For a Half-century, Gary McCarthy Has Been True to the Boys & Girls Club Mission

McCarthyBoysClubGary McCarthy was asked how the City of Homes and the institution known now as the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Springfield have changed since he first started hanging out there almost 60 years ago.
He leaned back in his chair, looked skyward, and gave a slight sigh as if to indicate that this exercise was going to test his memory. As things turned out, it didn’t. The memories, and the perspective, seemed to flow.
And he started with some history/geography lessons, specifically in the form of a fond look back at what was known as the Chestnut Street Club — the precursor to the facility on Carew Street where he’s served as executive director for the past 26 years and in some capacity for more than four decades — and the neighborhood around it.
“The front door would be in the middle of what is now Liberty Street Extension,” he said of the old club, which was one of dozens of buildings leveled in the mid- to late ’60s as part of a sweeping urban-renewal effort that forever changed the city’s North End. “There are a lot of people with some very special memories of that place; I’m one of them.
“That whole area was residential — there were a lot of apartment buildings,” he said of the blocks to the west of Chestnut Street, while flashing back five decades or more. “There were a lot of kids from that area that came to the club.”
As for the city itself, McCarthy, who grew up in Hungry Hill, said Springfield’s neighborhoods were much more “ethnically defined,” as he put it. “When I lived on the Hill, it was still the white, Irish, Catholic neighborhood; the North End had a large African-American population. A lot of the kids came to the club together because they lived on the same street.”

Gary McCarthy

Gary McCarthy has been associated with the Springfield Boys & Girls Club in some capacity for close to 60 years.

And the Boys & Girls Club? Some things have changed there, too, he said, noting, for example, that what is now the computer lab was, for decades, a wood shop. And at one time the organization netted $200,000 annually from bingo, between the game it ran in the gym on Monday nights and the one operated in the club on Sunday nights by a local synagogue, which paid a generous rental fee. Bans on smoking in public places, coupled with the expansive Massachusetts lottery and casinos in Connecticut, closed the bingo gold mine, leaving the club to find new and different ways to fund its budget, from a golf tournament to the hugely successful Festival of Trees, to more aggressive grant-writing efforts.
But after all that talk about what has changed, McCarthy wanted to focus most of his time and energy on what hasn’t — the simple fact that young people in Springfield still need a place to go after school, on Saturdays, and in the summer — a place that’s safe, accessible, affordable, and can help shape their lives in the right ways.
Despite some considerable fiscal challenges, the Springfield club has always been all those things, he said, adding that, as he looks back on his career, this is the achievement to which he attaches the most satisfaction.
“We’re obviously very proud of how we protected that mission of being a drop-in center, an open door,” he explained. “If a kid needed his or her Boys & Girls Club, they came in, they gave us a little information, if they had a dollar, we’d take it, and if they didn’t, we didn’t care. They came in, and they really earned their membership by being a good citizen — a good Boys & Girls Club citizen, and trying to understand what this organization stood for.
“Kids need a safe place to have fun — it’s that simple,” he continued, knocking the organization’s reason for being down to just a handful of words. “Some nonprofits, and even ones like ours, are starting to think this is something you don’t want to say and shouldn’t be saying. But I happen to think that’s still a big part of why we’re here; young people still need a place where they can work with good, responsible, caring adults, and have a place where they can enjoy their lives.”
For this issue, BusinessWest took the opportunity to talk with McCarthy just weeks from his scheduled retirement. It was a learning experience served up by someone for whom the club has generated a lifetime of memories — quite literally.

Mission: Statement
There was a small fire at the Chestnut Street Club in the 1960s, started, according to local legend, when a popcorn maker was left on inadvertently.
McCarthy laughed off some jokes — at least he thinks they’re jokes — from current club staffers (probably preparing material for an elaborate retirement party on June 8) who believe he might have been the one responsible for the calamity. But he admits he was there, on concessions duty, that night.
Of course, he’s been there, handling some manner of duties, almost every day since he was 15 years old — with the notable exception of a six-year run as director of the Westfield club in the early and mid-’80s. He started as a CIT (counselor in training) at the club’s summer camp, but took on a number of jobs through high school and beyond, from handling concessions to working in the game room; from running the projector on ‘movie night’ to running the second-floor gym at the old club.
And as he moved from the old Technical High School, where he was in what amounted to a college-prep program, to American International College, where he majored in sociology, he essentially made the decision that the Boys Club (‘& Girls’ was added officially in the mid-’80s) was going to be more than a place where he earned a paycheck; it was going to be a career.
When asked how and why he came to that conclusion and became what’s known within the organization as a ‘Boys Club guy,’ he said that, through all those years of being a member and then serving members in all those capacities, he had simply become enamored not only with the mission, but the prospect of leading a team that carried it out.
“The club was a very important part of my life; while I had some nice teachers in the public school system and had some fine role models, the club was the place that really shaped my life,” he said, noting that the phrase has many meanings; he met his wife, Eileen, there while she was teaching economics. “And we think we still do that today; people just reached out, they accepted you, they nurtured you, they were friendly to you, although they made you toe the mark — if you screwed up, you paid.
“The club was instrumental in helping me gain discipline and character,” he continued. “I have a family, and I’d like to think that I’m a good husband and a real good dad, and the club had a lot to do with that. You lived it every day; they made you live it every day. And when the job experiences came along, and that demand was there to set the standard for the younger people, that was very rewarding.”
Fast-forwarding through all the lines on McCarthy’s résumé — it’s fairly easy, because he’s never drawn a paycheck from an organization other than the Boys & Girls Club — one sees that he moved up the ranks fairly quickly, eventually serving as program director at the club and its summer camp and then as assistant director under longtime director Mike Pagos.
Having gone as far as he could, other than the corner office, in Springfield, and with Pagos still years from retirement, McCarthy made what he considered a necessary career move by taking the helm of the much smaller Westfield club. There, he gained important administrative experience (while also calling more bingo), and made himself the logical successor to Pagos when he stepped down in 1988.
“In those days, it was very hard for a person to move on to the next step at a club this size without having received some administrative experience elsewhere,” he noted. “I was fortunate to have that great learning experience in Westfield.”
And once he returned to Springfield, he knew he’d be in that position for as long as the board wanted him there. “I never seriously thought about leaving; this was the club that developed me, and it’s always had a great reputation for serving people. I never wanted to be anywhere else.”

Time Passages
The door to the closet in McCarthy’s office was ajar — just enough to bring the Santa suit hanging there into view.
He’s played that part for many years during the Festival of Trees, and it has become just one of many lines, official and unofficial, on his job description. Others have included everything from bingo caller — he did a lot of that when the game was the club’s principal fund-raiser — to acting as a spotter for one of the closest-to-the-pin competitions at the annual golf tournament, which he was preparing for as he talked with BusinessWest, with tee-sponsorship signs scattered about his office.
But mostly, his job has been to set a tone for this organization, and in many respects it hasn’t been difficult, because it was the same one he encountered when he first walked into the Chestnut Street Club in the early ’50s.
It’s all about meeting that mission of what amounts to being a safe haven for young people, he said, a place where they can learn, forge friendships, and build character.

 The old Chestnut Street Club, where Gary McCarthy was first introduced to the Boys Club mission as a member.

The old Chestnut Street Club, where Gary McCarthy was first introduced to the Boys Club mission as a member.

But carrying out that mission is in many ways more challenging than it was two or four decades ago, said McCarthy, who will invariably use the word ‘we’ in such discussions, referring to the team handling this assignment, which includes both staff and board members. He noted that, while need has been constant — and in many ways has escalated — meeting the club’s $1.5 million annual budget has become more daunting.
The Springfield club still charges only $10 a year for membership ($25 for year-round activities) in an effort to remain accessible for families, many of whom live at or below the poverty line, he said, adding that the process of closing the gap between the cost of programs and operations and what memberships generate in revenue has become more difficult.
“You could run a club for a lot less years ago — just look at health insurance,” he said with laugh, citing just one example. “In those days, a lot of your people were young and single, and medical insurance would cost you $300 per person; now, it’s $16,000 for someone with a family.
“Those types of expenses — utilities, insurance, all those things — escalated dramatically,” he went on. “And that’s why we’re proud that we’ve been able to maintain the foundations of our club and be that safe place to go.”
As he mentioned, fund-raising has changed dramatically from the days when a large disbursement from the United Way, supplemented by bingo revenues, pretty much covered expenses. Today, the club relies much more on fund-raisers such as the golf tournament and the Festival of Trees, as well as its endowment and direct solicitations.
But while many fiscal issues have changed over the years, young people, by and large, have not, said McCarthy, noting that, while technology provides more distractions, and there are more things to do than when he was an adolescent, the same basic needs exist, and it is more important than ever to meet them.
“When you’re talking about gangs and other issues like that, any time you can give kids an alternative that’s easy to get to and that can get them engaged quickly, that’s critical,” he said. “And it’s as important, if not more important, than when I was a kid.”
When asked what he’ll miss most when he turns off his office light for the last time, he said it will be the kids — generations of them who were instructed to use ‘Gary’ and never ‘Mr. McCarthy’ when addressing him.
“One of the most fun parts of my job, even though I’m tucked back here most of the day, is when I get antsy and take a walk along the halls while the kids are here,” he explained. “Hearing them say ‘hey, Gary’ or ‘hi, Gary’ and moving on their way … I’m going to miss that a lot.”

Life’s Work
When asked if, and in what ways, he would be involved with the Boys & Girls Club after August, McCarthy, who probably can’t remember a day when he wasn’t associated with this organization in some way, paused for a moment before using humor to say that he really will be moving on.
“When you’ve hung around this long, you start wondering, with all these new fads and ways of doing things, if you’re getting to be a dinosaur,” he said. “And besides, I didn’t have some senior old timer looking over my shoulder, and whoever comes next doesn’t need me doing that, either.”
Maybe not, but whoever the next leader of this organization is, he or she could do a lot worse than getting counsel from someone who has made the club his life’s work — in every way that phrase can be used.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism
Museums10 Adds New Brush Strokes to Its Work in Hampshire County

Jessica Niccol

Jessica Niccol says Museums10 helps raise the profile of what she calls “an extraordinary set of historical collections.”

Like a particularly striking sculpture, a museum has many intriguing sides.
The Smith College Museum of Art is a good example of that, said Jessica Niccol, its director and chief curator. The institution was established not long after the college opened in 1875 and was conceived as a teaching museum. Unlike many prominent galleries then and since, it did not launch with a gift collection waiting in the wings, but accumulated its first pieces one at a time.
“So the staff, very mindfully, built a collection with an eye toward what was being studied at Smith College,” Niccol said. By 1879, the gallery featured 27 contemporary American paintings, featuring notable lights like Winslow Homer and a number of lesser-known artists, and steadily grew from there, helped immeasurably by local businessman Winthrop Hillyer, who appreciated the growing museum and decided to fund it.
“He loved that it would be as much of a benefit to the community of Northampton as it was to Smith,” Niccol said, noting that the orientation of the current building, opening onto Main Street in front and the campus in back, reflects that dual identity. “He saw that the museum could be a resource to the community and a gateway to the campus, and you see both of those things in the way the museum has developed over the past 140 years.”
But that dual focus on education (Smith boasts a robust program of college classes, tours serving thousands of schoolchildren each year, plus college students trained to be gallery instructors) and community outreach (including family days and monthly free Friday nights, featuring gallery talks and other special events) is not exclusive to Smith, but is a common theme running through many of Hampshire County’s art and history museums.
That’s one of the reasons Museums10 makes so much sense, said Kevin Kennedy, director of Communications for the Five College Consortium, from which Museums10 sprung in 2005.
“Much of the consortium’s efforts,” Kennedy said, “are really spent bringing people from the campuses [Smith College, Hampshire College, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and UMass Amherst] together to share ideas, problems, solutions, things like that.”
Therefore, he continued, “it was natural for the directors of the campus museums to participate in that. It’s been going on informally for decades; it started growing organically, and then they decided to formalize it and actually create an organization.”
Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy says Museums10 acts as a lens to focus the significant energy of its members.

The art museums of the five colleges make up half Museum10’s membership, and they are joined by the Beneski Museum of Natural History, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Historic Deerfield, the Emily Dickinson Museum, and the Yiddish Book Center. The startup money came from the Mass. Cultural Council, with the goal of raising the profile of the Pioneer Valley as a center for cultural tourism.
“Hopefully it has benefited the community by making these rather extraordinary museum resources housed within the Upper Pioneer Valley more visible to people,” Niccol said. “One of the things that awes all of us is what an extraordinary set of historical collections we have here. And, collectively, we’re able to work together to give greater visibility to these resources to try to help visitors — by suggesting multiple museum visits around a special area of interest, for instance.”
To that end, early on, Museums10 launched a series of cross-institution events, starting in 2006 with GoDutch!, which explored the art and literature of Dutch culture, past and present. “All the museums included it as some aspect of their existing collection or brought in a new exhibition,” Kennedy said. “It was a big success.”
The goal was to increase attendance at the participating museums by 5%; instead, it boosted visitation by 15% across the board, and in some venues by as much as 40%.
So, in 2007, Museums10 launched a second system-wide event, this one called BookMarks: A Celebration of the Art of the Book. That was followed in 2010 by Table for 10, with a focus on food. “That was terrific because this is such a food-rich region, and we were able to tie into agriculture, restaurants, organic food creators, wine folks, you name it.”
Eight years into its existence, the goals of Museums10, and the way the individual institutions work together and share resources, are continually evolving. For this issue’s focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes a look at how the organization paints a collective picture of a vibrant cultural scene in Hampshire County.

Drawing on Expertise
Alix Kennedy, executive director of the Carle — which, with only 11 years under its belt, is the youngest of the 10 museums — said Museums10 is about far more than marketing the museums.
“It’s also about how we can leverage resources we have so we can have a greater impact in our own communities,” she told BusinessWest. “The days when organizations try to exist in silos is over. Thankfully, there’s a tremendous amount of professional rapport that everyone gets to benefit from.”
Niccol agreed, noting that, because the museums have small staffs, “there’s an incredible benefit to building this professional network within the five-college area. We’ve really developed strong ties as the curators meet each other, educators meet each other, the marketing staffs meet each other. There’s fantastic communication and support with problem solving.”
Shared resources are critical, she said, such as bringing in educators and workshops for the entire Museums10 system in specific subjects, rather than each of them sending staff members to conferences around the country.
“A lot of things happened,” Alix Kennedy said, “by taking like-minded groups and this variety of different museums, who all share this incredible passion for education, and figuring out ways to give people access to our resources.”
The 30-year-old Yiddish Book Center boasts a wide range of exhibits, lectures, conferences, and educational programs for both college students and adult learners — not to mention big events like Yidstock, an annual summer festival that brings in top names in the klezmer musical tradition and draws visitors from across the country.
“There’s no other place like it,” said Lisa Newman, the center’s director of communications. “Sometimes we refer to ourselves as the first Yiddish museum; there’s no other institution like this, with the breadth of what’s here and all the programs created to promote Yiddish culture. And it’s all rooted in the first mission of the center, which was the rescue of more than a million Yiddish books otherwise destined for the trash.”
Newman added that she has come to appreciate the collective power of Museums10 in supporting that mission.
“I think it’s a really interesting collaboration internally and externally,” she said. “It helps all of us professionally to engage with one another, but in terms of the community, it makes a strong statement that we have these 10 very unique museums — that we have tremendous resources as well as engaging, interesting, and surprising places to visit, and we’re right here in your backyard with a tremendous amount of programming going on.”
As director of marketing for Historic Deerfield, Laurie Nivison said it can be difficult to adequately communicate what such a large, multi-building facility has to offer.
“We say ‘opening doors to the past’ because we have 11 houses and an extensive museum collection for people to explore. We want to make it a destination, not just for people in the local area, but those from outside the area looking for a daycation — just looking to come and explore.”
Museums10, she said, helps get the word out by linking Historic Deerfield’s goals with those of the broader cultural community.
“This is a good group of people,” Nivison said. “As nonprofits, this sort of collective power is helpful, because something one museum might be able to do, another museum might not have the budget to do. Part of Museums10 is leveraging our power, helping us get into those markets we may not otherwise be able to reach.”

Next Phase

Alix Kennedy

Alix Kennedy

“This community is rich in artists,” Alix Kennedy said, noting that the Carle makes an effort to promote and involve the many children’s book artists living in Western Mass. In fact, several museum officials who spoke with BusinessWest brought up the ‘creative economy’ of artists living and working in the Valley.
“We’re really proud of the fact that Museums10 is an important part of the cultural economy,” Niccol said. “Why do people come here? Part of it is the incredible beauty of the landscape, but the other part is the great bookstores, restaurants, concert venues, and museums, and we see ourselves as part of that.”
From those efforts, said Kevin Kennedy, sprung the impetus for what is now known as the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council, launched in 2012 and funded by the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism.
“The cultural profile of Hampshire County shows what a unique area it is, and we showed how people could come together to promote that aspect of this area,” he explained.
“It’s been such a natural transition,” said Alix Kennedy, who chairs the new organization. “I think all of us living in the Valley know this is an incredibly rich community for arts and culture, and yet, we’re not confident that people outside this community know that.”
But Museums10 and the tourism council are working to change that, she continued, by bringing some collective marketing muscle to the passion that already exists among the various institutions. “I see these two efforts working in parallel and, ultimately, working in partnership.”
“To a certain degree, I think it’s taken a little pressure off Museums10 to spend all its collaborative time to promote the region,” Kevin Kennedy said, explaining that the member museums are starting to focus more on smaller collaborations involving just a few of them, instead of the system-wide events of past years. “These joint productions were terrific, but they took a lot of energy, and that didn’t leave a lot for other things.
“We’re really taking a step back,” he added, “looking more at where the natural cohesions are among the museums that could be brought to the attention of the media and the public. If a few museums happen to be doing exhibits on photography, we’ll do a press release on that. It used to be an all-for-one approach, and all 10 museums needed to be involved to make it a Museums10 event. Now, if three or four museums are working together because they have similar exhibits or similar interests, Museums10 supports them in that effort.”
It all comes back to supporting culture in the Valley and cultivating new art and history lovers, Alix Kennedy said, noting that the Carle attracts a wide range of constituents, from families and elementary-school students to graduate-level art-degree programs Simmons College operates on site — not to mention those drawn by nostalgia.
“Those books are such symbols of their childhood, and it’s really exciting and reinvigorating to come in and say, ‘they have Charlotte’s Web drawings! I love that book!’” And, like some of the other Museums10 institutions, the Carle reaches into the community with programs like visits from book illustrators to schools in Springfield and Holyoke, hopefully sparking a passion in a new generation.
“The fact that we’ve got these 10 great institutions in the Valley speaks to our culture and the wealth of history and knowledge in the Valley,” Nivison said.
Kevin Kennedy agreed. “Each museum has so much energy,” he said, “and I think Museums10 can act as a lens to focus all that energy.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism
Holyoke’s Happiness Machine Marks a Milestone

CoverBW-0513bThe Holyoke Merry-Go-Round marks 20 years in operation at Heritage Park this December.
Thus, this is a time of reflection and celebration in Holyoke, concerning both the remarkable story of how residents and businesses in the city rallied to keep the attraction within the community, and the success enjoyed since: more than 1 million riders, hundreds of events staged at the facility, restoration of nearly half the ride’s hand-crafted wooden horses, and the creation of untold memories for generations of area residents.
There will be many opportunities to rejoice and look back this year, with the highlight being a huge fund-raising gala at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House on Sept. 19, an event that is expected to severely test the facility’s fire-code capacity.
But for those most closely involved with this landmark, known to them as PTC 80 (the 80th carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co.), this is a time for much more than celebrating — although they will do plenty of that. It’s an occasion to do some strategic planning and take important steps that will ensure there are many more anniversaries to celebrate down the road.
And it’s a time, said Angela Wright, to do some difficult, yet very necessary, succession planning when it comes to management of what those in the city call the ‘happiness machine.’


Friends of PTC 80, as it’s called, will mark its milestone anniversary with an eye toward ensuring that there are more of these celebrations for decades to come.

Difficult, noted Wright, who was co-chair of the group that raised the money to keep the carousel in Holyoke and has been its volunteer director since it opened, because that’s the only word to describe what it will be like to “let go.”
“We’re reluctant to give up something that is close to all of us, and something that we worked so hard at —  it’s been a labor of love for all of us,” she said, referring to a strong corps of volunteers that has been with this project from the beginning and seen some of their ranks pass away in recent years. “We don’t want to let go of this, but it’s something we know we have to do.”
Elaborating, she said the Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, as this group is called, is engaging in discussions about hiring a full-time executive director for the facility, an individual who will assume many duties currently carried out by those volunteers, from fund-raising to marketing, while also taking on the primary assignment — maintaining the relationships that have enabled this city treasure to survive and thrive, and creating new ones.
Hiring a director is one of many suggestions forwarded during strategic planning sessions staged recently with a consultant, Jeff Hayden, former city development director and current director of the Kittredge Center, said Maureen Costello, administrative manager of PTC 80.
Others include everything from recruiting additional board members to developing and implementing a marketing plan; from multi-faceted efforts to increase visitation to a host of initiatives to increase revenues, especially the scheduling of more birthday parties and other events.
These steps are in various, but mostly early, stages of implementation, said Costello, noting that one important step — a doubling of the price of a ride to $2 after more than 18 years — was undertaken in 2012.
“That was a difficult decision for us, because we had prided ourselves on keeping the ticket price at a dollar since we opened in 1993,” she explaned. “But it’s been very well-received by our visitors; many people said, ‘it’s about time you did this.’”
There will be more difficult and far-reaching steps taken in the months and years to come, said Jim Jackowski, business liaison and customer service and credit manager for Holyoke Gas & Electric and current president of the Friends board. He noted that, while the attraction’s first two decades in operation could be deemed an unqualified success, these are tenuous times for independently operated carousels like this one.
The challenges are many, and include everything from the high cost of insurance (carousels have historically had high mishap rates, although this one hasn’t recorded any) to the escalating competition for the time of young children (the ride’s lifeblood) and their parents.
“There are just a lot more things for kids and families to do today,” said Jackowski. “We have to respond to that by promoting ourselves and doing what we’ve always done — providing a truly unique experience.”
Wright agreed. “Many carousels are closing — hardly a week goes that we don’t hear of one of them shutting down,” she said, noting that she and others read about such casualties in industry publications like the Carousel News & Trader and Merry-Go-Round Roundup. “These things are becoming very expensive … our liability insurance is extremely high. Between insurance, staffing, maintenance, upkeep, promotions, and marketing, they’re becoming simply too expensive for many operators to run.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes a quick look back at how PTC 80 remained a Holyoke institution, but a more comprehensive glance ahead to the challenge of making sure the happiness machine will be there to create memories for future generations of area residents.

Turns for the Better

‘Middle horse #5’

‘Middle horse #5’ is next in line for a complete restoration. To date, nearly half of the horses on the carousel have been refurbished.

It’s known simply as ‘middle horse #5.’ And that says it all — if you know this carousel.
It has three rows of horses (there are 28 in all, both ‘standers’ and ‘jumpers,’ with two chariots), with the largest animals on the outside and the smallest on the inside. This particular specimen is fifth in a sequence known only to those intimately involved with this attraction. And it is showing some definite signs of wear and tear, much of it caused by the buckle on the stirrup, which has knocked off badly faded paint in several areas.
As a result, it is next in line for restoration work that will make it look like the much shinier and newer ‘middle horse #4’ just ahead. This work, to be carried out at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Conn., will cost roughly $5,000, said Costello. To help pay that cost, the merry-go-round is staging a raffle this summer, with the winner gaining the right to give the horse a real name — like ‘Lancelot,’ ‘Flower Power,’ and others that have been assigned to other animals on PTC 80.
Restoring horses, staging raffles, and giving names to the stars of this attraction have been some of the many aspects of that labor of love which Wright described, made possible by the truly inspiring story of how Holyoke came together to keep its carousel a quarter-century ago.
Most in this region are now at least somewhat familiar with the saga, which began with Mountain Park owner Jay Collins’ decision to shut down the popular tourist attraction after the 1987 season ended.
After unsuccessful efforts to sell the park, the 300 acres it sat on, and all the equipment and inventory as one package (asking price: $4 million), Collins opted to start selling off the pieces. He had some attractive offers (up to $2 million, according to some accounts) for PTC 80, which was in extremely good condition. And while he was considering them, John Hickey, then manager of Holyoke’s Water Department, approached him with a plan to keep the carousel in the city.
The two agreed on a price of $875,000, and Collins gave Hickey one year to raise the money.
The rest, is, well, history.
An elaborate ‘save the merry-go-round’ campaign was launched, complete with a request for pledges with rhetorical calls to action that included ‘stop them from riding off with Holyoke’s mane attraction’ and ‘if you care about Holyoke’s future, put some money down on her past.’
In the end, residents, business owners, and schoolchildren heeded those calls, raising enough money to buy the carousel and build it a new home in Heritage State Park. Thus, PTC 80’s second life began in December 1993.
To say that it’s been a smooth ride since then would oversimplify things, said Wright, who noted that there have been many challenges over the first two decades, from getting people to come to downtown Holyoke to attracting revenue-generating events, such as birthday parties and weddings, to overcoming the loss several years ago of the four-day Celebrate Holyoke event that gave the carousel much-needed exposure and ridership.
“The real business challenge for us has been to replace the revenue from the Celebrate Holyoke festival, which was probably 10% to 15% of our annual revenue,” said Jackowski. “We’ve done it largely through the promotion of the birthday parties, the private functions, and the corporate functions, and spreading the word through an extended Pioneer Valley area.”
The attraction has managed to remain in the black throughout and meet its annual budget of roughly $100,000, he noted, largely through perseverance, imagination, and resourcefulness.
But if PTC 80, one of only 100 antique classic wooden merry-rounds still operating in North America, is to keep its Holyoke address, it must continue to act as a small business would, and that means strategic planning and, as Wright and Costello said, succession planning.

Round Numbers
That later assignment is a difficult one for many small businesses to even acknowledge, let alone address, said Wright, adding that it’s the same with the merry-go-round, where this exercise takes a number of forms.
For starters, it means active recruiting of younger professionals within the community to join the board and become involved with the carousel, she said, adding that a new generation of leadership must eventually take the reins — literally and figuratively — from the group that waged the campaign to save PTC 80 a quarter-century ago.
Succession planning also means developing and advancing a plan to hire a full-time executive director, said Costello, adding that the merry-go-round has a part-time operations manager (15 hours per week), and there are others who have held that position in the past.
Hiring a full-time manager would be a big step, one that would dramatically alter the budgetary picture, Wright told BusinessWest, but such a move is necessary given the current challenging climate. But the broad “transition,” as she called it, will nonetheless be difficult for the carousel’s older ‘friends.’
“We’ve all been here 25 years,” she said. “And we’re all somewhat reluctant to let anything happen to this merry-go-round. We all have a personal investment in this, and it’s a sizable investment.”
Succession planning is just part of the discussion when it comes to securing the long-term future of the merry-go-round, said Costello, adding that strategic planning initiatives involving the attraction, like those staged for businesses of all sizes, have focused on that acronym SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Clearly, the 20th-anniversary celebrations fall into that third category, she said, adding that the attraction’s leadership intends to use the many events and special programs on tap this year to introduce (or re-introduce) people to the carousel, with several goals in mind. These include everything from increasing direct ridership to booking more special events involving both children and adults; from recruiting more supporters to simply raising more funds.
“The 20th anniversary is a time to reflect on the many things that we’ve accomplished here and be proud of those accomplishments,” Costello said. “But it’s also an opportunity to re-connect with our supporters and make more friends.
“We recognize that, while our merry-go-round was the crown jewel at Mountain Park, the people who remember the park are older now,” she went on. “We understand that those people are not going to be able to share their memories of Mountain Park, so we need to attract a new generation of riders and supporters, and we’re cognizant of that as we make our plans for the future.”
As it did 25 years ago, the Friends group is reaching out to the community for donations, she said, adding that donors can become members of the merry-go-round’s Ring of Honor, a collection of brass plaques that bear the names of supporters ranging from Holyoke schoolchildren to businesses across all sectors.
Beyond fund-raising, one of the main goals moving forward is to maximize other revenue resources, said Costello, adding that the increase in ticket prices resulted in a roughly 70% increase in total revenue in 2012, “which made a huge difference.”
But long-term, the merry-go-round must be more successful with scheduling events, she continued, because they are both solid revenue generators and vehicles for generating future ridership and more get-togethers.
Overall, the ongoing assignment for the merry-go-round’s leadership team is to make the attraction — and downtown Holyoke in general — more of a true destination for families with children, said Jackowski, adding that there are many developments that are moving the city closer to that designation.
“We hope, by keeping this building as attractive as it is, and this park as attractive as it is, that the future looks bright,” he told BusinessWest. “We have our new neighbor, the computing center, we’re hopeful that the canal walk comes to fruition in the next five years, and there is more development down here that creates optimism. We want to be the focal point of all that.”

The Ride Stuff
John Hickey, who passed away in 2008, once wrote of carousels, “man, and high tech, has not yet devised a better way to illuminate the faces of children and parents with pure joy. The lights, the music, the kids dashing for the right horse, the clang of the starting bell, and the motion … you don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave every time around … and their parent will wave back. It never fails … it never will.”
PTC 80 has lived up to those words for more than eight decades, and especially in its new home in Holyoke’s downtown. Its first two decades there have been an extraordinary ride in every sense of that word.
And that’s why this anniversary will be a time to celebrate, but also a time to make sure that the ride will continue for decades to come.

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

It’s Time to Raise the Mayor’s Salary

The Springfield Chamber of Commerce is advocating for an increase in the salary for the position of mayor of Springfield from $95,000 — the level it has been since 1997 — to one that better reflects the importance of the position today, $135,000.
While proposals such as this often become politically charged, an informed debate on its merits is long overdue. The chamber is hopeful that, after this debate, our elected officials will support our proposal.
An increase in the mayor’s salary has been proposed at various points over the past 16 years. Most recently, in 2009, as the Financial Control Board was being phased out from managing Springfield, a task force of the chamber met to examine several governance issues within the city, to ensure that the city would never again be forced into having a control board manage its affairs. At that time, the chamber put forth three objectives it felt were integral to proper management of the city. They were:
• Establishment of a chief administrative and financial officer (CAFO), whose contract would not be concurrent with the mayor in order to establish some autonomy, and who would report not only to the mayor but also to the full City Council;
• Moving from a two-year term for the mayor to a four-year term to allow for better long-term planning and afford a mayor time to make difficult decisions without the immediate threat of a political opponent; and
• Establishing a fair salary level for the mayor that would better reflect the duties and responsibilities of the mayor of the third-largest city in Massachusetts and to help attract candidates with the skills to oversee administration of the community.
The first two goals have been accomplished. Before the Finance Control Board departed, the position of CAFO was established, and from all accounts has been performing extremely well since then. Lengthening the term of the mayor of Springfield to four years was put on the citywide ballot in 2009, and voters adopted this change, with 69% voting in favor. Now the third goal remains.
In 2011, a task force was set up by the City Council to look into increasing the mayor’s salary. The chamber had a member serve on that panel, and while the recommendation came out to increase the salary to a figure of around $110,000 and then index it to inflation, the recommendation never made it to the council for a full vote.
The chamber has compiled a great deal of data. Several cities in our area with populations and budgets around one-fifth of those of Springfield have mayoral salaries of only $10,000 less than Springfield’s. One city, Westfield, recently acknowledged the requirements of the job and increased the salary for that city’s mayor to a level above Springfield’s.
When looking at similar-sized cities, here are the results:

• Springfield: $95,000
• Hartford, Conn.: $146,779
• Providence, R.I.: $131,000
• New Haven, Conn.: $127,070
• Stamford, Conn.: $150,000

There will be those who will look at a salary figure and equate it to a particular mayor, past or present, and judge this proposal upon whether he or she was or is worth the figure. That not only misses the point, but is also shortsighted in determining what is best for this city moving forward. The salary is a reflection of the job. The mayor oversees a city with 6,000 employees and a budget in excess of $550 million.
At present, 113 city employees earn more than the mayor, who is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week to not only plan and oversee operations, but to be able to react to all that can and does go wrong in major urban areas. The mayor makes countless decisions, oftentimes difficult and unpopular. A mayor is also in the best position to develop a strategic vision for our city and lead the effort to fulfill that vision.
Let’s try to put politics aside for this vote and set the salary for the position of mayor of Springfield at a level that reflects the duties of the job and encourages those with the skills necessary to run for the position.

Jeffrey Ciuffreda is executive director of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

Departments Picture This

Send photos with a caption and contact information to:  ‘Picture This’ c/o BusinessWest Magazine, 1441 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01103 or to [email protected]

House Party

HapHousingHAPHousing recently celebrated its 40th anniversary at the organization’s annual event and fund-raiser at the MassMutual Center, and received a generous donation of $75,000 from the event’s sponsor, Citizens Bank. HAPHousing provides a broad range of housing services to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income households and is the region’s largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing. More than 400 attendees also witnessed the success achieved by three of HAPHousing’s program participants, pictured above. From left, Wally Quinones, who rebuilt on Clark Street after the 2011 tornado; Derek Washington, formerly homeless and now employed and off of public assistance; and Gladys Morales, who went from a shelter to self-sufficiency and owning her own home.

Learning Experience

Polaris04427687Dan Warwick, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools (second from left), recently presented an Outstanding Community Leadership award to United Water for its exceptional outreach and education programs to Springfield students. United Water, which operates the Bondi’s Island wastewater treatment facility, is a founding sponsor for the World Is Our Classroom program, and has donated nearly $775,000 over the past 10 years. Nearly 20,000 Springfield fifth-grade students have participated in the World Is Our Classroom program, which advocates learning outside of the classroom, since its inception in 2003. Here, Nora Burke Patton, left, executive director of World is Our Classroom, poses with, from left, Warwick; Don Goodroe, area manager for United Water; and Katharine Pedersen, executive director of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission.

Ingenuity on Display

IMG_5613IMG_5620Thousands of attendees descended on Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield last week for EASTEC, the largest manufacturing trade show on the East Coast. Sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the three-day event, now staged every other year, showcased more than 550 exhibitors and pre-registered more than 14,000 attendees to view exhibits of industrial equipment and take in educational programs focused on continuous quality improvement, advanced manufacturing, and the importance of workforce development. At top, attendees stroll the aisles. Middle, Kevin Garvey, left, field service and sales, and Kathleen Trudeau, vice president, sales and service, both of Hayden Corp. in West Springfield, stand with Steve Roy, sales engineer of Hayden Laser Services LLC. Bottom, Tony Nelson, left, forging manager, and Larry Flatley, specialty services business manager, staff the Smith & Wesson booth.IMG_5625

Green Business Sections
‘Going Green’ Investment-tax Credits Have Many Benefits

Kristi Reale, CPA, CVA

Kristi Reale

‘Going green’ is a term that is rapidly gaining momentum in our economy. No longer an ideal for just the early adopters or the environmentally conscientious, going green, or investing in processes, equipment, and energy that are environmentally sustainable, is becoming a distinctive tool for many businesses.
Customers like to see that their products were made in a green environment, prospective employees see energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable workplaces as being preferable to the traditional workplace, and, more than anything, companies are choosing to do business in an environmentally sustainable way — a triple bottom line. And as the trend to go green becomes more and more prevalent in our economy, there is a lot of information suggesting that the fiscal and tax benefits of investing in green energy and equipment are significant. However, these benefits are not always clearly outlined in black and white. It’s important to understand how the credits work and, more importantly, how they apply to you and the investment that you’re planning to make.
Income-tax credits are direct reductions of a taxpayer’s income-tax liability. Generally, the investment-tax credit permits a reduction in tax liability based upon the taxpayer’s qualified investment in certain kinds of property placed in service during the taxable year. Thus, the investment credit is an incentive device, intended to stimulate the purchase or modernization of certain kinds of productive assets. This intent is achieved by permitting the purchaser or constructor of qualified property to reduce their federal income-tax liability by a percentage of the amount they spend for the assets. To this extent, it departs from the concept of a tax imposed on net income.
Form 3468 is used to claim the investment-tax credit. Investment-credit property is any depreciable or amortizable property that qualifies for the rehabilitation credit, energy credit, qualifying advanced coal project credit, qualifying gasification project credit, or qualifying advanced energy project credit. The energy credits are detailed below.
You cannot claim the credit for property that is:
• Used mainly outside the U.S.;
• Used by a governmental unit or foreign person or entity;
• Used by a tax-exempt organization unless the property is mainly used in an unrelated trade or business;
• Used for lodging or in the furnishing of lodging; or
• Property that has been expensed under section 179 accelerated depreciation.

Energy Credits
The business energy credit is either 10% or 30% of the basis of energy property placed in service during the tax year. To qualify as energy property, the property must meet the performance and quality standards that have been prescribed by regulations in effect at the time the property is acquired; be depreciable or amortizable property; be constructed, reconstructed, or erected by the taxpayer; or acquired for original use by the taxpayer.
Energy property that qualifies for the 30% credit is listed at Internal Revenue Code §48(a)(2)(A)(i), such as:
• Solar: the credit is equal to 30% of expenditures with no maximum credit and includes equipment that uses solar energy to generate electricity or heat and cool a structure.
• Fuel cells: the credit is equal to 30% of expenditures with no maximum credit; however, the credit is capped at $1,500 per 0.5 kilowatt of capacity.
• Small wind turbines: the credit is equal to 30% of expenditures with no maximum credit for small wind turbines placed in service after Dec. 31, 2008.
Other energy property qualifies for the 10% credit, such as:
• Geothermal systems: the credit is equal to 10% of expenditures with no maximum credit and includes geothermal equipment and heat pumps used to produce, distribute, or use energy derived from a geothermal deposit.
• Microturbines: the credit is equal to 10% of expenditures with no maximum credit; however, the credit is capped at $200 per kilowatt of capacity.
• Combined heat and power: the credit is equal to 10% of expenditures with no maximum credit, and applies to property placed in service after Oct. 3, 2008.
The basis of the energy property must be reduced by 50% of the energy credit determined. The business energy credit is not allowed for any portion of a property that also qualifies for the rehabilitation credit. Energy property that qualifies for a grant under §1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is not eligible for the energy credit for the tax year the grant is made or any subsequent tax year.

Renewable-energy Facilities
On Feb. 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The purpose of the act was to preserve and create jobs, promote economic recovery, and invest in infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits. Provisions in the recovery act allow for irrevocably electing an investment-tax credit under §48 rather than a production tax credit under §45 for specified renewable energy facilities.
These provisions allow the taxpayer to make an election to receive an income-tax credit calculated at 30% of the cost of the qualifying property in the year it is placed in service, as opposed to the production-tax credit claimed over a 10-year period based on the electricity produced.
To qualify, this property must be tangible personal property (not including a building or structural components); constructed, reconstructed, or acquired by a taxpayer; depreciable; and for original use. The taxpayer must make a separate, irrevocable election for each qualified investment-credit facility.

Credit Recapture
Recapture of either all or a portion of the credit applies if, in the first five years, the investment-tax-credit property is disposed of, the use of the property changes so it no longer qualifies, the business use of the property decreases so it no longer qualifies, leased property is returned to the lessor, or the taxpayer receives §1603 grant money for the property.
Some exceptions to the recapture are death of the taxpayer, transfer between spouses in a divorce under §1041, and a mere change in the form of business in which the property is retained as investment-credit property, and the taxpayer retains a substantial interest in the business.
In summary, these credits appear extremely favorable. However, there are limits that apply, such as passive-activity limitations for certain pass-thru entities, basis limitations, and the effect of alternative minimum taxes.
Before embarking on projects based solely on the benefits of credits, you should consult your tax advisor. n

Kristi A. Reale, CPA, CVA is a senior manager with the Holyoke-based public accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 322-3533; [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Robert E. Barrett Fishway Offers Learning Experiences on a Grand Scale

Paul Ducheney

Paul Ducheney says the fishway was the culmination of years of study involving fish behavior, as well as considerable trial and error.

Paul Ducheney acknowledged that it’s difficult to look upon the elaborate, cutting-edge Frank E. Barrett Fishway and grasp that it was inspired by a net and a bucket.
But it was. Well, sort of.
As legend has it in Holyoke, in 1955, an Atlantic salmon was trying to make its way north on the Connecticut River, back to its birthplace to spawn, when it hit what was then a roadblock — the Holyoke Dam. The story goes that an engineer with what was then the Holyoke Water Power Co. caught the confused fish with said net, but then didn’t know what to do with it.
“So they said, ‘well, lets put it in a bucket of water and bring it up over the dam and dump it in,’” explained Ducheney, superintendent for Electric Production at the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department (HG&E), which acquired the dam in 2001. “And that was pretty much the start.”
Today’s Robert E. Barrett Fishway is the result of that ongoing story of how, through the use of exponentially more sophisticated means of fish attraction and larger buckets, HG&E has created a fishlift that has become a model for hydropower systems in this country and around the world.
The two-bucket system carries hundreds of thousands of anadromous fish — those born in fresh water (salmon, smelt, shad, striped bass, and sturgeon are common examples), and spend most of their life in the sea, but return to fresh water to spawn — over the dam each year so they continue their migratory journey north.
And while doing so, it provides powerful lessons to visitors, many of them schoolchildren on field trips, about these fish, hydropower, and how they can coexist.
This was the dream of Robert E. Barrett, former president of the Holyoke Water Power Co., whose imagination and perseverance made it reality.
The current fishway, opened in 1955, hosts more than 11,000 visitors a year between April and June, when the fish make their annual treks north, said Kate Sullivan, marketing coordinator for the HG&E, who told BusinessWest that the facility is still far too much of a best-kept secret from a tourism perspective, and that the utility is working to see that it loses that distinction.
“People are always amazed; they can’t believe this is in their own backyard,” said Sullivan. “And this was part of Robert Barrett’s mission, to make this an educational experience for kids, too.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest paid a visit to the fishway for an educational experience on a grand scale — in more ways than one.

Current Events

This illustration shows how the fishway

This illustration shows how the fishway enables migratory shad, Atlantic salmon, and other species to be collected, lifted in buckets over the dam, and released.
Illustration by Robert Oxenhorn

As she gave BusinessWest a tour of the facilities, Sullivan said the creation of such facilities to ferry fish over hydroelectric installations became a federal mandate for those seeking to hold licenses for such facilities decades ago, and there are many such lifts operating today.
But the fishway in Holyoke is somewhat unique because of the breadth and depth of the educational opportunities it provides and the large scale of the operation. Indeed, it is said to be most successful fishlift on the Atlantic coast in terms of the number of fish it ferries.
For visitors, it’s an opportunity to see how nature and modern technology can collaborate and create some powerful images.
Once through the entrance of the power station, visitors are led — on the right, past the giant HG&E turbines that harness the river’s power, and, on the left, past a series of historical pictures of the dam and older fish-assisting devices — out to the large outdoor observation deck. Standing high above the Connecticut River on the deck, they get a southern view of the river and the special canal, which shows the two ways fish enter the gathering area by way of a high-velocity water flow that attracts them to the main collection area just under the deck.
Visitors can then turn their attention to the north and experience the sights and sounds of water coming over a section of the dam, next to the lift structure. On the half-hour, a buzzer rings, signaling the start of the fishlift as its two large buckets begin carrying hundreds of fish and water more than 50 feet up and into an exit flume. This is the point where visitors then move inside to see the fish swim by the public viewing windows, giving them the feeling of being underwater with the fish.
Sullivan told BusinessWest that guided school-group tours take about an hour, which includes time for an activity.
“And this is very unique,” added Ducheney. “If you go to other lifts at other dams, they’re sort of separate from the powerhouse, so it’s pretty neat to see power generation integral with fish passage. It’s Holyoke’s best-kept secret.”
But that secret took some time to materialize.
Kate Sullivan

Kate Sullivan says grassroots efforts have helped increase visitorship at the fishway, which is open only a few months a year.

Dams have been built to harness hydropower for centuries, and attempts to help fish on their migratory journeys have been part and parcel to those efforts, but finding a system that works effectively has often been a frustrating matter of trial and considerable error, said Ducheney, noting that Holyoke’s history serves up some good examples.
Since 1794, several dams have been constructed at South Hadley Falls, where the river drops more than 40 feet, and in October 1849, a large ‘timber crib’ dam was constructed, preventing upstream fish migration.
In 1866, Massachusetts enacted legislation requiring the construction of devices to permit passage of shad and salmon, which resulted in the first wooden fish ladder in 1873 — a system designed to replicate nature — on the South Hadley side of the river. However, the ladder was off the beaten path of the fish’s instinctual travels, said Ducheney, and fish passage didn’t go well; in fact, not one fish used any of the early ladders.
In 1900, the current, much larger dam made from Vermont stone was built, and in 1949, HWP received a license from the Federal Power Commission for the Holyoke Hydroelectric Project. As part of the license, HWP was required to “construct, maintain, and operate fish-protection devices.”
Soon after, the aforementioned lucky Atlantic salmon was saved and lifted over the dam. The stiffer federal mandate had engineers building a different type of fish passage because others hadn’t worked. More research into fish behavior resulted in the reason why: fish needed to sense the sound and current of rushing water on their journey, where a dam now stood. The solution was to create a gathering area by way of a high-velocity water flow that attracts the fish to the main collection area just under the deck, and the first lift, using a bucket in 1955, was built under Robert Barrett’s direction — the first successful fishlift in the country.
“It’s very important for the ecosystem,” Ducheney noted. “From a regulatory basis, today we have a mandate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the dam, and part of the conditions is to provide for safe and effective fish passage.”
Today, fish can continue upstream migration (if they’re not collected for hatcheries), where fishways further upstream at the smaller Turners Falls, Vernon, and Bellows Falls hydroelectric projects also provide a means to enhance passage for migrating species through a simpler elevated step process.

Hook, Line, and Sinker
When HG&E purchased the Holyoke Dam to operate the hydroelectric facilities and the Holyoke Canal System, more improvements were made to the fishlift, Ducheney explained to BusinessWest.
“It’s automated now, so it runs without operator intervention, and it’s tripled in size, so we can accommodate many more fish,” said Ducheney. “In fact, this lift has become a model for others, including the Susquehanna River and in Japan, China, Brazil, and European countries. Holyoke is pretty well-known for fish passage.”
And the fishlift is a first for something else that’s important.
“Literally, every fish is counted,” said Sullivan, noting that the Holyoke Dam is the first that fish encounter as they move north from Long Island Sound, so keeping accurate inventory is critical to tracking what happens to fish before and after they get to the Paper City.
The counters are biology students from Holyoke Community College who click a designated counter for each species of fish in a special viewing room just past the public viewing windows; its another form of educational experience of which Barrett would be proud.
Since the official counts started in 1965, the most prolific years for fish passage were in 1985 and 1992, at more than 1 million fish. In 2012, more than 500,000, mainly shad, were lifted over the dam.
Shad, said Ducheney, is a river herring, and while that may not sound delectable, he noted that shad is actually on the menu at New York’s famous Tavern on the Green restaurant at this time of year.
But restaurants aren’t the only interested parties when it comes to shad. The annual HG&E Shad Derby, one of the region’s largest fishing events, is held on two weekends in May and offers nearly 600 anglers of all ages the opportunity to win cash prizes and write plenty of their own fish stories as they enjoy the recreational benefits of the Connecticut River.
Marketing funds are tight, Sullivan said, so getting the word out about the fishway is a struggle. But thanks to HG&E’s newsletter to 18,000 customers, as well as more comprehensive grassroots efforts over the past couple of years to increase awareness of the facility, visitation has increased.
In just a short window of six weeks, from late April to mid-June, more than 11,000 visitors came through the fishlift last year, 2,000 more than in 2011, said Sullivan, noting that many of them are students from across the region.
The fishlift is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until June 16, due to the spawning season each spring. Also open on Memorial Day, the facility offers visitors of all ages a unique combination of science through tourism, and a chance to tell a real fish story about the ones that got away — or at least further upstream.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at  [email protected]

Investments in the Future

EditorialBWlogoThere probably hadn’t been this much excitement about a demolition project in Springfield since the city finally took down the old York Street Jail nearly a decade ago. Or since the crumbling Hotel Charles, located next to Union Station, was put out of its misery in the late’90s.
There was Mayor Domenic Sarno with his hardhat and ceremonial sledgehammer taking a few solid whacks at the old River Inn on State Street. When the pomp was over, the bulldozers moved in, taking down a property that had become much more than an eyesore in recent years — although it was certainly that.
Indeed, the long-vacant property had become an impediment to progress — not only on that specific parcel, but across that section of the so-called State Street corridor. Recognizing this, DevelopSpringfield acquired the property at a foreclosure auction in January, with an eye toward demolition and then movement toward redevelopment. As economic-development initiatives go, this wasn’t exactly front-page news (though close), but it constitutes an important step forward for that neighborhood and the city as a whole.
And creating such initial steps — while also stimulating the ones that will follow — is the unofficial mission statement for DevelopSpringfield, the public-private partnership created to stimulate development activity in the city, especially in the wake of the tornado that tore through several neighborhoods nearly two years ago.
The agency is taking a multi-pronged approach to that assignment, but generally, it is currently engaged in identifying development opportunities and facilitating them through what the agency’s president and CEO, Jay Minkarah, calls “strategic investments.” And the River Inn project is a perfect example.
“This place held back the development of the entire neighborhood,” Minkarah told the local press. “It’s good that it’s going to be gone.”
Good, because if it was still there — and it probably would be, because it’s highly unlikely that a private developer would pay the cost of acquiring the property, demolishing it, and settling back taxes totaling $80,000 — then this large slice of State Street would remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future.
The same could likely be said for some of the other properties the agency has acquired recently. These include the historic building at 83 Maple St., known as the Ansel Phelps House (Springfield’s fourth mayor lived in it for some time), which had fallen into a state of disrepair and placement on the Springfield Preservation Trust’s list of endangered historic properties in the city, as well as the historic Gunn Block at the corner of Walnut and State streets, another threatened property said to be city’s oldest commercial building.
Neither is likely to be redeveloped soon, but their acquisition signals the start of movement that will likely remove that ‘threatened’ designation and, more importantly, trigger the kind of development that generates momentum in a specific neighborhood.
There is no way of knowing when and how the River Inn property, or any of the others acquired by DevelopSpringfield, will be transformed for future use. After all, the Hotel Charles acreage and the York Street Jail parcel are still vacant lots. And the same is true, more or less, for the site of the old Steigers building on Main Street. It was to be “a little park for a little while,” said city officials when it came down. That was 18 years ago.
But it’s safe to say that these investments will eventually stimulate movement within the development community and generate real progress with the challenging assignment of revitalizing struggling neighborhoods. Thus, they are solid investments in the city’s future.

Green Business Sections
Gold Circuit E-Cycling Carves Out a Unique Niche

Matt Pronovost

Matt Pronovost says the mission at Gold Circuit E-Cycling is controlled growth.

Matt Pronovost calls it his “museum wall.”
It’s little more than a few wooden shelves in the back of the room cluttered with what could only be described as electronic artifacts, especially if you’re under age 40. There are a few 8-track players in the mix, two movie projectors, a ’60s-era console television (a model that sat on the living room floor), a turntable, an old Atari system, several beta camcorders and transistor radios, and maybe a half-dozen rotary telephones of various colors and shapes.
And then, there are the computers, most with brand names and model numbers that achieved fame (or infamy) but disappeared from the landscape decades ago. A Commodore 64 sits between a Digital UT102 and a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III microcomputer. All three probably came out of the box 30 years ago, and they certainly look their age.
Pronovost said it takes something really unique to make the wall these days — like the old washboard and basin that came in a few weeks ago — partly due to the fact that he’s just about out of display space. But it’s mostly because he’d rather devote his time to the 99.9% of the stuff that comes in his door that he doesn’t even think about keeping.
This is what Gold Circuit E-Cycling is really all about.
This bin of circuit boards

This bin of circuit boards is one of many crowding the floor at Gold Circuit E-Cycling.

It’s a three-year old enterprise devoted to the recycling of computers and electronic equipment, an intriguing and fast-growing venture now occupying roughly half of one of the dozens of buildings comprising the sprawling Ludlow Mills complex. And it would seem to be the right business in the right place at the right time.
Indeed, as technology advances at a rate so rapid that it seems like a 40-inch flatscreen TV or five-year-old PC might soon be candidates for the museum wall (and there are more than a few of both on the floor waiting to be dismantled and recycled), area business owners and residents are increasingly challenged by the question of what to do with yesterday’s electronics as they acquire tomorrow’s products.
And Gold Circuit was created to provide an answer.
“Increasingly, people are realizing that there’s a solution to their problem, and it’s not the garbage can,” said Pronovost, adding that the business of e-cycling, as it’s called, is not exactly new, but it is picking up steam in the Northeast after migrating from the West Coast (as many trends do) a decade or so ago. “We’re here to help people make the responsible choice when it comes to unwanted electronic equipment.”
This venture, which recorded 25% growth in its first full year in business and will likely double its volume this year, collects or ‘demanufactures’ computers, electronics, batteries, home appliances, lawn equipment, metal furniture, copiers, printers, medical equipment, power tools, tires, fluorescent bulbs, styrofoam, pellet-fuel bags, and more, and sells the parts and material for scrap, thus keeping such items out of the waste stream.
There are charges for some products that are dropped off at the facility — anything with glass or refrigerant, for example, and tires as well — but many items can simply be left free of charge. And the company is making it even easier by staging collection events, such as one held recently at East Longmeadow High School.
Several dozen pieces of equipment arrive at the Gold Circuit facility each day, meaning the company is already essentially at full capacity in a 15,000-square-foot location it moved into just last year after outgrowing its original, 6,000-square-foot home in the Ludlow Mills complex.
When, how, and where the company next expands is a critical question, said Pronovost, adding that at present, the goal — and the challenge — is controlled, smart growth.
“I don’t want to grow too fast because expenses can really take off if you’re not careful,” he explained. “Like any business, we have to stay within ourselves and expand in a smart way.”
For this issue and its focus on green business, we look at a company that is certainly larger than the sum of all those parts amassed on the Gold Circuit floor.

Here’s the Breakdown
As he gave BusinessWest a tour of his facility, Pronovost stopped briefly at the museum wall — he tried, unsuccessfully, to find a date on that washboard — but quickly moved on to several large cardboard boxes, each destined for a vendor that would recycle the material in question and/or extricate the more valuable materials from them.
There was one for clean (as in unpainted) aluminum, a material that will fetch 65 cents a pound, he said, and another for ribbon wire, most of it from PCs. Three boxes contained low-grade, medium-grade, and high-grade circuit boards, respectively, designations that indicate that amount of gold in each one. And there were others for everything from transformers (separated by size) to plastic (one for lighter colors and one for black).
Meanwhile, there was a huge box filled with Styrofoam that was used to keep many of these products safe in their boxes. Sold by the bale, this material has a number of potential future uses, said Pronovost, especially as a composite material used in everything from furniture to picture frames.
How he came to be an expert on the future lives of such materials — and to create a business focused on e-cycling — is an intriguing story based on the most basic principles of entrepreneurship: seeing a need and creating a service to meet it.
“To be honest, I pretty much fell into this,” he explained, while retracing a career that started with work supporting those using computers, not breaking them down into component parts.
He started in what he called the “desktop-support field,” working at MassMutual for a few years before moving to a firm in Connecticut where he handled hardware setup and configuration work, as well as equipment auditing. As that company was repeatedly sold to larger corporations, with each transaction accompanied by a change in equipment, Pronovost segued into resale of the old hardware and, eventually, into selling parts and material for scrap, an operation carried out in-house.
“I had the right background to distinguish whether the parts I was looking at had value outside of scrap — whether they could be wholesaled out or brokered out, whether we tear it down or not tear it down,” he noted, adding that he quickly moved up the ranks within this division. “I made the transition from technician into sales, and was doing well with generating revenue.”
However, the Great Recession changed the equation quickly, he went on, adding that he was one of many to be laid off and forced to settle on a new career path. His was entrepreneurship.
“I decided to do it myself,” he said, with the ‘it’ being e-cycling. “I could see that there was a lot of opportunity, especially here in Western Mass.”
Elaborating, he said that there were, and still are, national outfits that would work with large corporations, such as MassMutual and Aetna, to help them scrap electronic equipment, but such operations historically haven’t had much interest in small businesses or residents. Meanwhile, some communities had collection operations (most of them pricey) at their transfer stations, he went on, but there was a definite void in service to large portions of the local market, and this was the need he set out to address with Gold Circuit.
He opened the doors in October 2010 and started small, handling the bulk of the work, including most of the demanufacturing, himself. Growth, he noted, has come through awareness — of both his company’s services and the need to seek out earth-friendly ways of dealing with yesterday’s electronic devices.

Hard-driving Entrepreneur

Employees at Gold Circuit

Employees at Gold Circuit ‘demanufacture’ a wide array of computers and electronics, with parts and materials sold as scrap.

Using an old laptop as an example, Pronovost said there is a good deal of scrap value in such devices, and his company has become adept at squeezing every cent from them.
“The screen, if it’s unbroken, can be torn down and reused,” he told BusinessWest. “The main [circuit] board probably has the most scrap value in that laptop, but the hard drive comes out to be shredded, and there’s a lithium battery — and right now, lithium is one of those commodities that’s sought after. Everything has scrap value.”
On the day BusinessWest visited the operation, there were several dozen old laptops awaiting their fate. A few of them might actually be sold to resellers if they are in very good condition, said Pronovost, as will the various pieces of equipment — computers, printers, VCRs, phones, air conditioners, toaster ovens, and more — crammed into the 20 or so large boxes on the shop floor.
This is a busy time of year — good weather inspires people to clean out their homes and businesses, apparently — and the floor is crowded with “inventory,” he went on, adding that Gold Circuit currently has several days worth of devices to demanufacture, and more comes in every day.
Pronovost has tweaked his original business plan slightly, but for the most part, the document’s projections for volume, or weight (400,000 pounds of material in 2012), revenue, growth, and employment have been on the money.
They were based on a number of factors, but mostly the incredibly fast pace of progress with computers, cell phones, and other electronic equipment, and the market for used items — or the lack thereof, as the case may be.
Indeed, he said that PCs more than seven years old, and some much younger than that, have little value other than as scrap when their owners decide to upgrade. And the same is largely true for today’s televisions.
“The older ones, those 20 or 25 years old, are still working,” said Pronovost with a laugh. “The newer HD models … they don’t work. And when they break, you generally have to replace them.”
This phenomenon is one of the many factors contributing to the company’s impressive growth rate, he continued, adding that others include everything from a lack of competition locally to strong word-of-mouth referrals, to heightened efforts in recent years to market the company.
But much of it comes down to partnerships, or working with a host of constituencies, from individual communities to area colleges and universities, to encourage responsible disposal of unwanted electronic items.
When the town of Longmeadow opened its new high school, Gold Circuit took roughly 12,000 pounds of old computers and other electronic equipment from the old one free of charge, said Pronovost, adding that another example of such partnership-building was the recent collection drive at Holyoke Community College to benefit a scholarship fund at the school. Participants paid a small fee to organizers to have everything from an old cell phone to a garage-cluttering air conditioner hauled away by Gold Circuit.
Such events are win-win-wins, said Pronovost, noting that the scholarship fund grows, the planet benefits because such items don’t wind up in area landfills, and Gold Circuit gains some invaluable exposure.
Looking ahead, he said the company, which now has four full-time employees, and several part-timers, will continue its efforts to chart steady but controlled growth.

Parting Thoughts
Pronovost said his museum wall often generates interest and conversation.
“People will say, ‘holy smokes, a Commodore 64 — I had one of those back in…,’ and they start adding up in the years,” he said, adding quickly that, while nostalgia is fine, it’s not what this business is all about.
Instead, it’s about meeting a growing need among area businesses and communities, and a desire to do the right thing when it comes to disposing of old equipment, styrofoam, and more.
“People are learning … they’re understanding that you can’t just throw things like this away,” he said, sweeping his hand across the shop floor. “And we’ve become an answer to their problem.”

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

West Springfield Aims to Grow, Casino or Not

WestSpringfldCommunityProfilesMAPWest Springfield Mayor Greg Neffinger says his city doesn’t need a casino.
But that doesn’t mean he and other municipal and economic-development leaders aren’t excited about the bid put forth by Hard Rock International to site a destination casino on the Eastern States Exposition grounds.
When asked what that would mean, however, Neffinger paused for a moment before bringing up a favorite topic.
“I’ve just lowered taxes for the second time in my budget,” he said, noting that the town, recently saddled with the fifth-highest commercial tax rate in the state, now ranks around 16th, and the mayor would like to drop it further in an effort to attract more companies. “So I feel that West Springfield doesn’t need a casino for its economic vitality.”
Instead, he makes a regional argument for a casino, one that would benefit surrounding communities, including Holyoke, Chicopee, Westfield, and Agawam. “I think the casino in West Springfield should be a regional benefit, and the money that’s generated by the casino should be seen as a benefit to all the communities around us. We’re hoping to partner with all our adjacent communities to see how everyone can see the various benefits from the casino.”
But, just as Springfield officials across the Connecticut River have vowed not to stop growing organically even while they promote a casino bid by MGM Resorts International, Neffinger said his town’s economic growth will not be dependent on a gaming resort.
“We are now developing plans that we feel will be beneficial to West Springfield whether a casino is sited here or not,” he said, noting that a small army of consultants, planners, engineers, and attorneys are discussing the potential of the Big E site.
For instance, “there’s a large, undeveloped industrial area adjacent to the casino site, going from the Big E all the way to the power plant along the Westfield River. We hired a planner, Sasaki Associates out of Watertown, to look at those adjacent properties and see what type of commercial, entertainment, or recreation potential they have — either to enhance the entertainment-destination theme, or things that could be done without a casino.”
Memorial Avenue is only one course on Neffinger’s plate these days. To boost growth across the city, particularly in key areas like Memorial, Riverdale Road, and Westfield Street, he has created new positions for a planning and development director (Doug Mattoon) and an economic development director (currently vacant since Michele Cabral resigned earlier this year), and made efforts to streamline the permitting process and make the town more business-friendly.
The growing West of the River Chamber of Commerce, which encompasses West Springfield and Agawam, has taken notice, said Debra Boronski, president of the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, which manages the West of the River chamber.
“The mayor has been very active, making sure he is present at every event we have, and I think that speaks volumes in regard to him wanting to be connected to the business community,” she said. “He has embraced our quarterly coffee hour with the mayor, and he is always available for those forums as well. He is quite candid about how he feels about West Springfield being a great place to live, work, and do business.”

Architect of Change

Mayor Greg Neffinger

Mayor Greg Neffinger says the properties bordering the proposed casino have great potential whether or not West Springfield wins the bid.

Neffinger, a former architect, noted that each of West Side’s major commercial centers has its own character and set of needs. “Westfield Street is more neighborhood businesses, while Riverdale Road has a life of its own; it’s a very popular location, and restaurants, retail, and car dealerships seem to do well there because of all the traffic going through. Places like CVS, Home Depot, and Costco also do well there.”
He conceded, though, that most of the buzz on Riverdale occurs south of Interstate 91, while the northern stretch of the thoroughfare, between the highway and the Holyoke Mall area, could use more development. A number of chain restaurants — Outback, On the Border, Hooters, and Five Guys, to name a few — have succeeded there, and a tenant is looking to move into the former Piccadilly Pub location. “We think that part of Riverdale Road has lots of potential.”
Armed with a larger planning and development team than past administrations have enjoyed, Neffinger expects progress on other fronts as well. Further development of Agawam Avenue Extension is a key goal in a 2005 report on the Merrick-Memorial section of the city — one of many recommendations he wants to set into action.
“We’re doing a whole rezoning of the Merrick section. That was part of the Merrick-Memorial study,” he told BusinessWest. “When we brought in planners to begin looking at it, they found that virtually 100% of the Merrick section was non-conforming, and [developers] would have to go for a special permit, and it’s questionable whether they’d do that. As an architect, I felt that builders, developers, and entrepreneurs would be more attracted to areas of town that were conforming.”
As a result, a new zoning structure for the area should be completed by June, and virtually all the parcels will be conforming, said Neffinger, who said full development of the area could add $1 million to the tax base.
The mayor repeatedly stressed the importance of a robust planning and economic-development staff, and said the town wants to fill Cabral’s position with someone savvy in 21st-century communication.
“We spoke with a number of retired economic-development directors, and I think the way of reaching out to business is changing, with social media and websites,” he explained, “and so we’re hoping that we can get someone with more of a marketing background who can reach out to businesses and let existing businesses know we’re here and we care about them doing business in West Springfield.”
In addition, he and various planning officials are talking about ways they can improve the process by which businesses locate in town. “One of those is electronic permitting, and hopefully, that’ll be in place next month.”
Neffinger said the Town Council is also discussing exempting businesses from taxes on equipment up to $10,000 in value. “We don’t make much on it, and our administrative costs are almost equal to the money that comes in. There’s a lot of paperwork involved for small businesses, so they’ll save some money and time.”

Rolling the Dice
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the prospect of one decidedly large business — that’s Hard Rock — that wants to call West Springfield home.
Boronski noted that the West of the River Chamber surveyed members and non-members alike about their desire for a casino, and based on the results, just last week, the chamber officially endorsed the $800 million Hard Rock proposal.
“Around the state and locally, no chambers of commerce have come out publicly to support a specific casino,” she said. “For the West of the River Chamber board of directors to do this shows that they are willing to put themselves out there and take a position that’s right for economic development.”
Michael Beaudry, who chairs the chamber, said members “are excited about the potential of the Hard Rock project for its impact to our regional economy and to small business in particular. The job creation and payroll will reverberate throughout the area, alongside new tax revenues for property owners and local government.”
He noted that Hard Rock is committed to a buy-local approach to the project. To strengthen ties between a casino and the business community, the chamber is pursuing:
• Development of a small-business network to identify area businesses that may provide goods and services to the casino resort;
• Coordination on a series of vendor fairs to facilitate additional information and communication on goods and services for the gaming facility;
• Affinity programs for casino employees, by which Hard Rock will offer chamber members the opportunity to directly market their services to the anticipated 2,000-plus casino workers; and
• Promotion by Hard Rock of regional destinations, attractions, shopping districts, and hospitality venues. Those efforts might include cooperative group sales, local training for resort personnel, and marketing and advertising.
That emphasis on making sure small businesses benefit from a casino is a theme that hits home with Neffinger.
“I think small businesses are the backbone of all communities,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have some pretty large companies in West Springfield, but for our economy, employment, and the general well-being of the town, I think small businesses are the lifeblood of the community.”

Natural Appeal
Still, the mayor added, “the casino coming in to the Memorial Avenue area would bring in a whole new dynamic.” One of his missions is to make sure the town’s traditional appeals are not lost in the gaming hype.
“I think, when businesses think of relocating in Western Mass., they’re interested in what the quality of life is, what’s the education system like, what the recreation possibilities are,” he said. “We in West Springfield are surrounded by natural beauty — the Connecticut River, the Westfield River, the Holyoke mountain range, Bear Hole Reservoir … we’re pretty much surrounded by natural resources, and I’m really hoping to capitalize on those.”
To that end, “we’ve already begun to do work on Mittineague Park to fix it up, and we took tons of trash out of Bear Hole Reservoir and put a ranger up there. We want that to be a natural resource for the residents of West Springfield.”
Neffinger also considers education a key part of making West Springfield an attractive destination for businesses and families. The construction of a new, $107 million high school, set to open in 2014, is a big part of that. “We’re also working on improving our MCAS scores and our graduation rate,” he told BusinessWest. “These things are very important for people, especially young families, who are thinking of relocating.”
In addition, he said, “we’re not far from skiing, hiking, beaches, Boston, New York … we’re in a very good location.”
In other words, West Springfield has plenty to offer — whether or not Hard Rock gets the chance to light up Memorial Avenue.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]