Commercial Real Estate
A New Anchor
Tower Square has seen its ups and downs over the years, but its new owners have been aggressive about selling potential clients on the renovated space, convenient parking, downtown amenities, and simply being part of an economic renaissance in Springfield. Wellfleet took that pitch to heart, which is why it agreed to become the tower’s anchor tenant.
Vid Mitta, managing partner of Tower Square, called Wellfleet’s relocation to the downtown Springfield office tower “a big thing.”
It’s even bigger when one considers how far the company has come, said Drew DiGiorgio, Wellfleet’s president and CEO.
“When we started, it was five employees,” DiGiorgio said. “My office was not an office — it was a desk and a chair located at the bottom of the stairs at a barbershop in Wilbraham. We would open up envelopes, and I would lick them because didn’t even have the little spongy thing. We answered the phones when they rang; we did everything. To go from that to this is pretty humbling, and I appreciate everyone’s support to get us here.”
“If this was five years ago, the issue might have been safety in the downtown. But the dynamic has changed. The downtown is attractive, there are all kinds of venues and attractions nearby, and security doesn’t appear to be an issue any longer.”
Wellfleet, a Berkshire Hathaway company providing accident and health-insurance products, recently staged a press conference to announce the relocation of its national corporate headquarters — and 150 of its employees — to the 10th, 11th, and 12th floors of Tower Square in August.
Wellfleet — which has built a national niche insuring college students, handling more than 100,000 students at more than 200 colleges and universities — has outgrown its current office space on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield. The new offices at Tower Square will give employees up to 80,000 square feet of class-A office space and provide ample room for Wellfleet’s new and growing Workplace Benefits division.
“To me, Wellfleet is a home-grown, small, Springfield-based company which has grown to this size today, and we should applaud their success,” said Mitta, who announced that Wellfleet’s name will be placed on the tower as its anchor tenant.
Rethinking the City
Demetrios Panteleakis, principal of Macmillan Group, the real-estate firm that represents Tower Square, said his team was in discussions with Wellfleet for about a year as Wellfleet searched the suburban market for a home.
“We were the alternative. They were kind of weighing it against what the suburbs had to offer,” he said, adding that he was able to pitch a downtown headquarters as much more than a fallback. In fact, the more Wellfleet’s leaders considered Tower Square, the more it made sense.
“If this was five years ago, the issue might have been safety in the downtown,” Panteleakis told BusinessWest. “But the dynamic has changed. The downtown is attractive, there are all kinds of venues and attractions nearby, and security doesn’t appear to be an issue any longer.”
In short, a thriving urban center is simply more attractive than the suburbs to many companies. But that shift in perception didn’t happen overnight.
“I think it’s a culmination of everything the folks at City Hall, the Business Improvement District, and all the economic-development folks have been working on, rowing in the same direction, for the last four or five years,” he said. “The result is not only attracting new tenants, but bringing tenants from Westfield, West Springfield, Northampton, Agawam … these are folks saying, ‘Springfield is the heart of the economic engine in Western Mass., and that’s where we need to be; that’s where our employees need to be.’”
DiGiorgio said Wellfleet employees, when asked what’s appealing about Tower Square, cited the modern, renovated space itself, with its natural light, city views, and covered parking, as well as the food options downtown and the fact that the district has been emerging economically in recent years.
“In New England, it’s not a lot of fun when the snow and rain come, so having a secure garage, and having the ease of a building that kind of provides you everything you need over the course of the day, that’s highly attractive,” Panteleakis added.
Formerly known as Consolidated Health Plans, Wellfleet branded under its current name in January, uniting its insurance carriers and claims-administration organizations under one marketing name. It boasts approximately 175 employees, 150 of whom work in Springfield; others work remotely or from satellite offices in Florence, S.C. and San Rafael, Calif.
“We believe being part of Springfield is important,” DiGiorgio said, noting that the company has long been involved in efforts like the Memorial Spring Cleanup, Link to Libraries, Friends of the Homeless, Rays of Hope, and Open Pantry. “We are active in the community. Our name is not well-known, but we think that will change in the future.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno noted that Tower Square’s owners have been aggressive and creative in bringing an eclectic mix of businesses to the facility, from Wellfleet to the YMCA of Greater Springfield to White Lion Brewing Co.
“A lot of people, years ago, said, ‘what can you expect? It’s Springfield.’ More and more people are saying now, ‘why not Springfield?’” the mayor said. “I won’t say the downtown is re-emerging as much as it is reinventing itself. Springfield is getting on the map. And my administration continues to be business-friendly because it brings jobs.”
At the end of the day, Panteleakis said, Tower Square is becoming an easier sell.
“When you walk people through the space and they consider the economics of it — for a few dollars more, they can have parking at their leisure, then the level of security and the amenities a class-A building has to offer — it sells itself.”
That’s why he enjoys those tours of the building with prospective tenants, and hopes more companies and organizations request them.
“What they need to understand is what Wellfleet understands — the level of the buildouts of the existing spaces in Tower Square rival anything you’d see in Boston or New York City,” he told BusinessWest. “These are class-A, high-tech buildouts, and there’s a difference between being in a class-B or suburban market and being in a state-of-the-art, class-A office space with spectacular views of the Pioneer Valley.”
At the press conference, Panteleakis said welcoming Wellfleet was “a special day” for the city and the office tower.
“It’s quite remarkable to have another insurance company that’s growing at the rate this company is growing, and it’s only fitting it makes its home in the marquee building in the center of the city, bringing its people, its energy, and its vitality to the downtown,” he noted. “It’s just a great day to see it happen to our city. I think it’s going to be one of many great announcements Tower Square has for you over the coming months.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]
Painting the Town
Britt Ruhe is a huge fan of public art, specifically mural art.
After attending what have come to be called ‘mural festivals’ in cities such as Worcester and Salem and seeing the many benefits they bring to those communities, she lobbied hard to bring a concept known as Fresh Paint to the City of Homes.
Wanting to find a way to give back to the community, Ruhe, a financial strategist for startups and small businesses by trade, began meeting with festival organizers in other parts of the state to gather input and essentially learn how it’s done.
“I was able to see firsthand what an incredible impact mural festivals have on revitalizing a neighborhood, and I thought, ‘Western Mass. needs something like this,’” said Ruhe, adding that, when she approached Springfield’s business, civic, and community leaders about staging a festival here, she encountered overwhelming support.
Indeed, not only did Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, agree to the festival concept, he pushed Ruhe to set the bar higher than her original proposal of five murals in order to achieve a greater impact.
Over six days earlier this month, 35 artists, with considerable help from the public during several ‘paint parties,’ transformed 10 walls throughout the city during Springfield’s first mural festival.
“It’s been a great success; when you do something in a city the size of Springfield, it has to have the correct impact,” said Kennedy. “I thought five was a little too small to be impactful. This was the first time we were going into multiple murals, and I thought 10 was more impactful than five.”
He said encouraging the arts and culture sector, currently a $50 million business in Springfield, is important for the continued revitalization of the city, especially in the realms of housing and entertainment.
The 28 total works of public art add up to 20,000 square feet of murals, and the larger works were approved by building owners who had no idea what the finished product would look like.
“I was able to see firsthand what an incredible impact mural festivals have on revitalizing a neighborhood, and I thought, ‘Western Mass. needs something like this.’”
“The building owners have the biggest lift; they donate their wall,” said Ruhe. “As part of a festival, the building owner doesn’t have to pay, but they don’t get to choose what goes on their wall, which is a big ask, especially this first year around.”
Overall, the festival was a community effort, with $150,000 raised for the event from donors and several sponsors, including MassMutual, MassDevelopment, Tower Square Hotel, and many others.
Dozens of volunteers took part, and 1,500 cans of spray paint and 500 gallons of liquid paint were used to change the face of many formerly drab buildings and pieces of infrastructure.
But the benefits far outweigh the costs, Ruhe told BusinessWest.
“There’s a lot of data out there that shows that murals increase property value, foot traffic, and they’re good for residential and commercial businesses,” she explained, adding that, although the economic benefits are difficult to quantify, a study is being undertaken to examine the direct effects such a festival has on a city.
While little of the funds raised go to the artists themselves, Kim Carlino, artist of the mural at 8-12 Stearns Square, said there are many other types of rewards, especially the pursuit of such a daunting challenge.
“I like the experience of having something that’s bigger than you and can really engulf you,” she said, while transforming that massive, highly visible wall in the heart of the entertainment district. “Everyone coming by is just so thankful; it’s the same experience I have every time I make a mural — everybody wants more color in their life, and we need more of that in our day-to-day.”
Springfield, as noted, is only the latest in a number of cities — in Massachusetts and across the country — to embrace murals and the concept of a mural festival.
Wane One, a muralist for 38 years, has taken part in many of these events. He said the only American art form started by young children has turned into a worldwide artistic movement.
“This artform has gone global,” he said after creating the mural on the East Columbus parking garage. “It doesn’t matter what part of the world you go to right now, it has pretty much taken over.”
In the city of Worcester, the arts and culture sector is a $127.5 million industry, filling 4,062 full-time jobs. And murals have become a distinctive part of the landscape there.
Che Anderson, project manager in the Worcester city manager’s office, said that community’s mural festival — called “Pow! Wow!” — has brought more people out and into the local community, providing a boost to small businesses.
“Overall, ‘Pow! Wow!’ has provided an international platform to know about Worcester and the things that are already existing,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the festival has improved the city’s walkability. “The festival also provided an outlet for many creatives in the city.”
As for Springfield, similar effects are already in evidence.
“It’s been a great success,” said Kennedy. “It has delivered everything I think the mayor and I hoped for on the cultural side, the economic side, and the reputational side.”
Ruhe said the local business community’s support has been extremely helpful through the course of the festival, and she sees her hopes for the event’s future materializing.
“It’s really bringing the community together. People from all walks of life are coming out for the events or standing on the sidewalks looking at the art, talking with each other, painting together,” she said. “What makes mural art so powerful is that is brings art out into the street and into people’s everyday lives.”
Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]