Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Red Sox Winter Weekend returns to Springfield on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 20-21, at MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center.

Red Sox Winter Weekend includes a town-hall meeting with Red Sox leaders, autographs and photos with Red Sox players, and roundtable discussions on a variety of baseball topics. The weekend also includes a full baseball festival for fans of all ages.

Major League Baseball Hall of Famers David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs are confirmed to be in attendance. Members of the 2023 Red Sox team, including coaching staff, will also be in attendance, as well as Boston alumni, Wally the Green Monster, and his sister Tessie.

Throughout the day on Saturday, fans will have an opportunity to get autographs and take photos with players and see the four World Series trophies and Red Sox artifacts such as Silver Slugger Bats, Gold Gloves, MVP Awards, and Cy Young Awards.

Click here for more information, and click here to purchase tickets.

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — Excel Dryer Inc., manufacturer of the XLERATOR Hand Dryer, announced the promotion of Michael Savitt to director of Domestic Sales. Savitt has held positions with increasing responsibility over his 10 years with Excel Dryer, most recently serving as Business Development manager for North America.

“Michael has demonstrated an in-depth understanding of our sales process, generated new business, and provided excellent customer service during his tenure with us,” said William Gagnon, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Excel Dryer. “He is also a proven leader with the ability to effectively train, coach, and motivate our employees. He’s a perfect fit for this important position.”

In his new role, Savitt will supervise the U.S. sales team, explore opportunities to support the company’s growth, and work closely with architects, distributors, and end users to identify how high-speed, energy-efficient hand dryers fit into cost-saving and sustainability initiatives.

Prior to his role as Business Development manager for North America, Savitt started at Excel Dryer as a field sales manager and then became a national field sales manager. He has worked across all markets, verticals, and channels for Excel Dryer over the past decade.

“I really appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow at such a forward-thinking company like Excel Dryer,” he said. “Our sales team is incredible, and I am excited to bring us to the next level while continuing to help our customers achieve their sustainability goals.”

Before joining the company, Savitt worked at Avatar HR Solutions and Data Recognition Corp. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’a degree in journalism and went on to receive his master’s degree in journalism at Indiana University Bloomington. He completed the “Mastering Sales: A Toolkit for Success” course at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, “Coaching for Improved Performance & Results” with Leadership Dynamics Inc., and “Effective Personal Productivity” with Leadership Management International Inc.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — For more than 40 years, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s (SRC) Leadership Institute has helped mid- and upper-level managers grow their skills to bring their careers, organizations, and communities to the next level. Applications are now open for Leadership Institute 2023, which will run from February through May.

Facilitated by Western New England University faculty, SRC’s Leadership Institute program features a series of six workshops along with peer coaching. The Leadership Institute focuses on developing core management and leadership skills for increasing personal and organizational effectiveness. Upon completion of the program, participants will have more knowledge and skills to take their leadership to the next level and expand their personal and professional network.

“One of the key factors to sustaining a successful business is growing the strength of your leadership team,” Springfield Regional Chamber President Diana Syznal said. “I encourage all aspiring managers, new managers, and professionals interested in expanding their impact to consider this program to take yourself and your team to the next level.”

This program is comprised of 13 sessions, and graduates will be honored at the Chamber Celebration and Annual Meeting on June 14. Attendees who complete the Leadership Institute will also receive a free graduate course offered through the College of Business at Western New England University.

Those interested must apply by Feb. 16. Tuition costs $995 per student, and all sessions will be hosted at the TD Bank Conference Center in Springfield. To learn more, visit springfieldregionalchamber.com.

Daily News

WESTFIELD — The Greater Westfield Emergency Food Pantry received recently a $2,000 donation from the Springfield-based law firm Bulkley Richardson.

“Since the expiration of special government assistance during the pandemic, we have witnessed the need for additional aid in feeding the hungry,” said Rebecca Hart, director of the Greater Westfield Emergency Food Pantry. “Along with a dramatic rise in prices for food and housing, food insecurity remains a growing concern.”

Mike Roundy, partner at Bulkley Richardson and longtime Westfield resident, added that “seeing the real struggles that members of our community face every day to meet basic needs is painful. I am pleased that our firm can be a small part of the solution to help combat hunger, but there is so much more work to be done. I encourage others to help in ways that they are able.”

The mission of the Greater Westfield Emergency Food Pantry is to provide food to those in need in the Westfield area; to foster self-sufficiency in individuals through encouragement, support, guidance, and education; and to identify and address the root causes of hunger in the community and to strive to provide long-term solutions.

Features Special Coverage

Going the Extra Mile


AST President Billy Kingston, center, with his sons, Chris, left, vice president of International Services, and Tim, vice president of Domestic Services.

Billy Kingston says the global shipping business has historically been an ultra-challenging, often-misunderstood sector of the economy, one defined by heavy competition, demanding customers, unseen twists and turns, and a landscape that can, and does, change quickly and often.

And that was before COVID and the manner in which it eventually turned the supply chain on its ear, inflation, the war in Ukraine, higher tariffs on many goods, a workforce crisis, soaring fuel prices, remote work, and everything else that has happened over the past few years.

Summing it all up, Kingston, president of All States Transport, better known as AST, said this has certainly been a tumultuous and very difficult time for this industry, one that AST has withstood because of all it can bring to the table, especially (in his case) a half-century of experience, but also a deep, talented core of employees, connections around the globe, and, most importantly, a commitment to delivering for customers and going the extra mile.

Those are both industry terms, sort of, but they help explain why AST, a domestic freight broker and international freight forwarder, terms that are self-explanatory, is able to stand out in a sea of competitors, both domestically and globally, in a business where firms are tasked with getting things from here to there — or there to here — in a timely fashion.

Elaborating, he said the keys to success for any company in this business are flexibility, the ability to move quickly and effectively, establishing trust with customers, and amassing a track record for success in delivering for clients, in every sense of that phrase.

“We arrange for transportation of goods to and from our customers anywhere in the world,” said Kingston, offering a simple explanation for work that is anything but simple. “The domestic side of the business is how we started way back, and that side of it is very active. The international side has been growing over the years and doing well; we move freight internationally by land and water.”

“We have so many great customers … if you’re upfront with them, they’re going to be upfront with you. That way, you can work through things, because transportation is nothing if not problems that have to be worked through.”

“It’s a rugged business with real issues, and we live them,” continued Kingston, who leads a staff of 20 along with his sons, Chris, vice president of International Services, and Tim, vice president of Domestic Services. “Through all of the ups and downs of the economy, fuel issues, and supply-chain woes over the past few years, it has just been very challenging.

“For us as a company, it has been our best period of time, business-wise,” he went on. “But it’s also been the most difficult to operate in.”

In a wide-ranging interview, the Kingstons pulled back the curtain on an industry that few outside really know, one that is settling back into something approaching what was happening before the pandemic, although no one came close to using the word ‘normal.’

To put things in perspective, Billy Kingston said that, before the pandemic, the cost for a shipping container coming in from China was $4,000 to $5,000. At the height of the pandemic, that cost had soared to $25,000 to $30,000.

“The spike was just amazing, and at that price, you were bidding, and hoping, to be able to get a container, and then hoping to get a spot on a ship to come this way,” he said, adding that the impact of the many issues within the shipping industry on inflation and the general economy cannot be understated.


Train of Thought

As he talked about the global shipping business, Chris noted that, like other sectors of the economy, this one has a language all its own, with an alphabet soup of acronyms.

These include TL (truckload), LTL (less than truckload), DAP (delivered at place), DPU (delivered at place unloaded), and myriad others.

Learning this language and helping clients understand it is just one of the many nuances of the global shipping business, said Billy, who got his start in it back in the mid-’70s, working in sales for several different national trucking companies as well as an international freight forwarder.

After working in the business for many years, he decided he knew it well enough, and had enough solid connections, to strike out on his own. He started All States Transport in the basement of his home in the Forest Park section of Springfield in 1985.

The global shipping industry is highly competitive and ever-changing, and the pandemic only added several additional layers of challenge.

For the first year or so, it was a one-person operation that eventually moved into a small office in Market Square in downtown Springfield, adding employees as it continued to grow and expand its portfolio of clients, many of which have stayed with the company through its history.

The company had a few different homes — as well as its own small trucking company, which it operated out of property on Avocado Street in Springfield for several years — before settling into its current location on East Columbus Avenue, the former home to the Leonard Gallery and Sam’s Glass.

For the past 15 years, AST has also operated a small office in Miami. At one time, it also housed a trucking operation there, but that, like the one in Springfield, became difficult to manage. So, in both locations, the company has returned to its roots — and its routes — as a freight broker and forwarder.

“When the pandemic hit, because there was so much uncertainty in the general economy, you saw companies all over the world closing down and canceling orders that had been in place for a long time.”

As he explained the operation, Billy said that, in a nutshell, AST goes about finding global shipping solutions for its many kinds of clients, most of them manufacturers. About 80% of the company customers are based in Western and Central Mass., Northern Connecticut, and Rhode Island, he said, with the rest spread out over the country.

As a broker, AST will work with a client to secure the shipping of goods to or from their business. To do so, it works with trucking outfits across the region and around the country, as well as rail-service providers and sea and air carriers. What separates the many (as in thousands) of competitors in this field is their ability to make and maintain connections with carriers, know and understand the market, move quickly (many clients want same-day service), and deliver on both price and quality of service.

And all this requires an experienced, talented workforce. “You need a staff that is familiar with the marketplace and has all the tools and technology they need to succeed,” Billy explained. “It’s a fast-moving, time-sensitive, rate-conscious industry — that’s what it’s about.

“We have other customers that we’ve done business with for years and years … they don’t ask us for rate on every load,” he went on. “In many cases, we have the ability with those customers to move up or down as we need to, to service their needs and ours. And that only comes from years of good faith and years of trust, built up between us and our customers because they know that if we need to add extra dollars to a rate, there’s a good reason for that. They also know that if we can reduce that rate, we’re going to do that, and we do this as often as we can.”

Beyond rates, successful freight brokers and forwarders need to have a thorough understanding of the players in the shipping field, where they operate, and how, said Tim Kingston, adding that AST works with trucking companies across the country.

“And we need to, because trucking companies, by their nature, and by their history, generally service certain sections of the country,” he explained. “Some will go anywhere, but a lot of them carve out a part of the country that they want to service for their business needs. You learn those, and when you have freight moving to South Carolina, you know where to start.”

Chris agreed, and said one constant for the company through the years has been to apply an established set of values and principles and to effectively partner with clients and communicate with them — another must in this business.

“It’s a super-competitive, time-sensitive, money-sensitive industry that changes on a dime in many cases. You need to have a staff that’s dedicated; you need to have a staff that’s used to hearing the word ‘no,’ because they hear it a lot.”

“If you have good news for a customer, give them good news; if you have bad news, something’s gone wrong, let them know early, communicate that, and try to work through problems,” he said. “We have so many great customers … if you’re upfront with them, they’re going to be upfront with you. That way, you can work through things, because transportation is nothing if not problems that have to be worked through.

“Sure, 60% of your loads are going to go without a hitch,” he went on. “The other 40% … that’s where the real work is, so we try to apply the same values across all our different sectors.”


Plane Speaking

This combination of experience, built-up trust, and ability to adjust to rapidly — and often profoundly — changing conditions, has enabled AST to not only thrive for the past four decades, but also persevere through this recent, and ongoing, period of heavy turbulence.

Indeed, as noted earlier, this challenging business has become more so — make that even more so — over the past several years with the profound changes to the landscape brought on by the pandemic.

At the top of this list were supply-chain issues that could only be described as historic, said all three Kingstons, noting that the industry was seeing explosive surges in prices for shipping containers and backups at ports around the globe. It didn’t happen overnight, but almost.

Billy explained how it all happened. “When the pandemic hit, because there was so much uncertainty in the general economy, you saw companies all over the world closing down and canceling orders that had been in place for a long time,” he said. “Manufacturers then began cutting back, as well as transportation companies — steamship lines parked vessels all over the world because the demand wasn’t there. No one had an idea when it was going to come back, and that really kicked off the fluctuation in the supply chain.”

Chris agreed, and noted that, three or four months into the pandemic, an array of colliding forces made the situation much worse.

“A lot of people were at home, and they weren’t doing the things they always did in terms of discretionary income,” he explained. “People were at home, and they bought many more things than they normally buy. And then, you had the stimulus programs, which gave people more spending money. Then … you had a lot less international shipping capacity, but a giant surge in demand. Meanwhile, you had empty containers in the wrong places that took forever to get repositioned.

All this created a messed-up supply-and-demand curve, which would have resulted in a container coming in from China for $25,000, just for the cost of the container, never mind the tariff,” he went on. “It created a lopsided supply-and-demand curve, which pushed prices out of sight.”

This phenomenon, which has eased considerably in recent months but is still an issue, is just one of many that has contributed to this being what is considered the most volatile period ever for an industry known for volatility.

On top of everything else, the global shipping industry, like virtually every other sector, has been impacted by an ongoing workforce crisis, Billy said, adding, again, that success in this business is directly related to the quality and consistency of the people doing the work.

“It’s a super-competitive, time-sensitive, money-sensitive industry that changes on a dime in many cases,” he told BusinessWest. “You need to have a staff that’s dedicated; you need to have a staff that’s used to hearing the word ‘no,’ because they hear it a lot; you need to have a staff that understands customer needs and understands which customers can be a little more flexible and more reasonable at times, and which customers can’t be because of the nature of their business. They need to be thick-skinned because it’s not always pretty.”

Indeed, many in this business, including AST, are looking for help right now, he went on, adding that, over the past several years, and essentially from the beginning, AST has made itself into what he considers a good place to work — and grow.

“In this environment, especially, we take care of our staff in every possible way,” he said. “We have some benefits that are quite outstanding, especially for a company our size, and we’re proud of that. As a result, generally, our people are with us for a very long time; very few people leave, and we’re proud of that, too.”

Elaborating, he said that, because of tight deadlines and the need to deliver, there is pressure on employees, something the company’s managers work to alleviate as best they can.

“We have some fun every day — at different times, you never know when it’s going to happen,” he went on. “And there are days when the fun doesn’t come very quickly or very often because you’re right to the wall, morning ’til night. But we try to lighten things up when we can and in whatever way we can.”

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Cloudy Forecast

Paul Scully

Paul Scully says loan demand was strong in 2022 despite the interest-rate hikes.

A constant flow of interest-rate increases didn’t exactly make borrowers happy in 2022, Paul Scully said, but it didn’t keep them from participating in the economy.

“I think, coming out of the pandemic, there was a pent-up desire to reconnect, within business circles and in communities. We had a terrific year for lending,” said Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank, which opened a new business production office in Tower Square in downtown Springfield last year. “That’s worked out beautifully for us. Our loan production in 2022 was the greatest level ever — we originated over $400 million in loans, almost $170 million in net growth.”

A broadening of the focus made a difference, Scully said. “Country Bank has been known as a commercial real-estate lender; that was our niche. We’ve gotten more deliberately into C&I lending from 2021 going into 2022, and have done some significant C&I deals: $10 million, $20 million, $30 million deals. We have the expertise in house to be able to do that. And based on our capitalization — we’re one of the highest-capitalized banks in the Commonwealth — it gives us the opportunity to be able to grow along with businesses and customers.”

bankESB’s holding company, Hometown Financial Group, continued to grow in 2022 as well, with the acquisition of Randolph Bancorp and its subsidiary, Envision Bank, which was merged into Abingdon Bank, another Hometown holding, more than doubling its presence on the South Shore.

“The most interest-sensitive customers are residential borrowers, and as residential mortgage rates rose throughout 2022, we saw the volume of residential lending, especially refinances, drop dramatically. Commercial lending is definitely impacted as well, though not to the same extent.”

“We’re in a very low-margin industry,” said bankESB and Hometown President and CEO Matt Sosik, explaining why growing geographically to create scale is an important part of the company’s strategy. “Any business person will tell you costs are rising, whether it’s insurance, utilities, fuel oil, you name it — and, of course, wages. It’s the same for us, and if we’re not growing, we’re going backward.”

That said, “we had our best earnings year ever in 2022, and it wasn’t even anywhere near second place,” Sosik noted.

Part of that was the fact that interest rates for borrowers rose so quickly that the lag between those rates and the rates paid to depositors generated income for banks. But heading into 2023, margins are again shrinking as deposit costs rise, and a slowing economy has some people worried about a possible recession, which would further soften the loan market.

“The most interest-sensitive customers are residential borrowers, and as residential mortgage rates rose throughout 2022, we saw the volume of residential lending, especially refinances, drop dramatically,” Sosik said. “Commercial lending is definitely impacted as well, though not to the same extent.”

Tony Worden, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank, agreed.

“Obviously, the residential market became soft because of what’s going on with rates as the year progressed,” he told BusinessWest. “And frankly, the commercial lending market became softer because people don’t know what the economy is going to do going forward; they’re keeping their powder dry, as they say. They don’t want to make big decisions if they don’t know how the economy will turn out.

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik says fundamentals like low inventory have kept housing prices high.

“This year, everyone is holding their breath to see what the outcome will be,” he went on. “Will the Federal Reserve be able to engineer a soft landing? Last year, we thought we were in for a couple of rate increases, but the rates went much higher than everyone thought they would. When you do strategic planning, you make assumptions about what the rate environment will be, and we were all wrong last year.”

This year, economic projections include not only the rate issue, but whether unemployment will rise, what the impact of energy costs will be, and much more. On the topic of energy, Worden said the region has seen a mild winter so far, so that could help people weather the still-high costs.

“I guess if people knew what was going to happen, they could make a lot of money. From a banking standpoint, a lot of loan customers don’t want to make decisions until they know where we’re all situated.”


Saving and Spending

Worden lend some recent historical perspective to what banks are seeing when it comes to consumer and business behavior, starting in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For a few months, Americans were saving at a rate that hadn’t been seen in 80, 90 years. They were saving money, they weren’t going anywhere, there was a lot of stimulus, both federal and state, and banks saw their deposits increase tremendously because people were sitting on a lot of cash.”

While that’s generally not a bad thing for banks, he said, cooperative banks not only pay for FDIC insurance, but also pay premiums on the private Depositors Insurance Fund, which covers deposits beyond the $250,000 the FDIC covers. “All the deposits coming in but no loan demand cost us money in a way; we were paying insurance on all the deposits, but couldn’t put the deposits to work.”

In the second year of the pandemic, people were starting to spend again, take vacations, and work on their homes, while most stimulus had ended, so deposit levels crept toward a more typical environment, and loans picked up as well. And while the current interest-rate environment has made some potential borrowers skittish, Worden said it’s important to note that those rates are still historically low — yes, a fixed 30-year mortgage rate is north of 5% right now, but a generation ago, it was 17% or higher.

“I think it’s a mental thing with borrowers,” he went on. “Rates were so low for an extended time, you get used to that mentally, and it’s hard to readjust when they start going up again.”

“Last year, we thought we were in for a couple of rate increases, but the rates went much higher than everyone thought they would. When you do strategic planning, you make assumptions about what the rate environment will be, and we were all wrong last year.”

Still, Sosik said, the housing market remains strong due to the fundamentals of low inventory levels and those still relatively low interest rates. But especially with remote work taking hold, “people who may be inclined to think about moving may not want to give up their 3% mortgage.’

“And there’s not a flow of new inventory, so we have this interesting dynamic where rates are rising, but it’s not impacting home prices materially,” he added — especially for a class of higher-income cash buyers who aren’t interest-sensitive.

“There’s a lot of liquidity in the economy, a lot of it funneled toward the residential market,” he said. “Volume is still good, but inventory is still low. Everything is still working; it’s just more expensive to borrow.”

Scully said Country continues to see significant loan demand early in 2023 — “not at the level of 2022, but we are seeing good pockets of business on the commercial side.” Meanwhile, to help customers purchase homes, the bank kicked off a homebuyers’ program in the fall featuring no money down and no private mortgage insurance in select areas.

“We’re still seeing a decent residential market, not as robust as it had been, but still decent,” he said. “On the commercial side, we’re still looking at some interesting deals. But everyone is holding their breath when it comes to construction lending for large projects.”

That said, investors are seeing positive signs, he added, including a comeback for retail and hospitality. “The restaurant industry is starting to have workers come back.”

Meanwhile, Scully added, “unemployment is still pretty low, and we’re not hearing much of layoffs, so hopefully we’ll see the Fed reach its level, see that interest-rate changes have impacted inflation, and we may be starting to see the other side of this sometime in 2023.”

Tony Worden

Tony Worden says everyone is hoping the Fed helps the economy to a “soft landing” with its rate policy aimed at reversing inflation.

Worden said no one really knows where the economy will turn, though there are hopeful signs. “As we see inflation numbers coming down, we’ll start to get an idea whether what the Fed is doing is starting to work. And maybe they’ll start pulling back on rate increases. If they can pull off that soft landing, we might see people reinvesting in business, buying equipment, buying new properties. But I think everyone is waiting a little bit.

“When you have a good economy, banks do well; people are out investing, buying, selling, doing things,” he added. “When the economy is bad, banks struggle because no one’s out doing anything.”


Community Counts

The higher-than-usual heating costs that impact every homeowner affect bank employees as well, Scully said, which is why Country recently gave a $750 stipend to all its employees to mitigate those impacts, and other inflationary pressures.

But Country isn’t taking its focus off the community at large, recently adopting the tagline “made to make a difference,” which applies not only to customers and business clients, but to the community as well, where the bank has focused much philanthropic energy over the years to needs like healthcare and food security. In 2022, the bank donated close to $1.3 million, a year after donating a total of $1 million to two major food banks on top of its other giving.

Scully said the pandemic shed a spotlight on basic human needs, not only for banks, but their employees, who, at least in Country’s case, have been more engaged in recent years.

“We’re still seeing a decent residential market, not as robust as it had been, but still decent. On the commercial side, we’re still looking at some interesting deals. But everyone is holding their breath when it comes to construction lending for large projects.”

“We learned a lot about ourselves and humanity during the pandemic, and we have a lot of staff members who really flourished in the sense of being able to volunteer and give time to the community,” he explained. “This what our brand us all about.”

Worden said Western Mass. is fortunate to be home to numerous locally owned banks that are active in their communities by supporting nonprofits through direct donations and volunteer efforts.

“In other parts of the country, this isn’t a thing,” he said. “But up and down 91 are all these good, local, community banks, and we’re all doing what we can do for the community. Obviously, we want to make money; that’s how we stay in business and give raises to our employees and hire new employees. But when Western Mass. does well, we all do well.”

bankESB recently announced that a fundraising drive raised $35,000 for local food pantries, part of its robust charitable giving program known as the Giving Tree, which reflects the bank’s commitment to making a difference in the neighborhoods it serves.

“We try to give back to all the communities we’re in, and we pointedly give back to those in need, things like food insecurity, for both children and older folks,” Sosik said. “The objective of the Giving Tree campaign is around $1 million a year — giving that back to the communities we serve and trying to make a difference for those who truly need it.

“Food insecurity is a year-round problem,” he went on, “but we turn our focus on it a little more at the end of the year and make that the key part of our campaign.”

Looking out his window, Scully noted a $35 million project the bank financed. “That makes a difference for the property owner, but we want to make a difference for everyone in our community,” he told BusinessWest. “All community banks do a tremendous job with community giving, and we’re not cutting back on our giving. Our earnings may change, but we’re committed to our level of philanthropy.”

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Building the Portfolio


Vid Mitta acknowledged that the emergence of remote work and its impact — still to be determined in many respects — on the region’s inventory of office space was certainly a consideration when he and business partner Dinesh Patel were deciding whether to submit a proposal for the purchase of the 1550 Main building in downtown Springfield.

But ultimately, this was just one of many considerations, he told BusinessWest, adding that the others — as well as his firm belief that business owners and managers will always see value in having people working together in one place — convinced the two serial entrepreneurs to move forward and answer the request for proposals sent by the property’s now-former owner, MassDevelopment, early last year.

Mitta and Patel eventually prevailed in the bidding to acquire the property — formerly occupied by the U.S. Federal Court and currently home to tenants ranging from Baystate Health to the Springfield School Department — for $6 million.

As he talked about its prospects for the future, Mitta focused on those other considerations that played into this decision, especially that age-old axiom when it comes to commercial real estate — location, location, location. Beyond that, though, the current tenant mix, the timeline on current leases, and the good overall condition of the building also played a factor in generating a green light.

“These properties are connected, and they are the two best buildings in Springfield’s downtown for class-A space.”

“Remote work is the main thing that comes to anyone’s mind when we talk about office spaces today,” he acknowledged. “But look at the location — this is what we were looking at, as well as the maintenance and good condition of the property. These factors led us to see this as a good investment. When vacancies arise, people have choices, and they’re going to move into the best building possible.”

Thus, another chapter has begun in what would have to be called a developing story, in every sense of that phrase. That would be the expanding portfolio of properties now owned by Mitta and Patel, either individually or collectively.

That list includes Tower Square and its recently renovated hotel, which has re-earned the Marriot flag, as well as several other hotels, 99 Restaurant & Pub locations, a Walgreens, three McDonald’s franchises, adult day-care facilities, early-education facilities, and more. These collective investments and entrepreneurial gambits earned Patel and Mitta BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur award just a year ago.

Mitta told BusinessWest that 1550 Main St. was a common-sense addition to the portfolio, one that gives the partners a property that is essentially full (97% occupancy), with a stable tenant base that also includes the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, regional offices for U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, the law firm Alekman DiTusa, and an attractive, well-maintained property in the heart of the central business district.

“These properties are connected, and they are the two best buildings in Springfield’s downtown for class-A space,” he said of 1550 Main and Tower Square. “With these properties, we’ll be well-positioned to attract new tenants looking for quality space.”

The property that has come to be known as 1550 Main was acquired by MassDevelopment from the federal government in 2009. At that time, it was roughly 70% occupied, said a spokesperson for MassDevelopment, adding that, after achieving all its stated goals for the property, the agency decided to put the property up for sale through a disposition process to allow it to refocus its efforts on other projects.

Dinesh Patel, left, and Vid Mitta

Dinesh Patel, left, and Vid Mitta, who together orchestrated a stunning turnaround at Tower Square, believe 1550 Main St. is a logical addition to their growing portfolio of commercial real-estate properties.

That includes an initiative in Greenfield, where MassDevelopment is partnering with the city and the Community Builders in the acquisition and redevelopment of the former Wilson’s Department Store property in the heart of the community’s downtown. The redevelopment will create roughly 65 mixed-income rental units and reactivate prominent first-floor and basement retail spaces through the relocation and expansion of Franklin Community Co-ops’s Greenfield store, Green Fields Market.

Referencing 1550 Main, MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera said, “working with tenants, partners, and the city of Springfield over the years allowed us to cultivate this property to its best and highest use. This type of focused teamwork is how long-lasting redevelopment takes root. It is what makes converting an old federal courthouse into a stunning multi-tenant office building possible.”

The property went on the market in the spring of 2022, and the request for proposals issued by MassDevelopment attracted a number of bids.

Moving forward, Mitta said several of the leases of current tenants will be expiring over the next several years. He expressed optimism for renewals, but also for new tenants looking to take advantage of the property’s location and other amenities.

“Tenancy is not a permanent thing — tenants come and go; we know that,” he said. “Some leases are going to expire over the next few years, but we know how to market, and we have a very strong team here.”

“Even those working at home still go to the office — businesses prefer the hybrid model. They need a place where people can collaborate, meet, greet, that kind of thing. That need is still there, and I don’t know if it will ever go.”

Elaborating, he said this team is hoping to attract some current occupants of class-B space to properties that are not much more expensive but bring a number of amenities that class-B properties do not, including parking garages, lighting safety, and that aforementioned location in the heart of downtown.

The property at 1550 Main differs from its neighbor, Tower Square, to which it is connected by a skybridge, in many respects, said Mitta. He noted that Tower Square required significant investment and “re-imagining,” a word he and Patel use often, such as with new tenants that include the YMCA of Greater Springfield. The newer 1550 Main will not require much of either, he said, which is another of those considerations that prompted interest in the building.

As for the trend toward remote work and hybrid work schedules, Mitta acknowledged that there is likely permanence attached to these trends, but, ultimately, he anticipates that there will still be strong demand for office space, especially in the class-A category.

“Even those working at home still go to the office — businesses prefer the hybrid model,” he explained. “They need a place where people can collaborate, meet, greet, that kind of thing. That need is still there, and I don’t know if it will ever go.”

For evidence of this, Mitta points to Tower Square, where he acknowledged that the number of people in the office tower on any given day may be lower than it was prior to the pandemic. But overall, space needs have not changed to a great degree, and new leases continue to be signed.

“Overall, rent is a comparatively small item on the P&L statement,” he said, adding that, for this reason, he has seen few if any tenants at Tower Square downsizing.