Downtown Shows Power of Higher Ed


Let’s be realistic; Springfield will not become Boston, Worcester, or Cambridge — or even Northampton or Amherst, for that matter — when it comes to higher education and its impact on a community’s economy, culture, psyche, or anything else.

Springfield, while it has four colleges and a university conducting classes within its borders, is not, and probably never will be, what would be considered a college town. (Worcester isn’t one, either, really, but that’s another story.)

But while the City of Homes is not a college town, the colleges based within and just outside it have certainly been major contributors to the community’s overall health and well-being, in ways ranging from educating a workforce to providing significant buying power to adding cultural and entrepreneurial vibrancy.

But in recent years, the higher-education community is making a difference in another way — by bringing people, energy, brainpower (Mayor Sarno’s term), and additional vibrancy to the city’s central business district (see story, page 21).

There are now four schools with a downtown mailing address — Cambridge College, which arrived in 2012; Bay Path University (located in Longmeadow but founded in Springfield more than a century ago) in 2013; the University of Massachusetts, through its UMass Center at Springfield, in 2014; and Springfield College, which opened the doors to a small office in 1350 Main St. just a few weeks ago.

The size and scope of these facilities vary — UMass and Cambridge are conducting classes downtown, Bay Path has 40 employees and its American Women’s College based at 1350 Main St., and Springfield College has only a few small offices — but, together, it’s becoming somewhat of a force.

The phrase ‘education hub’ was used by some of those we spoke with, and that seems like an effective assessment of what is taking shape. Because of these schools and their facilities, there are now a least a few hundred more people in the downtown on a typical day than we saw before.

They’re buying lunches, coffee, and greeting cards, and thus helping existing businesses, while helping to create a critical mass that may inspire more retailers to consider downtown.

We shouldn’t expect a return to the days before the Fairfield and Holyoke malls were built and there were a number of thriving department stores along Main Street, but we should expect progress when it comes to creating an environment in which downtown can expect the residential and commercial growth that feed off one another.

In the meantime, this proliferation of  higher education will likely stimulate more collaborative efforts between the schools, more internships involving city businesses, and more innovation and entrepreneurship.

Overall, this higher-education hub, if you will, equates to one decent-sized employer moving downtown, when it comes to additional bodies in the central business district, or feet on the street, as they say. But there is more to than that.

The colleges and universities do bring positive energy and momentum, and the promise of much more of both in the years to come.

As some of the administrators we spoke with noted, Hot Table in Tower Square is now open until 8 p.m. because of the students now taking classes in the building, and the lines at all eateries are longer.

We expect this to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall impact of this education hub.

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