immediate end to a line of credit or an immediate call for repayment of a loan. Needless to say, without access to financing, some construction companies couldnt afford to complete their work in progress. In the end, bonding companies want to see a positive working relationship with your lending institution.
2. Accounts receivable. Your accounts-receivable aging report will be examined throughout the year. What are bonding companies looking for? They want to make sure that youre being paid for your work, and you have business systems, policies, and procedures in place to track and encourage timely payments. Before starting work for a customer, perform enough due diligence that would lead you and your bonding company to believe youll get paid for your work.
3. Accounts payable. Pay your bills in a timely fashion. Bonding companies assume that, if youre not paying your bills in a timely fashion, you either dont have the resources to do so, or you have weak internal business systems. Either way, thats bad news.
4. Backlog. In construction, its all about the backlog. Really, whether you are an accounting firm, law office, or a construction company, a backlog of work secures the future of your business. The longer the backlog, the more confidence bonding companies will have in your business, and the more likely they are to insure the completion of your work. Keep in mind that bonding companies will look at more than the total number of jobs backlogged; theyll look for the number of profitable jobs.
5. Strategic business plan. We all get distracted by todays challenges, but taking the time to write a strategic business plan is good for the future of your business. And thats just what bonding companies are concerned about the future of your business. What are your short-term, mid-range and long-term goals, and what is your strategy for achieving them? Write them down. A good strategic business plan includes timelines and benchmarks to measure progress. If your bonding company comes in for a visit and asks to see your strategic business plan, be ready to share a thoroughly prepared document.
6. Profitable and cost-controlled work. Your bonding company wants to know that your jobs are profitable and that costs can be controlled as shifts in the market demand. So be prepared to show how you plan to profit from your work and control costs. In addition, if market conditions change, you need to have a plan in place to adjust. Take a proactive approach to challenges by implementing smart solutions on a timely basis.
7. Equipment. Equipment represents a major investment for most construction companies. The patterns of acquisition and disposition of equipment tell the bonding company a story. Be ready to discuss the reasons why you are either acquiring or disposing of equipment. If youre stuck supporting debt for idle equipment, there may be creative ideas you could explore to turn idle equipment into a revenue source. Discuss strategies like this with your surety agent.
8. Loans from owners. As an owner of any business, when times are tough, you may have to loan your company money to help it through a temporarily challenging time. Dont be surprised if loans you make to your company get subordinated to other obligations of the company and require approval from your surety before you get paid back. As an aside, be sure to consult with your accountant and attorney before loaning money to your company; there may be tax benefits or implications that deserve additional discussion.
9. Indemnity. Personal and spousal indemnity is becoming commonplace, especially if your surety agent considers a particular job to be a stretch for your company. Your bonding company sees more risk associated when you do work outside of your areas of expertise. With additional risk comes additional indemnity. If this sounds like you, be prepared to discuss why your company can meet its obligations even outside its areas of expertise.
10. Unexpected taxes. If your construction company (structured as a C-corporation) has adopted the completed contract basis of accounting for tax purposes, you may not be in a position to defer taxes to next year without a sizeable backlog. As backlogs at some construction companies arent so large, this could mean that those deferred taxes are payable now. Unanticipated, this could place significant strain on cash flow. Even if your deferred tax is at the individual level, as is the case with a flow-through entity, be prepared to discuss this issue with your surety agent.
Surety agents can be supportive in helping you grow your construction business. That being said, in higher-risk environments, theyll need additional and more detailed information about you and your business.
Take a proactive approach in developing a positive working relationship with your surety agent. Get together throughout the year. Share your success stories and your challenges. Tell your surety agent what your company is doing to improve business processes and procedures, and what strategies youve put into place to control costs and become more profitable. When you and your surety agent are on the same page, thats good for business. n
Joseph Spagnoletti, CPA, CCIFP is partner in charge of the Construction Services Group at Kostin, Ruffkess & Co., LLC, a certified public-accounting and business-advisory firm with offices in Springfield as well as Farmington and New London, Conn. Beyond traditional accounting, auditing, and tax consulting, the firm also specializes in employee benefit-plan audits, litigation support, business valuation, succession-planning business consulting, forensic accounting, wealth management, estate planning, fraud prevention, and information technology assurance;www.kostin.com.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno calls it playing to our strength.
That was his way of conveying the manner in which area colleges, including all those that call his city home, are becoming more powerful forces in local economic-development efforts.
Its not exactly a recent phenomenon colleges have always played an important role in the regions economic health and well-being, from their local purchases to their huge payrolls to seemingly constant new construction. But in recent years, and especially over the past 18 months or so, area schools have been front and center with initiatives that can, and probably will, have enormous benefits for area cities and towns.
Sarno was responding to news that American International College has been granted preferred-developer status for a project involving three key pieces of the Mason Square neighborhood two sections of the massive former Indian Motocycle building and the long-vacant fire station next door. The college is looking at everything from a cyber café to a new home for its radio station in the fire station, and everything from housing options to incubator space in the Indian building.
The project is still very much in the due-diligence stage, and the college will move forward only if several funding sources can be tapped. But even if the vision for the properties doesnt become reality, area colleges will clearly continue to be huge forces in economic-development efforts.
Start with the state university, which is playing a lead role in the efforts to bring a high-performance computing center to downtown Holyoke, a project that could change the face, and the fortunes, of the Paper City. UMass Amherst is also making its presence felt on Court Street in downtown Springfield. The university will be moving one of its departments into a building in that historic area a project, conceived with generous amounts of encouragement and help from the city, that is expected to be the first of many that will increase the schools visibility and impact there.
Meanwhile, Westfield State College is eyeing major investments in that citys still-struggling downtown. WSC President Evan Dobelle helped change the landscape of some neighborhoods in Hartford when he was president of Trinity College through the creation of several public-private partnerships, and he is looking to do the same in the Whip City through a plan to put more student housing in the urban core, and thus boost existing businesses and attract new ones to the Elm Street corridor.
There are countless other examples:
Springfield Technical Community College created a technology park in the former Digital Equipment Corp. complex across Federal Street from the campus, a gambit that has succeeded in bringing nearly 1,000 jobs to that complex of buildings. A few years later, the school opened a facility now known as the Scibelli Entreprise Center, that is both an incubator and home to agencies that help small businesses get off the ground and to the next level.
Holyoke Community College is a partner in a project that will not only bring a learning center to a former fire station in the citys downtown, one that will help give adults skills to succeed in the workforce, but also become another cornerstone in the revitalization of that city.
Springfield College has, for many years, undertaken programs to improve quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding the school, which are some of the poorest in the city, if not the state.
Bay Path College has, for 15 years now, organized a womens leadership conference that has imparted key lessons on life and business, and it has initiated a number of programs to help spur entrepreneurship.
The Five Colleges in Hampshire Country have contributed in innumerable ways to the cultural and economic health of the Amherst and Northampton area.
The list goes on. Every school has stepped up, and the involvement is becoming deeper and more imaginative.
Playing to our strength. The mayor got it right. The areas colleges represent perhaps its greatest strength, and cities and towns must collectively work to help find and nurture new ways to tap into that strength.
Glenn Edwards Believes the Time Is Right for His Springfield Properties
It took Glenn Edwards a few years to put the entire block of buildings on Main Street in Springfield between Harrison Place and Court Street into his portfolio. Hes enjoyed mixed results since then, with the recession leaving for lease signs in many windows along that stretch. And while the local market remains quite sluggish, he believes the time is right for him to fill some of those vacancies.
Glenn Edwards has his office in New York City, but he keeps close tabs on whats happening in Springfield and he should. After all, he owns all the buildings along the east side of Main Street between Harrison Avenue and Falcon Drive.
And for the most part, Edwards, who acquired those parcels between 2005 and 2007, likes what hes hearing and reading about the City of Homes and especially its central business district. Hes actually pleased that the nearly vacant federal building will soon be almost full with Springfield School Department offices and other tenants (some downtown property owners were miffed that their buildings were not even given an opportunity to vie for that business).
Meanwhile, hes encouraged by progress in Court Square, especially UMass Amhersts decision to take one of the buildings there for one of its programs. Hes buoyed by some anecdotal evidence that the worst appears to be over for both the economy in general and the real estate market in particular, and, while he wasnt thrilled to lose the Dennis Group as a major tenant in Harrison Place, hes even finding something positive about that companys relocation to the Fuller Block and the filling of that structure.
He believes all or most of the recent news bodes well for his efforts to lease up his properties, which include in addition to Harrison Place, which has three vacant floors whats known as the Johnsons Bookstore Building, Marketplace, the so-called Northwestern Mutual Building, and also 1341 and 1319-1331 Main St.
New life for the federal building and Fuller Block will add vitality to the downtown and leave two fewer options for companies that are looking to downsize, rightsize, find a better deal, or take an expansion plan off the back burner its been on since the recession hit high gear, said Edwards, noting that he believes there are many businesses in all these categories.
As the economy improves, we fully expect Springfield to be part of the renaissance, he told BusinessWest. We expect to ride the next wave of real-estate activity.
And within Edwards block of buildings, which together comprise around 45,000 square feet of available space in various shapes and sizes, there is something for just about everyone, said John Williamson, president of Williamson Commercial Properties, which is now handling leasing activities for the properties.
Weve have full floors in Harrison Place, including the first and second, which is some of the most visible space in downtown Springfield, he said. And we have a lot of other spaces with which we can be very creative.
For this issue, BusinessWest talks at length with Edwards and Williamson about why they think they have the right places at the right time.
New Lease on Life?
Williamson joked that his new assignment with Edwards, for whom he handled the Harrison Place transaction in 2007, is essentially to lease his way out of a job, meaning to fill the properties in question.
As he goes about that task, hell face a good number of challenges, especially competition for tenants. Indeed, while some properties, like the Fuller Block and the federal building, are now effectively off the market, there are countless others in or near downtown with for lease signs in their windows.
And, in many respects, this is still very much a tenants market, a phrase used repeatedly by brokers to imply that businesses that are ready and able to make moves can play those landlords with space to lease against one another and get some attractive deals.
But the biggest challenge may be that there are still not enough business owners and nonprofit managers ready to make those moves. In recent months, area brokers have used words like quiet, frozen, and dead to describe the state of the local commercial real-estate market, and some have said that conditions now are even worse than during the prolonged recession of 20 years ago, when brokers could at least stay busy working for banks trying to rid themselves of properties on their OREO (other real estate owned) files.
However, the usually optimistic Edwards is seeing the picture a different way with the glass half full, or at least approaching that level.
He said that activity has picked up in many of the markets in which he owns properties (that list includes municipalities ranging from Lynnbrook, N.Y. to Park City, Kan. to Clifton, Colo.), and that he fully expects that Springfield, home to perhaps the centerpiece of his portfolio, will eventually follow suit.
Its not going to be a tenants market forever, he said, noting that, as bad as this downturn has been, it will be followed, like others before it, by a period when the laws of supply of demand will eventually begin to work in favor of property owners.
And he believes his block is well-positioned for the day when the pendulum starts to swing.
Granted, he has only what would be considered Class B space, or perhaps B+ in the case of Harrison Place, available to lease, but he notes that most Class A space in both the suburbs and downtown Springfield is occupied, and what isnt the vast majority of it is in 1350 Main St. or One Financial Plaza is mostly being reserved for larger tenants.
So he believes this leaves opportunities for those properties across Main Street with the odd numbers, starting with Harrison Place.
Edwards acquired that landmark from the Picknelly family in late 2007, putting the entire block in his portfolio. The building was nearly full at that time, but the scene changed dramatically when Tom Dennis who acquired the property in the late 90s, built out the first two floors for his engineering firm, and later sold the property to the Picknellys desired to once again own his space.
He departed for the rehabbed Fuller block in the summer of 2009, leaving one of those aforementioned for lease signs in the front window at Harrison Place, through which countless pedestrians and motorists look every day.
That visibility, coupled with accessibility and pliable space, has attracted several tire-kickers, said Williamson, including a large law firm. He expects more tours in the weeks and months ahead as businesses look to take advantage of what is still, by and large, a tenants market.
The ultimate goal is to lease the first and second floors, both around 8,000 square feet, to one tenant. The best plan B is to find two full-floor tenants, he said, adding that there is flexibility for a number of other scenarios, but the preference is for larger tenants.
The same goes for the slightly smaller ninth floor, he said, adding that, overall, there is some 25,000 square feet, just over 33% of the total space, available in the building.
Moving south down what could now be called the Edwards Block, there are roughly 5,000 square feet available, or just under one-fifth of the total, in the Johnsons Bookstore building, where Edwards and Williamson want to find more retail and office tenants to join FedEx Kinkos, which moved in on the first floor last year.
There are nearly 6,000 square feet available (one-quarter of the inventory) at 1365 Main St., also called the Marketplace Building; all of the space, 5,298 square feet, in 1341 Main St., most recently occupied by Westfield Bank, which means its been vacant for some time; and just over 3,068 square feet in 1310-1331 Main, also known as the Peerless Building.
Overall, Williamson said his broad strategy for leasing up those buildings is innovative, and by that he means everything from imaginative lease deals that will serve both Edwards and his tenants to efforts to attract some of the many nonprofit groups operating in the Greater Springfield area, especially for the Westfield Bank building, which he believes is perfectly suited for one or, more likely, several such tenants.
That property lends itself well to that kind of use, he said, and there are literally hundreds of these 501 C3s operating in this area.
When asked why hes so bullish on the prospects for Springfield when others seem far less ebullient, Edwards says his attitude stems from seeing clear progress in several of the other markets in which he owns real estate.
Weve signed a number of leases over the past few months theres a lot of activity taking place, he said. Were going to see that here, too. Tenants will be rightsizing and going from class C space to class B. Space will start to be absorbed again.
Time will tell if and when hes right about the Springfield market, but at the moment, Edwards likes what he sees. And he believes hes well-positioned for when the turnaround begins.
George OBrien can be reached at
Bing Restoration Project Takes a Major Step Forward
Brian Hale remembers a time when a rainy Saturday would have packed all 900 seats in the Bing Theater on Sumner Avenue, near the citys X.
My friend and I came to see Day of the Triffids and Fun in Acapulco, with Elvis, and it was so crowded we couldnt get seats even near each other, he said. It might not have been those two movies that led them back to the defunct theater years later, but both men are now board members of The X Main Street Corp. (XMSC), which owns the rechristened Bing Arts Center.
With the sounds of hammers and saws punctuating the conversation, Hale told the story of how the 1930s gas station known as Cossabooms Service Station on Sumner Avenue was transformed into Forest Parks portal to Tinseltown, and became the place to be for the postwar Baby Boomer generation. The future of the Bing Arts Center, he said, has just as an important a role for arts and culture in the city.
The big theater space out back is still far from a return to celluloid spectacles, but for now, the front section of the building is completely refurbished and has been slowly but steadily hosting arts-education classes, movie screenings, and, very soon, its inaugural arts show.
With a soft opening planned for June 5, Hale, board president of the XMSC, plans to introduce the community to what the XMSC calls a place which will enable our citizens of all ages, ethnic groups, genders, orientation, and economic status to gather, experience, and build the unifying bonds of civilization and community that active participation in the arts can and will provide.
I live a couple miles away from the Bing, and almost every time my wife and I drive to go to see a show somewhere, we drive right by the Bing, he added. We are not alone in thinking how important it is to have something to keep people here.
Hale took BusinessWest on a tour of the Bing and, with opening day just a short while away, projected his plans and hopes for the future of art and culture not only for Forest Park, but for Springfield and the surrounding area.
X Marks the Spot
In the freshly-painted room destined to be an arts classroom, Hale described the early history of the Bing. They turned the front of the building into two storefronts, built the theater on the back, and named it after Bing Crosby. It showed films from 1950 through 1999, opening with Samson and Delilah, and ending with the remake of Psycho. Hows that for a programming arc? he said with a smile.
After 50 years, the city took over the property for non-payment of taxes, and the neighborhood theaters house lights dimmed for the last time. Suffering from neglect and lax security, the building was fortunately spared the fate of many other defunct urban theaters.
Honestly, though, I think the city would have torn it down if it had the money, Hale said.
However, Springfield put forth an RFP for redevelopment of the site, and one interested party intended to transform the theater into an arts center, but the scope of the project was just too great.
In 2002, the XMSC took control of the project. A nonprofit entity that Hale described as one of many Main Street-type redevelopment organizations around the country, the group immediately saw the importance of the history, location, and potential of the Bing Theater.
The X used to be a fantastic urban retail district, native son Hale explained. More than 26,000 people live in Forest Park alone, with another 4,000 to 5,000 in East Forest Park. If you draw a five-mile radius around the Bing, I dont even know its probably 60,000 people. And completely diverse, too from Section 8 to millionaires, all ethnic groups.
We knew that, to have a true community arts center in Springfield, he continued, this is the place.
And so the XMSC sunk its teeth into the project, he said, and in true community fashion with help from residents of that neighborhood.
One of those people, who happened to be painting the interior that day with his crew, was Mark Checkwicz, owner of a high-end commercial painting and restoration company in the city. He is one of the many people generously donating his time, resources, and manpower to see the BAC open on time.
He lives just down the street, Hale said, and has been involved with the project from the beginning.
Which was a project of titanic proportions.
The first winter we took the building, Hale said, literally the lobby floor was covered in ice, and there was a frozen waterfall cascading from the ceiling, which encased the electric panel. In order to make handicapped-accessible bathrooms in the front, we had to jackhammer out the slab floor.
After installing entirely new HVAC and electrical systems, gut-framing and re-insulating the front section of the building, and assessing the non-structural damage to the large theater in back, Hale joked that his day job owning and operating Design Workshop in Indian Orchard might be supplanted by his role as de facto general contractor for the Bing.
Getting the front section of the BAC in shape is what he calls phase one, allowing for gallery space, art-education classrooms, and a modest performance space that will ultimately serve as the lobby for phase two, the larger theater.
The first exhibit, with work from three well-known area artists, is titled Upcycled: Transforming the Unused into the Inspirational. Featuring found-object sculptures, Hale said it is definitely fitting for the first show.
Some concerts have been staged in the lobby/entryway area, and that space is destined to be the ad hoc theater showing first-run arthouse films some time after the June opening.
Walking around the finished gallery and front section of the Bing, Hale said, Id say that the scope of the project has exceeded my expectations by a factor of three.
Previously, I had been thinking, maybe $100,000 could get the front open, he continued. But then again, we were going to try to reuse a lot of the systems the heating and such.
Then I had a conversation with Dave Panagore, he continued, referring to then-chief financial officer of the Springfield control board, and he said, youre just not going to get there if you dont do it right. People will recognize the difference.
Altogether, the BAC renovation has come to just under $300,000, and Hale said, I think weve done very well with that.
Go Ahead, Make My Day
Hale doesnt mince words when he assesses the importance of a cultural center for the neighborhood. Arts education really is pathetic right now, he said.
While the theater component to phase two is important, providing a venue for film and performance that will easily compete for first-rate offerings, Hale is most thrilled by the possibility for art and culture to come to the citys newest generations.
Weve started a collaborative partnership with the White Street School, two blocks down, which had no art programs for the kids, he explained. So we started two classes, a movie-production class, and an art-through-many-cultures program on Saturdays.
Some people go, well, until you get the theater open, who cares? he continued. Regularly, though, there will be art on the walls, there will be all-ages educational programming going on, performance programming, neighborhood groups can use the space for meetings. We want to support the neighborhood economically with this presence.
Citing an untapped cultural presence in the city, Hale said that theres no scene per se; theres no hub for people to make contacts. I know some amazing visual artists here in the city, some musicians also. But they are low-profile because they go to Boston, or New York.
The benefits from an arts center transcend the immediate function of movies and a gallery, he said.
Its the creative economy that is our best hope as a city, he explained, and it doesnt require a great deal of money to make it happen. Were not going to get big retail in this neighborhood; were not going to get large-scale manufacturing in the city.
Ive often referred to this as the cool neighborhood program, he continued. If you make this area culturally attractive, then youll get people who want to come here, spend money here, and live here.
The Show Must Go On
While phase one opens the doors this month, the theater out back will have to wait a bit.
People keep asking about the big room in the rear, Hale said, because everyone is just dying to know when well get that open.
Like a seasoned GC, Hale added, I tell people, its not when, its how much. Its all about the dollars. If we had the money, we could have it open in about a year, but were working on the actual plans, thanks to the pro bono work of a well-known local architect. Hopefully by summer we can have those finished so we can put a budget to it.
The XMSC hired a fund-development firm, the Hedgepeth Group, to assist with that capital campaign. Word will soon be out on the target figure for that project.
Hale estimates that the total bill will be anywhere from $3 million to $5 million, but that is a turnkey look at the theater, programming, and all expenses necessary to get the show back on the screen and on the stage.
For the more immediate future, the BAC is up and beginning to fill that expressed void as a catalyst for an increased art presence in the city.
Its a missing piece here in the city, Hale said proudly, but its finally falling into place.
New Attractions, Pent-up Demand for Fun Fuel Optimism in the Tourism Sector
By most indications, consumers are getting tired of having their vacations and day trips become victims of the recession. Many area attractions are reporting increases in visitorship as the large and important tourism sector heads into its busy season. This positive news is juxtaposed against severe budget cuts at the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, which means curtailed marketing at a time when the region could use all it can get. Overall, though, there is general optimism for the sector and the year ahead.
Mary Kay Wydra says that, for every $1 invested to promote tourism, there is a $40 return to the economy.
Thats why Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB), was stunned last year when was she learned the state was cutting the bureaus budget by 75%. There are 128,000 jobs in Massachusetts dependent on the tourism industry, she told BusinessWest. Tourism is about jobs that range from taxi-cab drivers to people at front desks. And jobs are part of the economic recovery.
The massive cut reduced the GSCVBs marketing budget from $468,000 to $132,000, which is the lowest number it has had to work with since 1992.
So the bureau has had to be creative and make every dollar count. And the stakes are high; the recession has taken its toll on many attractions, but there is a general feeling that conditions are improving and people are seemingly more willing to spend money on entertainment. Some early numbers from some of the larger tourist venues, such as Springfield Museums, Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, and Six Flags indicate that visitorship is rising over last years levels.
This would be a good year to have a substantial marketing budget, said Wydra, but that is not reality, so the bureau must spend what it does have in a scientific manner.
The GSCVB began its efforts by having marketing director Michele Goldberg conduct a survey of members, asking them to help prioritize their needs. Target markets have always included Southern Conn., Greater Boston, Hartford, and Upstate New York, so when members expressed a desire for more online marketing, Goldberg complied, although she cut out New York.
The bureau also created 25 partnerships with key players in the tourism industry, offering them the opportunity to be part of a cooperative funded largely by private dollars. It allows an area attraction to take the lead role on our Web site, which cross-promotes other attractions, Wydra explained. We have facilitated it and funded it to the extent that we can, and been able to seed the program.
This represents a very different tactic for the bureau, because, in the past, it leveraged state money to get private money. It also laid off employees and cut some forms of advertising entirely, such as purchasing a page in Yankee magazine.
Its other major marketing tool is the soon-to-be-released annual guidebook. In addition, the bureau is using Facebook, Twitter, and a blog that features prominently on their Web site.
We have definitely taken a more proactive approach to public relations, said Wydra. Measures include more press releases and talking to motorcoach opearators monthly, suggesting ideas such as a tour of the regions country stores.
Weve had to be creative in our marketing strategies, but we are fully optimistic we will see an uptick this summer in tourism, Wydra said. The concept of staying close to home and enjoying local attractions was at its height in 2008 when gas was over $4 a gallon. People cut back on hotel stays, and last year the trend continued.
But I think there is a pent-up demand for summer vacations, just because people have cut back for two years. Plus, national indicators show we are slowly growing out of the recession, she continued, noting that hotel occupancy has increased since October and Greater Springfield has outpaced the state as a whole.
Wydra said new is an important word in tourism, and the area offers that. The enshrinement at the Basketball Hall of Fame has moved to August with a full week of activities, Springfield Musueums has a new addition, and Barnes Municipal Airport will host an airshow this year.
Hands-on, experiential activities are another draw, and the region welcomed zip lines at Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoors last spring. Berkshire East has already expanded and surpassed its goal, Goldberg said.
Wydra said the bureau has done as much as possible to deal with the budget cuts. We have a strong marketing program, but if we had received more funding, we would have been able to do more, she explained. Being very creative and very collaborative have been our key watchwords.
View to the Future
While Wydra grapples with her budget challenges, those running area tourist attractions are being guardedly optimistic about 2010. Early numbers are positive, and if gas prices dont go much higher, they predict that trend will continue, due largely to a combination of new or improved attractions and that aforementioned pent-up demand for holidays.
Holly Smith-Bove, president of Springfield Musuems, says overall attendance has continued to rise throughout the recession. She attributes this in part to the new Museum of Springfield History, which opened in October 2009 and has attracted new audiences to the Quadrangle complex.
The project, which entailed a $10 million renovation of the former Verizon office building on 21 Edwards St., began before the recession and and continued during the downturn. The lower level contains the Springfield History Library and Archives, while upper levels are home to a Rolls-Royce collection and the collection from the former Indian Motocycle Museum.
There are many people who are followers of these brands, said Smith-Bove, adding that the museums demographics have changed since the new facility was built. Our adult audience is increasingly significant, she said.
The museums have also seen an increase in demand for group tours. Marketing efforts include a recent membership drive via mailings that went out to 30,000 households. We have backed that up with traditional advertising. We are also very involved with Twitter and Facebook, Smith-Bove said.
So far, their efforts have been met with success. We hope to continue the trajectory we are on. We have increased our attendance by 300% this year, Bove-Smith said. Its been wonderful.
Special summer attractions should draw crowds, she continued. We have a really amazing exhibit in the Fine Arts Museum by New York Lego artist Nathan Sawaya, titled The Art of the Brick. It will take up most of the second floor and has generated a lot of excitement in other venues.
Kathy Miller, general manager and special-events coordinator for Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield, is also optimistic about the busy months ahead, mostly because the first months of the year have been solid. Between 2008 and 2009, we were at an even pace and were able to stay consistent, she told BusinessWest. But in 2010, our numbers have been up, which is wonderful.
The conservatory has paid close attention to its marketing strategy, however. We thought a lot about it and have kept a very close eye on it, Miller said. What we found is that, even though the economy took a downturn, people still need to do things for themselves that are nurturing, relaxing, and that dont break the bank. And we fit that bill.
On Mothers Day, the facility reported a 60% increase in business over that same holiday last year. It held a special Mothers Day dinner promotion in the restaurant, and has done all it can to make it attractive and affordable.
It has a warm atmosphere. We offer home cooking with huge portions and reasonable prices, Miller said. It has only been open four years, and we have seen a steady increase in customers every year. We attribute it to word-of-mouth referrals, along with TV and newspaper ads.
This year marks Magic Wings 10th anniversary, and as public awareness grows that it is open throughout the entire year, many people have used the space for baby and bridal showers. Its one of the things that has helped us, in addition to our butterflies and animals, Miller said.
Magic Wings and Lupa Zoo in Ludlow recently partnered to create a traveling show, in hopes that it will bring attention to both attractions, and the butterfly conservatory is part of a two-year-old Deerfield Attractions initiative. Those efforts include advertising via the Web site deerfieldattractions.com. We want to let people know that were only a half-hour from Springfield and there is a lot to do here, Miller said.
Yankee Candle in Deerfield saw a slowdown in traffic after the recession hit. The end of 2008 was very tough, as was as the first half of 2009, said CEO Harlan Kent. But we were actually positive in the fourth quarter of last year for the first time in nine months. We felt good about that.
Traffic is up, he said. But people are being very thoughtful in terms of spending and are sticking to a budget, although we have been able to entice them a little bit.
Such enticements include new attractions in the flagship store. In addition to being the Disneyland for candle lovers, the company added a Pandora store, a Dylans candy store, and a Popcornopolis, Kent said.
We call it retail-tainment, and have stores within our store. We have new ones planned and are in the process of opening up something different every three months.
Other initiatives include hands-on activities, such as Wax Works, which opened a year ago and allows visitors to create candles and wax sculptures. We add a new activity every few months, Kent said. Since people are staying closer to home, we hope to attract them with these kinds of exciting attractions.
The company opened 39 new stores in 2009, keeping with its average during the past five years. We expect to see some moderate growth as the economy improves, and are continuously investing, Kent said.
On May 15, the company celebrated a complete makeover of its home store and continues to add activities, such as a three-day Longaberger Basket festival in June and a 5K run to benefit the American Heart Assoc. in August. There have also been adjustments to the menu at Chandlers restaurant, which Kent said fared pretty well in 2009. We are doing more advertising this year, getting back to more normal levels.
Larry Litton, president of Six Flags New England and a board member of the GSCVB, said the recession didnt significantly impact business at the park. Still, the management team took a very proactive approach.
We have done very well. We ran some tremendous promotions that were sensitive to the fact that money was tight, he said. In 2009, these promotions allowed adults to pay the same entry price as children. Those promotions are continuing this year, and the park is also offering its lowest season-ticket price since 2004.
Weather plays a significant role in its attendance, but in the end, Litton believes it boils down to the value offered. We are the largest theme park in New England and have the number-one steel roller coaster in the world, he said.
The facilitys water park boasts new attractions, including a Johnny Rockets restaurant, and management is bringing back popular events, such as the Glow in the Dark parade and a Starburst Concert Series, with acts that appeal to teens.
We have made a lot of changes over the last four or five years to broaden our appeal and added a lot of show products for younger children, Kent said. If anyone hasnt been here for four or five years, they would not believe the changes in the property. We started this year off very strongly and are expecting a huge year.
Still, marketing dollars spent by the Convention and Visitors Bureau help area attractions significantly, and Wydra, Kent, and other board members have gone to Boston to discuss the tourism budget in recent weeks. There is no better investment than tourism, Kent said, and we hope our message resonated with the Legislature.