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Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

An architect’s rendering of the Ludlow Mills complex, redevelopment of which is an ongoing process.

An architect’s rendering of the Ludlow Mills complex, redevelopment of which is an ongoing process.

Eric Nelson said he recently had cause to look over the occupancy permit issued to Westmass Area Development Corp. for the property now known as Ludlow Mills.

The date on the document — April 2012 — gave him both pause and more evidence that time does, indeed, fly.

Yes, it’s been more than six years since this ambitious project — a blend of both brownfield and greenfield development — was launched, and, for the most part, it is on schedule, said Nelson, president of Westmass for roughly half the duration of this effort.

And by on schedule, he was referring to the pace of development, or redevelopment, at this complex of 60 buildings and adjoining undeveloped land. When it started the clock back in 2011 when the property was actually acquired, Westmass said this would be a 20-year project that would generate $300 million in public and private investments, more than 2,000 jobs, and a more than $2 million increase in municipal property taxes.

To date, there have been several high-profile initiatives on the site, most notably the building of a new HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital ($28 million), WinnDevelopment’s overhaul of the structure known as Mill 10 into over-55 housing ($24 million), and several smaller developments.

And there is more on the drawing board, most notably WinnDevelopment’s planned conversion of Mill 8, the so-called Clock Tower Building — because it’s home to the clock tower that is perhaps the most recognizable landmark in this community — into a mixed-used project featuring commercial space on the ground floor and more housing in the floors above. That’s a $50 million project, according to current but very preliminary estimates, that was announced nearly two years ago.

“So far, we’ve either constructed or leveraged $127 million in private and public investments,” said Nelson, tallying up the two completed projects, the announced Clock Tower initiative, and a host of smaller line items, if you will, such as brownfield cleanup, infrastructure work, and other publicly funded initiatives.

The next key milestone for the project is the construction of Riverside Drive, which will open up approximately 60 acres of pre-permitted light-industrial property in the easternmost area of the mill site. A $3.5 million MassWorks grant from the state was earmarked for the project, and Westmass and town officials are working with congressional leaders to secure a matching $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to cover the $7 million cost of the roadwork.

The Ludlow Mills project is on schedule, if not ahead of it, in another respect, said Town Planner Doug Stefancik. This would be what could be called the trickle-down effect to the town and the region in terms of jobs and other benefits.

Doug Stefancik says the ‘trickle-down effect’ from redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills complex is already in evidence.

Doug Stefancik says the ‘trickle-down effect’ from redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills complex is already in evidence.

That list would have to include the riverwalk that was inspired by the project and has become a popular recreational facility within the town, as well as the jobs created and kept in Ludlow by the mill project (HealthSouth would certainly fall into that category), the new housing option of the form of Building 10 (many of those with that address were already town residents) and the promise of more at the Clock Tower Building, and early signs of additional vibrancy and new businesses to support those residents and business tenants at the mill.

“As the mills develop, they will generate additional interest outside that area,” he explained. “That’s because now, you’re putting people down at the mills; you have people who are 55 and over in that housing project, and that’s going to carry over into the community.”

Within walking distance, he added, are a post office, a library, restaurants and shops on East Street, and convenience stores. “There is a trickle down; people are getting into their routines [at Mill 10], and it’s going to be a positive for the whole area.”

The mill project is the story in Ludlow, but it’s not the only story, said Stefancik, adding that the community continues to add new residential projects — it has large amounts of developable land, and as the housing market continues to build momentum, more building permits are being issued — and there are infrastructure projects planned that should spur more private investment.

Chief among them is a $6 million project to improve the aptly named Center Street, the town’s main commercial throughfare and the one that handles traffic getting onto and coming off turnpike exit 7 (more about that later).

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns its focus onto Ludlow and especially a project that recalls the town’s past and will play a huge role in its future.

Milling About

As he talked about the mill project, Nelson said there are obviously a lot of moving parts, and the broad goal is to keep the initiative moving so that those ambitious goals for everything from jobs to tax revenue can be met.

And the construction of Riverside Drive is a linchpin to those efforts, he said, adding that there is an existing road, but it is not adequate to support development of the 60 acres of greenfield in the Ludlow Mills master plan.

The MassWorks grant, secured with the help of State Sen. Eric Lesser and state Rep. Thomas Petrolati, was a big step forward in the effort to secure the needed federal funds, said Nelson.

“It’s a pretty effective argument when you can say to grant-funding agencies, ‘you’re going to pay 50% because there’s another entity that will kick in 50%,’” he told BusinessWest. “It’s a very competitive environment for grants, and it helps to have that kind of support from the state.”

Ludlow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 21,103
Area: 28.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.01
Commercial Tax Rate: $19.01
Median Household Income: $53,244
Median Family Income: $67,797
Type of government: Town Council, Representative Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Hampden County House of Correction; HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital; Mass. Air National Guard; Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc.
*Latest information available

As noted earlier, there has been considerable momentum created at the site since it was acquired by Westmass. The first triumph was the HealthSouth project, which amounted to new construction, but with use of many materials from the mill complex itself.

And last fall, the Mill 10 over-55 project opened to considerable fanfare. The complex is fully occupied, and there is, according to some reports, a lengthy waiting list for units that do become available.

Not all has gone according to plan, most notably the very public pending loss of high-profile tenant Iron Duke Brewery. A disagreement developed between tenant and landlord concerning the former’s taproom, which, Westmass argued, had become more of a tavern, attracting large numbers of patrons taking up a considerable amount of the mill’s available parking spaces.

The discord has been marked by acrimony, considerable press coverage, and even a little humor — Iron Duke created a brew called ‘Eviction Notice Black IPA’ at one point — and the company is apparently set to take its act to Wilbraham when its lease expires.

But there is still plenty of forward movement at the historic site, developed by Ludlow Manufacturing and Sales Co., which made a variety of products out of Indian-grown jute and employed more than 4,000 people at its high-water mark.

The goal moving forward is to have people working, living, shopping, dining, recreating, and receiving a wide range of services at the site, said Nelson.

And housing will be a big part of that mix, he noted, adding that the success story that is the Mill 10 project provides ample evidence that there is a need for more housing, including units in the affordable, or subsidized, category, and there are 68 of those among the 75 units at Mill 10.

Actually, what’s planned for the Clock Tower Building is what’s called ‘workforce housing,’ meaning that it will not be for those over 55 exclusively, and will be priced for teachers, firefighters, and others at the lower ends of the pay scale.

Nelson noted that $300,000 in Massachusetts historical tax credits have been secured for the project, said Nelson, an important foundation on which to build in the challenging task of financing the initiative.

Meanwhile, there are other forms of progress on the site, he said, including early movement toward locating a restaurant on the property, one that will have views of the river, and reuse of more of the so-called stock houses once used to store jute and other raw materials.

There are roughly 30 of them, and maybe two dozen are occupied by companies doing everything from precision machining to car-seat repair, said Nelson, adding that the goal is to bring more of them into use and thus continue that process of creating a critical mass of people and businesses that generates more traffic at the mill and, ultimately, more momentum.

“The residential component of Mill 10 presents opportunities for other uses that might come in there and pivot off that residential component,” he told BusinessWest. “If we get a critical mass, and HealthSouth certainly helps with this, we get more traffic, more interest, and more people are exposed to the mill; we’re trying to get more interest from that 8-to-5 window.”

And as momentum swells inside the mill, there is a trickle-down effect, said Stefancik, noting, as just one example, that the river walk has indeed become a popular new attraction in town.

“A lot of people now have that as part of their walking routine,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the amenity is drawing people of all ages and making the river something it really hasn’t been for some time — a community resource.

The town is looking to create more momentum with the planned reconstruction of Center Street (Route 21), a project that will include work on the roadway, shoulders, sidewalks, curbs, drainage, and more.

This will be a $6 million project that bring some inconvenience to people traveling on this main commercial throughfare, but ultimately, it will improve traffic flow through the city. Work is scheduled to start this summer.

Overall, there have been a number of new developments in recent years, he explained, listing everything from solar-energy installations — three of them in all — to new condominium and subdivision projects to another brewery, Vanished Valley, all providing ample evidence that Ludlow is a place where people want to live, work, and even generate electricity.

Bottom Line

Time really does fly, and the Ludlow Mills project offers plenty of evidence to that effect.

A project that was launched six years ago amid considerable fanfare and expectation is, as Nelson noted, on schedule when it comes to those measurables such as a jobs, tax dollars, and public and private investment.

It is also on schedule, as Stefancik said, when it comes to the trickle-down effect and creating more momentum within the community.

And, by all indications, the project — and the community — will only build on what has already been accomplished.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Amy Cahillane says the DNA strives to promote and build on Northampton’s energy, understanding that it has competition from other area downtowns.

Amy Cahillane says the DNA strives to promote and build on Northampton’s energy, understanding that it has competition from other area downtowns.

Northampton’s downtown, Amy Cahillane says, is nothing if not eclectic.

“We have a great mix of businesses,” said the director of the Downtown Northampton Assoc., a two-year-old organization dedicated to boosting vibrancy in the city’s center. “We have a lot of different clothing stores, coffee shops, restaurants and bars — there’s a lot of room to find your niche here.”

She said business owners downtown are very much a network of mom-and-pop outfits that take pride in the district’s economic vibrancy and work hard to welcome new shop owners into the fold as they’re launching their enterprises.

“We’re a community that really works hard to make things attractive and make sure there’s stuff to do downtown, and welcome people in our downtown. We’re not just a Walmart and a Target and a parking lot.”

It’s a place, Cahillane said, where small-business owners, many of them first-time entrepreneurs, have no qualms about asking each other about the smallest details, from the best point-of-sale systems to how to keep customers coming in despite a raft of construction projects making it more difficult than usual to get around and find parking.

“All of our small businesses know it’s tough to take that risk and open your own business,” she said. “Business owners who have been around 30 years have had these conversations a million times — they’re very happy to share information, share stories, and lend support. Nobody wants to see a vacant storefront; people want to support other fellow business owners that are taking that gamble. And a lot of times, these business owners are our neighbors or friends, or kids of our friends.”

Aimee Francaes, who opened Belly of the Beast a year ago with her partner, Jesse Hassinger, can vouch for the support of downtown businesses, adding that such an atmosphere suits a restaurant that has forged some other important relationships — with local farms.

“The concept is ‘comfort food mindfully made,’ she said, noting that all meats are sourced from farms throughout the Northeast — and are smoked and cured on site — and 90% of produce in season comes from the Valley, or just over the border in surrounding states.

“We’re very much focused on being part of the community,” she went on. “And we feel like the community has really welcomed us and brought us into the fold. People tend to be very warm and welcoming, and happy to have us here, and happy to have us so active with local farms. Being on Main Street, right across from Thornes, gives us wonderful visibility.”

Speaking of Thornes Marketplace, which houses its own eclectic range of small businesses, it recently undertook a major renovation of its iconic front entrance, making changes both aesthetic and aimed at preserving the building’s historic elements.

It’s the sort of project that pleases the DNA, a voluntary organization open to property owners, businesses, and city residents, whose members work to improve the business and cultural strength of the downtown area through investments in programming, beautification, and advocacy.

The DNA handles such things as city plantings and holiday lights, and sponsors events that bring visitors to downtown, like the first Summer Stroll and Holiday Stroll, Arts Night Out, and sidewalk sales. The city has also given the DNA a full-time worker who cleans and maintains public property in the downtown business district.

Beyond that, Cahillane said, “we do advocacy, and we make sure the downtown community has a voice at City Hall, that people feel their voice is heard, and that there are public meetings and community forums on issues that will impact downtown, so everybody has a chance to voice their opinions and thoughts.”

The organization rose up after the dissolution of the Northampton Business Improvement District, and has since taken under its umbrella events and projects once handled by the BID and other entities.

“We’re always looking to do new events and create new partnerships,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re open to it all. The focus this year is to tighten up events we already do, but we’re always game to bring new stuff into the fold.”

Positive Trends

Several years into a strong regional economy, indicators such as property taxes, meals-tax revenue, and the number of visitors to the city show plenty of life, and Northampton’s downtown district, home to unique retailers, eclectic dining choices, and active arts organizations, reflects that health.

It can be slightly more difficult to navigate the area, however, thanks to a good reason — the city’s investment in infrastructure on Main and Pleasant streets, which includes ongoing roadwork and utility upgrades, supporting, among other developments, two housing complexes going up on Pleasant Street. Work along that thoroughfare also includes a small park, more parking spaces, and improved sidewalks and bike lanes.

Northampton
at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1883
Population: 28,483
Area: 35.8 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $17.04
Commercial Tax Rate: $17.04
Median Household Income: $56,999
Median Family Income: $80,179
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Cooley Dickinson Hospital; ServiceNet Inc.; Smith College; L-3 KEO
*Latest information available

Cahillane said new businesses like Belly of the Beast have entered this landscape with aplomb, while occasional special events shine a spotlight on other businesses, like Sutter Meats on King Street, which ran a successful, two-day pop-up event in conjunction with the Little Truc food truck, serving up pho to sellout crowds.

Typically, she added, retail establishments participate enthusiastically in special events downtown — such as a fundraiser for Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless, in which music groups were stationed downtown, performing and passing the hat — but it’s harder for restaurants to do the same.

“The retailers are always game for everything. The restaurants, when we have events, are so busy with the people who come downtown for these events that it’s hard for them to also simultaneously staff a second, separate thing on that same day. So we try to bring the people downtown and then encourage them to eat at the restaurants. But they’re very supportive of our organization.”

Homestead, which set up shop in the former Ibiza Tapas location on Strong Avenue, is another fairly recent addition to the restaurant scene.

“They are doing very well and have made a lot of local relationships to bring products into their restaurant that are locally sourced,” Cahillane said, before adding that such a designation is par for the course in this city.

“I would say just about every restaurant in our downtown does some version of locally sourced,” she noted. “We have thought about ‘let’s do some sort of downtown festival where each restaurant could feature maybe a locally sourced dish,’ but that’s their whole menu at every restaurant. That’s not a Northampton festival; that’s an everyday reality. But some of them have had some really interesting or unique things that they have done with those local partnerships.”

Cahillane added that there should be more news of new businesses on the horizon. “They’re not ready to make it public yet, but I’d say, over the next six months, there will be some exciting storefronts popping up.”

That’s always a welcome development, she said, because even Northampton, known regionally and beyond for its downtown life, does grapple with occasional vacant storefronts. But in context, and relative to the struggles of many other communities, Paradise City is in a good place.

“I think it’s a great downtown,” she said, “and I think people are looking to come downtown.”

Making Contact

To cultivate that spirit, the DNA conducts monthly meetings with downtown businesses on a variety of topics.

“That’s a great opportunity for them do some networking with new businesses — and older businesses, too — and talk about things that might be mundane to the outside person, but are still important,” Cahillane said. “Recently, there was going to be construction, and some of them wanted to know how people dealt with the scaffolding outside and putting a banner on it. Other businesses were able to say, ‘make sure it’s really big, and make sure there’s not a lot of words on it, because no one’s going to stop and read it.’ So, things like that, which would not necessarily occur to me, are real issues, and we’re able to facilitate some of those conversations.”

Thornes Market

These connections are important in the big picture — one in which individual success stories become shared successes, she added.

“There is a feeling that all boats rise with the tide, that having a beautiful downtown can only help encourage people to come downtown, and there’s a recognition that is only going to happen if everybody pitches in.”

After all, Cahillane noted, Northampton isn’t the only downtown destination in the region, and shouldn’t rest on its laurels or take its visitors for granted.

“We’re fortunate to live in the Valley where there are a lot of great communities, and there are some, like Turners Falls and Easthampton, that are becoming up-and-coming, hip, trendy places to go and hang out,” she said. “Then there’s the casino that’s opening in downtown Springfield.

“We love our downtown,” she went on, “but we don’t want to just assume that everybody else knows and loves it, and I think you risk getting stagnant and a little boring if you don’t work to improve or at least maintain what you already have. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Francaes appreciates the effort, as she does the business owners downtown, from the owners of Thornes Marketplace to established restaurateurs, who acted as informal business consultants when she and Hassinger were getting ready to open their doors.

“We haven’t talked to anyone who hasn’t been supportive,” she told BusinessWest. “That’s part of the reason we chose Northampton — that vibe and warm, welcoming spirit.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Downtown Greenfield may look the same as it did decades ago, in many respects, but it has evolved considerably and morphed into a true neighborhood.

Downtown Greenfield may look the same as it did decades ago, in many respects, but it has evolved considerably and morphed into a true neighborhood.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin acknowledged that it isn’t exactly a scientific measure of either his downtown’s vibrancy or the efficiency of his long-term strategic plan for the central business district. But it certainly works for him.

He’s being told there’s a parking problem downtown. Actually, he’s been told that for some time. Until recently, the commentary involved the east end of that district by Town Hall, and the chorus was so loud and so persistent that the community is now building a 272-lot parking garage in that area, due to open in the fall.

But now, he’s also hearing that complaint about the east side of downtown, and he’s expecting to hear it a lot more with the opening of the Community Health Center of Franklin County on the site of the old Sears store on Main Street, a facility that will bring more than 100 clients and employees to that location every day.

In the realm of municipal government, parking problems generally, but certainly not always, fall into that category of the proverbial good problem to have, said the mayor, adding that a far worse problem is to have no parking woes — not because you have plenty of parking, but because no one is coming to your downtown.

And that was more the state of things in Greenfield for some time, Martin intimated, putting the accent on ‘was.’

Indeed, while Main Street may look pretty much the same as it did a few decades ago, at least at a quick glance, it is vastly different, and in some very positive ways, said the mayor, adding that his administration’s broad strategy has been to bring people downtown for goods and services and let this critical mass trigger economic development on many levels. And it’s working.

“We thought that, if we can bring people downtown and provide what they need, the free market will take care of people want,” he said, adding that the theory has been validated with everything from new restaurants to live entertainment to offices providing acupuncture and cardiology services.

Jim Lunt agreed. Now the director of GCET (Greenfield Community Energy and Technology), a municipal high-speed Internet provider, and formerly director of Economic Development for the community, he said the downtown has evolved considerably over the past decade or so.

Getting more specific, he said it has morphed from a traditional retail district, as most downtowns are, into more of a combination entertainment district and home for small businesses and startups.

“We’ve focused on small businesses that we can bring in, and we’ve worked a lot to build up the creative economy; our downtown, like many downtowns, looks a lot different now than it did 10 years ago,” Lunt told BusinessWest. “There are a lot more restaurants, a lot more opportunities for more social gathering, as opposed to what people would think of as traditional shopping.”

In addition to social gathering, there is also vocational gathering, if you will, in the form of both new businesses and also a few co-working spaces that are bringing a number of entrepreneurs together on Main Street.

To get that point across, Lunt, sitting in what amounts to the conference room in Town hall, simply pointed toward the window, a gesture toward the building next door, the Hawks & Reed Entertainment Center, which, in addition to being a hub of music, art, and culture, is also home to Greenspace CoWork.

That space, on the third floor, is now the working address for writers, a manuscript editor, a few coaches, a social-media consultant, and many others, and has become, said Lunt, maybe the best example of how Greenfield has put the often long-unoccupied upper floors of downtown buildings back into productive use.

MJ Adams, who succeeded Lunt as director of Economic Development, agreed, and she summoned another term to describe what downtown has become: neighborhood.

She said it has always been that to some extent, but it is now even moreso, with more living options and other amenities in that area.

“We’re starting to look on downtown as more of a neighborhood,” she explained. “We’ve always looked at it as the civic and service center for the county, but people are starting to perceive downtown Greenfield as a neighborhood that has a mix of housing styles, is attractive to a wide range of people, especially young people, has a lot to offer, and is very walkable.”

Greenfield didn’t get to this state overnight, said those we spoke with, noting that the process has been ongoing and more strategic in nature since the official end of the Great Recession and the arrival of Martin in the corner office (both of which happened in 2009).

Mayor William Martin says his broad strategy since being elected a decade ago has been to transform downtown into a hub for a wide range of services and make it a true destination.

Mayor William Martin says his broad strategy since being elected a decade ago has been to transform downtown into a hub for a wide range of services and make it a true destination.

That strategy has involved a number of tenets, everything from creation of GCET, which gives downtown Greenfield an important asset in a county where high-speed Internet access is a luxury, not something to be taken for granted, to a focus on making downtown a destination for a wide gamut of services, from education to healthcare.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest examines how these pieces have come together, and also at how they have positioned Greenfield for continued growth, vibrancy, and maybe even some more parking issues — the ‘good-problem-to-have’ variety.

Hub of Activity

To explain his broad strategy for Greenfield’s downtown, Martin essentially turned the clock back more than 200 years. Sort of.

Back in those days, he explained, Greenfield, anointed the county capital, was a supplier of goods and most services to the many smaller communities surrounding it.

Small steamships and rail would bring goods north on the Connecticut River to Greenfield, he explained, and residents of surrounding towns would make their way to the center of Franklin County to get, well, pretty much whatever they needed.

“I consider that a tradition and also a responsibility,” said Martin, now serving his fourth term. “And that’s what we’ve based our downtown on — providing what people need.”

It also has always done that with regard to government functions, he said, citing everything from the county courthouse, post office, and jail to Greenfield’s library, the largest in Franklin County. But Martin’s goal was to broaden that role to include education, healthcare, and more.

And specific economic-development initiatives, technology, societal changes, the community’s many amenities, and some luck have helped make that goal reality.

In short, a large number of pieces have fallen into place nicely, said those we spoke with, enabling downtown Greenfield to become not only a destination, or hub, but also a home — for people and businesses across a diverse mix of sectors.

These pieces include:

• A burgeoning creative economy that features a number of studios, galleries, and clubs featuring live music;

• A growing number of restaurants, in many categories, that collectively provide a critical mass that makes the city a dining destination of sorts. “There are 13 different ethnic restaurants, there’s some really good bars, several places for live music that weren’t here just a few years ago, and art galleries,” said Lunt. “I think that’s the biggest change downtown”;

• Greenfield Community College, which has steadily increased its presence downtown with a campus that brings students, faculty, administrators, and community leaders to the Main Street facilities;

• The community health center, which will bring a host of complementary services, including primary care, dental, and counseling for emotional wellness together under one roof in the downtown, where before they were spread out and generally not in the central business district;

• Other healthcare services. In addition to the clinic, a cardiologist has taken over an old convenience store downtown, said the mayor, noting that there is also an acupuncturist, a holistic center, a massage therapist, and other healthcare businesses in that district; and

• Traditional retail, of which there is still plenty, including the landmark Wilson’s Department Store.

Actually, these pieces haven’t just fallen into place by accident, said Martin, noting, again, that they have come into alignment through a broad strategic plan and specific initiatives designed to make the downtown more appealing and practical for a host of businesses, as well as number of existing qualities and amenities.

“We decided that we should do everything we can to provide the infrastructure necessary to attract people and entities when the economy turned,” he explained. “And we worked on a number of things that were real problems.”

High-speed Internet access was and is a huge component of this strategy, said Lunt, noting that it has been directly responsible for a number of businesses settling in the city.

Meanwhile, other parts of that strategic initiative include renewable-energy projects that have helped bring down the cost of energy; creation of a Massachusetts Cultural District, which has made the community eligible for certain grants; a façade-improvement project that has put a new face on many properties downtown, and many others.

Destination: Greenfield

The community already had a number of strategic advantages when it came to attracting both businesses and families, said Lunt, noting that, overall, while Greenfield’s location in rural Franklin County is limiting in some ways — contrary to popular opinion, there are actually few available parcels for large-scale developments, for example — it brings advantages in many others.

From left, MJ Adams, Mayor William Martin, and Jim Lunt all see many positive signs in Greenfield’s downtown.

From left, MJ Adams, Mayor William Martin, and Jim Lunt all see many positive signs in Greenfield’s downtown.

Elaborating, he said that many younger people prefer a rural setting to an urban one — for both living and working — and can find most of what they’re looking for in Greenfield.

That list includes a lower cost of living than they would find in Boston, Amherst, or Northampton; outdoor activities ranging from hiking to whitewater rafting; culture; a large concentration of nonprofits serving the county; and, yes, high-speed Internet access, something people might not find 20 minutes outside of downtown.

“It’s a beautiful area, and real estate is quite affordable compared to much of the rest of the state,” said Lunt. “And the Springfield-Hartford metropolitan area is now 1.2 million, and that’s not that far down the road; a lot of people would happily commute for 45 minutes to live here and get to jobs there.”

This combination of factors has attracted a number of young professionals, many of whom may have gone to college in Boston or another big city and started their careers there, but later desired something different, said Adams.

It has also attracted entrepreneurs, said Lunt, including several video-game developers, many of whom now share a business address — co-working space known as Another Castle.

Located on Olive Street in space that until recently housed the Franklin County registry of Deeds, it became home to the video-game developer HitPoint, which was located in Greenfield, relocated to Springfield, and has now moved back. And it has created a co-working space that enables other small game designers to take advantage of shared equipment and facilities, effectively lowering the cost of doing business.

Moving forward, the town’s simple goal is to build on the considerable momentum it has created through a number of initiatives. These include work to redevelop the former First National Bank building, vacant for decades and the last of the properties on the stretch as Bank Row to be given a new life.

The town’s redevelopment authority has site control over the parcel, said Lunt, adding that the next steps involve working with the state, private grant writers, and the city to acquire funds to convert the property into a downtown cultural center to be used for everything from a farmers’ market to perhaps a museum of Greenfield history.

If all goes according to plan, all the properties on Bank Row will be back in productive use for the first time in 40 years, he told BusinessWest.

Another initiative is the parking garage, which has been years in the making, noted the mayor, noting that it took several attempts to secure funding help from the state for the project.

The facility will ease a well-recognized problem, exacerbated by the new county courthouse in that area, and provide yet another incentive for people to come to downtown Greenfield.

As for parking at the other end of Main Street … well, that’s a good problem to have. For now, anyway.

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

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

An aerial view of the Village Commons

An aerial view of the Village Commons, which is at full occupancy, and has been for most of this century.

When Andy Yee talks about South Hadley, he speaks from experience.

All kinds of experience.

He grew up there, went to high school there, lives there still, and now watches his children’s high-school games there. He also does business there — quite a bit of it, actually.

He owns a number of restaurants in that community, including Johnny’s Bar & Grill and Johnny’s Tap Room, both named after his late father, as well as IYA Sushi & Noodle Kitchen, all located in the Village Commons, across College Street from Mount Holyoke College, as well as a bar called the Halfway House Lounge on Summit Street. He described that establishment as the ‘Cheers’ of South Hadley, meaning everyone there knows your name.

They also know the story of how the tavern got its name, which Yee was more than willing to share.

“Back in the day, there was a trolley system running from South Hadley Falls up to the college, and that was the halfway point, the halfway station,” he explained. “It’s a fun little place. We all grew up there; at some point, almost every resident has stopped at the Halfway House.”

Yee told that story to convey the strong sense of continuity that exists in this Hampshire County community, and how many things haven’t changed since the Halfway House started serving pints soon after Prohibition ended more than 80 years ago.

But many things have changed, and for evidence, one need only look further down Newton Street, to one of Yee’s latest entrepreneurial ventures.

He’s one of the principals — Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly and Rocky’s Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone are the others — in a closely watched development at the so-called Woodlawn Plaza, former home to Big Y but more recently a mostly vacant eyesore of sorts.

Retail centers of this type couldn’t be classified as easy money or even a particularly wise investment at this point given the way the retail sector is heading, but this group of entrepreneurs moved to acquire the plaza at auction because of confidence in their abilities to bring new life to it, and also confidence in South Hadley itself.

“You can’t buy properties like this unless they come for sale at the right price,” said Yee, adding that there’s a reason this site was available at auction. “We see this as a good investment, and we have some great partners with great business savvy. We’re not going to sit idle on this property; there’s going to be something unique there for all to enjoy.”

This confidence results from historically steady results in South Hadley when it comes to retail and business in general, but also many recent developments that have secured the community’s place as a reputation of sorts when it comes to everything from outdoor activities to fine dining.

Take the Village Commons, for example. It’s at 100% occupancy, essentially, and has been since roughly the start of this century, said Jeff Labrecque, the facility’s chief operating officer.

“We have very, very little turnover, and when something does turn over, we usually fill it very quickly,” he said before getting his point across by noting that O’Connell Care at Home will be moving its headquarters there in several weeks, quickly claiming a 1,900-square-foot space vacated by River Valley Dental after a consolidation of that operation.

O’Connell’s move brings still more diversity to the Commons, which already had a good amount of it, said Labrecque, adding that it’s home to restaurants and bars, high-end apartments that are in demand (he says there are maybe 50 people on a waiting list, and some have been on it for years), many health and beauty businesses, service agencies, a still-surviving independent bookstore, and a still-surviving two-screen movie theater.

All of this makes the Commons a true destination, he said.

The broader goal is to make South Hadley itself more of a destination, said all those we spoke with, adding that many pieces to this puzzle are in place, and more are coming together.

Range of Initiatives

Mike Sullivan is better known for his time spent serving the community on the other side of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge — he was mayor of Holyoke for a decade after owning and operating Nick O’Neil’s tavern — but he now resides (professionally speaking) at South Hadley Town Hall.

He’s been town administrator for several years, taking that position after serving the town of Maynard (famous as the home to Digital Equipment Corp., Monster.com, and later Curt Schilling’s ill-fated 38 Studios). In fact, Sullivan’s first day in Maynard was Schilling’s last, and he remembers the town being very upset and frustrated with losing the company, emotions that shifted went it quickly dissolved into bankruptcy. But that’s another story.

This one is about South Hadley, and Sullivan said it has achieved progress in many forms in recent years, including the broad realm of economic development, attracting new companies such as Mohawk Paper and E Ink Corp., and retaining others, such as South Hadley Fuel.

The town is also making headway with recreation-related initiatives such as a bike-share project and what he called the ‘river-to-range trail program,’ which, as that name suggests, is a handicap-accessible trail route that starts at Brunell’s Marina on the Connecticut River and connects to the Summit House in Hadley on Mount Holyoke.

South Hadley at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 17,514
Area: 18.4 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential AND COMMERCIAL Tax Rate: $19.93 (Fire District 1), $20.42 (Fire District 2)
Median Household Income: $64,610
Median Family Income: $76,679
Type of Government: Town Administrator, Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Mount Holyoke College, the Loomis Communities, Mohawk Paper
* Latest information available

Such initiatives bring more people to the town and thus the benefits that go with that visitation, he explained.

“These eco-tourism amenities in communities like South Hadley are becoming more and more important,” Sullivan said. “They feed restaurants and other businesses, like those at the Village Commons, like Brunell’s, like McCray’s Farm; we’re hoping that all of those benefit from our investment in the river-to-range trail.”

But easily the most-watched project in the community involves the Woodlawn Project on Newton Street, Route 116.

The goal is to create a mixed-use development, said Sullivan, adding that the town is working to create what’s known as a ‘40R,’ or Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District, at the site, which would allow for more flexibility with regard to both zoning and eventual development. That plan will go before town meeting later this spring.

The site, formerly home to a large Big Y and Food Mart before that, still has a few tenants and is anchored by a Rocky’s Hardware store, but is still largely vacant. The new owners have torn down the 65,000-square-foot former Big Y, have plans for a larger Rocky’s with a garden center, and are hoping to attract more retail at a time when that sector is clearly struggling, but also other types of tenants.

“Retail is struggling, with Toys R Us, BonTon, and other national chains going out,” said Yee, adding that, in many properties like the one on Newton Street, restaurants have become the main anchors.

Elaborating, he said that dining and entertainment businesses have played a major role in making a South Hadley a destination not only for those living in neighboring communities such as Granby, Holyoke, and Amherst, but for residents across the region and even beyond.

This is certainly in evidence at the Village Commons, which has always been a gathering spot, but it is now even more of a destination — because of its array of eateries, but also the diversity of ventures there.

Indeed, there are now more than 70 businesses with that address on their letterhead, and while all of them serve people living around the corner (or upstairs, when it comes to those with apartments in the complex), they are also drawing people from many surrounding communities into South Hadley.

The complex’s many restaurants are perhaps the main attraction, said Lebrecque, noting that there are now several of them. In addition to the Yee family’s offerings, there’s also Tailgate Picnot, Food 101 Bar & Bistro, New Main Moon Café, WOW Frozen Yogurt, and the Mexican restaurant Autentica.

This critical mass gives the Commons both diversity and drawing power, said Lebrecque, who drew comparisons, on some level, to the city of Northampton and its thriving downtown.

“We’ve become somewhat of a food and entertainment destination, just like Northampton,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s a thriving part of our business, and it brings people from all over to South Hadley.”

But retail is also thriving in the Commons, in part because of the foot traffic created by the entertainment options, he went on, citing, as one example, Moxy Boutique.

This is a relatively new addition — it arrived about a year ago — led by an entrepreneur who left a stable, successful situation in Suffield, Conn. for the Commons because of its destination status.

And there are others who would like to gain inclusion on the tenant directory, he went on, but there isn’t any space available.

“The retail is definitely making a thriving comeback — that’s something we’ve noticed over the last few years,” said Lebrecque. “For a number of years, it was hard to get retailers interested in space, but now we have people starting to knock on our door. We have a lot of people who would like to come to the Commons, but we just don’t have the space for them.”

Coming of Age

If that sounds like a good problem to have, it is.

Such a development means your facility — and the community — are in demand, a preferred landing spot, and a great place to live, work, and operate a business.

South Hadley is all of those things, and has been since people starting gathering at the Halfway House Lounge — long before it was called that.

The goal here is to become more of a destination — for businesses, families, outdoor enthusiasts, those looking for a boutique, and those looking for a new weed whacker.

And South Hadley is making strides toward being that destination.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

An aerial view of the Village Commons

An aerial view of the Village Commons, which is at full occupancy, and has been for most of this century.

When Andy Yee talks about South Hadley, he speaks from experience.

All kinds of experience.

He grew up there, went to high school there, lives there still, and now watches his children’s high-school games there. He also does business there — quite a bit of it, actually.

He owns a number of restaurants in that community, including Johnny’s Bar & Grill and Johnny’s Tap Room, both named after his late father, as well as IYA Sushi & Noodle Kitchen, all located in the Village Commons, across College Street from Mount Holyoke College, as well as a bar called the Halfway House Lounge on Summit Street. He described that establishment as the ‘Cheers’ of South Hadley, meaning everyone there knows your name.

They also know the story of how the tavern got its name, which Yee was more than willing to share.

“Back in the day, there was a trolley system running from South Hadley Falls up to the college, and that was the halfway point, the halfway station,” he explained. “It’s a fun little place. We all grew up there; at some point, almost every resident has stopped at the Halfway House.”

Yee told that story to convey the strong sense of continuity that exists in this Hampshire County community, and how many things haven’t changed since the Halfway House started serving pints soon after Prohibition ended more than 80 years ago.

But many things have changed, and for evidence, one need only look further down Newton Street, to one of Yee’s latest entrepreneurial ventures.

He’s one of the principals — Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly and Rocky’s Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone are the others — in a closely watched development at the so-called Woodlawn Plaza, former home to Big Y but more recently a mostly vacant eyesore of sorts.

Retail centers of this type couldn’t be classified as easy money or even a particularly wise investment at this point given the way the retail sector is heading, but this group of entrepreneurs moved to acquire the plaza at auction because of confidence in their abilities to bring new life to it, and also confidence in South Hadley itself.

“You can’t buy properties like this unless they come for sale at the right price,” said Yee, adding that there’s a reason this site was available at auction. “We see this as a good investment, and we have some great partners with great business savvy. We’re not going to sit idle on this property; there’s going to be something unique there for all to enjoy.”

This confidence results from historically steady results in South Hadley when it comes to retail and business in general, but also many recent developments that have secured the community’s place as a reputation of sorts when it comes to everything from outdoor activities to fine dining.

Take the Village Commons, for example. It’s at 100% occupancy, essentially, and has been since roughly the start of this century, said Jeff Labrecque, the facility’s chief operating officer.

“We have very, very little turnover, and when something does turn over, we usually fill it very quickly,” he said before getting his point across by noting that O’Connell Care at Home will be moving its headquarters there in several weeks, quickly claiming a 1,900-square-foot space vacated by River Valley Dental after a consolidation of that operation.

O’Connell’s move brings still more diversity to the Commons, which already had a good amount of it, said Labrecque, adding that it’s home to restaurants and bars, high-end apartments that are in demand (he says there are maybe 50 people on a waiting list, and some have been on it for years), many health and beauty businesses, service agencies, a still-surviving independent bookstore, and a still-surviving two-screen movie theater.

All of this makes the Commons a true destination, he said.

The broader goal is to make South Hadley itself more of a destination, said all those we spoke with, adding that many pieces to this puzzle are in place, and more are coming together.

Range of Initiatives

Mike Sullivan is better known for his time spent serving the community on the other side of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge — he was mayor of Holyoke for a decade after owning and operating Nick O’Neil’s tavern — but he now resides (professionally speaking) at South Hadley Town Hall.

He’s been town administrator for several years, taking that position after serving the town of Maynard (famous as the home to Digital Equipment Corp., Monster.com, and later Curt Schilling’s ill-fated 38 Studios). In fact, Sullivan’s first day in Maynard was Schilling’s last, and he remembers the town being very upset and frustrated with losing the company, emotions that shifted went it quickly dissolved into bankruptcy. But that’s another story.

This one is about South Hadley, and Sullivan said it has achieved progress in many forms in recent years, including the broad realm of economic development, attracting new companies such as Mohawk Paper and E Ink Corp., and retaining others, such as South Hadley Fuel.

The town is also making headway with recreation-related initiatives such as a bike-share project and what he called the ‘river-to-range trail program,’ which, as that name suggests, is a handicap-accessible trail route that starts at Brunell’s Marina on the Connecticut River and connects to the Summit House in Hadley on Mount Holyoke.

South Hadley at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 17,514
Area: 18.4 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential AND COMMERCIAL Tax Rate: $19.93 (Fire District 1), $20.42 (Fire District 2)
Median Household Income: $64,610
Median Family Income: $76,679
Type of Government: Town Administrator, Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Mount Holyoke College, the Loomis Communities, Mohawk Paper
* Latest information available

Such initiatives bring more people to the town and thus the benefits that go with that visitation, he explained.

“These eco-tourism amenities in communities like South Hadley are becoming more and more important,” Sullivan said. “They feed restaurants and other businesses, like those at the Village Commons, like Brunell’s, like McCray’s Farm; we’re hoping that all of those benefit from our investment in the river-to-range trail.”

But easily the most-watched project in the community involves the Woodlawn Project on Newton Street, Route 116.

The goal is to create a mixed-use development, said Sullivan, adding that the town is working to create what’s known as a ‘40R,’ or Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District, at the site, which would allow for more flexibility with regard to both zoning and eventual development. That plan will go before town meeting later this spring.

The site, formerly home to a large Big Y and Food Mart before that, still has a few tenants and is anchored by a Rocky’s Hardware store, but is still largely vacant. The new owners have torn down the 65,000-square-foot former Big Y, have plans for a larger Rocky’s with a garden center, and are hoping to attract more retail at a time when that sector is clearly struggling, but also other types of tenants.

“Retail is struggling, with Toys R Us, BonTon, and other national chains going out,” said Yee, adding that, in many properties like the one on Newton Street, restaurants have become the main anchors.

Elaborating, he said that dining and entertainment businesses have played a major role in making a South Hadley a destination not only for those living in neighboring communities such as Granby, Holyoke, and Amherst, but for residents across the region and even beyond.

This is certainly in evidence at the Village Commons, which has always been a gathering spot, but it is now even more of a destination — because of its array of eateries, but also the diversity of ventures there.

Indeed, there are now more than 70 businesses with that address on their letterhead, and while all of them serve people living around the corner (or upstairs, when it comes to those with apartments in the complex), they are also drawing people from many surrounding communities into South Hadley.

The complex’s many restaurants are perhaps the main attraction, said Lebrecque, noting that there are now several of them. In addition to the Yee family’s offerings, there’s also Tailgate Picnot, Food 101 Bar & Bistro, New Main Moon Café, WOW Frozen Yogurt, and the Mexican restaurant Autentica.

This critical mass gives the Commons both diversity and drawing power, said Lebrecque, who drew comparisons, on some level, to the city of Northampton and its thriving downtown.

“We’ve become somewhat of a food and entertainment destination, just like Northampton,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s a thriving part of our business, and it brings people from all over to South Hadley.”

But retail is also thriving in the Commons, in part because of the foot traffic created by the entertainment options, he went on, citing, as one example, Moxy Boutique.

This is a relatively new addition — it arrived about a year ago — led by an entrepreneur who left a stable, successful situation in Suffield, Conn. for the Commons because of its destination status.

And there are others who would like to gain inclusion on the tenant directory, he went on, but there isn’t any space available.

“The retail is definitely making a thriving comeback — that’s something we’ve noticed over the last few years,” said Lebrecque. “For a number of years, it was hard to get retailers interested in space, but now we have people starting to knock on our door. We have a lot of people who would like to come to the Commons, but we just don’t have the space for them.”

Coming of Age

If that sounds like a good problem to have, it is.

Such a development means your facility — and the community — are in demand, a preferred landing spot, and a great place to live, work, and operate a business.

South Hadley is all of those things, and has been since people starting gathering at the Halfway House Lounge — long before it was called that.

The goal here is to become more of a destination — for businesses, families, outdoor enthusiasts, those looking for a boutique, and those looking for a new weed whacker.

And South Hadley is making strides toward being that destination.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Deerfield boasts drawing cards like Mount Sugarloaf

While Deerfield boasts drawing cards like Mount Sugarloaf (seen here), Yankee Candle, and others, officials there say this community is much more than a tourist town.

Wendy Foxmyn acknowleged that, when pressed to describe Deerfield with a word or two, most responders would say ‘tourist town,’ or something to that effect.

And, sounding somewhat like the Seinfeld characters in that infamous episode, she said there’s nothing particularly wrong with that.

But she quickly, and repeatedly, stressed that this community that is home to Yankee Candle’s flagship store — one of the most visited attractions in New England — as well as Mount Sugarloaf, Historic Deerfield, and the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy and Garden wants to diversify and broaden its commercial portfolio.

“We consider ourselves be more than a tourist town — much more,” said Foxmyn, who has served several area communities in the town administrator role, including Deerfield for the past two years. She noted that the town’s location, roughly halfway between Northampton and Greenfield, could make it ideal as a home from which a business or nonprofit could effectively serve both Hampshire and Franklin counties, something many are trying to do at a time of consolidation.

“We’re becoming more of a hub — a central Hampshire-Franklin hub,” she explained. “I’ve been getting calls from service agencies and others who serve both counties who would like to find a central place because they’ve lost funding or anticipate losing funding.”

Meanwhile, Deerfield, population 5,400 or so, wants to take far more advantage of that bevy of tourist attractions than it has historically, said Foxmyn, noting that, far too often, cars and buses filled with those buying candles and admiring butterflies get back in their vehicles and simply return home.

“We want them to look left and look right,” said Foxmyn, referring specifically to Routes 5 and 10, just two of the major thoroughfares the town is blessed with, with Routes 91 and 116 being the others. “We want them to stay and take in more of Deerfield.”

For this to become reality, the town must give visitors more reasons to look left and right, she acknowledged, adding that, while there is a new restaurant, Gianni Fig’s Ristorante, and a new Cumberland Farms in South Deerfield, more development is desired and needed to both broaden the tax base and lengthen the average stay of those coming to Deerfield for an afternoon.

“We’d like to develop more businesses that would be attractive to the people who come here,” she explained. “Maybe places for them to eat after they’ve gone to Historic Deerfield or they’ve hiked up Mount Sugarloaf or gone to Yankee Candle.”

But town leaders know that to attract new businesses — in hospitality and other sectors as well — they need to make their downtown area more inviting and pedestrian-friendly, and they are eyeing a host of improvements in the Elm Street corridor, the main commercial area in South Deerfield.

Planned improvements include work on sidewalks, lights, and perhaps storefront improvements, and the town is exploring avenues for funding such work.

Selectman Trevor McDaniel, a traveling salesman (windows) by trade, told BusinessWest that his work takes him to communities across the region, many of which have made significant investments in their downtowns, and with recognizable results when it comes to those public expenditures spurring private investments and new business ventures.

He believes the same can happen in Deerfield.

“I travel all over Western Mass. … you go to Pittsfield, the streets look great, Great Barrington, everything’s redone, Lenox is really nice,” he said. “A lot of communities have done extensive work to their downtowns — they’ve put in new brick, some granite, planters, new lighting and light poles, and new cement sidewalks, and it looks fantastic. And then businesses freshen up the front of their building.”

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at how a community known for its butterflies, candles, and arrowheads will look to expand that profile and create new ways for people to describe it.

View to the Future

While Deerfield, as noted, is well-known as the home of Yankee Candle, which has both its manufacturing facilities and flagship store within the town and is therefore a very large employer, it has historically been dominated by small businesses.

And they come across a host of sectors — tourism, obviously, but also agriculture, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and nonprofits.

The goal moving forward, as Foxmyn mentioned, is to simply broaden the portfolio. And the town has many assets to work with as it goes about that task, everything from that attractive location and presence on major highways to a uniform tax rate (several neighboring communities have a higher tax rate for businesses).

The assignment, simply, is to take full advantage of those assets and create still more of them.

Deerfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1677
Population: 5,400
Area: 33.4 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential and commercial Tax Rate: $16.57 (Deerfield), $18.24 (South Deerfield)
Median Household Income: $74,853
Median Family Income: $83,859
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Yankee Candle Co., Pelican Products Inc.
* Latest information available

The town’s location, as well as easy access to highways and ample farmland with space for greenhouses, could make it a potential landing spot for marijuana cultivation and/or retail ventures, for example, said Foxmyn, adding that the town, which has placed zoning restrictions on such businesses, has already fielded some inquiries and will carefully consider any that come its way.

“They are knocking on our doors — the industry is swarming us,” she told BusinessWest. “And they’re approaching people locally to get them involved, whether they’re farmers or people who have buildings that might become a retail site.”

Meanwhile, there have been some momentum-building endeavors over the past several months, with several projects in various stages of development.

A machining company, Dumont, will be relocating into the former Oxford Pickle complex, acquired by the town several years ago, joining New England Natural Bakers and a granola-making outfit on that parcel.

On the retail side, both Foxmyn and McDaniel mentioned Gianni Figs, located on the site of the former Sienna restaurant, which gives the community an intriguing dining attraction after the closing of Chandler’s restaurant on the Yankee Candle campus.

The Cumberland Farms is another important addition; plans are advancing for a small market to replace Savage’s, a small market that operated for decades; a bakery/café is going in the old Savage’s site; and an international market is being opened, among other retail developments.

Meanwhile, on the residential side, a large condominium project is now underway. Called the Condominiums at Sugarloaf because it will be built at the base of the mountain, it will have 70 units, presenting more options for those mulling Deerfield as an attractive place to live, including those working at the nearby Five Colleges.

On the municipal side, plans are emerging for a new senior center, said Foxmyn and McDaniel, noting a replacement is needed for an aging, largely inadequate facility. A church that closed several years ago has been donated to the town, and it may become the focus of efforts to create a new senior center.

But perhaps the most significant development involves plans for comprehensive improvements to improve South Deerfield Center, an initiative that has been long discussed, again with that goal of attracting both more tourism- and hospitality-related ventures and service businesses that would serve both the town and the larger region — and keeping tourists in town for a longer stay, spreading the wealth, if you will.

“With all that traffic that comes to Yankee Candle, and now they’ll be filling up at Cumberland Farms — they’ll pull out onto Elm Street and look left or right,” said McDaniel, imaging a scenario from down the road, literally as well as figuratively. “We want them to take that look and say, ‘what’s downtown? Let’s go take a look.’”

There are other items on what could be called a ‘wish list,’ said McDaniel, including much-needed improvements to the town’s sewer system, built in the ’70s and currently serving only a small percentage of the population, but finding the funding for such an endeavor will be a real challenge.

“We’re in the midst of trying to figure out what’s needed, how much it’s going to cost, and who’s going to pay for it,” he explained. “That’s a big topic we’ve been studying for the past 16 months or so; it’s hard to figure out what to do. There’s not a big base of users, and there’s huge expense involved.”

Scents and Sensibility

The more immediate goal is to undertake those improvements to Elm Street and, hopefully see those public investments inspire private investments in the form of new businesses and additional residential projects.

As Foxmyn noted, Deerfield has the location — and the potential — to become an important hub serving two neighboring but very different counties.

This community is already much more than a tourist town, she explained, but it wants to make that abundantly clear to everyone who might come for a visit.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Stephen Crane says keeping Longmeadow’s residential property values up is key — moreso than in most towns — to generating the revenue to fund municipal projects.

Stephen Crane says keeping Longmeadow’s residential property values up is key — moreso than in most towns — to generating the revenue to fund municipal projects.

In a town where more than 95% of all property is residential, economic development isn’t about attracting a flood of new businesses to town — if only because there’s nowhere to put them. So Longmeadow takes a different tack.

“Our single biggest economic-development activity is the sale of single-family homes,” Town Manager Stephen Crane told BusinessWest. “So what actions can we take in the town government to sustain those sales and make Longmeadow a desirable community to live in? Foremost among those activities is maintaining our world-class school district, but there are other quality-of-life areas that demand and receive our attention.”

In simple terms, he explained, in a community so heavily weighted toward housing, the ability to provide a high level of services depends on property values.

“If property values go up, it relieves a lot of pressure. So, how do we keep property values going up?” he said, noting that, for starters, Longmeadow officials are looking to coordinate a “real-estate summit” with local agents to talk about quality-of-life matters, school issues, and anything else they see driving — or holding back — home sales.

“There are different things we can do,” he continued. “We can’t roll out large-scale economic projects, so our efforts are really micro-efforts, and there are many of them. Combined, they make a difference, though, individually, they look like pretty small things. If we do as many of them as we can, they can have a meaningful impact on the community.”

One example of that deals with foreclosed and vacant property registrations, Crane explained. “We had noticed an uptick in foreclosed and vacant homes that were causing blighting conditions on some of our residential streets, so a few years ago, we instituted a requirement that foreclosed properties be registered with the Building Department — and then we subsequently added vacant properties to the bylaw because certain homes were vacant but not yet foreclosed.”

This gave the Building Department a point of contact to ensure that such properties are being maintained, rather than having to chase down banks and management companies, he noted. “That has greatly accelerated our ability to get in touch with someone to get the blighting condition cured.”

In addition, the modest registration fee has generated revenue for the town. “It’s not a huge deal,” he said, “but if you have one of those properties next to you, it’s a big deal to you. That’s one example of how we try to sustain quality of life and the aesthetics of the community with the limited resources we have.”

Healthy Activity

That’s not to say the commercial market hasn’t been active. Fresh on the heels of a 21,000-square-foot expansion of the Longmeadow Shops last year, a memory-care facility is planned on the site of a former synagogue on Williams Street, and the former Brewer-Young Mansion is being converted to professional offices.

The Baystate Health & Wellness Center will open on Dwight Street, at the East Longmeadow line, this summer.

The Baystate Health & Wellness Center will open on Dwight Street, at the East Longmeadow line, this summer.

“They’re in the planning and design phase that will turn a single-family home into a non-residential asset,” Crane said, noting that such projects are taxable, easing the tax burden on homeowners.

Perhaps most significantly, the $11 million, 54,000-square-foot Baystate Health & Wellness Center — which will share a campus on the East Longmeadow line with a rebuilt nursing home on the site of the East Longmeadow Skilled Nursing Center — is starting to go up.

The Baystate project’s impact is twofold, Crane said, the first being convenience for town residents. “My guess is, if they’re able to go to that office for an appointment instead of going to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, that’s a significant savings of time.”

For the municipal government, however, it will result in significant infrastructure upgrades along the Dwight Street corridor, including street and sewer upgrades, new sidewalks and bike lanes, and improved traffic-light coordination across the town line.

“Dwight Road is a regionally significant traffic corridor,” he noted, “and when this project came up, the towns of Longmeadow and East Longmeadow worked together, with both the developer of the medical office building and the current owner of the nursing home, so the two separate projects were approached as a campus, like no town line existed.”

The project encompasses three intersections on Dwight Road — two in Longmeadow and one in East Longmeadow. Through an intermunicipal agreement, Longmeadow is managing the entire project, and East Longmeadow is receiving contributions from the nursing-home developer, which will pass through to Longmeadow to offset the cost of the street improvements.

“We get efficiencies of scale in both towns, and the traffic signal upgrades can be integrated so the corridor can have much better synchronization of signals and traffic flow,” Crane explained. “The quality-of-life amenity will be the installation of both sidewalks and bike lanes that currently do not exist.

“It’s going to be a busy summer of construction,” he added, “which is good.”

On the municipal side, the Longmeadow Department of Public Works is breaking ground this summer on a new, $20 million facility on the site of a former tennis club on Dwight Road. The town has also been investigating the possibility of building a new, combined middle school.

Longmeadow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1783
Population: 15,784
Area: 9.7 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $24.34
Commercial Tax Rate: $24.34
Median Household Income: $109,586
Median Family Income: $115,578
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting; Town Manager; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Bay Path University; JGS Lifecare; Glenmeadow
* Latest information available

Meanwhile, the town has been working for several years on a solution to the outdated senior center currently housed in a former elementary school at Greenwood Park. At the May 8 town meeting, residents will vote on whether to authorize a debt-exclusion vote for a new senior center in the amount of $14 million. If approved, the project would be voted on at the annual town election on June 12.

Better Together

Another way Longmeadow seeks to fund services is through regionalization, Crane told BusinessWest. One example is the two-town regional emergency communications center, or RCC, that Longmeadow is establishing with Chicopee, housed in that city’s Police Department and operated by an independent district called WESTCOMM.

“That regional RCC will enable communities that participate in the district to offer residents a higher level of service for the same or less cost,” he explained.

Town leaders are also working on establishing or joining a regional health district, of which there are currently 16 across Massachusetts. The Board of Health now provides all services required by statute, but Crane believes those services could be regionalized to create an economy of scale for the communities. “We are going to analyze existing districts to see if forming our own or joining an existing one will allow us to provide the same high level of service, but at a reduced cost.”

Atop all these ideas, however, lingers the all-important reality that home values are critical to keeping Longmeadow running, so every decision is made at least partly with an eye toward making sure, when a family moves out of town, there is demand from families who want to move in.

At least the town won’t be dealing with unexpected rising costs from the school system, Crane noted, as the children-per-household rate has been on the decline.

“When looking at projected enrollment — which the school department looks at regularly — it’s either flat or a downward trend,” he said. “Maintaining class sizes the way they are is sustainable, so I personally don’t fear skyrocketing education costs as a result of an influx of new schoolchildren. The data in that regard is pretty solid and has been for a number of years.”

There are two sides to that coin, however. The town’s buildout rate is above 90%, and close to 95% for housing, he noted, “so when we want to do a project like a new DPW or a new middle school or a new senior center, that burden is going to be shared by a finite number of properties.

“We have about 5,800 households, and it’s unlikely we’ll ever be in a place where we have 7,800 households,” he went on. “So that 5,800 properties, plus the commercial properties, have to support the town, which is why we work every day to make sure our tax dollars go as far as they possibly can. For us, it’s a simple question of balancing the efficiency and quality of services.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Green Thumb Industries will soon begin operating a marijuana-cultivation operation in this mill building at 28 Appleton St. And it will likely be the first of several such operations in Holyoke.

Green Thumb Industries will soon begin operating a marijuana-cultivation operation in this mill building at 28 Appleton St. And it will likely be the first of several such operations in Holyoke.

Marcos Marrero says that if one were to have a machine running an optimization algorithm that would weigh a host of quantitative and qualitative factors to ultimately determine the very best spot in the region — and maybe the country — to locate a marijuana cultivation and distribution facility, it would, when done with its analysis, likely spit out two words: Holyoke and Massachusetts.

And that second word is necessary, he went on, because there is, in fact, a Holyoke in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and he’s already been asked more than a few times if he works for that small town of 5,000 people near the center of the Centennial State.

He doesn’t. He’s director of Planning and Economic Development for the other Holyoke, the one on the Connecticut River. The one heralded as one of the first planned industrial cities in the country. The one where Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (TGI) is set to open an estimated $10 million marijuana-cultivation facility in former mill space on Appleton Street this spring.

And Marrero is fielding a lot of phone calls and e-mails these days from other people wanting to know more about that Holyoke, and marijuana cultivation is usually the reason (more on those inquiries later).

First, back to that algorithm. As noted, it would weigh a host of quantitative factors, said Marrero, and they all project strongly in Holyoke’s favor. These range from the roughly 1.5 million square feet of available, attractively priced mill space within the city, much of it ideal for marijuana cultivation because of the mills’ open spaces and high ceilings, to the lowest electricity rates in the state (this is a power-intensive business), to Holyoke’s location along I-91 and just off the Turnpike.

“You can ship it east, and you can ship it north,” said Marrero, adding quickly that there also qualitative factors to consider.

Or at least one big one, anyway. That would be the city’s welcoming attitude toward an industry that most communities in the Bay State are throwing stop signs and speed bumps in front of.

“Many cities and towns are taking out the pitchforks to prevent the cannabis industry from coming in,” said Holyoke’s mayor, Alex Morse. “Given my outspoken support for the industry, we’re seeing companies from across the country come into Holyoke to meet with us and my team about locations and learn more about our special-permit process. It’s been company after company that’s been looking to invest.”

But this cannabis phenomenon, if you will, is just part of the story. And it’s only one of the ways in which the city is succeeding with filling some its legendary and mostly idle or underused mills.

There are many others, starting with the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which opened in the Cubit building (anther of those old mills) in January. There are also the market-rate apartments in the floors above that facility, and a host of other housing initiatives as well.

There are also arts-related facilities, such as Gateway City Arts on Race Street. And then, there are a growing number of startups, mentored by groups like SPARK, that are also moving into those mills.

All this, or most all of it (the marijuana law was passed in 2016), was part of Morse’s vision when he became mayor in 2012, and also why he’s still mayor today, having been re-elected to a four-year term (the city’s first) last fall. Back when he first ran for office, he explained, he saw enormous potential for the city to become home to a wide array of businesses and to become an attractive residential address as well after decades when it clearly wasn’t.

The formula called for a host of public investments — they’ve come in many forms, from a new canal walk to a new train depot to a slew of road projects — that would in turn encourage private investments (such as the Cubit building and GTI, for example). There would also be a focus on building the cultural economy, encouraging entrepreneurship, and maximizing Holyoke’s many geographic and historical assets.

In short, it’s all coming together nicely, as we’ll see in this, the latest installment of BusinessWest’s Community Spotlight series.

Joint Ventures

When asked to put all that aforementioned interest in Holyoke on the part of cannabis enterprises, or would-be cannabis enterprises, into perspective, Marrero let out a deep breath.

“The last couple of weeks have been … crazy,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s been lots of meetings and phone calls. Some of them are companies that are just shopping around and don’t necessarily know everything about Holyoke, but they may be looking in the Western Mass. corridor. But they’ve heard about us and want to know more.”

And it’s been crazy for a reason, actually several of them, as noted at the top.

“We believe we have the best competitive advantages for the industry at this time,” Marrero explained, “from the real estate to the low-cost electricity — those lights are on a lot — to the water. Holyoke has a lot of offer these businesses.

“And in Mayor Morse, you have the first mayor to come out and quite vocally support legalizing marijuana, recreationally and medically, and that certainly makes a difference,” he went on, adding that the city had one of the first ordinances in the state regulating, but also, and in many ways, welcoming the industry.

“So there’s some political stability — there’s a willingness and a desire to have this industry here,” Marrero continued, adding that all this caught the attention of GTI, which is now permitted to operate a facility on 42,000 square feet of former mill space at 28 Appleton St.

The company plans to hire about 100 people within the next year, said Morse, adding that, while not all of these are skilled positions, per se, these will be attractive positions with wages averaging $15 or more.

“When GTI held its first job fair last fall, there were more than 700 people in the room,” he recalled. “And that sends a strong message to other elected leaders in this city and also the community that people are looking for jobs, they’re willing to get trained, and they want to work.”

The Cubit building, home to apartments and the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, is just one example of how Holyoke’s historic mills are being put to new and productive uses.

The Cubit building, home to apartments and the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, is just one example of how Holyoke’s historic mills are being put to new and productive uses.

Meanwhile, there are many other entities looking to join GTI, said Marrero, adding that there are at least six businesses expressing what he called “serious” interest and moving toward the permitting stage, and perhaps a dozen more that are kicking the tires and filling Marrero’s voice mailbox.

How many will eventually land in Holyoke obviously remains to be seen, but Marrero and Morse both believe the cannabis sector could soon employ hundreds in the Paper City and bring additional benefits as well in the form of supporting businesses that will also pay taxes and employ area residents.

“Once you have a clustering effect of any industry, you have a subsequent clustering effect of any industry that supports that sector, and that could benefit not only Holyoke but surrounding communities,” Marrero explained. “If we had 10 cannabis-growing companies, not only would that translate into a large amount of jobs, tax revenue, and more, but then those 10 companies are going to be demanding services from pipe fitters, electricians, those who maintain HVAC systems, transportation and logistics companies, security companies, etc.; you have a second tier of expertise that is developed in the economy to support them.”

This is what has happened in Colorado (he’s not sure about the community of Holyoke) and other states where marijuana has been legalized, he went on, adding that the Holyoke in Massachusetts has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes made by others before it, and there have been some.

Run of the Mills

While the cannabis industry starts to fill in that section of the canvas that is a changing Holyoke, other businesses are finding the city as well, and the vision that Morse put in place at the start of this decade is coming into focus.

That vision involved embracing the city’s industrial past as a paper and textile hub, but also recognizing that this was in the past and that the community had to develop new sources of jobs and tax revenue while also revitalizing a downtown that had seen much better days.

The strategy for doing all that, as noted earlier, is multi-faceted.

“We’ve been pursuing an innovation-based economic-development strategy and coupling that with a public-investment strategy,” the mayor explained. “We’ve made a number of investments that have made the city a more attractive place for private investment and incentivising developers to come in; they’ve recognized that the city is making investments in itself to make it a more liveable, walkable community, especially in the downtown, and they’re responded to that.”

There’s been a housing strategy as part of that broader plan, he went on, adding that housing is obviously key to attracting businesses and the people who would work for them.

The goal is to create a dense, diverse inventory of housing, Morse went on, adding that the city is making strides in this regard with market-rate projects such as the Cubit building, mixed-use projects such such as a Wynn Development initiative at the former Farr Alpaca Mills on Appleton Street, and public housing efforts such as the ongoing, 167-unit Lyman Terrace project.

As for those public investments, they have come in many forms, including the canal walk and train station, but also a number of parks and neighborhoods. The effect has been to make the city a more attractive option for businesses, but also families, said the mayor.

“We’re not of the philosophy that one big corporate giant is going to arrive in Holyoke and solve all our problems — we have a much more long-term view of sustainable economic development,” he explained. “We’re focused on the innovation economy, but also entrepreneurship and small-business development, through initiatives such as SPARK.”

There have been more than 80 ‘graduates’ of that program of mentoring and education, run by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, he went on, adding that some of them are either incubating in Holyoke or have already moved into their own space within the city.

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1786
Population: 40.280
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.17
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.72
Median Household Income: $36,608
Median Family Income: $41,194
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England Inc., PeoplesBank, Universal Plastics, Marox Corp.
* Latest information available

Meanwhile, there are other forms of progress to note across the city, said Morse, listing everything from a rising high-school graduation rate — it was under 50% when he took office, and now it’s closer to 70% — to falling unemployment; from planned revitalization of the former Lynch School just off I-91 (an RFP was recently issued) to needed evolution at the Holyoke Mall.

The mall is one of the city’s important assets, he noted, adding that it brings thousands of people into the city every day. With the retail sector struggling in the wake of emerging forces like Amazon, and malls fighting to keep their spaces filled, the facility in Holyoke is responding with family-oriented tenants that are keeping the parking lots crowded, said the mayor.

“We’ve seen the mall make a number of investments in recent years and add more entertainment options,” he explained. “These include new restaurants, an escape-room place, and a new Cinemark theater that will be coming in.”

As for the graduation rate and improvement at the public schools overall, this is an important ingredient in the overall strategy for Holyoke’s revitalization, said the mayor.

And with continued progress in mind, the city will launch a new high-school model this fall, one based on four different academies focused on career readiness to create more pathways for students.

Planting Seeds

As he talked about cannabis — and everything else going on in Holyoke — Morse joked that Holyoke might soon run out of mill space to offer developers.

When told about that line, Marrero laughed, paused for a second, and said simply, “I hope so — that would be great.”

That’s not likely to happen any time soon, if ever. But that number of available square feet in the mills that gave Holyoke its nickname and its heritage keeps going down.

And cannabis is just one of the reasons. Many of the same character traits that are attracting marijuana growers — from the mills to the highways to a business-friendly City Hall — are attracting other types of businesses as well.

As noted, Morse couldn’t exactly have foreseen the cannabis industry being one of his city’s leading employers when he took office. But he could foresee a time when his staff and the office of Planning and Economic Development would be flooded with calls from people interested in maybe setting up shop in Holyoke.

And not the one in Colorado.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

The aerial map of Springfield behind Kevin Kennedy

The aerial map of Springfield behind Kevin Kennedy, taken just a few years ago, would look very different today, and that’s a good thing, he says.

To say projects are coming to fruition in Springfield is a bit of an understatement these days, with a $950 million casino opening downtown in September, following right on the heels of the $90 million Union Station renovation and the $95 million CRRC MA plant on the former Westinghouse site, which is expected to begin producing rail cars for the MBTA this year.

Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, cited those projects at the start of a recent conversation with BusinessWest because they have been, in many ways, the most prominent signs of economic momentum in Springfield. But they’re only three among dozens of moving pieces coming together to generate real excitement in the City of Homes.

“We’re calling it ‘the year of the new Springfield,’” he said.

And it needs to be, considering that the casino, if projections are correct, will draw 12,000 to 15,000 visitors per day, perhaps more at the start. Meanwhile, the Hartford rail line into Union Station may bring up to 2,000 people a day, in addition to the usual PVTA and Peter Pan bus traffic.

“A lot of people will be coming through Springfield; it will be a completely different area in terms of foot traffic,” Kennedy said, noting that restaurants, retail, and entertainment options in the area will get a boost — possibly a big one.

“Bruno Mars, who just cleaned up in the Grammys, plays MGM in Las Vegas. Lady Gaga performs at MGM facilities. There’s Cirque de Soleil … these are things that, from an entertainment point of view, Springfield could only wish for,” he said, adding that the sheer possibilities have people excited.

But it’s important, he said, not to simply let the wave of MGM visitors happen, but to pair the casino’s opening with an image campaign to let people know what else Springfield and the surrounding region have to offer. After all, it’s not every day that a business opens with the potential of bringing thousands of people into the city every day who would otherwise not be there.

And, indeed, there’s much more than nightlife afoot downtown; for example, the innovation economy that has taken root with entities like Tech Foundry, TechSpring, and Valley Venture Mentors has created a fertile environment for ideas to turn into cutting-edge companies.

Meanwhile, “I never thought we’d see the day that we were creating market-rate housing in our downtown,” Kennedy said, citing the 265 units in the SilverBrick Lofts and a planned transformation of the old YMCA on Chestnut Street into 114 market-rate units, not to mention the rehabilitation of the Willys-Overland building into 60 market-rate units.

“Developers are telling me there’s room for 300 more units in terms of demand,” he added, noting that such downtown housing tends to attract the younger demographic a city needs to remain vital — and the arrival of MGM Springfield ties into that as well. “Millennials love first-class entertainment. The pieces all fit.”

Those pieces include persuading people who visit Springfield, some for the first time, to explore what else the city has to offer.

For instance, “we have two things nobody else has — the Dr. Seuss museum and the Basketball Hall of Fame,” Kennedy noted. The latter is embarking on a major, $25 million renovation, while the former continues to smash attendance records at the Springfield Museums, drawing visitors from all 50 states and around the world (see story on page 39).

Kennedy drew on an apt analogy for the Hall of Fame when talking about the way Springfield is currently promoting itself. “We do some coaching and try to keep the team together, but the most important part is getting the players to play,” he said. “All the citizens and businesses, they’re the real stars of the show right now. Everyone wants to something — the chamber, the cultural council, the EDC, all these are partnerships, and they’ve taken the ball and run with it. Every major organization has stepped forward.”

Made for Walking

One of those downtown partners, the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD), recently signed onto the first cultural compact in the state, an agreement among the city, the district, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and state leaders that solidifies the city’s recognition of the arts as an economic-development activity.

But the SCCD has long been promoting and installing public art as a means of ramping up creative placemaking to boost the walkability and attractiveness of the downtown.

“I think that’s something we’ve focused on since the beginning of the cultural district — increasing walkability, not just to drive visitors to a destination, but for add-ons,” said SCCD Executive Director Morgan Drewniany, before explaining what that means. “Say someone is here for MGM, and they’re walking between the bowling alley there and a restaurant. If the streetscape between those places is attractive and funky and cool, you might take that extra step and keep walking, instead of stopping at the place that’s easiest.”

That’s the goal of turning the streetscape — through public art, bustling storefronts, and increased safety measures — into an attraction in itself, so if someone arrives in the city to visit MGM and maybe the Seuss museum, they might be compelled to stick around and check out more destinations.

SEE: Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1852
Population: 156,000
Area: 33.1 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.68
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.28
Median Household Income: $34,311
Median family Income: $39,535
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Medical Center; MassMutual Financial Group; Big Y; Mercy Medical Center; Center for Human Development; American Outdoor Brands Corp.
Latest information available

The city, meanwhile, has embarked on revitalization projects at Stearns Square, Pynchon Place, and Riverfront Park, and is looking into restaurants installing ‘bumpouts’ onto the sidewalk for outdoor seating. Meanwhile, a pedestrian wayfinding system downtown and a coming bike-share program will further create a sense of vitality for residents and visitors alike, Kennedy said.

Perhaps most important is a city-wide reduction in crime that officials attribute to a number of factors, from an increase in police officers to leadership classes in the department to a computer program on laptops in cruisers that pinpoint where recent crimes have occurred and allows police officers to read reports about them.

One of the most notable changes has been the expansion of C3 (community) policing in vulnerable neighborhoods where high levels of poverty, truancy, and healthcare problems exist. Special police units have been created and put in place in four areas: Mason Square, the South End, the North End, and lower Forest Park.

Downtown, that public-safety momentum will take the form of a new substation and three police kiosks, Kennedy said, adding that Police Commissioner John Barberi understands the connection between safe streets and economic development.

“The things he’s done have been nothing but supportive. The concept of police kiosks and substations will not only make the downtown safer, but will free up police in other neighborhoods when they’re not answering calls downtown. All the neighborhoods benefit.”

The police force, in fact, was one of the earliest adopters of Drewniany’s arts-is-safety philosophy and her belief that more public art can increase foot traffic, which in turn raises the perception of safety, which then actually increases safety. “Criminals aren’t hanging out doing whatever they want to do in a place that’s active with pedestrians,” she said. “It follows the same idea as the police kiosks. If people feel like it’s a safe place, it will actually be a safe place.”

Meanwhile, MGM made a commitment to spend $1.5 million annually for 15 years to create and maintain a public-safety district downtown due to the traffic it will bring to the city. The district runs from the south end of Mill Street to Union Station, and from Riverfront Park up to the Quadrangle.

All the Right Moves

As for the casino, Kennedy said the way the city handled the process of securing MGM made sense.

“We were fortunate to take the right tack in how to approach the gaming question, to not marry any individual suitor. We courted multiple suitors, created competition, and created leverage,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would deny we ended up with a top-flight company in MGM that created a perception outside of Springfield that we were ready to do business in the right way.”

He credited former Gov. Deval Patrick for sowing many of the seeds for some of the city’s recent flagship developments, including a $350,000 planning grant in 2008 to get Union Station renovated. “He was the one who said to those that wanted to provide rail cars for the MBTA, ‘look west.’ And I think we picked the right mix of things, and have been fortunate with major investments like MGM but also making a transition to the innovation economy downtown. All kinds of pieces of the plan worked.”

And it’s not just new entities creating excitement, he added.

“What MassMutual did recently, by bringing 1,500 people into their home office, really solidifies its future here in Springfield,” he noted. “They’re also bringing anywhere from 500 to 1,000 employees into Boston, which is also really good for Springfield because it gives us a footprint in the state capital.”

That, along with Big Y’s just-announced expansion of its distribution center, are two examples of how large, legacy companies remain a vital force, even with all the buzz generated by the startup economy. “Not only are we bringing in outside companies, but our existing companies are expanding. It’s all great news for Springfield.”

Kennedy also credited Mayor Domenic Sarno and other officials for not thinking parochially and understanding the value of regional connections, which include the development of more rail platforms along the north-south line that connects Connecticut and Vermont. “We can’t discount the importance of Union Station for the simple reason that rail transportation is going to become more and more important.”

As for that ‘new Springfield,’ Kennedy traces the recent resurgence in the city, and especially its downtown, to the construction of the federal courthouse on State Street in 2008. In many ways, that project launched a decade of impressive development, culminating in a 2018 that many people probably couldn’t have envisioned back then, when none of these major projects were on the horizon and the national economy was tanking.

“That gave you the confidence that you could really do something,” he told BusinessWest. “And what we’re seeing now isn’t smoke and mirrors; they’re not just feel-good things. These things are real.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Linda Leduc and Charlie Blanchard stand beside one of Palmer’s two new charging stations for electric cars.

Linda Leduc and Charlie Blanchard stand beside one of Palmer’s two new charging stations for electric cars.

In a neighborhood struggling to regain some momentum, any new development matters — no matter how humble.

Literally, in the case of Humble Pie, a restaurant with a façade as nondescript as its name and a farm-to-table ethos that has quickly won over locals since opening in December on Main Street in the Three Rivers section of Palmer.

“They’ve been getting excellent reviews, and people are literally standing in line,” said Town Planner and Economic Development Director Linda Leduc. “That’s good because it’s another catalyst to get other business owners and developers to invest in Main Street.”

It’s not the only new development in the neighborhood. The town has also transferred ownership of 2032 Main St. to South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which is renovating the top floor to apartments and the bottom to retail — a mixed-use plan that will both infuse new residents into the neighborhood while attracting more shoppers, said Town Planner Charlie Blanchard. “That rehabilitated building will hopefully attract other businesses to the area.”

Property and business owners in Three Rivers have been meeting for the past two years as part of a grass-roots revitalization effort, which includes changing the perception of the area and filling vacant storefronts. Discussions with residents have touched on ideas such as making the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, building a walking path with river access around the perimeter of Laviolette Park and upgrading the parking there, and expanding Hryniewicz Park, which is used for movie nights, concerts, and other events staged by the town’s recreation department and the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, the consortium known as On the Right TRACK (Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge) has been working for some time to build a cultural and creative economy in the village.

Meanwhile, Pinocchio’s restaurant on Bridge Street in Three Rivers installed outdoor seating last summer, which turned out to be a popular option, said Leduc, adding that the eatery stuck out a tough period when the Red Bridge, which connects that area of Palmer with Ludlow and Wilbraham, was out of service for two years; it reopened in November.

“I know that hurt the entire village, and Pinocchio’s was definitely struggling,” she went on, “but now that it’s open, the whole village will benefit.”

Three Rivers is definitely on the move, she and Blanchard told BusinessWest — and other neighborhoods in Palmer are showing signs of positive activity as well.

Health Matters

Baystate Wing Hospital’s $17.2 million project to expand its Emergency Department, which is nearing completion, will better accommodate the needs of the community by supporting the current annual patient volume of 24,000 visits.

The 17,800-square-foot space will include separate ambulance and public entryways and will feature 20 patient rooms, including trauma, behavioral health, and other dedicated specialty-care areas. Private rooms will replace curtained bays to enhance patient privacy, and a dedicated space will be created for behavioral-health patients. Once the new building is completed, the current Emergency Department space, which was built in 1995, will be retrofitted for other uses,” according to Dr. Robert Spence, chief of Emergency Medicine for Baystate Health’s Eastern Region.

While that’s the largest medical development happening in Palmer, it’s far from the only one. Others include CrossFit Ardor, which moved from Brimfield to the Allen Block in Depot Village last year; a new massage-therapy and wellness center called Peaceful Paths on North Main St.; and an expansion of Palmer Animal Hospital on Thorndike Street. Speaking of animals, a new pet-grooming business known as Rufflections Dog Spa recently opened on Park Street.

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050 (2015)
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $22.08; Three Rivers, $22.91; Bondsville, $22.75; Thorndike, $23.59
Median Household Income: $41,443
Median Family Income: $49,358
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Sanderson MacLeod Inc., Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available

Last year also saw the opening of the expanded, 4,000-square-foot Junction Variety Store in Depot Village, more than doubling its previous size. The store, which had sold beer and wine, now has a full package license, and owners Meena and Bharat Patel aim to lease some additional space for retail or office use.

In the Thorndike section of town, steampunk artist Bruce Rosenbaum and his wife, Melanie, moved into the former St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Main Street, as both their residence and the new home for Mod Vic Steampunk Design. They have created a showroom and gallery in the historic space, as well as holding steampunk workshops for families. “He’s moving ahead with his work, and has pieces displayed in the sanctuary; it’s incredible,” Leduc said.

Finally, the new rail spur installed at Sherwood Lumber Yard, in the town’s industrial park — a project that has been in the works since 2013, and funded through an Industrial Rail Access Program grant — will allow the business to bring in materials by train, which will spur significant expansion of the operation, Blanchard said.

“It actually helps the entire industrial park,” Leduc said. “When trains would come in, they’d hold up the entire line, so that other deliveries weren’t getting into the park. “By having them have their own rail spur, now a train can come in and unload without that sort of interruption.”

Green Thoughts

Other recent business developments include a few ‘green’ businesses, in more than one sense of that word. One is the move of Gold Circuit E-Cycling from Ludlow to Third Street in Palmer, Leduc said. The four-person operation will not only do business in town — picking up and recycling used computer equipment, electronics, and refrigerated appliances, as well as recycling a host of other goods — but plans to develop a relationship with Pathfinder Regional High School’s work-study program.

The town will also see its 10th large-scale solar project this year, with the owner of a property on River Street leasing space to Borrego Solar for a 4.7-megawatt system, which will bring total production among the 10 sites to 29.3 megawatts.

Leduc said she gets calls every week about potential new solar developments, but if more are to be approved, the priority is to place them in remote areas where they won’t alter the town’s rural character and natural viewscapes.

Palmer has also given the green light to a growing industry in Massachusetts, approving its first medical-marijuana facility on Chamber Road, including a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse and 3,200 square feet of retail space. Altitude Organic Corp. will move its headquarters from Colorado to a property on Thorndike Street in Palmer as part of the development. “So they’re ready to invest in the town,” Leduc said.

Blanchard said the approval was partly driven by the fact that recreational marijuana is now on the horizon, expanding the market for growers, although the town currently has a moratorium on recreational-pot facilities as it decides on what types of ordinances and restrictions to put in place around such facilities.

Even last year’s total renovation of Town Hall — which included the expansion of the public meeting room; a new conference room and additional storage space; new offices for the Board of Health, Conservation Department, Building Department, and Veteran’s Agent; and new lighting, windows, and carpeting — had an ecologically friendly component.

“The town purchased two electric vehicles and had two charging stations installed at Town Hall and the library,” Leduc said, noting that they were funded by the state Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities program. Particularly in the case of the library station, she noted, they will provide another opportunity for people, in this case electric-car owners, to explore town. “They’re probably going to charge for a couple of hours, which will give them the opportunity to explore Main Street, visit, go shopping, and grab something to eat.”

In other words, to take in a bit more of a town that’s constantly adding to its reasons to stick around.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]