Some Other Things to Watch for in 2013
The Western Mass. casino license now up for grabs is not the proverbial elephant in the room.
Rather, it’s a herd of elephants in a very small room.
As we’ve said on more than a few occasions, this will be the largest development project in this region’s history — roughly three times the size, cost-wise, of Baystate Health’s massive ‘Hospital of the Future’ project, and perhaps four or five times the size of any new project over the past few decades in terms of new jobs.
So the heated competition to secure that coveted license will certainly be the story of 2013. But it won’t be the only one. Here are a few others that may compete for headlines as the year progresses.
Mayor Alex Morse has become the subject of discussion, conjecture, and more than a few jokes since he reversed field on casinos in late November, and then reversed it again a few weeks later. It now seems certain that Holyoke will continue to go about economic development the way the young mayor said it should — by cultivating and attracting small businesses, creating vibrancy in the downtown, promoting innovation, and, overall, convincing people who 10, 20, or 30 years ago wouldn’t have considered Holyoke a place to live or start a business, to look at it in a new light.
Several weeks ago, BusinessWest related the stories of several business owners who had either found or rediscovered the city and made it their company mailing address, and in some cases, their residential address as well. With the casino issue now apparently in the city’s rearview mirror, it will be interesting to see if Morse and his administration can continue to build momentum and generate vibrancy the old-fashioned way, meaning without 3,000 slot machines and a 300-room hotel.
The High Performance Computing Center
This is part of the Holyoke equation, and a big part, but also a slightly different story. Since the plans for the computing center were put on the table, city officials and area economic-development leaders have worn out the word ‘leverage’ when talking about the center, which changes the landscape in the center of Holyoke, but only brings a few dozen full-time jobs.
Just how Holyoke and the region as a whole goes about this leveraging process will be one of the stories that will start to unfold in 2013.
As the story on page 36 relates, this is a very visible, potential-laden project that bears watching. This is the largest brownfield mill redevelopment project in New England, and it has enormous potential to bring jobs and vibrancy to the region. Already there is some momentum at the site — two projects have been announced, including a new, $27 million HealthSouth rehabilitation hospital, and the project was recently included in the third round of funding for the state’s Brownfield Support Team initiative — although the economy is still not cooperating with any redevelopment project.
Ludlow Mills will be a 20- or even 30-year initiative, but 2013 could be an important year in terms of laying the groundwork for future success.
Whether a casino goes in Springfield’s North End or South End, or in Palmer, plans to revitalize Union Station will finally come off the drawing board in 2013 after more than four decades of talk, speculation, and pulling together the needed funding.
Soon, a portion of the site, the old baggage building, will be razed, and restoration work and construction of a new intermodal transportation center will commence. What will become of Union Station depends in some part on where the casino is built and how much involvement the eventual winner of that sweepstakes has in this initiative. But perhaps the bigger question is whether city officials can succeed with efforts to enable the station to gain and keep the attention of the business community. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.