Community Spotlight: Northampton
Developments Strengthen Northampton’s EconomyOn March 7, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was staged at two new auto dealerships on 347 King St. — Country Hyundai, which relocated from Greenfield, and Northampton Volkswagen, which moved from Damon Road.
Mayor David Narkewicz said the dealerships are among a bevy of exciting new projects that will increase vitality in Paradise City. “There is a lot of investment going on right now, which we are very pleased about,” he told BusinessWest.
Terry Masterson agreed. “There are 13 projects with a total value of $88.6 million that will add 203,000 square feet of office/professional floor space, 110 new hotel rooms, 73 housing units, and 83 assisted-living units,” said the city’s economic development director.
He and the mayor then offered a tour, figuratively speaking, of the community and its many commercial and residential developments. And there were stops in virtually every corner of the city.
They started on King Street. The auto dealerships were a $6 million investment, and were built by TommyCar Auto Group on the site of the former Kollmorgen Corp. Electro-Optical Division (now L-3 KEO), which moved to Village Hill. They will add about 50 jobs and generate about $85,000 in tax revenue, Narkewicz said, adding that there is a significant amount of activity happening in the King Street area.
This includes the redevelopment of the blighted former Price Chopper supermarket property by Colvest Inc. It is now called Northampton Crossing, and a new building has become home to Greenfield Savings Bank, while the existing Firestone building has been expanded.
The most significant change, however, is the conversion of 70,000 square feet of retail space into medical offices. Baystate Health moved a medical practice into the renovated building and added a laboratory, MRI and imaging services, and obstetrics and gynecology. “They leased about 60,000 square feet of the facility,” Narkewicz said. “This is a great reuse of the property and gives area residents additional medical options in one of our key commercial areas.”
The former Mobil station at 300 King St. was also redeveloped last year by PeoplesBank in Holyoke, which purchased the site and built a LEED-certified, green banking center. “This is a commercial corridor, and we are excited about all of the investment here,” Narkewicz said.
Meanwhile, another project slated to change the landscape is the construction of a 108-room Fairfield Inn on Conz Street. Narkewicz said developer Mansour Ghalibaf, who owns Hotel Northampton, has been challenged to meet the demand for hotel rooms at commencement and other times of the year.
“This will increase the city’s hotel-room inventory from 358 rooms to 470 rooms,” said Masterson. “And multiplying it by the current occupancy rate will equate to 100,000 people staying overnight each year when it is complete.”
Activity is also occurring south of the site on Route 5 in Atwater Business Park, where space in two, new 40,000-square-foot office buildings has been leased. “The first building is occupied, while the second is expected to be finished by the end of the year,” Narkewicz said, adding that Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s medical offices and Community Support Options are consolidated into one building, and the hospital plans to move additional medical practices into the second.
There are also plans to tear down the former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center and build a new hotel with 100 rooms. “The property has a big footprint, and there is a separate retail pad that could become a restaurant as well as room for an 80,000-square-foot office building in the back,” he said.
Moving north, to the site of the former Northampton State Hospital, residential and commercial development is escalating (more on that later), and downtown continues to thrive.“Downtown has no real vacancies; there are over 70 stores and 35 different types of restaurants and specialty shops,” Masterson said. “Talbots is celebrating 20 years in their Northampton store, and the Academy of Music programs draw more than 40,000 people to the city.”
And long-term planning continues to redevelop the Three County Fairground into a year-round exhibition facility for agricultural and cultural shows. “A new, 80,000-square-foot exhibition facility will be built, and renovations will be made to the existing buildings,” he noted. “In the coming years, the expanded facility will become a regional attraction for shows and exhibits with the potential to generate $50 million in commerce.”
For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest continues that tour of Northampton, which reveals that an already-thriving city is building additional momentum in every sense of that phrase.
Grounds for Optimism
At Village Hill, the canvas that developers started filling in 15 years ago is fast becoming a masterpiece of mixed-use development, with more initiatives in progress or on the drawing board.
The Gatehouse, a 16,000-square-foot structure that integrated the former gates to the state hospital into its design, opened its doors last year. It hosts office and retail space, and is the first commercial building on the north side of the campus.
Fazzi Associates, a Northampton-based healthcare services firm, relocated to the Gatehouse from King Street and expanded into 20,000 square feet of office space, Masterson noted, adding that the building also contains a Liberty Mutual claims office, and a small coffee shop is being planned.
Although the Gatehouse is the first commercial structure on the north side of the development, it already was home to a number of residential developments that cross all price brackets.
“It’s impressive to drive through Village Hill and see the different types of housing and how balanced it is,” Masterson said, noting that Wright Builders Inc. built a six-unit subdivison of single-family homes last year and started the first phase of Upper Ridge, a four-unit townhome building. The company is expected to begin the second phase of its Upper Ridge at Village Hill project this spring.
That development will include a duplex as well as one three-story, six-unit, elevator-equipped apartment building. Each unit will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Pecoy Builders is also developing homes in Village Hills, said Narkewicz. The company has completed roughly half of a 24-unit subdivision of single-family homes that offers homebuyers nine plans to choose from in varying price ranges.
MassDevelopment, for Hospital Hill Development LLC, has invested more than $18 million in planning and infrastructure construction, and created the master plan for Village Hill, which is being marketed and developed in sections. In addition to the land currently out to bid on the back property, additional acreage remains to be developed, the mayor noted.
Overall, said Masterson, commercial, retail, and residential development occurring in the city is well-balanced. “We have hotel and retail space, along with senior housing,” he noted as he spoke about the new Christopher Heights project, a $13.4 million, 50,000-square-foot, 83-unit assisted-living facility being built at Village Hill by the Grantham Group.
“Half of the units will be affordable,” Narkewicz said, explaining that the master plan includes mixed-income development.
Meanwhile, many other developments are underway or in the planning stages in and around downtown.
Northampton Community Arts Trust has found a new home at 33 Hawley St. “They purchased a former health club [Universal Health and Fitness] and plan to create 12,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 250-seat black-box theater in it,” said Narkewicz. “Northampton Center for the Arts will be the key tenant.”
Also, the former Clarke School campus on Round Hill Road is slated to undergo a transformation. The Springfield-based OPAL Real Estate Group purchased 12 acres, which contain eight buildings, and plan a historic conversion of the structures that will include residential apartments and retail and office space.
“It’s a significant development because the campus was never on the tax rolls,” said Narkewicz, adding that efforts to bring more housing stock onto the market are critical, because officials believe more healthcare professionals will want to live in Northampton due to the expansion of Baystate Health and the fact that Cooley Dickinson Hospital has become an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Northampton-based hospital and Mass General’s Cancer Center have also entered into an agreement to expand oncology services to Pioneer Valley residents, with plans to build a new cancer center in the city.
On the Right Track
Coinciding with the many commercial and residential developments are infrastructure initiatives designed to improve traffic flow and, overall, make it easier for people to commute to and live in Northampton.
For example, improvements are in the works for the fork in the road that drivers encounter when they take Exit 18 off I-91 and head into Northampton.
“The intersection is owned by the state, and it plans to redevelop it and turn it into a roundabout,” said Narkewicz, noting that design work is 75% complete. “It’s a much safer and more efficient way to move high volumes of traffic through a complicated traffic pattern.”
The city is also in discussions with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce about the many new businesses that have opened at the juncture where Pleasant Street becomes Route 5.
“Several commercial buildings have been redeveloped, and this is an area we are trying to grow as a way of extending our downtown,” the mayor explained. “It’s evidence of an emergence of positive small business and retail growth, and the city is working with the chamber to improve parking to support the growth, traffic, and other pedestrian issues to extend the walkable district of Main Street. All these changes are bearing fruit.”
State officials also want Northampton to take over the section of Route 5 that turns into Pleasant Street. There are some environmental challenges, said Narkewicz, adding, “we’re looking at how we can create a better transition from the state highway to downtown. We have put in some traffic islands to demarcate the point when you leave the highway and enter the city zone to encourage new commercial development.”
City officials are also looking forward to the return of Amtrak service, which will transport passengers along the west side of the Connecticut River. It is part of a larger, $73 million federal project and calls for a shift in Amtrak’s Vermonter route, which will include new stations in Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke. “The state is working with us on plans to build a new railroad platform next to the track,” Narkewicz said.
Local businessman Jeremiah Micka has purchased the old rail station building with plans for its conversion, which will include a new sports bar on the north side of the structure, as well as a 200-seat banquet hall. The Tunnel Bar underneath the building will remain open, and the mayor said he is happy that the rest of the building will be redeveloped, as it was empty and on the market for several years.
Masterson calls Northampton a leading city in Western Mass. “It has many diverse economic and demographic assets that generate economic strength locally and within the Pioneer Valley Knowledge Corridor region.”
Narkewicz agreed, and said Village Hill is a model development because it is close to downtown and residents can walk there, ride their bikes, or use PVTA buses. “Plus, it contains open space and community gardens. It’s an example of the sustainable growth Northampton is focusing on,” he said.
Growth that is taking place in every corner of the city.
Northampton at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1884
Population: 28,592 (2012)
Area: 35.8 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $15.39
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.39
Median Household Income: $48,864
Family Household Income: $56,844
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Smith College, City of Northampton