Home 2014 January
Features
Riverfront Club’s Mission Blends Fitness, Teamwork, Access to a ‘Jewel’

Jonathon Moss (left) and Jim Sotiropoulos

Jonathon Moss (left) and Jim Sotiropoulos, founder and director, respectively, of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club.

Jonathon Moss says he found the item on eBay.
It’s a framed copy of an engraving and short story in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper that chronicles the International Regatta, which took place on a stretch of the Connecticut River in Springfield on Sept. 11, 1867 — and, more specifically, the marquee event that day, a race between a crew from Newburg, N.Y. and another from St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.

Moss, the president and co-founder of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club (PVRC), says he can’t tell from this artwork where, exactly, on the river the action is taking place — although he suspects it was at or near the site of the current Riverfront Park near the Memorial Bridge. But he can easily discern that this was, in fact, an event.
“There were 10,000 people on hand for this,” he said, citing the account of the regatta as his source for that number. “At the time, the population of Springfield was 15,000 to 20,000 — so the equivalent of half the city showed up on the riverbanks to watch the event. You can see the sundresses and the pomp and the circumstance surrounding this gathering; this was immediately after the Civil War, and folks were looking for a competitive outlet. This was something to celebrate as the country healed.”

‘International Regatta’ in 1867.

An engraving chronicling the ‘International Regatta’ in 1867.

Moss, a rower who competed at Wesleyan University, has no delusions about recreating what is depicted in that engraving in 2014, or even 2034. But making history repeat itself isn’t exactly what the PVRC is all about.
Instead, it’s about recapturing some of the river’s great history in rowing — and there is, as that engraving shows, much more of it than most would think — while also reconnecting area residents with a waterway that most know only from driving over it. And it’s also about introducing people of all ages to the sport of rowing and promoting fitness and well-being.
That’s a rather broad mission, he acknowledged, adding quickly that the club is growing into it, and fairly quickly. And it is doing so by focusing on five words that sum up what this organization is all about: activity, diversity, access, health, and team.
These have been the focal points since the PVRC was created in 2007 and operated programs and competitions at the Pioneer Valley Yacht Club (often taking participants from Springfield by taxi to competitions there). And things have only gained speed since 2012, when the club took up residence in what’s known as North Riverfront Park in Springfield, in the shadow of the North End Bridge, and, more specifically, in the 113-year-old facility (long owned by the city of Springfield) known originally as the Rockrimmon Boathouse that was most recently home to Bassett Boat’s showroom.
That framed engraving now hangs in the PVRC’s conference room in the boathouse, one of many rooms in an ongoing state of transformation that will give a nod to the past, but with some 21st-century amenities (more on that later).
And while the restoration and reconstruction work continues, so too does the club’s efforts to introduce people to the river while also stressing the importance of everything from fitness to teamwork.
It does so through a variety of programs and competitions staged throughout the year, including rowing classes for people of all ages, indoor community fitness, youth fall and spring racing teams, the annual Rockrimmon Regatta staged each fall, dragon-boat racing (20-person teams), running and bicycling programs that make use of the bike trail along the river, kayak rentals, and, perhaps most notably, group team building.
Elaborating on that last bullet point, both Moss and Jim Sotiropoulos, PRVC’s executive director, said that perhaps the club’s greatest success comes in putting young people from different communities — and different backgrounds — together in the same boat, where they can row, compete, and grow together.
A big part of the PVRC’s broad mission

A big part of the PVRC’s broad mission is to introduce — or reintroduce — area residents to the Connecticut River.
(Photo by Jonathan Moss)

“It builds a sense of community, and you can see it in our high-school program,” said Sotiropoulos, referencing an initiative involving a number of area schools. “We have kids coming from the inner city of Springfield, as well as the suburbs — Longmeadow, West Springfield, and Somers. These kids get in a boat together, and while the economic divide between them is enormous, they become best friends; they just get in the boat together and want to go fast.”
For this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the PVRC and what could be called current events. This is an ongoing story with no finish line — at least in a figurative sense — because the hope is that this work will continue with the next several generations of area residents.

Past Is Prologue
It’s called the ‘great room.’
When asked why, Sotiropoulos, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, said “because everyone who goes in it says, ‘this is great.’”
Actually, no one really knows why it’s called that, said Moss, adding quickly that this large room with a vaulted ceiling on the second floor of the boathouse was once very likely the focal point of fellowship at the facility.
At the moment, it is in the midst of the slow-moving process of deconstruction and then restoration, led in large part by students at Springfield’s Putnam High School. It is currently a museum of sorts for rowing machines. Indeed, there’s a collection of them, representing perhaps each of the past five or six decades of products, as well as a few (donated by Smith College) that are more than a century old.
What will become of the room for the long term is not yet known, said Moss, adding that a more pressing matter is renovating the first-floor space to accommodate showers and lockers, a repeated request (if not demand) from the growing numbers of people enjoying frequent workouts at the facility. And then, there’s that ongoing mission and those five words that define it.
But before telling that story, Moss wanted to first go back in time — to when Springfield could truly be called a mecca for rowing — because relating that history goes a long way toward explaining the PVRC’s reason for being.
“Springfield, at the crossroads of New England and with a beautiful riverfront, featured prominently in rowing from very early on,” he said, noting that there are accounts of regattas going back to the 1850s. Crews from Ivy League powerhouses Harvard and Yale raced on the Connecticut River in Springfield because they considered it an attractive neutral site, he went on, even though the work to transport boats and people here from Cambridge and New Haven was rather involved back then.
Rowing was, by most accounts, the first intercollegiate sport, said Moss, and a number of colleges and universities competed on the Connecticut River and in Springfield. By the end of the 1800s, many area public high schools were involved as well.
“And that was extraordinarily unusual,” he told BusinessWest, “because it was only 50 years earlier that it was introduced at all, and it was completely an Ivy League, gentleman’s sport. For there to be public high-school rowing was very unusual, and it was during those Industrial Revolution years that it became very prominent.”
The 20th century would be marked by a number of highs and lows when it came to rowing on the river, said Moss. One of the highs was a huge regatta that accompanied the opening of what was known then as the Hampden County Memorial Bridge in 1922, he noted, adding that the lows were precipitated by world wars, economic downturns (rowing programs are capital-intensive propositions), and, most recently, the dramatic decline in the river’s cleanliness in the ’60s and ’70s.
“People referred to it as America’s most beautifully landscaped sewage system, or something like that,” said Sotiropoulos, who relayed an anecdote about a traveling team beating a unit from Technical High School in the early ’70s, but foregoing the long-standing tradition of throwing the coxswain into the river after a race amid fears for his health.
“They waited until they got back home and then threw him in a nearby lake; they didn’t dare throw him in the Connecticut River,” he went on, adding that, by the mid-’70s, competitive rowing was all but dead on the river, even as work funded by the Clean Water Act began the process of reversing the river’s fortunes.
Fast-forwarding a few decades, Moss said the Greater Springfield YMCA, at the urging of some area businesspeople, introduced a rowing program, which he eventually joined as a volunteer at the start of this century.
“They were teaching middle-aged adults how to paddle and recreate on the river,” he recalled. “I said, ‘this is great, but there’s more to this.’”

The so-called ‘great room’ at the boathouse at North Riverfront Park

The so-called ‘great room’ at the boathouse at North Riverfront Park is currently a museum of sorts for rowing machines, but PVRC officials envision a grander future.

Elaborating, he said there were team aspects of rowing that were missing from the equation that he wanted to add. Shortly thereafter, though, the Y experienced both funding challenges and a leadership change, and the rowing program was cast adrift.
It was then that Moss and several supporters launched the PVPC, a nonprofit agency that eventually bought some larger boats and incorporated a youth program, as well as an initiative for teen mothers working to get their GEDs, and staged programs and competitions in Longmeadow.

The Current Is Strong
Soon, it was decided that, instead of bringing program participants to the yacht club, the more prudent course would be to bring the program to Springfield, said Moss, adding that the PVRC’s fortunes changed considerably when Springfield officials issued a request for proposals for the old boathouse property.
“Their thinking at the time was, ‘we don’t have great access to the river, and we don’t have great recreational activities on the river in Springfield — let’s do something more than allow someone to have a retail establishment here,’” he went on. “The program that we were running — and planned to run — met their needs.”
The club moved into its new home in 2012, said Moss, and soon became one of many organizations, with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission taking the lead, to collaborate on an application for a two-year, $2 million Community Transformation Grant (CTG) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With its share of that award — roughly $350,000 — as well as donations from several area businesses and foundations and revenue in the form of membership fees, the PVRC has been able to take large strides to renovate and repurpose the boathouse and move aggressively to meet its core mission.
“We want to help people make positive lifestyle choices,” said Moss. “This includes exercise, the bike path, experiencing and exploring the river, training indoors in the winter, things like that.”
Going back to those five mission-defining words — activity, diversity, access, health, and team — Moss and Sotiropoulos said a number of programs have been created to address one or, as is usually the case, several of them.
For example, the Healthy Prescription Program is described as a community outreach undertaken in conjunction with the nearby Brightwood Health Clinic, part of Baystate Health System. When a physician prescribes exercise for a patient, that prescription can be filled at the club, and without co-pays, said Sotiropoulos.
“It’s a very unique endeavor that we fund ourselves, and it’s one of the programs I’m most hopeful for, he said, adding that this is an effort born from the CTG grant.
Another initiative with great promise is the Ready, Set, Row program, which takes some of the club’s many rowing machines and deploys them to area middle schools for use in curricula that promote team building and mindfulness.
“What we’ve seen from some of the surveys that we do before and after the program is that it has a positive impact on kids, and teachers can see it,” he noted. “The kids are getting along better amongst themselves, and the teacher-student dynamic is also improved. But we would like to see this expanded to where it’s not done in a vacuum, and we’re able to do this throughout the year and not in a school for a short period of time.”
Moss agreed, and noted that rowing is a sport with benefits not readily apparent to many people. It is a non-contact activity, he said, and one that people can start when they’re young and continue with for a lifetime. Meanwhile, it’s an activity where people are responsible for their own success.
And in the larger boats, as Moss and Sotiropoulos mentioned, rowing has great potential to build responsibility, camaraderie, and teamwork, while also bridging cultural divides.
“They all started out not knowing anything about rowing,” said Moss, “so it’s a very level playing field in there.”

Wave of the Future
Moving forward, there are a number of challenges facing the PVRC, said Sotiropoulos, starting with the still-lingering perception of the Connecticut as a polluted river not fit for water sports such as rowing. That’s if people have opinions on the river at all.
“That’s one of our barriers to reaching people — there’s the belief that the river still is dirty. Because of the Clean Water Act and people changing their lifestyles, the river has become significantly cleaner, and I don’t believe people fully realize that yet,” he said. “And people don’t have the same association with the river they did years ago; if you look at the way Springfield is built, it’s all turned from the river, and I-91 cut off everyone from the river. So part of our mission is to not only promote healthy lifestyles, but also to reintroduce people to the river and let them know it’s a viable resource and that they should be enjoying it — it’s a jewel.
“We’re in the North End in Springfield; we’re in the middle of a city,” he went on. “And I will guarantee you a bald eagle sighting if you spend more than a couple of days on the river in the spring, summer, or fall. If you run north of here [the boathouse], you won’t know you’re in the North End of Springfield, and people are taken aback by that; it gives you a different perspective on the city. But you need to get people out there.”
The boathouse is another challenge, said Sotiropoulos, adding that the facility is old and has undergone a significant amount of work over the years. The deconstruction process has revealed a lot about the structure’s past — including the last vestiges of a wrap-around porch on the second floor — but also some tests that lie ahead. The first-floor renovations top on the priority list, with the great-room renovations to follow.
And funding will certainly be an issue moving forward, he went on, adding that the grant funding will run out next year, and the club will become more reliant on revenues from memberships and gifts from area businesses and foundations.
Thus, one of the club’s ongoing priorities is to tell its story, said Moss, adding that awareness of the club’s multi-faceted mission will help generate support from both public and private sources.
Meanwhile, the organization must be focused on smart, controlled growth, said Sotiropoulos, adding that the Community Transformation Grant certainly accelerated the club’s pace of growth, and the challenge is to manage this opportunity effectively.
“We want to make sure our business is growing at a reasonable rate,” he explained. “Sure, we want the river flooded with canoers, kayakers, rowers, and stand-up paddleboaders, but if 1,000 people show up at the door, we want to be prepared for that. We don’t want to be that organization that grew too fast, with people saying, ‘that could have been a great idea.”

Paddle to the Metal
Moss told BusinessWest that he can’t recall exactly what he paid for the engraving that captured the International Regatta, but believes it wasn’t more than $50.
The item needs a little work and maybe a better frame, and it will likely get both, he went on, adding quickly that, while he and all those associated with the PVRC want to recognize — and honor — this city’s glorious past when it comes to rowing, it is far more focused on the present and future.
In time, he said, the historic boathouse will feature photos from three centuries, and probably more from the 21st, because, while this organization has a number of missions, at the top of that list is a commitment to see that there is a lot more history written at — and on — the Connecticut River.

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

Opinion
The Race to Pick MGM’s Pockets

As the process for awarding the only Western Mass. casino license moves into its final, critical stages, there is an interesting subplot emerging — area communities trying to swing generous deals from the presumptive winner of that contest, MGM Resorts International.
Many communities have already negotiated what are known as ‘surrounding-community mitigation agreements’ with the casino operator, winning both upfront payments and yearly awards, with both averaging something close to $100,000 per community. Holyoke, for example, recently struck an accord that calls for $50,000 upfront and an additional $1.275 million over the next 15 years, or $85,000 annually. Some cities and towns have negotiated more, others less.
Holyoke isn’t an abutter, and isn’t likely to be impacted much by the casino, but these payments essentially amount to compensation for having a casino in the same county, and many other communities have shamefully followed suit. MGM, understandably, has seemed more than willing to strike such deals, on the premise that they are a cost of doing business. Extracting dollars from MGM, or any other business for that matter, however, sets the wrong tone for doing business in the state.
Where things get interesting is with two communities — Longmeadow and Northampton — that are seeking large amounts of cash (or likely will). Longmeadow, one of the most prosperous towns in the Commonwealth, fears its community will be adversely affected by traffic to and from the South End casino, and is seeking $1 million upfront, followed by annual payments of $500,000, along with annual escalators. We hope MGM tells them enough is enough.
What will Longmeadow do with that money ? Widen Route 5? Build a flyover? Put in a monorail? No. It’s probably going to get a new fire truck or new snow-clearing equipment, acquisitions that won’t improve the commute from downtown Springfield. So what’s the point, other than to extort money from MGM, which seems to be the new parlor game?
Northampton, meanwhile, hasn’t specified an amount, but a petition submitted by the community after it failed to reach a settlement with MGM anticipates “grave and substantial impact on finances and local businesses due to the erosion of its status as the sole destination market in the Pioneer Valley.” In other words, officials and business owners in Paradise City fear that individuals and groups will choose the casino and its various attractions rather than their community’s restaurants, clubs, and cultural attractions.
Is this a logical fear? Is someone who frequently attends the Paradise City Arts Festival or the Iron Horse Music Hall going to ditch that in favor of a day at the slots or roulette wheel? Of course not. And if they do, so what? Isn’t that the way free enterprise is supposed to work? Yes, the casino will have shows, but those shows would likely not have come to Northampton.
It’s a ‘let’s get ours’ mentality, and even remote Hampden, three towns away from Springfield, is thinking about seeking some compensation. Who’s next, Goshen? West Brookfield? Why stop there? This sentiment is poisonous to all businesses, especially the ones thinking about locating here.
Indeed, while many are still wary about a casino and its potential impact on Springfield and surrounding communities, they should be more wary of a casino that opens and then struggles — or, far worse, fails.
A Western Mass. casino will face a number of challenges, including a still-tepid economy and intense competition from casinos in this state and others. MGM doesn’t need to be further challenged by unreasonable requests for compensation from area communities, many of which will not be directly impacted by the gaming complex.
Instead of trying to pick MGM’s pockets, area communities should be trying to work with the company to make sure that this nearly $1 billion project is one that starts strong and builds momentum. If that happens, maybe then nearby cities and towns, which will have a better understanding of the casino’s impact, can share in the wealth that resorts like MGM bring.

Construction Sections
Integrity and Accountability Are Central to Barr & Barr’s Business Philosophy

Stephen Killiam

While the volume of work is not up to pre-recession levels, Stephen Killiam says, state-agency work and private work are starting to come back.

Stephen Killian was asked to put the Great Recession and its many — and still-lingering — consequences into perspective, with regard to both his company, New York-based Barr & Barr, which has had a presence in Western Mass. for a decade now, and the construction industry in general.
He paused for a minute and exhaled as if to indicate there would be a lengthy, multi-faceted answer (and there was), before summoning an analogy to a large, powerful, fast-moving storm that leaves damage in its wake. Those in the construction sector, and many others, could see the storm approaching, he told BusinessWest, and did their best to prepare. But few could have predicted just how big a wallop it would pack and how deep the impact would be.

“We’d had multiple discussions about it,” said Killian, Barr and Barr’s COO, of the downturn. “It was too fast and too big, and we started to reduce internal costs. By 2008, when the economy really hit the skids, we lost hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts that were ready to go, but then the owners pulled the plug. But we’d already pared down … so we weathered it.”
Translating that phrase with more detail, he said Barr & Barr saw a 30% drop in volume, or construction in place, over the next 18 months, and experienced a reduction in project backlog from $350 million to $80 million. But the now-85-year-old company hung in, doing more with less and successfully fighting for a limited number of contracts, and emerged from the storm battered, like everyone else, but resilient.
That’s one of the adjectives that have defined Barr & Barr, a construction management (CM) firm that has gained a reputation in recent years as a leading CM at risk, or CMaR, a firm that takes on the risk in a bid number (hence the name) by essentially guaranteeing that price and then partnering with the customer to ensure that the number is hit. Success in that realm, as well as a problem-solving approach and a reputation for innovation, have earned the company an 85% repeat-business rate, one of the many factors that has enabled it to weather a number of downturns.
But while the big storm has passed, the company, and all its competitors, are still dealing with the aftereffects — and there are many.
Indeed, while the economy has improved in some respects, players in the many sectors Barr & Barr serves, including healthcare, higher education, and commercial, remain wary about building in what is still considered an unstable climate. Meanwhile, the competition for available work is growing, and margins are becoming increasingly thin.
“I think the construction industry is coming around, but the amount of construction managers around — even some of the small ones that were doing development and commercial work — is growing,” Killian said. “There are more people getting into the healthcare sector and education, so instead of a normal job having six to eight competitors, you have 14 to 20.”
Bill Aquadro, vice president and senior project manager of Barr and Barr, agreed. “Firms are coming out of the woodwork,” he said, adding that, to win projects, companies are bidding low — sometimes lower than reality dictates they should — and customers are being overwhelmed by those numbers.
In this climate, companies have to stand out and be able to offer more than price, said Aquadro and Killian, noting the CM-at-risk model has helped Barr & Barr, as has an ability to stay at the cutting edge of technology, especially with a process known as building information modeling (BIM), which, as the name suggests, allows contractors and architects to build a computer-generated  3-D model of a project before and during the building process, which saves time — and, therefore, money — by reducing errors and eliminating problems (more on this later).
For this issue and its focus on the construction sector, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at a company with a deep and diverse portfolio — which includes everything from Rockefeller Center to the latest addition at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton — and a track record for excellence and partnership building that has enabled it to weather a number of storms throughout its history.

Building on a Legacy
Recognized by Engineering News Record as one of the nation’s top 400 construction companies, Barr & Barr’s New England annual volume during the recession seesawed between $135 million and $190 million, said Killian. Company-wide (in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts), the annual volume is finally back over the $300 million mark — with $70 million of that in Western Mass. last year — or what amounts to pre-recession levels.
A look at recent projects undertaken in the Bay State reveals the level of diversity within the company’s portfolio, and its ability to stay busy during difficult times. That list includes the $80 million Bridgewater State University Science and Mathematics Center, the $25 million Greenfield Community College Student Center, the $24 million Creighton Hall at Mount Holyoke College, the $23 million Hanover Theater in Worcester, and the $45 million addition at Cooley Dickinson.

Bridgewater State University Science and Mathematics Center

Barr and Barr has earned high praise for its work in healthcare and higher education, including the $80 million Bridgewater State University Science and Mathematics Center.

From the beginning, Killian noted, the company has been a CM firm, meaning it forms a contractual and collaborative effort with the owner and architect that allows them the ability to handle time, cost, and quality management; human resources; and decision making.
Transparency is the key, Aquadro added, because the CM is involved from the start of the design-build process. When an owner or developer contracts with a general contractor (GC), the money for anything that is not in the initial construction document — say, a sewer line — comes from the owner. The no-surprises relationship with a CM is the difference between a job staying on budget and, in Aquadro’s words, “a pile of change orders waiting to happen.”
By the time the construction process begins, everything is vetted out, said Aquadro. “We’re not fighting with the owner or the architects, and subcontractors aren’t fighting with us — we’re just one big happy family,” he explained. “That’s what you try to achieve; that’s the CMaR process — getting everybody on board.”
In recent years, Barr and Barr has gained a quality reputation as a CMaR, which has differentiated Barr & Barr from other CMs and GCs, because it is essentially taking on risk and guaranteeing a bid price. With “skin in the game,” as Killian called it, Barr and Barr becomes partners with the client, the architect, and subcontractors.
“A general contractor is not going to get involved in the pre-construction process or work with the design team like we do,” Aquadro added. “He’s going to bid on it and try his best to work with it, and fight about it at the end. But with us, it’s a collaborative effort from the start.”
Killian has seen more general contractors venture into the CM delivery method over the last six years. This trend is another after-effect of the recession, and it has prompted struggling GCs to venture into markets they’d never been involved in before.
Barr & Barr’s main Northeast competitors — such as Gilbane, Turner Construction, Bond Brothers, and Daniel O’Connell’s Sons — are large, experienced corporations, Killian said, but the process for bidding jobs now, especially for healthcare and state-agency jobs with the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), has far more entities at the bidding table than ever before, and not all of them are qualified to be there, in his estimation.
This saturation of the market, he went on, is affecting the request-for-qualifications (RFQ) and request-for-proposals (RFP) process, bringing not only more players into the mix, but more challenges for those who will award contracts.
A typical RFQ, which is meant to pre-qualify firms for work, usually results in five qualified firms. At that point, the firms are asked to prepare a full RFP, said Killian, who pointed to an RFQ that Barr & Barr had been short-listed on the day before. “We were one of 14 firms … and, realistically, what agency or what owner wants to go through 14 RFPs?”
The tough part for an experienced group like Barr & Barr is that GCs, or those now calling themselves CM companies, are bidding low, and developers and owners are being swayed more by those bid numbers than they are by a company’s track record.
And often, they’ve lived to regret it, said Killian, adding that, as contractors move out of their comfort zone, there are often consequences in terms of quality and meeting budgets and deadlines.

No Suspense
Other surprises lurk for those CMs, GCs, or subcontractors that have not kept pace with technology, specifically BIM, which is becoming a revolutionizing industry standard for the design/build process, said Killian, one that has been evolving for years.
And while it was first marketed to save 25% in hard construction costs, Killian shook his head as he talked about that number. “That’s unrealistic; what it does do is it saves you time, and time is money, bottom line.”
Through BIM, the architect generates a 3-D rendering of the building that can eventually encompass literally every last nut and bolt, as all players involved in a project add layers to that rendering to create a full-scale virtual replica.
Killian cited, as an example, a 50,000-square-foot floor plate that years ago would have taken three to four months of old-school, back-and-forth coordination to conceptualize — even with 3-D modeling, which was new more than a decade ago. Now, those floors can take shape in a month using the BIM model, said Killian, adding that this process has evolved to such a degree that as steel is being erected, two to three floors are concurrently being built out below, faster than ever before.
BIM 360, the next generation of BIM, allows Killian or Aquadro to stand with the developer in a partially constructed building, mark their location on an iPad, and peel away the wall on the visual image and see what structures and utilities are behind it.
“It’s accelerated the building process in the sense that we’re working with the designers during the development of the construction documents with the BIM model, and once a week or so, our BIM coordinator will work with the designers, mechanical people, and electrical contractors to get the model right where we need it to be, so when we turn it over, some of the steel companies will actually bring that BIM model to fabrication to verify a couple of things,” said Killian.
But the BIM model is only as strong as each user updating their changes, Aquadro said, adding that, if changes are not recorded and the model remains outdated, everyone after that is working with outdated plans, which results in what are known as ‘clashes,’ such as steel beams running through doorways.
During a recent BIM model meeting, more than 1,100 clashes were found and reported to team members; by the time the model went to final construction documents (CD), the clashes were down to six. The input by Barr & Barr over that four- to six-month process saved considerable time and money in future conflicts that could have resulted in multiple work stoppages or lost materials.
“In the past, we would have found a good percentage of those clashes, but not in that time span, and not all of them; that’s perfection,” Killian said. “BIM is not a panacea for the entire project, but it’s such a great tool.”
And by staying on the cutting edge of new developments in BIM, the company is positioning itself to better compete for projects moving forward, he went on, adding that, increasingly, bid specifications are mandating BIM. “And it’s not cheap, so those GCs and subcontractors that want to stay in the game are going to have to make that investment.”

Collaborative Effort
With the cyclical nature of large-scale construction, a good backlog was created in 2011 and 2012, and while 2013 wasn’t as big a year in New England as company leaders would have envisioned, Killian said Barr & Barr is definitely healthy, and the outlook is positive.
“The healthcare reform made some of the hospitals shy away from any major projects, but some are starting to come out now,” he said, noting that one of the jobs in the BIM process now is the Sisters of Providence Health System’s new $15 million expansion of the Sr. Caritas Cancer Center at Mercy Medical Center.
It’s a job that will require talent, technology, and teamwork, he said, adding that these have been the company’s calling cards throughout its history, enabling it to weather all manner of storms — even one as large as the Great Recession.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

DBA Certificates Departments

The following Business Certificates and Trade Names were issued or renewed during the month of and January 2014.

AGAWAM

EZ Life Ideas
37 Overlook Dr.
Newton Vezina

My Dance Pants
471 Meadow St.
Lorrie A. Rousseau

Silver Linings Home Care
159 Main St.
Tania Spear

UBU Hair Design
322 Cooper St.
Sherri Laflamme

CHICOPEE

Cosgrove Remodeling
99 Grape St.
Thomas Hodsdon

Graphics Your Way
225 Tolpa Circle
Terry L. Messier

Paquette Construction
175 Montgomery St.
David Paquette

GREENFIELD

Alliance Group
13 Cedar St.
John Michelson

Big Y Foods Inc.
237 Mohawk Trail
Michael Gold

Child at Heart Art Gallery
54 Briar Way
Paul McDonough

China Gourmet
78 Mohawk Trail
Hsien F. Chang

Community 911 Training Inc.
38 Haywood St.
Matthew Wolkendreit

Greenfield Grille
40 Federal St.
Joseph Poirier Sr.

Radical Self-Care Now
34 Glenbrook Dr.
Katherine Golub

Synergy Transportation Service
25 Park Ave.
Jason Markwell

The Lunch Box
221 Main St.
Joseph Motika

HOLYOKE

Goodfellas Barbershop
665 High St.
Ferdinand Rivera

Holyoke Heating & Air
43 Woodland St.
Ronald Theriault

Oakdale Property Services
78 Calumet Road
Jonathan Hilchey

Portal Del Cielo
285 High St.
Lillian Calvo

PALMER

Country Corner Citgo Inc.
5 Springfield St.
Peter McKearney

Dominick’s Family Restaurant
2047 Main St.
Edward Glaszcz

Historical Nipmuc Tribe
189 Breckenridge St.
Tracy Riley

Miss Trans-America Pageant
1037 Pleasant St.
Christa Hilfers

Palmer Restaurant
1376 Main St.
Elias Poupopoulos

SPRINGFIELD

Mommy’s
324 Wilbraham Road
Henry B. Ogirri

Nicoletti & Brown
15 Colfax St.
James T. Brown

Oriental Gift and More
1714 Boston Road
Chun F. Yang

Plink Plunk Play
63 Lakevilla Ave.
Rita F. Bartholomew

Ray’s Auto Repair & Towing
3 Fountain St.
Ramon L. Rivas

S & S Renovation
127 Balfour Dr.
Stephanie L. Goggin

Serenev Affordable Tax
67 Suffolk St.
Angella D. Martin

Superior Home Health
83 Hazen St.
Shari Anglin

The Sports Shack
152 Main St.
Sandra A. Babbie

Tower Convenience Store
10 Chestnut St.
Zahid Farooqui

Tranquility Day Spa & Salon
1655 Boston Road
Charles Tran

Universal Caulking
42 Kimberly Ave.
Anthony M. Dewdney

Westside Pizza
1291 Boston Road
Vedat Kan

Wheeler’s Convenience
597 Dickinson St.
Faiz Rabbani

WESTFIELD

Aura Nails and Spa
261 East Main St.
Youngran Chang

Boss’ Business
19 Parkside Ave.
Petro M. Makarchuk

Dorsey Installations
25 State St.
Anthony Dorsey

Elite Tanning by Jennifer Amy Inc.
16 Union Ave.
Jennifer A. Pasterkiewicz

Florek Family Farm
840 Granville Road
Christopher J. Florek

Hickory Hill Farm
325 Montgomery Road
Dennis L. Bishop

Max Sound
50 Pleasant St.
Maxim Cravet

Vivid Hair Salon & Spa
99 Elm St.
Basia Belz

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Belar US
105 River St.
Michael Vasilyev

Metal Craft Manufacturing
54 Myron St.
Peter Urbanek

Morales Flooring
309 Park St.
Enis E. Morales

Music Sound
20 Labelle St.
Mikala Filistovich

Pizza Hut
1048 Riverdale St.
Pizza Hut of America

Promoter
38 Humphrey Lane
Aleksander Vasilyev

Rainbow Accessories
39 Rochelle St.
Sara Arshad

Ram Sia, LLC
1500 Riverdale St.
Dilip Rana

Superior Painting & Renovation
64 Prince Ave.
Sean Kearney

Trend Sound Promoter
457 Union St.
Mykhaylo Onulyak

Vilo
116 Almon Ave.
Vitali Loban

Banking and Financial Services Sections
North Brookfield Savings, FamilyFirst Ink Merger Agreement

Donna Boulanger

Donna Boulanger says the merger makes sense because both entities are community and mutual savings banks with similar customer-service philosophies.

Two area mutual banks that serve local customers and small businesses — and are active in their communities — are joining together to form one larger bank.
North Brookfield Savings Bank (NBSB) in North Brookfield and FamilyFirst Bank in Ware have come to a definitive agreement to merge into a single mutual savings bank. Once the merger is finalized, the combined bank will operate under the name and charter of North Brookfield Savings Bank.
NBSB President and CEO Donna Boulanger said the merger makes sense because both businesses are community and mutual savings banks with the same customer-service philosophy. She believes the transition will be seamless, and customers can expect the same services they have always received from both banks.
“FamilyFirst is a neighbor, but we don’t overlap with our branches,” she said. “This will expand convenience for both FamilyFirst and North Brookfield Savings customers.”
Currently, NBSB has offices in North Brookfield, West Brookfield, Palmer, and Belchertown. FamilyFirst Bank operates branches in Ware, the Three Rivers village of Palmer, and East Brookfield. All seven of the offices will remain open after the merger.
“The benefit to our customers is that there will be additional branches and longer hours,” FamilyFirst President and CEO Michael Audette told BusinessWest. “We’re pleased that all branches will remain under the name of North Brookfield Savings Bank.”
Both banks have been servicing area customers for several generations. NBSB was founded in 1854, and FamilyFirst, formerly Ware Co-operative Bank, opened in 1920 in the back of a pharmacy on Main Street in Ware. Ware Co-operative Bank changed its name to FamilyFirst Bank in 2007.
NBSB has more than $200 million in assets; once the merger is finalized, the assets of the two combined banks will rise to more than $260 million. Besides the additional assets, Boulanger said the integration of the three FamilyFirst branches will give North Brookfield Savings “a larger geographic footprint” in the area.
The two banks started talking about a merger when Audette approached Boulanger in August. He felt the two banks were a good fit in a highly competitive banking climate.
“It’s difficult to grow a bank organically in this competitive market,” Audette explained. “One way to do that is through mergers and acquisitions. Mergers of mutual institutions happen because you have a similar mission or culture or customer base. We had the opportunity to merge banks that are similar in our mission, and we went for it.”
Audette concurred. “We have complementary branches; our branches are next door to their branches. My board of directors wanted the bank to remain as a community bank and a member of the community and keep our employees. It’s a good thing for both of our banks, and we look forward to it happening.”
The transaction still needs to be approved by the corporators of North Brookfield Savings Bank and the shareholders of FamilyFirst Bank, as well as the banks’ regulators. Boulanger and Audette hope the merger is finalized by the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of this year.
Once the merger is completed, it is expected that North Brookfield Savings Bank will retain the majority of FamilyFirst Bank’s employees for a total workforce of 73 spread across the seven bank branches.
According to Boulanger, NBSB will continue to provide the same services it always has, which include personal and business banking products, including mortgages, automobile loans, and small-business loans.
Audette, who will retire after 40 years in the banking business, said the new North Brookfield Savings Bank will also incorporate FamilyFirst’s farm loans by the Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Boulanger, who has been president and CEO of NBSB since 2008, was recently elected to the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. She noted that North Brookfield Savings Bank has received the highest Five Star Superior Bank rating from Bauer Financial for 74 consecutive quarters. The bank was also recently accepted into the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Preferred Lenders Program, which Boulanger said streamlines the process and approval of SBA business loans.
“We have a good commercial-lending team,” she said. “Commercial lending will continue to be a focus of ours after the merger.”
Since North Brookfield Savings Bank and FamilyFirst Bank use the same core technology provider, Boulanger believes the integration of the banks’ technology should be an easy transition and will not disrupt customer service.
“It should go smoothly,” Boulanger said of combining each bank’s technology. “There’s a conversion process, but I think it will be seamless.”
NBSB currently offers online banking, bill paying, and e-statements. Boulanger said she would like, in the future, to include mobile banking to the roster of online services.
Having more branches will make personalized banking more convenient, she added, noting that many people still like to transact their business in person at a bank branch, and FamilyFirst customers “will use the same teller and customer-service system” that they did before the merger.
“There will be no difficult learning curve,” she said. “It’s all about relationships. We’ll bring our services to new customers and serve our existing customers as we always have. It’s all about giving the customer more choices and convenience.”
Boulanger and Audette are looking forward to the new North Brookfield Savings Bank becoming more involved in community service. Both banks have been involved in a number of community efforts over the years. Just this year, North Brookfield Savings Bank created its “Our Community Is Where It’s At” fund-raiser for the North Brookfield chapter of Hearts for Heat, the Belchertown Senior Center, and the Palmer Senior Center.
“A larger bank can do more for the community,” Audette said. “Both of our banks have supported the community through volunteerism. We support a variety of local entities.”
Added Boulanger, “our employees do a lot of volunteering, and we’ll continue to do that in Ware and expand to Palmer and East Brookfield.”

— Michael Reardon

Community Spotlight Features
Holyoke’s Leaders Take a Broad View of Economic Growth

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center is not an end in itself, but hopefully a catalyst for the entire Innovation District.

Alex Morse has a message for Holyoke’s residents and businesses: keep your eyes open.
Over the past two years, said the city’s 24-year-old mayor, “we’ve been doing some excellent planning, laying the foundation for things we’ll be pursuing in 2014. And we have a lot of projects happening this year. Residents, and people visiting Holyoke, have been noticing the changes in the city.”
Added Marcos Marrero, Holyoke’s planning director, “where 2012 was a big year for planning, and in 2013 we took steps to bring things to fruition, we’ll actually see that fruition in 2014.”
For instance, he noted, the Canal Walk project will break ground as soon as the ground thaws, while a $2 million train platform at Main and Dwight Streets, intended to bring passenger rail service to the city, will begin construction this year as well. “And there are a few private projects in the works, too. We’re seeing the needle moving on private activity.”
When Morse took office, he talked up a strategy of bringing municipal brass, economic-development agencies, and business leaders together to formulate and implement growth strategies in several different sectors.
And the city has seen a number of successes, many set in motion long before the current mayor’s tenure, from the $165 million Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center that opened in 2012 to the $1.4 million renovation of Veterans Memorial Park, a $14.5 million renovation of the public library, a new, $8.1 million senior center, and a $250,000 skate park at Pulaski Park, all of which opened in 2013. And the city continues to develop residential projects such as conversion of the former Holyoke Catholic High School property into 55 units of housing.
“The city is taking an active role in making the city a more attractive place,” Morse said, “a place where people want to live and where businesses want to be.”
Meanwhile, the urban-renewal plan unveiled by the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority in 2012 — which includes the city’s acquisition of 131 parcels, 92% of which are vacant, as well as a series of infrastructure upgrades and improvements, all with an eye toward spurring more private investment in the city — continues apace.
“The city approved the plan and sent it to the state to be approved, and it was approved in February 2013,” Marrero said, noting that the Redevelopment Authority has received its first seed money — just $100,000, but it’s a start — to start making land deals.
But Morse and Marrero continually stressed that measuring progress in Holyoke is not just an exercise in counting projects; it involves reshaping the image of the city in order to grow and attract sustainable economic vitality. For this issue’s Community Spotlight, they share some of the ways the city is working toward that goal.

Creating Change
Take the creative economy, for example. More than 100 painters, photographers, crafters, filmmakers, and other artisans had already set up shop in Holyoke’s central district when Morse and other leaders began discussing how to galvanize the city’s creative energy into real economic development.
One of the first steps was hiring Jeffrey Bianchine, a photographer who lives and works on Main Street, as the city’s ‘creative economy coordinator’ late in 2012. His roles include connecting the various artists and cultural activities in Holyoke, forging links among creative businesses, and using the presence of arts-related enterprises to boost economic development.
But when city leaders talk about the creative economy, Marrero said, they’re taking a much wider view than that phrase might suggest.
“We’re talking about companies that employ creativity as a centerpiece of production,” he explained. “It can be fine art, but we’re not building an economy based on painters. Craftspeople, photographers, architects, marketing, people like Steve Porter, who’s nationally acclaimed for digital media … what all these industries share is a need for creativity and artistry.”
Bianchine told BusinessWest last year that ‘art’ is too small a term for what the city hopes to accomplish. Rather, it’s forging connections between artists and the overall business community.

Marcos Marrero

Marcos Marrero says building a creative economy in Holyoke means forging connections between creative businesses and companies of all kinds.

One way the city hopes to do that is through a program called SPARK (Stimulating Potential, Accessing Resource Knowledge) geared toward identifying, recruiting, and, yes, stimulating individuals and businesses that have a desire — a spark, as it were — to move innovative or creative business proposals from concept to reality.
The program — which just this month received a $250,000 grant from the state’s Working Cities Challenge program — provides access to community-based resources (nonprofits, government, private business, and higher education), and is run through the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Foundation in conjunction with several local agencies.
“In cities that successfully develop their local economies, the characteristic they really share is cross-sector cooperation, with both nonprofits and the private sector, to solve very complex problems,” Marrero said.
“We want to start changing our value proposition,” he continued. “We’re not the capital of making paper anymore. We want to become a center of innovation and making things in new ways, and SPARK is really a response to that. We have several strategies, whether it’s being site-ready for businesses to build or rehab buildings, whether it’s fostering specific industries like the creative industry.
“But we want to open up more opportunities for people to be involved in the creative economy, in business and social ventures, and recruit and identify good and promising ideas for new ventures,” he added. “Several will turn into businesses, and some of them will fail — and that’s OK too, because it will make them better for their next venture, or make them more marketable for their next job.”
In a similar vein, the Holyoke Creative Arts Center, a nonprofit creative-learning resource, will benefit from a $75,000 Adams Art Grant. “We want to reposition the center so it’s more financially sustainable on its own — that it doesn’t become just a teaching center for do-it-yourself stuff, but move to the next level, so artists can start marketing their products … start making money, frankly.”
It’s an example of the city leveraging its assets to grow something larger than the sum of its parts, Marrero said, similar to the vision of the Innovation District Task Force, which is tasked with cultivating economic activity along the downtown canals, near the computing center. “We have this great computing resource; now what do we do with it?” Marrero said. “That’s the challenge — it’s not just new construction; you have to know how to leverage it.”

Upping the Ante
Holyoke is also moving quickly to procure benefits from MGM Springfield’s planned $800 million casino project in that city’s South End. Specifically, the city and casino reached a ‘surrounding-community mitigation agreement’ that calls for MGM to pay Holyoke $50,000 up front and nearly $1.28 million over 15 years if it gets a casino license, and also to provide residents hundreds of permanent job opportunities.
“MGM had options to negotiate with surrounding communities,” said Morse, whose initial campaign for mayor emphasized his opposition to siting a gaming resort in Holyoke. “We negotiated with them and are the only non-abutting community to get that designation from them.
“They’re committed to jobs for Holyoke residents at all different levels,” he added. “We’re working with CareerPoint to identify those applicants, and also working with the Chamber of Commerce to identify small businesses in Holyoke that could be contract vendors for services to be provided at the site.”
The main challenge regarding a casino, the mayor said, is how to mitigate the negatives and maximize the positives.
“A casino potentially sited in Springfield only accentuates Holyoke’s ability to set itself apart from other gateway cities to create a different kind of economy,” Morse told BusinessWest. “People are seeing that we have an economic plan that doesn’t rely on one thing, and are impressed that we have a long-term economic plan complemented by short-term gains.”
To that end, Morse and other leaders will continue to pursue development projects while trying to balance growth with neighborhood issues and quality of life, he explained.
“We’re sending a message, with some of the things that are happening, that our city is open for business,” he said. “We do have sites for development, not only in the center of the city, but in all areas of the city. The message is that we’re committed to development; we know we have to generate jobs here and bring in more opportunities for tax revenues, just as every city seeks to do.”
And people who keep their eyes open do recognize the changes, he added. “Sometimes we don’t know exactly what’s going on in a building, but when you see somebody buying it and renovating it, it makes a noticeable difference.”

Holyoke at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1850
Population: 39,880 (2010); 39,838 (2000)
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: 19.04
Commercial Tax Rate: 39.74
Median Household Income: $33,242
Family Household Income: $39,130
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England, Marox Corp., Universal Plastics
* Latest information available

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Planned United, Rockville Merger Has the Industry’s Attention
Jeff Sullivan, left, and William Crawford

Jeff Sullivan, left, and William Crawford will be the president and CEO, respectively, of the ‘new United Bank.’

They’re called MOEs, or mergers of equals.
And while neither the phrase nor the acronym is new to the banking industry, they have become far more prevalent in this sector’s lexicon in recent months as institutions of like size and character have come together to take advantage of many benefits of scale in the currently challenging economic and regulatory climate.
And one of the most watched of these mergers — or mergers in progress, as the case may be — is the one involving West Springfield-based United Bank and Glastonbury, Conn.-based Rockville Financial, which was announced late last fall, and will, if everything goes as planned, be finalized by the end of the first quarter.

The deal, which would create a $4.8 million community institution with more than 50 branches in Massachusetts and Connecticut, is similar to others consummated in recent months in that the banks are of similar size (United has $2.5 billion is assets, Rockville has $2.2 billion), there has been considerable give and take in the negotiations, and the ‘selling’ bank — United, in this case — is actually the one keeping its name, because those involved believe it will ultimately travel better.
But in some respects, this transaction is resetting the bar when it comes to the MOE.
Indeed, expectations are quite high, and industry experts are predicting that this ‘new United,’ as it’s being called, could become a powerful force in the Springfield-Hartford corridor — and beyond.
“This creates a scalable franchise with a competitive advantage among the small to mid-sized banks,” Damon Delmonte, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, recently told American Banker. “There is a real lack of $5 billion-asset banks in Southern New England.”
Meanwhile, David Englander, a columnist with Barron’s, wrote recently that “the merger looks like a good one. When it closes in 2014, the combined bank will have $4.8 billion in assets and more than 50 Massachusetts and Connecticut branches, positioning it well to compete with larger banks. It will also have lots of excess capital to fund growth.”
Bill Crawford, president and CEO of Rockville, and Jeff Sullivan, COO of United, would agree with all that.
They will become CEO and president, respectively, of the new United, if the merger clears the remaining hurdles, and both believe this merger represents a huge step forward for both institutions and an opportunity to do something together that they certainly couldn’t do apart — at least not for a long time.
MergerMap“We’ll have great strategic options,” said Crawford, noting that the entity created by the merger will have $150 million in excess capital that can be deployed in a number of ways. “We’ll have the ability to grow organically and later look at partnering with other banks through acquisition. Each bank, independently, could have grown, and would have done reasonably well, but how long would it have taken Rockville, with $2.2 billion in assets, to get to $5 billion? This deal puts us ahead six or seven years, and it’s the same for United.”
But while MOEs bring many potential benefits to the parties involved, they are in many ways more complicated than traditional acquisitions, where the acquiring firm sets the tone, takes the name, and dictates most of the terms.
“What’s challenging for us — and really interesting for us — is that this is a merger, not an acquisition,” Sullivan explained. “We have to reinvent almost every business process we have at the bank. In an acquisition, the acquiring bank says, ‘welcome to the family, this is how we do things, get on board.’ We’re building a new company in a lot of ways by taking the best practices of both banks, or, in some cases, saying, ‘neither one of us is an all-star at this — and we need to think about a different way of doing business.’
“So we’re spending a lot of time in the weeds looking at all business processes and all of our technology,” he went on, “and looking at how to do things better. If this were an acquisition, it would be a lot easier.”
While hammering out these details, officials with both banks, but especially those at Rockville — who use the marketing slogan ‘Rockville Bank … That’s My Bank’ and whose customers will experience a name change — are explaining that little, if anything, else will be different when this new institution makes its debut.
“The United name stands for the same things the Rockville name stands for,” Crawford noted. “That’s what I’ve told the Rockville customers — we’re merging with someone who’s very similar to us; the main differences are they’re in a different state, and their logo is green. That’s where the differences end.”

By All Accounts
Crawford and Sullivan both acknowledged that, until fairly recently, it would be hard to imagine putting the number $5 billion and the phrase ‘community bank’ together in the same sentence.
But the times — and the numbers — are changing.
Indeed, when Bank of America and Wells Fargo have more than $2 trillion in assets and many institutions have several hundred billion, $5 billion represents a “rounding error” for such banks, said Crawford. Meanwhile, he added, given current trends and challenges, community banks need to be far more concerned about being too small than what some might perceive as too big to be worthy of that designation.
“It’s very difficult to do what you need to do from a risk-management-compliance perspective, and in terms of technology investments to serve your customers,” he explained. “That’s why you’re seeing these mergers of equals across the country.”
Richard Collins, president and CEO of United, who will retire when the merger deal closes, agreed. “Increased scale is important in a number of ways,” he said. “It’s getting harder to go a good job these days; the regulatory thrusts are omnipresent, and having the funds available to get the technology you want to keep up with what’s happening today is critical, and that means getting bigger is important.”
And United has been getting bigger in recent years, expanding its footprint through two significant mergers. The first came in 2009, when the bank acquired Worcester-based Commonwealth National Bank, taking the United name east, almost to Route 495. And in 2012, United acquired Enfield-based New England Bancshares, bringing the brand as far south as New Haven County.
As it eyed further expansion, United focused its attention on Rockville, as well as the trend toward MOEs, which, analysts say, have enormous potential for the stakeholders, but also come with a high degree of difficulty when it comes to putting the deal together.
There have been several MOEs in recent months, including the pairing of SCBT Financial and First Financial Holdings in South Carolina, Home BancShares and Liberty Bancshares in Arkansas, Heritage Financial and Washington Banking in Washington State, and Provident New York Bancorp and Sterling Bancorp in New York.
It was the proximity of that last merger, not to mention the positive response from investors, that caught and held the attention of those at United and Rockville, who by that time were in serious discussions about a deal of their own.
“This was a strategic merger of equals, and when we saw how investors responded and how that deal was put together, it was very instructive of what we could do that would make a lot of sense for both banks and their customers,” Crawford noted. “What was interesting about that deal is that they announced it, and both stocks went up, which almost never happens in any kind of acquisition or merger; usually one goes up and one goes down.”

Richard Collins, president and CEO of United Bank

Richard Collins, president and CEO of United Bank, who will retire when the merger is finalized, says there are many advantages to being bigger in today’s banking climate.

Collins told BusinessWest that the banks, similar in size and other characteristics, have had mostly informal talks about a merger for several years, but moving forward wasn’t possible until Crawford, who took the helm at Rockville in early 2011, completed the process of converting the institution from a mutual bank to a stock institution.
“United was growing very nicely and had just done an acquisition, and we were growing organically, and we just sort of hit this intersection point,” said Crawford, adding that, when the merger deal involving the banks was announced in November, both stocks went up.

United in Their Vision
The ‘new United’ will include 55 branches, 18 in Western Mass. (what would be considered the original United footprint) as well as seven in the Worcester area added through United’s acquisition of Commonwealth National, nine in Connecticut added through the merger with New England Bancshares, and 21 Rockville branches. There are also two loan-production offices.
The branches in Western Mass. and Connecticut are clustered along the I-91 corridor, said Sullivan, adding that the Rockville branches essentially fill in a gap between United locations in the northern and southern areas of the Nutmeg State. The new footprint (see map, page 17) closely approximates what economic-development leaders in both states call the Knowledge Corridor.
And this is a very attractive, stable market, said Crawford, one with strong potential.
“While these markets don’t grow rapidly, they are dense, they have high population, and they’re relatively high-income markets compared to a lot of the United States. These are good markets to be in, and ones where we can take share from the large banks; that’s how we grow both companies.”
There was considerable give and take in the negotiations between the two institutions, said Crawford, which involved everything from where the bank would be headquartered to what it would be called.
With the former, the decision was made to base the bank in Glastonbury, although there will be an operations center in West Springfield, and Crawford, Sullivan, and other officials will have offices in both states. As for the name, it was decided that United would travel better than Rockville, which is associated with a community and region, while United has no geographic reference point.
“The Rockville name has been there since 1958, and the Rockville directors, employees, and customers have a lot of pride in that name,” said Crawford. “But at the end of the day, when you think about which name will travel better, United made the most sense; if they were the Bank of Springfield and we were United, I think United still prevails.”
Moving forward, while there is still considerable work to do with integrating the banks, Sullivan and Crawford said, the ultimately bigger challenge will be to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with the scale this merger creates.
“It’s easier to say bigger is better,” said Sullivan. “The challenge is proving it.”
Elaborating, he said the merger positions the new United effectively — it will be exponentially smaller and far more nimble than the large regional and national banks, such as BOA, but also considerably larger than most of the community banks in that Hartford-Springfield market. This size should enable the emerging bank to be both high-tech and high-touch at the same time, and with a large lending capacity. All that amounts to a rare and enviable combination that has certainly caught the attention of the industry.
In addition, the merger will generate economies of scale and efficiencies — the deal is expected to generate approximately $17.6 million in fully phased-in cost savings (15% of the expected combined total) that should enable it to better navigate the turbulent conditions in which banks currently operate.
“This merger will give us the ability to better deal with the costs of operating a business in our industry right now,” said Sullivan. “The compliance costs, the regulatory stuff that’s going on, are changing the game at a very rapid rate.”

The Bottom Line
Time will tell if the ‘new United’ can take full advantage of the opportunities created by scale and become the powerhouse that some analysts are predicting.
But for now, the future certainly seems bright for two banks that were doing fine on their own, but are expected to do much better through this merger of equals.
“As we put the companies together, we’re trying to think about how we not just get incrementally better,” said Sullivan in summation, “but whether we can leapfrog two or three steps in our development as individual companies and come out with something better than the sum of its parts.”
Right now, that sounds like something this new entity can bank on.

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

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Switch to Santander Banner Brings Some Change, but Also Stability

Sovereign Bank

Sovereign Bank customers were met with a name change last fall, but Santander Bank leaders say other changes have been nearly seamless.

When the Sovereign Bank signs suddenly came down across Massachusetts last fall, replaced by the Santander Bank name, it was … well, anything but sudden.
“We branded as Santander on Oct. 17, but as you can imagine, a lot of work went on behind the scenes prior to the rebranding,” said David L’Heureux, Santander’s market manager of Commercial Banking for Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as he explained why the international banking giant, based in Spain, made the name change almost four years after acquiring Sovereign.
“We’ve been preparing for the rebranding for the past year and a half or so,” he told BusinessWest. “A lot of that behind-the-scenes activity was internal infrastructure changes, but also new product development, so that when we rebranded, we could bring new products and services to the market.”
Sovereign, one of the 25 largest retail banks in the U.S. by deposits — operating in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, serving 1.7 million retail and commercial clients — was acquired by the Santander Group in early 2009. Locally, it maintains offices in Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, and Enfield, Conn.
Initially after the acquisition, Sovereign did business as a financially autonomous member of the Santander Group, but October marked the first time it operated as a federally chartered U.S. retail and commercial bank under the Santander brand.
“Since being part of Santander, we received a national charter for the bank, which allows us to do a lot more commercial business,” L’Heureux said. “And we’ve invested in infrastructure to deliver our services in a consistent manner across our footprint.”
With 102 million customers and more than $72 billion in market capitalization, the Santander Group is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, with subsidiaries doing business under the Santander brand in the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal. It has maintained business operations in the U.S. for more than three decades.
Since Sovereign became part of the Santander Group, the bank’s corporate headquarters were relocated to Boston.
“Although we’re the largest bank headquartered in Massachusetts — we have 228 branches in Massachusetts — we also bring a global dynamic to the marketplace,” L’Heureux said. “We operate in 40 different countries and 10 different major U.S. markets.
“What Santander brings to the table is the ability to help our clients do business in a more global fashion,” he continued. “We’ve invested a significant amount of capital and people in our international trade services group. We’re already seeing increased traction, helping clients do business overseas. These companies can be very large or very small; in our local economy, business needs vary, and we have the ability to address the full spectrum.”

Big Spenders
L’Heureux said the changes for Sovereign customers go well beyond a name change.
“We also spent a lot of time, effort, and money developing new products, both for consumer and commercial customers,” he noted. On the retail side, for example, a program called extra20 checking pays customers up to $20 per month for having at least $1,500 each month in direct deposits and paying at least two bills from their accounts online each month. No minimum balance is required, and no maintenance fee is charged.
“It’s not a promotion, but an ongoing product,” he explained. “It’s $20 for doing normal business with the bank. That’s been very popular; we’ve had a good reaction from the public.”
Meanwhile, “on the commercial side, we’ve unveiled or are unveiling more services,” he continued. “We have a purchasing card for corporate clients, akin to a credit card, that basically allows companies to have their purchasing departments acquire electronically, as opposed to going through a purchasing system internally. The goal is expediency and ease of operation, if you will, on the corporate side.”
As part of a planned $200 million initiative over the next three years, Santander has unveiled a series of other upgrades nationally, including:
• Network-wide refurbishment of the bank’s more than 700 branches, including improved space facilitating personalized, one-on-one banking;
• Completion of its newly renovated flagship branch on Beacon Street in Boston;
• Rollout of enhanced ATMs across its footprint in an effort to bring greater convenience and functionality to customers;
• A new, streamlined website design, featuring industry best practices in fee disclosure, improving transparency and ease of use for consumers;
• A new, comprehensive package of financial products and services designed to meet a wide range of business and consumer financial needs; and
• A substantial print, broadcast, and online advertising campaign across the bank’s markets, both locally and nationally, designed to familiarize customers with the Santander Group.
“We’re looking forward to acquainting consumers and businesses with the Santander brand as well as our expanded capabilities and resources,” said Kathy Klingler, chief marketing officer and director of corporate communications, in a press statement. “Our new advertising campaign will focus on how Santander will support our customers in achieving their dreams, goals, and ideas.”
Locally, L’Heureux said, those customers range from retail clients to small businesses to much more sizable companies.
“From the local hardware store to large multi-nationals, the bank has people dedicated to those different ends of the spectrum,” he told BusinessWest. “We feel we bring the strength of a large, global bank, but also the local commitment of a community bank.”

Street Level
That focus on local service is important in a region that values its community-banking culture.
To that end, Santander intends to promote corporate social-responsibility efforts by working with local agencies, nonprofit organizations, and higher-education institutions, Klingler said. In 2012, Sovereign Bank contributed more than $2 million across its footprint to nonprofits; issued more than $2 billion in community loans and investments to low- and moderate-income individuals, families, and businesses; and awarded more than $8.5 million in grants to 26 college and university partners.
Meanwhile, L’Heureux said, “in Western Mass., in the Springfield area, we have branches staffed with local people who know the market, who know the clientele. So I think we’ve been doing business in Springfield just as we are in Spain.”
With all the changes, he added, it’s important that customers understand what’s not changing.
“The people are not changing. Account numbers are not changing. Local offices are not changing. In fact, we’re reinvesting in our branches, repurposing all our branches,” he said.
“Our tagline is ‘a bank for your ideas,’” he added. “We think that applies as much on Main Street as it does on Wall Street. It’s very simple: we listen to clients, try to simplify our solutions for them, and enable them to achieve their objectives. That’s our mantra: listen, simplify, and enable.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story
Amherst’s ‘Biddy’ Martin Puts the Focus on Inclusion

COVERart0114bIt’s called the ‘Committee of Six.’
That’s the name attached to an elected — and quite powerful — group of professors at Amherst College, who continue a tradition that is said to be as old (193 years) as the institution itself.
Tasked primarily with making recommendations on tenure and promotions, this group, an executive committee of the faculty whose influence is said to extend to all manner of administrative matters, meets with the president of the college and other administrators every Monday morning, often for three hours or more.
For Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, who took the helm at Amherst in late 2011, these sessions, which take place at a round table in the front of her spacious office in Converse Memorial Library, have constituted a learning experience on a number of levels, and comprise just one of many reasons why she summoned the word intense to describe both the college and the task of leading it.
“Those meetings are always interesting,” she said, noting that, while this panel is not entirely unique, it is unusual. “There are other places where there are tenure and promotion committees, but I don’t know of another place that has a committee of this sort that meets as regularly and at such length with the president, the provost, and the dean of the faculty of the institution. It was a godsend when I first came, because the extent of the contact, and the intensity of it, allows a new administrator to learn a lot about the college in a very short period of time.”
When asked what she’s learned, Martin — who came to Amherst after stints as provost at Cornell and then chancellor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison — paused for a moment as if to indicate this would be a lengthy answer. And it was, one that focused primarily on the faculty and its commitment to teaching, research, service to the community, and, in general, meeting or exceeding very high standards.
“The students are extraordinary, and the faculty is stronger than I could have even imagined it to be,” she told BusinessWest, “because of the way they combine high expectations for research with the incredible amount of intellectual capital they invest in teaching.
“And after working at research universities for most of my career, that investment in the art of teaching is a boon,” she went on. “I love seeing it, I love supporting it; I believe it’s essential.”
Among her many current initiatives, Martin told BusinessWest, is the drafting of a new strategic plan for the institution. While she generally used broad terms to discuss what will likely go in that plan, she said the school will continue to accelerate current work to create greater diversity on campus by aggressively recruiting and then supporting lower-income individuals and those with what would be considered non-traditional backgrounds.
This strategic initiative, launched more than 15 years ago, saw Amherst become the first college in the nation to eliminate loans for low-income students and one of the first to replace all loans with scholarships in financial-aid packages and extend need-blind admission to international students.
“This is a place that has put its money where its values are,” said Martin, adding quickly that the next challenge, and it’s a sizable one, is achieving progress in what she called “the really hard work, and maybe the hardest work.”
By this, she meant efforts to not merely bring such individuals onto the campus, but create cultural changes to ensure what Martin called “genuine inclusion.”
“We want an environment where no students feel as though they’ve been added on to a culture that has its core, its center, somewhere else,” she explained. “I can’t think of a more worthy project, but it’s not an easy project to change culture. But I love doing it.
“I admired what was accomplished here, and wanted to work at a place where, on a daily basis, or even an hourly basis, it’s possible to see the enlivening difference it makes to have people from so many different backgrounds learning together,” she continued. “I thought it would be an extraordinary challenge to see how that can be made into the educational advantage that it ought to be.”
For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked with Martin, the school’s first woman president and first openly gay president, about everything from these efforts to promote inclusion to the sometimes-difficult career transition from teaching to administration, and the different kinds of rewards in each realm.

Teaching Moments
Among the many items occupying space in a large bookshelf in one corner of Martin’s office is a white football helmet with a large red ‘W’ that instantly identifies it as being from the University of Wisconsin.
It was a gift from colleagues at the school where she served as chancellor for three years and became well-known for, among other things, her support of the sports teams (a pattern that has continued at Amherst) and her controversial and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to essentially separate the Madison campus from the rest of the University of Wisconsin system (more on that later).
It was in Madison where she earned a Ph.D. in German literature, with a dissertation titled The Death of God, the Crisis of Liberal Man, and the Meanings of Woman: A Study of the Works of Lou Andreas-Salome, and then an embark on a career that would take her from teaching into administration.
This was a path that would have seemed highly unlikely a decade earlier.
Indeed, Martin, who grew up in Northern Virginia, told BusinessWest that she can easily relate to many of those students at Amherst who fall into that non-traditional category, or who didn’t expect to ever be part of that school’s culture.
“My parents didn’t believe that girls should — or needed to — attend college,” she explained, adding that it was only because of the intervention of some teachers and advisors that she wound up attending the public school William & Mary in the early ’70s.
There, she earned a degree in English Literature and, during her junior year, studied abroad at Exeter University in England, where she met a number of German students and became fascinated by the divide between East and West Germany and how it had affected literature and culture.
When she returned to William & Mary for her senior year, she studied German extensively, and went to Germany to earn her master’s degree. One intriguing career stop while there came at a nursing home, where she served as a nurse’s aide.
“It was one of the most interesting — and hardest — jobs I ever had,” she explained, adding that she needed the work to support her studies, but also desired to learn German from people who were not academics. “It was a fascinating experience. This was a nursing home for women; most of them were in their 80s and 90s, so they had lived through both world wars. I learned a lot.”
Fast-forwarding a little, Martin said she began a career in teaching (both German and Women’s Studies) at Cornell, and eventually shifted into administration, a path she says she probably couldn’t have imagined even a few years earlier.
“But I’ve enjoyed it, and I find it conceptually and intellectually challenging,” she said, adding that she finds administration as rewarding as teaching, but obviously in different ways. “There’s almost nothing as rewarding as teaching, but administration also involves teaching — it’s just of a different sort and with different people. I think the biggest reward, obviously, comes from facilitating the success of students and faculty.”
At Madison, that process became more difficult due to budget cutbacks that forced reductions in faculty that brought about larger class sizes and other consequences, she told BusinessWest, adding that, eventually, she led an effort, which came to be known as the New Badger Partnership, to put in place a new business model for the school. Specifically, the plan would gain for the university status as a public authority reporting to its own board of trustees, a distinction already held by the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.
Martin eventually struck a deal with Gov. Scott Walker to separate UW-Madison from the rest of the system in this fashion, but the proposal met with staunch opposition from the University of Wisconsin regents and, later, from state legislators, many of whom feared the measure was the next step in making the school private. The Legislature would later pass a series of administrative and fiscal reforms that would apply to the entire system.

Course of Action
Choosing her words carefully, Martin said she didn’t necessarily feel compelled to leave the Madison campus, but understood it would be rather difficult to be impactful in that environment.
“I was worried, given the controversy about the initiative we’d tried, that I might be not be able to push as hard at Wisconsin as I needed,” she explained. “And I feel the reward from these jobs comes when you feel you can make a difference. And while I feel I made a difference while I was there, there would have been a limit to how much more I could have done, given the boldness of our initiative.”
She said she wasn’t necessarily looking for a job when she was approached about succeeding Anthony Marx as president of Amherst, but soon became intrigued by the prospect of leading one of the nation’s premier private schools — and again being in a position to make a difference.
In essence, she traded the financial woes and political turmoil at Madison for the scrutiny, internal politics, and, yes, the Committee of Six at Amherst. And she’s found it to be a good swap.
In a February 2012 piece about her transition to Amherst that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Martin referenced an unnamed former president of Dartmouth who had some thoughts on her new post. “Being president of Williams is fun,” he’s alleged to have said. “Being president of Dartmouth is a hard job. Being president of Amherst is an impossible job.”
Martin said it’s far from impossible, but it is challenging and — here’s that word again — intense.
And with that, she returned to her discussion about the faculty, and those high standards she mentioned.
“In ordered to get tenured here, you have to be doing cutting-edge work in your field, and you have to have been productive at the level of publication,” she explained. “But if your teaching isn’t also outstanding, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get tenure.
“Unfortunately, that’s not true at all research universities, where research has priority,” she went on, adding that she and others consider Amherst a ‘research college,’ a phrase that the faculty, and students, have readily adopted. “And this signals that the expectations for scholarship and scientific research at Amherst exceed those you might expect at a liberal-arts college both in terms of productivity and the visibility and impact of the work.
“It’s an intense place,” she continued. “It’s intellectually very intense, because people don’t let themselves off the hook in teaching or in their participation in the governance of place just because they’re expected to do research.”
And while Amherst is, indeed, intense, the word that is being used increasingly to define it is diverse, a development that brings, as Martin said, both great promise and extreme challenge as she endeavors to build on the progress achieved by her predecessors and others at the school.
“The past few presidents and the faculty have done an incredible job of assembling a very diverse student body,” she told BusinessWest. “Given my own background, the fact that Amherst has done what it’s done to attract low-income students and support them is remarkable and quite inspiring.
“Tony Marx made it his highest priority that Amherst was aggressively recruiting and supporting low-income students and students from what would be considered non-traditional backgrounds,” she went on, adding that initiatives have included everything from community-college transfers to the recruitment of students from high schools. “And while the amount of financial aid is a key, so too are the very innovative and aggressive strategies that our admissions office has used to attract students who might otherwise think that Amherst is unaffordable, inaccessible, or not a place where they could succeed.”
At a recent White House summit devoted to improving access and success for low-income students nationally, Martin today announced four new initiatives aimed at providing low-income students access to college and fostering their success in higher education at Amherst and beyond. She said they will:
• Boost the number of Native Americans who go to college;
• Help low-income and disadvantaged students in Western Mass. get into college;
• Increase the proportion of low-income Amherst students who major in science and math fields; and
•  Close the college experience gap between low-income students and the student body as a whole.
The retention and graduation rates for low-income students are as high as they are for students overall, she continued, adding that the challenge moving forward is to be even more aggressive with this tack and, as she said, to move boldly on the bigger challenge — true inclusion.
“We have created a critical mass of diversity,” she went on. “But we have a lot of work to do before we get to a place where every student on this campus would say, ‘I feel as much at the center of the culture of the place as anyone else.’ We’re not there yet, at least in my opinion, but we’re going to work hard to get there.”

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