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Holyoke’s Planning Leader Welcomes Sky-high Expectations for the City

PlannerMarreroHolyoke

 

 

Marcos Marrero remembers that there was about a month between when he received the phone call from Mayor Alex Morse telling him he was being offered the job of planning and economic development director for Holyoke (which he quickly accepted) and when he actually moved into his office at One Court Plaza.

And he recalls spending it doing some very hard cramming on the nation’s first planned industrial city.

“That was Holyoke-intensive studying — I was consuming, eating, and breathing Holyoke every day for a month,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he learned as much as he could about its history, demographics, politics, neighborhoods, ongoing projects, and future prospects. “I said, ‘give me all the plans … I want the master plan, any redevelopment plans — just lay it on me.’”

Along the way, he remembers having an odd sensation of feeling sorry in some way for the people who held that post before him. They had essentially laid the track, he said, referring to predecessors Kathleen Anderson, now president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and Jeff Hayden, now an administrator at Holyoke Community College, and he was going to be in a position to see that hard work yield some tremendous benefits for the city.

Such initiatives include the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, which opened its doors last year; the pending reintroduction of rail service to the city, a development that should open some new doors of opportunity to the community; completion of the challenging renovation of the downtown fire station into a intramodal transportation center and education facility; movement toward creation of a thriving creative economy in the city; and continued evolution of this former manufacturing hub into a more diverse economy that also features the arts, technology, and retail.

“My impression was that this was really unfair to all my predecessors,” Marrero recalled. “Because I could see the arc of the past 20 years, and how everyone in Holyoke had worked together to put Holyoke in the position it’s in today.

“Not that this a slam dunk, by any means, what’s happening now,” he continued. “But I felt the conditions were such that, with good leadership, good vision, and help from community stakeholders, this city could just take off. I’m standing on the shoulders of the work that other people have done.”

And while appreciative of that hard work that’s been undertaken by those who occupied the office before him, Marrero, who just turned 30 and is part of a youth movement in Holyoke city government (Morse is only 24), said there is obviously considerable work still to be done, specifically in the realm of meeting and perhaps even exceeding the sky-high expectations many have for Holyoke to become a place where people want to live, work, and start a business.

“Right after the press announcement of my appointment, I remember being taken aback by the expectations that were thrown out there, and I said to the mayor, ‘this is not my modus operandi — I’d rather promise little and overdeliver,’” Marrero recalled. “And he said something to the effect of, ‘nope, you can’t do that here — the expectations are really high.’ And I said, ‘OK, challenge accepted.’”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Marrero about this very intriguing time in Holyoke’s history, those high expectations he mentioned, and how he, Morse, and other city officials plan to work together to turn potential into reality.

 

Background — Check

When asked how he came to occupy the front office in the municipal facility just a block or so from City Hall, Marrero paused for a second, glanced toward the ceiling, and offered a heavy sigh.

He did all that to indicate that there were a number of circumstances that brought him to this place and time — from developments in his wife’s medical career that eventually took her to Baystate Medical Center and the couple to Western Mass., to the departure of Anderson, to the ascension of Morse, who, as he interviewed a number of candidates for the planning and economic development post, became impressed with Marrero’s opinions on everything from modern urban renewal to reinventing Gateway cities.

Our story starts in New York City, where Marrero was born, but the scene quickly shifts to Puerto Rico, where he spent much of his youth, was educated, and started his career in planning and economic development. While attending the University of Puerto Rico, he initially majored in computer science (the technology field was still booming at the time), but soon shifted gears and ventured into political science and economics.

Upon graduating in 2004, he took a job as an economic analyst for the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co., and soon thereafter started applying to graduate schools. He was accepted into the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and earned dual master’s degrees in Public Affairs and Urban and Regional Planning. While there, he studied under Lisa Jackson, who would go on to lead the Department of Environmental Protection and do considerable work in the broad field of climate change.

He took those diplomas and went to work in the governor’s office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, acting as a deputy advisor on federal affairs, energy, and climate change. When the governor lost in the next election, though, he was out of a job.

It was about this time that Marrero’s wife, Wanda, was applying for residency positions and found one within the Tufts University system “at somewhere called Springfield,” he remembers her saying. From there, she took a job at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, and Marrero found employment at the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s Energy Policy Office.

But they both had to start sending out résumés when St. Vincent’s abruptly closed after a prolonged period of economic woes. Wanda found a position at Baystate, while Marcos eventually found work as an adjunct professor at UMass Amherst, teaching Environmental Policy. He would later apply for, and win, a job as a land-use environmental planner for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in 2011.

This takes us up to the spring of 2012, when Anderson became the successor to Doris Ransford, the longtime director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and Morse commenced a search for someone to fill her shoes. He eventually contacted Marrero at the recommendation of a mutual friend, and an interview was scheduled, although Marrero had his apprehensions about the position.

“Having worked with economic-development corporations before, I had the sense that a lot of politicians had a very narrow view of economic development,” he explained. “Like corporate welfare, or just getting projects done at any cost or without any regard for a more comprehensive view of what makes an economy work and what makes a city work.

“Sometimes you can’t really explain it all in dollars and cents,” he went on, adding that, the more the two talked, the more he came to believe that Morse had a better, much broader view on the subject. “The meeting was a feeler as much for me as it was for him.”

Those vibes, coupled with his strong first impressions of the city, erased any doubts he had about the position.

“I said, ‘these people get what economic development is all about,’” he recalled. “And I saw the layout of Holyoke, the canals, the grid, and the old buildings … there’s something about this place. It’s abuzz with energy, and when I got that same feeling from the mayor, I said, ‘I really want this job.’”

State of the City

Marrero remembers one of his first encounters with the City Council; actually, it was one of its subcommittees.

There was some tension and disagreement over items up for discussion, to the point where one of the councilors offered a form of mild apology. Marrero recalls being taken aback by such talk — as well as his desire to put things in their proper perspective.

“I said, ‘have you seen Puerto Rican politics?’” he recalled with a hearty laugh. “I said, ‘I thought it was a great meeting.’ The governor in Puerto Rico that I was working for had a legislature dominated by members of the other party; it was sort of like what President Obama is going through with the Republican House — but on speed. There was no legislation he could get passed, and in fact the government shut down in 2006 because they couldn’t agree on anything.”

That experience in council chambers has been part of an intriguing learning curve for Marrero, one he said is certainly ongoing, and also one of many examples of how he intends to put some of those stops on his résumé — and even his time studying computer science — to work in his current position.

To date, he said there has been progress on many key issues, and what he considers a solid working relationship between the administration and the City Council. As just one example, he cited the hiring of the city’s first ‘creative economy coordinator.’

“The mayor had presented the idea for an arts and culture director,” he explained. “There were some reservations, and I think the mayor was very receptive to some of the comments and concerns the councilors had, and, to his credit, he modified the proposal to include some of those comments, on such matters as the administrative costs related to that position and how it will support economic development.”

Looking ahead, he said he’s anticipating a similar cooperative spirit on such matters as leveraging the High Performance Computing Center, redeveloping the former Holyoke Catholic High School campus in the heart of downtown (work is slated to begin later this year), progress on the next stages of the Canal Walk, bringing passenger rail service back to the city (construction on the new platform is slated for the fall), building on what is already a solid foundation in the creative economy, and attracting more businesses and residents to the city.

“There are a lot of things going on in the city, and when individuals’ hopes and work are rewarded by seeing these physical manifestations of their efforts, it feeds in a positive way into their expectations, but also the belief that their hard work will pay off. So 2013 is going to be a very exciting year.”

Looking further down the road, Marrero said that, while his predecessors have done considerable work to fill in some of the canvas that is Holyoke’s present and future, there is still the need for more broad strokes and imagination.

As an example, he cited the large number of vacant, unused properties that still remain in Holyoke and have been identified for acquisition by the city in its urban-renewal plan — a total of about 32 acres of land, by his estimation.

“Holyoke has plenty of space to grow, and we need to do it in a way that’s different than urban renewal in other cities, which unfortunately has meant urban removal of certain communities, usually the poor, ethnic minorities, people who speak differently,” he explained. “That’s the tarnished past of urban renewal; it’s just a reality. We have the opportunity here to do it differently and do it in a way that builds on the strengths of our community and creates opportunities for everyone in the community.”

And this brings him back to that subject of expectations, something he’s not intimidated by because there are others working with and beside him to meet them.

“The reality is that with expectations comes a lot of support, and people here are willing to go the extra mile,” he said, referring to a number of constituencies — “be it a board member or volunteer, people who just want to share their ideas, state partners that are willing to look at your proposals more than once, partners who provide vital funding to make projects happen, people who connect with other partners to make projects happen, like the Innovation District Task Force, and city employees who are willing to stay until 10 at night with you to get something done.

“You don’t see that everywhere and at anytime,” he went on. “And that’s why I feel comfortable with the expectations; it’s not just on me. I think this city expects a lot of itself, and people come through.”

 

Bottom Line

Returning to his thoughts on what he learned and what he experienced during his month of Holyoke-intensive studying, Marrero said there was a good deal of humility when it came to all the track-laying work undertaken by his predecessors in planning and economic development.

That emotion has essentially given way to resolve, he went on, and a commitment to take full advantage of the hand that he’s been dealt and fulfill those sky-high expectations for the city.

As Morse told him when Marrero was first introduced to the media, there is no promising little and then overdelivering in Holyoke — there’s too much progress in many key areas and too many critical building blocks already in place for that.

But, as he said in response to the mayor, ‘challenge accepted.’

 

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

Insurance Sections
10 Simple Steps to Readying a Home and Preventing Calamity

John E. Dowd Jr.

John E. Dowd Jr.

Many disasters caused by winter-weather conditions can be prevented by taking a few simple steps. Although fall is an ideal time to begin to think about and prepare for the cold winter months ahead, you really need to be constantly assessing such things as snow loads on roofs and decks, appropriate foundation drainage as the snow melts and freezes, and, of course, the dreaded ice dams on your roofs and gutters.

Regular homeowner’s policies provide coverage for ice dams, burst pipes, loss from fires, and wind damage from snow or ice. When snow melts, it can cause serious damage to a home. One of the most common causes of catastrophic loss is winter storms. Although wind and hail are the most common causes of insurance claims, freezing and water damage follow close behind.

It’s important for homeowners to carefully review their insurance policies before winter arrives to understand what is covered. It’s crucial to have ample coverage for rebuilding a home and replacing all the belongings in it. It’s also helpful to consider purchasing sewer-backup insurance.

There are several ways to prepare a home for winter and the damage it usually brings. Consider the following tips:

• Clean out all gutters. It’s important to remove all sticks, leaves, and debris. This helps the melting ice and snow flow smoothly. It also prevents ice collecting and forming a dam, which can result in water seeping into the house’s ceilings and walls.

• Keep trees and branches trimmed. When branches hang over houses during the winter, they’re likely to accumulate snow and ice, which may make them break. Branches falling on homes can cause significant amounts of damage. They may also hurt people who enter the property.

• Use gutter guards. These guards are useful for preventing interference of water flow from debris.

• Seal cracks and holes. Caulk all these spaces to ensure that melted snow and wind can’t enter the home.

• Keep steps and handrails safe. It’s important to ensure that steps and banisters are sturdy. If they accumulate snow or ice, they can contribute to serious injuries.

• Use insulation liberally. Homeowners should add extra insulation to basements, attics, and crawl spaces. When heat escapes through the roof, it contributes to ice and snow melting faster. As the moisture melts, re-freezes, and accumulates, it can cause a roof to collapse.

• Maintain a warm temperature. It’s best to keep the thermostat at 65 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing. The temperature in the walls is always colder than the temperature in the house.

• Call the professionals. The heating system should be checked and serviced every year to prevent fires. It’s also important to ensure that smoke alarms are working. Carbon-monoxide detectors are another valuable safety feature that should be placed in every home. In addition to this, homeowners should have a contractor evaluate the home for structural damage. It’s best to identify and repair minor problems before they become a disaster.

• Be familiar with shutting off the water. Homeowners should know how to do this, and they should know where their pipes are located. When pipes freeze, it’s imperative to act quickly. When going away for an extended time, it’s best to have someone look after the home or have a service professional drain the system.

• Add an emergency pressure-release valve. By adding this to a current system, homeowners will have a system that is protected against increasing pressure from frozen pipes.

Although many of these suggestions appear to be common sense, we all have a tendency to put off certain mundane routine maintenance. As we have all experienced at one on time or another, failure to follow these preventative steps can lead to expensive and annoying problems.

Taking a moment to save the list of suggestions above and use it as your personal fall preventive checklist will save you time and money and give you peace of mind to enjoy the winter season while living in New England.

 

John Dowd is a principal and executive vice president of the Dowd Agencies, the oldest insurance agency in Massachusetts with operations and management under continuous family ownership. Today the fourth generation of Dowds provides counsel and coverage from several offices in Western Mass.: James J. Dowd & Sons Insurance Agency Inc. of Holyoke; Cray-Dowd Insurance Agency Inc. of Hadley; Moskal Dowd Insurance Inc. of Indian Orchard; Dumont-Dowd Insurance Agency Inc. of Southampton; and Dowd Financial Services LLC in Holyoke; www.dowd.com.

Features
And Five Judges Will Now Score the 40 Under Forty Hopefuls

40under40-LOGO2012A flurry of last-minute nominations has produced a near-record number of entries for BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty program.

A total of 99 individuals have been nominated for the honor of joining the class of 2013, the seventh since the program was initiated in 2007.

The daunting, yet rewarding, task of scoring these individuals now falls to five judges (including two previous winners), who represent fields ranging from law to accounting; from education to financial services. They will be returning their scores later this week, and the winners will be notified in the days that follow.

The class of 2013 will be profiled in the April 22 issue of BusinessWest, one of the most popular issues of the year, and the annual 40 Under Forty gala is scheduled for June 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Here are those who will be scoring this year’s nominees:

Jeffrey Fialky

Jeffrey Fialky

• Jeffrey Fialky, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2008 and a shareholder of the regional law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C., and member of the firm’s corporate, commercial, and municipal departments, where he specializes in all aspects of corporate and business law, banking, commercial real estate, and sophisticated commercial transactions. He joined the firm in 2006 after nearly a decade of living in Eastern Mass., where he held senior commercial attorney positions within some of the country’s most prominent publicly traded telecommunications and cable television companies. He previously served as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County.

Fialky is also active in the community, having served on a number of nonprofit and economic-development-related organizations. They include the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Museums, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Jewish Federation of Pioneer Valley, the Springfield Technical Community College Scibelli Enterprise Center Advisory Board, the Alden Credit Union board of directors, the Community Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Leadership Pioneer Valley, OnBoard, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, the Mason Wright Foundation, the EDC Tourism Development Committee; and the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter.

Brendon Hutchins

Brendon Hutchins

• Brendon Hutchins, CFP, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2012, and senior vice president of Account Management for St. Germain Investment Management. Prior to joing the firm in 2003, he was vice president and financial advisor for the FleetBoston Financial Corp. Private Clients Group in Springfield. His prior experience includes eight years with Fidelity Investments as a vice president in the retirement division, with responsibilities across multiple locations during his tenure there.

In addition to being a certified financial planner, Hutchins holds NASD series 7 and 65 licenses for securities representation and investment-advisor services. He currently serves on the board of directors for the New England office of the March of Dimes, the Greater Springfield YMCA, and the Basketball Hall of Fame, and has also served on the board for the Springfield School Volunteers.

Mark O’Connell

Mark O’Connell

• Mark O’Connell, president and chief executive officer of Wolf & Co., providing audit and financial reporting services to both privately held and publicly traded financial institutions and holding companies across New England, including community banks and mortgage banking institutions. In his current capacity, he is responsible for the strategic direction of the firm, while also providing audit and advisory services to financial institutions. His experience also includes consultation on audit and accounting issues related to mergers and acquisitions and with respect to debt and security offerings filed with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

O’Connell has been involved with a number of industry and nonprofit organizations, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Massachusetts and Connecticut Societies of Certified Public Accountants, and the Children’s Study Home in Springfield. In 2010, he won the Human Services Forum Board Member Award.

Myra Smith

Myra Smith

• Myra Smith, vice president of Human Resources and Multicultural Affairs at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Joining the college in 1978, Smith has helped transform the STCC community into one of inclusiveness that celebrates cultural diversity. Among her many accomplishments is the creation of the STCC Diversity Council and its event series, which brings national and international speakers and artists to the campus. Smith also was responsible for the creation of the STCC “Think Tank” series, which brings community leaders together to assist with the retention and graduation rate of young men of color.

Smith is also active in the community, serving on many local boards, including People’sBank, the National Conference for Community Justice of Western Mass., and the STCC Foundation. Smith is a founding trustee of the Martin Luther King Charter School of Excellence and a trustee for the Non-Unit Health and Welfare Trust Fund for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Smith was recognized in 2007 by Unity First with a Women of Leadership Award, and received a Women of Vision Award from the Elms College Step Forward Program in 2005.

Jeff Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan

• Jeff Sullivan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of United Bank. In that capacity, which he assumed Jan. 1, Sullivan is responsible for the bank’s retail deposit and operations division, advancements in technology and electronic banking, and franchise expansion efforts. In addition, he also oversees the Information Systems and Facilities Departments and the United Wealth Management Group, and is also responsible for the company’s enterprise risk management program. He previously served the bank as executive vice president and chief lending officer and, prior to arriving at United, served in commercial-lending capacities for the Bank of Western Mass. and BayBank.

Sullivan has been involved with a number of area nonprofit and economic-development-related organizations, including DevelopSpringfield, Better Homes Inc., Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, Briana Fund for Children with Physical Disabilities, OnBoard, the Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress, the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

Opinion
Developing a Skilled Workforce

Gov. Deval Patrick recently disclosed plans to include $112 million in the state budget for the MASSGrant college-scholarship program. It was no surprise he chose to make the announcement during a visit with students at Springfield Technical Community College’s Smith & Wesson Technology Applications Center. The center teaches precision machining and other skills needed in modern manufacturing.

The governor has strongly stated his intention to support the state’s fifth-largest employment sector, manufacturing. As states struggle with limited budgets, he recognizes manufacturing education as an investment in long-term growth. And that is why the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is especially pleased to return to West Springfield this May for EASTEC, the largest manufacturing event in the Northeast.

Manufacturing education is in crisis. While the national unemployment rate remains near 8% (Massachusetts was at 6.7% in December), as many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs have gone unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers. The question for state government executives is how to replace retiring skilled workers with the next generation of workers who can operate and maintain sophisticated machinery designed to speed production times and cut costs.

Massachusetts is already taking many of the actions SME outlines in its Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy, including:

• Partnering with business. The state’s Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative is an excellent example of how business, government, and educators can identify the skills that are needed, understand and update the curriculum, and engage students in real-world projects through design-build competitions and internships.

• Access to education. The governor signed into law last year reforms of the state’s community-college system. The goal is to make community colleges “more responsive to the needs of businesses and help fill the skills gap that can often leave employers with a shortage of well-trained job prospects.” We hope the reform will also include national accreditation for schools and skills certification for students.

• Supporting STEM. The SME education strategy calls for building a strong foundation for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announced the expansion of five programs across the state to prepare workers for careers in STEM fields. In addition to approximately $428,000 from the state’s STEM Pipeline Fund, the programs will leverage more than $1.3 million in matching funds from participating corporations, private foundations, and federal government sources.

A major challenge is to dispel the antiquated stereotypes students may have about manufacturing and STEM programs. A major focus of EASTEC will be a new “Dream It Do It” manufacturing student challenge. It gives students and educators the opportunity to see and experience the ‘wow’ factor in modern manufacturing — new, cutting-edge technologies that are transforming how we make things.

Massachusetts is leading the way on building a workforce prepared to tackle the challenges ahead of us. We hope other states will follow.

 

Mark C. Tomlinson, CMfgE, EMCP, is executive director and CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). SME, the organizer of EASTEC, is a leader in workforce-development issues in manufacturing, working with industry, academic, and government partners to support the current and future skilled workforce.

Bankruptcies Departments

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

 

Antonuzzo, John R.

Antonuzzo, Christine M.

PO Box 418

Southwick, MA 01077

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/30/13

 

Barbato, Eric D.

Barbato, Angela M.

31 Lincoln Ave.

Orange, MA 01364

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Beaudry, Bernadette A.

a/k/a Zielinski, Bernadette A.

45 Amherst Ave.

Feeding Hills, MA 01030

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Bourdeau, Kyle T.

415 Holyoke St.

Ludlow, MA 01056

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Brown, Melissa R.

20 Cranberry Dr.

Holyoke, MA 01040

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/30/13

 

Buck, Ronald D.

Buck, Tammy L.

130 Donbray Road

Springfield, MA 01119

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Burdeau, Theresa R.

3 Susan Dr.

Easthampton, MA 01027

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Cappelli, Mark A.

Cappelli, Jessica M.

6 Blue Hill Road

Great Barrington, MA 01230

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Claudio, Sonia A.

111 Nassau Dr.

Springfield, MA 01129

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/25/13

 

Claus, Dorothy M.

86B Sugarloaf St.

South Deerfield, MA 01373

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/29/13

 

Colwell, John P.

Colwell, Dolores E.

176 Columbus Ave. Apt 724

Pittsfield, MA 01201

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/30/13

 

Danalis, Stephen G.

Danalis, Sherry L.

59 Firglade Ave.

Springfield, MA 01108

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Darr, Steven A.

134 Union St., Unit 53

Westfield, MA 01085

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Deal, Cora B.

90 Braddock St.

Springfield, MA 01109

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/25/13

 

Denison, Christopher J.

8 Spring St., Apt. 3R

South Hadley, MA 01075

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/30/13

 

Garrity, Francis

745 Cape St.

Lee, MA 01238

Chapter: 13

Filing Date: 01/17/13

 

Gaudreau, John P.

76 Hmpden St.

Indian Orchard, MA 01151

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Gorski, Peter J.

1069 Central St.

Palmer, MA 01069

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Gryszowka, Jonathan S.

18 Crestview Dr.

Belchertown, MA 01007

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/21/13

 

Hart, Charles

35 Fourth Ave.

Cheshire, MA 01225

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/18/13

 

Horniak, Nickolas J.

55 Alhambra Circle South

Agawam, MA 01001

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/22/13

 

Humel, Steven E.

29 Mount Royal St.

Chicopee, MA 01020

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/25/13

 

Jones, Robert C.

17 Sumner Ave., Apt. 4

Springfield, MA 01108

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/22/13

 

Jovan, Alexander

91 Lord Terrace

Chicopee, MA 01020

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Kimball, Philip H.

Kimball, Kathi L.

43 Perry Lane

Agawam, MA 01001

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/28/13

 

Komssi, Michael J.

Komssi, Sarah A.

156 Wales Road

Brimfield, MA 01010

Chapter: 13

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Kozar, Steven

Kozar, Katarina

70 Greystone Ave.

West Springfield, MA 01089

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/30/13

 

Kulik, Juan C.

182 Brookfield Lane

Agawam, MA 01001

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Lamy, Ralph G.

Baxendale-Lamy, Barbara A.

43 Shirley St.

Chicopee, MA 01020

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/25/13

 

Laplante, Keith W.

Laplante, Judith B.

18 Strong Farm Lane

South Hadley, MA 01075

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/21/13

 

M&N Trucking

Merzoian, Jerier B.

a/k/a Merzoian, Jerry

31 Biltmore St.

Springfield, MA 01108

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/17/13

 

Martelli, Lisa

815 Willimasville Road

Barre, MA 01005

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Mcintosh, Henry C.

1081 Cascade St.

Mailing Box 714 01202

Pittsfield, MA 01201

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/25/13

 

Menard, Roland

72 East Allen Ridge Road

Springfield, MA 01118

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/29/13

 

Mitchell, Annika M.

a/k/a Markham, Annika M.

P.O. Box 794

Lee, MA 01238

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/17/13

 

Notre, Alan

44 Meadow Lane

Orange, MA 01364

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/18/13

 

O’Clair, Norma J.

414 Chestnut St.

Springfield, MA 01104

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/18/13

 

Ortiz, Zoraida

990 Chicopee St.

Chicopee, MA 01013

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/21/13

 

Paradis, Russell S.

45B Colonial Circle

Chicopee, MA 01020

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/17/13

 

Provost, David Paul

Provost, Suzanne Marie

2118 Palmer St.

Three Rivers, MA 01080

Chapter: 13

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Rajpold, Adolf S.

Rajpold, Maria A.

122 Stedman St.

Chicopee, MA 01013

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/17/13

 

Rajpold, Robert J.

30 Sunnymeade Ave.

Chicopee, MA 01020

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/17/13

 

Ralys, Thomas A.

Ralys, Cathy J.

191 Ashland St. #310

North Adams, MA 01247

Chapter: 13

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Ryder, Donna M.

9 Wells St.

Greenfield, MA 01301

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Ryder, Robert J.

206 Intervale Ave.

Athol, MA 01331

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/29/13

 

Sanders, Dreana C.

17 Brunswick St.

Springfield, MA 01108

Chapter: 13

Filing Date: 01/18/13

 

Sauer, Kevin C.

72 Howard St.

Pittsfield, MA 01201

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/22/13

 

Sawin, Christine L.

a/k/a Martin, Christine L.

45 Johnson Road

Orange, MA 01364

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Sfakios, Kyriakos

a/k/a Sfakios, Charles

17 Bonnie View Road

Southwick, MA 01077

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/22/13

 

Shah, Simon

P.O. Box 365

Deerfield, MA 01342

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/25/13

 

Simmons, James S.

Simmons, Jane F.

37 Somers Road

East Longmeadow, MA 01028

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/22/13

 

Slowik, John P.

46 Ashfield Road

Williamsburg, MA 01096

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Stavroulakis, Cecile P.

43 Sunapee St.

Springfield, MA 01108

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/29/13

 

Sullivan, Barry J.

8 Jonathan Judd Circle

Southampton, MA 01073

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/22/13

 

Szafranski, Cary L.

162 North Main St.

East Longmeadow, MA 01028

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/31/13

 

Therrien, Raymond A.

149 Mazarin St.

Indian Orchard, MA 01151

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/28/13

 

Trudell, Melinda A.

25 Charles St.

Three Rivers, MA 01080

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/30/13

 

Valentin, Lydia I.

86 Debra Dr., Apt. 2C

Chicopee, MA 01020

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Vanasse, Barbara Jean

110 1/2 Pleasant St.

Ware, MA 01082

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/24/13

 

Vazquez, Wanda

601 Hampden St.

Holyoke, MA 01040

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Vears, Ann Marie

122 Benton Place

Athol, MA 01331

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/28/13

 

Waterman, Patrick A.

45 Enterprise St.

Adams, MA 01220

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/18/13

 

Witholt, Wolter Daniel

59 Firglade Ave.

Springfield, MA 01108

Chapter: 7

Filing Date: 01/23/13

 

Young, Garry L.

800 Franklin St., Apt. #3

Belchertown, MA 01007

Chapter: 13

Filing Date: 01/28/13

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Springfield Offers Substantial Tax Incentives to Residential Developers

The ability to attract developers of market-rate housing to Springfield has just been made easier thanks to a new tax-incentive program being administered by the Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development.

This effort, known as the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), allows developers to apply for local and state tax incentives for the rehabilitation of multi-family properties for sale or lease primarily as market-rate units if located within a ‘housing development incentive zone,’ or HDIP zone. The program is available only in ‘gateway municipalities’ that have successfully registered as an HDIP zone with the Commonwealth. Springfield is now one such municipality.

On Dec. 3, 2012, the Springfield City Council approved an HDIP zone pursuant to a housing development zone plan, as recommended by the Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development. The plan establishes a zone encompassing sections of the city’s downtown, North End, and South End. Included in the HDIP zone are three projects that the city believes could potentially have a market-rate housing component: Chestnut Street School, the Student Prince, and State Street Lofts.

The plan is purported to be consistent with the Urban Land Institute plan of 2006, which encouraged more downtown middle-income housing; the Zimmerman Volk Downtown Market Rate Housing Study of 2006, which indicated a market demand for such housing; and the 2012 UMass Medical District Report, which indicated that there is a significant number of medical professionals currently choosing to live outside of the city.

The Commonwealth’s recent approval of the Springfield HDIP zone represents a significant business opportunity for developers and a possible rebirth for the city’s struggling downtown.

The HDIP provides two major tax incentives for developers of multi-unit market rate housing:

• A local real-estate tax exemption in an amount not less than 10% and not more than 100% of the incremental value of the market-rate units for a period of not fewer than five years and not more than 20 years. Previously, these agreements could only be offered to commercial developments; and

• A state investment tax credit of up to 10% on all qualified expenditures in creating and constructing new market-rate housing units.

To qualify for these tax benefits, the development must have between two and 50 units, 80% or more of which are targeted for market-rate residential use and priced for households with incomes above 110% of the area’s household median income. Preliminary estimates for Springfield indicate the median income to be around $49,084 per year. There are no ceilings on the pricing of sales or rents or for the income of occupants.

Qualifying projects can be proposed in the Springfield HDIP zone, and require approval from the city and the Commonwealth.

The approval by the Commonwealth is a three-step process. First, based upon an application containing basic information about the property, the developer must seek preliminary approval that the building meets the standards of a certified housing-development project.

After receiving preliminary approval, based on a more extensive application, which includes construction documents and a marketing plan, the Commonwealth will consider the issuance of a conditional certification of the project. Once all of the certificates of occupancy have been issued for the housing-development project and 80% of the market-rate units have been leased or sold, the Commonwealth will consider issuing a final certification which designates the project eligible for the tax incentives.

According to the plan, the city envisions that the implementation of the HDIP will help to eliminate vacancy and blight conditions of some of the city’s commercial buildings by converting underutilized upper floors to attractive market-rate apartments; increasing foot traffic, which is a critical component for neighborhood viability; retaining local talent as well as recruiting talent from other areas by providing attractive housing opportunities for young professionals who work in and around the HDIP zone; promoting historic preservation; and strengthening the city’s ability to attract high-quality development to Springfield.

 

Ellen W. Freyman is a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., who concentrates her practice in all aspects of commercial real-estate acquisitions and sales, development, leasing, and financing. She has an extensive land-use practice that includes zoning, subdivision, project permitting, and environmental matters; [email protected] Michael A. Fenton is an associate with Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin who concentrates his practice in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, estate planning, and elder law. He represents principals in business formation and succession planning, businesses in the purchase and sale of enterprises, developers in the acquisition and permitting of projects, and high-net-worth individuals in establishing comprehensive and sophisticated estate plans; [email protected]

Features
Employers Brace for a Possible Casino-fueled Talent Flight
Keith Makarowsky

Keith Makarowsky says that staffing is already tight, and he is concerned that it will only get tougher with a casino in the area.

When New York Times bestselling author Erma Bombeck wrote her book The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank in 1976, Vogue called it “the exposé to end all exposés — the truth about the suburbs.”

It offered humorous stories, based on real research, enlightening readers as to why so many long for what the Joneses have.

Today, the ‘grass is always greener’ attitude is one that’s being used by many employers with regard to the eventual arrival of a casino in Western Mass. and the likely response from many currently in the workforce. It’s a mindset they’ll be looking to prevent, or least keep under reasonable control.

That’s because the inevitability of a casino somewhere in the 413 area code — be it in Springfield, West Springfield, or Palmer — and the 2,000 to 3,000 jobs that will come with it, have many, both employed and unemployed, thinking and dreaming about a situation better than the one they’re in.

Keith Makarowsky, partner and owner of JT’s Sports Bar, Theodore’s, and Smith’s Billiards in downtown Springfield, which together employ close to 90 people, is one of the many concerned employers.

“I’m already having a hard time staffing,” he said. “And it’s only going to get worse — much worse.”

If U.S. Department of Labor statistics are any indicator, Makarowsky, whose businesses are located just a few blocks from the dueling Springfield casino proposals, may see talent flight from all three venues. In 2010, the commercial casino and gaming-equipment-manufacturing industry employed nearly 370,000 — more direct employees than the U.S. automobile industry. The thriving gaming-entertainment industry expects that number to rise to more than 470,000 over the next 10 years.

And those jobs come across a number of fields and professions. Most think about blackjack dealers, pit bosses, waitstaff in restaurants, and other hospitality-related positions, but there are also myriad money-handling and backroom operations that should have employers in the broad financial-services realm concerned.

“There will be many levels of educated professionals that will be needed, as well as a big customer-service element behind the scenes, and these people will come from the banks, the professional-service firms, and local hotels,” said Kristina Drzal Houghton, partner and director of Taxation Services at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.

Peter Rosskothen, owner and president of Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House, the Delaney House, and catering through Log Rolling and at Wyckoff Country Club, takes a generally positive approach to the situation while focusing on what he believes is the primary challenge for the region — supplying a trained, talented workforce for the casino without necessarily impacting existing employers.

“Of course I have fears, but I’m focusing on the positive side,” said Rosskothen, who manages a staff of 200. He believes there’s enough unemployment in this market to supply current and future workforce needs. “But we need to get them to a level that they’re hireable, and my biggest concern now is, how do we plan … how do I keep my good employees while the casino gets its good employees?”

This is, in many ways, the unofficial assignment for a recently established consortium called the Community College Casino Careers Training Institute. The unique initiative, developed by leaders at Holyoke Community College (HCC) and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), is a collaboration among the Commonwealth’s community colleges, one that gives casino developers a single point of contact in the three different regions across the state where casinos will be constructed to help develop their workforce.

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen knows that educational programs that target skills for casino jobs will benefit many who are unemployed in the region.

While HCC and STCC currently offer programs in many of the professional skill sets casinos will require, neither offer dealer- and entertainment-related courses, which prompted the consortium to consult and contract with Atlantic Cape Community College in Atlantic City (more on this later).

For this issue and its focus on the casino era, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how an $800 million gaming facility, such as those being proposed for Western Mass., could and likely will impact the region’s employment situation, and also what employers can do to improve their odds of minimizing the impact on their businesses.

 

Sure Bet

The question of ‘if’ a casino is coming to Western Mass. has long since given way to other queries about ‘when’ and ‘where.’ And this inevitability has business owners thinking about many things, from opportunities to partner with the casino operator of choice (see related story, page 17) to what will happen with their current staff when the 800-pound gorilla sets up shop.

John Thomas, general manager of Max’s Tavern at the Basketball Hall of Fame, believes a casino — wherever it lands — will be a positive development for Springfield simply in terms of bringing more people into the area. “It’s more competition for us because we’re going to have a casino with restaurants, and it’s going to make me step up my game a little bit more.”

From a staffing standpoint, though, Thomas, who not only oversees Max’s Tavern, but catering for events in the MassMutual Room, at center court, and in the Hall concourse, believes retention will be an even greater challenge in his sector.

“A casino is definitely one of those things that could steal away a couple of my servers and chefs,” he said, “and I don’t want to have to hire new employees because it takes six months to train them, and turnover is not the best thing for guest services.”

If surveys by the American Gaming Assoc. (AGA) are to be believed, turnover may prove inevitable for local employers.

A 2007 AGA Survey of Attitudes of Casino Industry Employees by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. found that more than 85% of the nation’s gaming employees find their job satisfying. Another 2007 AGA study with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the Gaming Industry Diversity Snapshot, found that participating casinos hired a greater percentage of black, Hispanic, and Asian workers than the U.S. workforce — overall, employing more minorities than the national workforce by 20.6%.

“I think small businesses might be the loser on that,” said Thomas, referring to local businesses that rely on a non-professional, minority workforce. “The grass looks greener at the casino.”

To retain his employees, Thomas told BusinessWest that his strategy is to treat them like guests. The Max Restaurant Group, he said, pays its employees well, covers half their health insurance, and holds frequent reviews. These steps have facilitated retention to the point where some of Thomas’s employees have been with Max’s for 10 years, and the majority for at least five years.

Rosskothen said he feels that he offers a fair wage and a pleasant, comfortable work environment to keep his staff satisfied with their jobs. “It’s the best shot I have at keeping them here,” he said, adding that all employers will have to sharpen their focus on retention strategies if they are to minimize the impact from a casino.

Houghton agreed.

“A casino is more than two years away,” she continued. “There is plenty of time for companies to access what their policies are and where their biggest areas of exposure are with their employees … because two years from now it’ll be too late, and the employees then are going to say, ‘too little, too late.’”

She said Meyers Brothers strives to be the proverbial ‘employer of choice’ with competitive pay, attractive perks, and flex hours, even during tax season. Despite all that, the company remains at risk of losing auditors and accountants to a casino, and its challenge moving forward is to minimize that risk while also perhaps trying to educate employees that the grass isn’t necessarily greener at a very large employer like a casino operator.

“I often hear that the honeymoon period does not last long,” she said. “And it’s probably a lot better to work for the local management companies than the bigger companies.”

 

Schools of Thought

While employers brace for the potential fallout from the onset of the casino era, area community colleges and workforce-related agencies are taking up the challenge of making sure this region has a large, talented workforce in place for not only the casino, but existing employers as well.

Holyoke Community College Presi-dent William Messner told BusinessWest that the consortium is an opportunity for the community colleges to demonstrate the ability to respond effectively, efficiently, and collaboratively to a significant statewide workforce need. To do so, they’ll need to cooperate with one another and with other workforce-related entities, such as the regional employment boards, FutureWorks, CareerPoint, and other agencies, all of which can play a role in meeting the opportunity and challenge of casino job placement.

Messner, who also leads the statewide Presidents Council of Massachusetts Community Colleges, and Ira Rubenzahl, president of STCC, convened the state’s community colleges, created three regions that will each host casinos (each with a lead college), and joined forces with the aforementioned workforce entities. The concept was met with enthusiasm from all those involved, said Messner, including the casino developers, who face the daunting task of filling 2,000 to 3,000 positions.

Rosskothen’s take on the consortium idea: “a brilliant concept.”

“We want people to look at this opportunity and say, ‘OK, I can work as a dealer, a receptionist, a housekeeping person, make good money, and make it a career,’” he said. “We need more of this in Western Mass.”

And it would appear the consortium is something gaming developers would like to see more of, too.

“My sense was that there is a varied pattern of experience from state to state, but as best as I could assess, no one had put together quite the same sort of organized effort that we are intending,” said Messner. “More often, it was a fairly disorganized effort with a variety of institutions and organizations sort of knocking on the door of the casino developer, leaving the developer trying to sort out who they were going to work with.”

Messner added that the final step included discussions with the Gaming Commission, which cautioned that the colleges could not be the exclusive parties working with developers, while expressing overall support for the concept.

Messner further explained that HCC programs in information technology, business, security, and hospitality could all be useful at a local casino, but gaming-related jobs that involve the gaming function and handling of money will require a great deal of scrutiny and a license from the state, so specific help was needed.

The consortium contracted with an institution that certainly knows the business of gambling: Atlantic Cape Community College in Atlantic City. In cooperation for more than 30 years with the gaming industry, its consulting services and tested curriculum have been used throughout the world, said Messner.

He added that some classes that provide employees with needed skills might be only a few weeks or a few months in length and at staggered hours, a schedule that should prove attractive to existing employers, many of whom will want to take advantage of additional training for employees as a retention tool when the casinos come knocking.

“I cannot send them to a one- or two-year kind of curriculum,” said Rosskothen, “but if they need to improve a specific skill, they’ll make money for my business and for themselves … it’s a win-win, and I keep them.”

 

Double or Nothing

Many area employers would be reluctant to use that phrase ‘win-win’ when it comes to a Western Mass. casino, especially when it comes to workforce issues and the prospects for a talent flight.

But with at least a few years to go before a casino opens its doors, there is the potential for a scenario in which, as Rosskothen suggests, casinos can have good help and area employers can retain theirs.

That is the job at hand — both literally and figuratively.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion
The Casino Dilemma for Springfield

It’s certainly not surprising that Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has decided to negotiate a final host-community agreement with both MGM and Penn National Gaming, the two companies vying to place a casino in Springfield (see related stories, pages 17 and 23).

After all, there are still many details to be hammered out on both proposals, and, as we’ve said on several occasions, it behooves the city to keep this competition going as long as it possibly can. Doing so will create better proposals and inevitably create more benefits for the city, its business community, and area nonprofits.

So while this particular decision was a no-brainer in most respects, the next one is exponentially more difficult. It comes down to whether one or both proposals will go before the voters in the city and, eventually, to the Mass. Gaming Commission. (While it’s possible that neither proposal will advance beyond this point, we consider that highly unlikely given the many identified benefits to having a casino in the city.)

This is a difficult decision because there are many factors that go into it, but two real considerations. The first is that Springfield officials, and especially Mayor Domenic Sarno, do not necessarily want the city’s voters or the Gaming Commission deciding where a Springfield casino is going to go — they want to make that decision themselves based on a number of factors, but essentially their objective and subjective determination of which project works best for the city. Once matters go the Gaming Commission, the city has no control.

The second major consideration is that the city is in the contest for a Western Mass. casino license for one reason — to win it. And there are questions about whether Springfield will stand a better chance of doing that if it has one proposal being considered by the Gaming Commission or two.

Indeed, while a simple mathematical analysis would conclude that, if the city has two of the four casino proposals under consideration (the others being in Palmer and West Springfield), it has a 50% chance of winning the license, and only a 33% chance if it has only one proposal, that may not be the case. Gaming Commission members may become split on the Springfield proposals (as many in the city already are), thus theoretically allowing a rival plan to slip in with a majority of the votes.

So what is Springfield to do? Sending both proposals to the voters and then the Gaming Commission would be fair, and would certainly leave fewer questions about whether politics might be involved. But is there room for ‘fair’ in this ultra-high-stakes competition?

It is probably still too early in the process to even determine if both plans are worthy of going before the commission (although the Boston Globe has already endorsed MGM’s plan as the best for Springfield from an economic-development standpoint), but we would advise the city to let the voters and the Gaming Commission have a say on both plans.

Yes, the city stands a chance of looking divided, or not unified on one plan, but that is, in fact, the reality of the moment. This city is not unified on one plan, and it’s not going to become unified — there is simply too much at stake for the supporters of both proposals for that to happen.

And if the city isn’t going to become unified, it shouldn’t make any pretension that it is, even when the purpose for doing so would be to better its odds of winning the $800 million lottery.

For the next several months, there will be a heated debate about whether Springfield is better off with one casino proposal or two. There is no quick or easy answer to that question, but how it’s answered will be a critical matter for this city moving forward.

And it must be answered correctly.

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Unique Sports Facility May Become a Game Winner for Agawam Site

Sean Provost

Sean Provost says the Stick Time Sports training facility will meet a recognized need in the region.

A little more than two years ago, Sean Provost, a local software salesman, was sitting in his car having lunch on the road between sales stops when he looked over at a ‘for-lease’ sign on a building in the Agawam Towne Center complex.

He remembers thinking to himself, “hmm … I wonder if that could work?”

‘That’ was a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to the Dave’s Soda & Pet Food City facility in the former Ames department store location. When Provost saw it, it was being used as warehouse space for dog food and other products, but he immediately saw the potential it presented as the home for a dream he’d been trying to make reality for roughly a decade.

This dream involved creating what he called a “sports training center,” focused on hockey, which he’s played and coached, but also other sports. The concept calls for a facility where young people can learn a sport and develop their skills through practice. This vision required a large amount of open space, a good deal of flexibility, and an affordable price — three things he couldn’t find at dozens of other sites he considered, but a combination he encountered at the Agawam location.

Fast-forward those two years, and Provost, recently laid off from that sales job, is set to take a dramatic career turn as president of something called Stick Time Sports (STS), which will feature two mini-ice rinks — both 45 feet by 82 feet — as well as two 45-by-85-foot synthetic turf fields that can be used for a variety of sports, including lacrosse and field hockey. There is also an area for strength training and conditioning with machines and weights; a facility for conferences, birthday parties, and other events; locker  rooms; and space for additional expansion.

All this fulfills one of Provost’s ambitions, but also creates some needed momentum in a large retail center that has struggled to reinvent itself since a FoodMart supermarket closed after its roof collapsed more than a decade ago. There are some new tenants moving into the complex, including a satellite facility for the YMCA of Greater Springfield, and it is hoped that those initiatives and Stick Time Sports can create greater vibrancy in that location.

Those were some of the sentiments expressed by Dave Ratner, owner of the former Ames building and Dave’s Soda & Pet City.

“I had to get some new warehouse space,” he said with a laugh in reference to the new development, “but this [venture] increases the value of the building, it will bring more potential customers to my store, and it will make the center more viable so new people might want to move in to the other side of the center. So all in all, it’s a win-win.

“Traffic gets traffic,” Ratner added. “The more places we get there, the more people will say, ‘I want to be there.’”

Meanwhile, STS is one of many sports-related business ventures taking shape in Agawam. In addition to STS and the Y’s facility, there are plans for something called the Plex Sports Park, a $7 million, indoor-outdoor complex to be built at the former Crowley’s Sales Barn and Stables site off Shoemaker Lane.

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest takes a look at the STS project and how it may help bring more life to a once thriving retail section of Agawam.

 

Goal-oriented Venture

Using some of his trademark humor, Ratner described his efforts over the past several years to lease out the 20,000 square feet next to his retail operation.

“The fact of the matter is, we had a lot of interest, but because the real-estate market isn’t real strong, people thought they were going to come in and we were going to pay them to take the space,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, while he wanted to find a tenant, he also liked having the space as a warehouse facility, so he wasn’t going to pull the trigger on a deal unless it really worked for both sides.

And in many ways, STS fits that description.

Ratner said it won’t be a huge revenue source, but it will potentially drive more traffic to his store while creating more momentum in the still-struggling retail plaza. “This is a huge deal,” he noted. “I think his business is going to explode more than he thinks it’s going to explode, and I think he’s going to need every bit of space over there.”

And that’s why he worked with Provost to not only ink a lease, but get his venture off the ground.

“I sat down with him and I said, ‘I think it’s a home run, but you have to get your business plan together,’” said Ratner, adding that he ran though the lengthy process of taking a concept from the drawing board to reality, essentially becoming Provost’s ‘Mr. Murphy,’ a reference to Murphy’s Law.

“Whenever you do anything in business, Murphy’s Law — Mr. Murphy — moves in right next to you,” said Ratner.

Having been a partner years ago in a group that owned and operated the Mushie’s Driving Range on Main Street in Agawam, Provost said he learned a good bit about what not to do in business, and eventually got out of that relationship (that property is now being turned into a solar farm).

And for his second foray into commercial real estate, Provost began working with the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network in Springfield, where he received assistance to finalize his business plan, along with help to secure two business partners: Daryl Devillier, associate vice president with Raymond James, and partner Sal LaBella. The partners eventually secured bank financing for the estimated $1 million buildout of the property.

Provost said STS is going to be dedicated to providing athletes of all ages from Western Mass. and Northern Conn. the opportunity to practice, train, improve their skills, and just have fun in a positive atmosphere.

Provost explained that there’s really no facility in the region where parents or coaches can rent some ice and enable young people to get some invaluable practice time and hone their skills. “For instance, baseball players can warm up anywhere, but hockey is different, and now, two kids can share a half-hour to shoot a few hundred pucks at $15 apiece.”

He added that the site will also fill a void in the region for full-year, under-14 and under-16 boys hockey, and its location, just a few miles from both the Connecticut line and several Western Mass. population centers, enables it to tap into both markets.

Richard Cohen, Agawam’s mayor and also an avid former hockey player and coach, is a strong supporter of the STS concept, and told BusinessWest it’s a perfect fit for the town’s growing inventory of sports-related businesses.

“It goes along with what we’re trying to put together … a sports complex that was originally going to go in Chicopee” but couldn’t get special permit approval for a site there, said Cohen, referring to the Plex Sports Park, an indoor-outdoor facility with an 80-foot-high, inflatable dome.

Cohen also noted that one of the other Agawam Towne Center building owners is looking into indoor karting as an addition to the retail area that now includes Dave’s and STS, Slot Car Speedway, Friendly’s Restaurant, and the soon-to-open, 8,500-square-foot Y Express Wellness & Program Center.

And just a few hundred feet from Agawam Towne Center, the long-vacant Games and Lanes building is in the subject of a $50,000 site assessment, funded by MassDevelopment, to determine the scope of needed environmental remediation, an important first step in putting the property back in use.

“There is a developer who wants to do business retail there,” said Cohen, “so my goal is to help get that project finalized for that entire area.”

 

Winning Approach

Looking to the future, Provost and his partners purchased a ‘chiller,’ the compressor that makes and maintains the ice, which is larger than they actually need and will allow them to build a third mini-rink on a portion of the turf area.

Meanwhile, the idea of expansion elsewhere is also being discussed.

“There’s no room to physically expand, but we think if this works here, it can certainly work in other places,” he said, adding that there is still a sizeable inventory of former warehouse and retail facilities that could become home to such ventures.

For now, though, he’s focused on making STS the win-win proposition that he, Ratner, Cohen, and others believe it can become. And he believes there will be net results in many forms.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at  [email protected]

Features
Pittsfield Remakes Itself as Center for Arts, Sciences
Daniel Bianchi

Daniel Bianchi says young people are moving to Pittsfield from metropolitan areas and opening businesses that utilize cutting-edge technology.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi has a vision for the future.

It’s decidedly ambitious, but coupled with a strategic plan designed to make Pittsfield the center for life sciences in Western Mass.

“Gov. Deval Patrick is adamant about making Massachusetts the life-science capital of the world, and I want Pittsfield and Berkshire County to be the western end of that,” Bianchi told BusinessWest.

The cornerstone of his plan is the proposed Berkshire Life Sciences Center, which has a $6.5 million earmark from the state and will be situated in the new William Stanley Business Park, on 50 acres of ground once occupied by General Electric’s large transformer-manufacturing complex.

“We like to think that ideas can be brainstormed in Boston but can be built here in the Berkshires, and we plan to leverage the $6.5 million with private investments. We know we won’t attract research companies, but once they are ready to commercialize a product, they can come to the beautiful Berkshires and rent space at $50 a square foot,” Bianchi said, adding that agriculture plays a significant role in the area and is related to the life sciences and green energy.

Another part of the park will be utilized for traditional manufacturing, but Bianchi noted that Pittsfield is a great place for any business to position itself, due to its geographic location and comparatively low cost of living. “Synergy is a key word here, and we are examining that as part of our business plan, because clustering is so important, especially in the life sciences.”

The plastics industry is already flourishing in Pittsfield, as are small companies that make innovative medical devices. And some of the most sophisticated work being done for the armed forces is taking place at General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems.

In addition, the city’s Economic Revitalization Corp. was selected as one of four communities in the state to receive a $150,000 grant to help small businesses increase their Internet use.

Bianchi has also started a fund for small companies that are successful, but need help to expand their operations. “We are hoping to grow from within, and the money we set aside for these businesses is pegged for job creation,” he said. “But our strength isn’t only in our community, but the entire region. Pittsfield is the largest city in Berkshire County, but we are fostering collaborative economic development.”

Meanwhile, the city has undergone a real renaissance, especially in the cultural arena. Year-round events staged by the Office of Cultural Development have spawned a number of new restaurants and retail shops, as well as new apartment complexes created within the shells of historic buildings that are rented as quickly as they are built.

In fact, young people are flocking to the city from New York and other metropolitan areas and opening businesses that utilize cutting-edge technology. As Bianchi sees it, they are moving to Pittsfield for a reason.

“There is a lot to be said about the great lifestyle here. People who live here can leave work at 5 p.m. and be on a ski lift at 5:30,” he said. “We have state forests, beautiful lakes, and very competitively priced land and real estate, along with a solid educational system that includes both a four-year and two-year college. And one of my goals is to build a technical vocational high school, which will be a great boon to economic development.”

Bonnie Galant, acting director of the department of Community Development, is working collaboratively with Bianchi and others to fuel the city’s progress. “There is so much going on here that it is hard to keep track of, and it’s incredible to see how much Pittsfield has changed,” she said. “People who haven’t been here for years wouldn’t even recognize the city. There is an amazing difference in the skyline, and we are trying to encourage the life sciences because it is an up-and-coming industry for the future, especially here in the Berkshires where the cost of living and doing business is significantly less than in Boston.”

 

Cultural Leader

Bonnie Galant

Bonnie Galant says people are amazed at the amount of money being invested in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield’s new Upstreet Cultural District was the first area west of Boston to be designated as a cultural district by the state, and director of Cultural Development Megan Whilden has been named a Gateway Cities Innovation Institute senior fellow.

“We are one of only five communities in Massachusetts with this designation; the rest are in the eastern part of the state, and we are seen as a leader in cultural revitalization, especially among Gateway Cities,” she told BusinessWest.

The Upstreet District encompasses most of the downtown area, and the name is a throwback to yesteryear. “Upstreet was what the old-timers called downtown. We have tried to integrate the old with the new so everyone feels included when it comes to the arts,” Whilden added.

Their efforts have been successful, and thousands of people visit Pittsfield each year to take part in cultural offerings, which range from First Friday Art Walks to Third Thursday events, an annual Jazz Festival, the Latino-American Family Fiesta de Pittsfield, and a popular Ethnic Fair.

In addition, the Office of Cultural Development manages the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, a year-round community-arts center owned by the city, which features monthly exhibitions, performances and classes, as well as working artist studios.

Its most recent event was the 10×10 Upstreet Arts Festival, held Feb. 14-24, which was an enormous success. “It’s a contemporary arts festival held downtown that we started last year,” Whilden said, noting that there were more than 75 offerings this year, ranging from comedies and theater performances to dance, music, film, art shows, and other offerings.

“We had more than 20 programming partners, which is an example of how we work collaboratively to create new events and initiatives that will benefit residents and attract visitors,” Whilden said. “The festival was a hallmark of what we do and will continue to do.”

Another celebration held last summer was named “Call Me Melville” to pay tribute to author Herman Melville, who wrote Moby-Dick when he lived in the city. “We had new plays written for the celebration and brought in a rock band from Brooklyn that wrote a song for each of the 135 chapters in the book,” Whilden said. “We also had an online book club which posted a chapter from the book each day.”

The event included youth initiatives, and high-school students formed a giant white whale on their football field in a flash mob. “We like to be creative, collaborative, and inclusive so everyone is part of the cultural life in Pittsfield,” Whilden explained.

Other cultural attractions include the Berkshire Museum, which has undergone a $9 million addition; Berkshire Community College; Berkshire Athenaeum; Wahconah Park; Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary; and Bousquet Ski Area and Summer Resort.

There is also the historic Colonial Theater and the Tony Award-winning Barrington Stage Company. The two joined forces over the past two years and formed the Berkshire Theater Group, which stages a full roster of performances.

Galant says the Common, a park within walking distance of downtown, is being restored, and new housing continues to be built. “The Amsterdam Apartments are a block west of downtown, and last year a $15 million historic renovation was completed on the former Rice Silk Mill, which turned it into 45 apartments. It’s a really interesting building, and they kept the beams, bricks, and large windows as well as a lot of other architectural features.”

In addition, the Onota Building has been purchased and will be renovated into 25 apartments with commercial space on the ground floor, while the Howard Building, which sits a block from downtown near City Hall, has also been purchased with plans to create 39 high-end apartments, along with a roof terrace, workout room, and other amenities.

“People are astounded at the change and the amount of money that has been invested in the city,” Galant said. “Berkshire Regional Transit runs an $11 million intermodal station that opened in 2004, and $100 million has been invested downtown in the past 10 years. The McKay Street parking garage is undergoing a $7.6 million renovation, $14 million has been put into streetscapes so far in an improvement project that is expected to exceed $20 million, the Colonial Theater underwent at $19.3 million renovation, the Barrington Stage project cost $6 million, and the multiplex Beacon Cinema Center cost $23 million.”

In addition, a $40 million expansion of the municipal airport was completed last fall, which will make it accessible for larger jets.

Plus, the healthcare sector continues to expand, led by Berkshire Health Systems. Berkshire Medical Center boasts a new surgical wing and emergency room, which cost approximately $43 million, and a new, state-of-the-art, $32 million cancer-treatment center is in the works. “They will break ground for it this summer,” Bianchi said, adding that these projects, combined with the city’s proximity to UMass Amherst and the fact that the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is building its own life-science center, makes it an ideal place to establish the Berkshire Life Science Center.

“We will have a strong case to make in Boston because we can build on our existing strengths,” he said.

 

Winning Combination

Overll, Pittsfield’s future holds great promise on many levels, from the arts to the life sciences to its attractiveness as a home to young professionals.

“Our collaborations with successful businesses and government, combined with civic support, will accelerate innovation and success,” Bianchi said. “We are engaging young people on our boards, have an old-fashioned marketing and recruitment effort planned, and are very confident we will be successful.”