Don’t Give Up on Union Station

Congratulations to Mayor Charles Ryan and his staff for orchestrating the recent planning exercise that developed a new vision of the future of the city of Springfield. With technical assistance from the nationally respected Urban Land Institute (ULI), the city’s public and private sectors collaborated in formulating an exciting new blueprint for the city.

The resulting strategy is designed to leverage our abundant resources to secure a bright future for Springfield’s residents and businesses.

But, as we know only too well, the planning is the easy part; the implementation will be much harder. The entire Springfield community will be challenged to support the vision and to cooperate in undertaking specific project initiatives. We all need to become fully engaged as the implementation process unfolds over the next several years.

I am delighted that the city has decided to continue to pursue the redevelopment of Union Station as a priority project. This opportunity was underplayed by ULI, but it makes good sense to continue to focus on Union Station for a number of compelling reasons:

  • Union Station is an important part of Springfield’s history, and it has great potential for anchoring the northern section of downtown;
  • As a multi-modal transportation facility complete with commuter rail, Union Station could serve as the transit hub for all of Western Mass.;
  • A large portion of space in this handsome building could see new life as office space with ancillary retail uses;
  • More than $40 million in public funds have been committed to the project;
  • Much has already been accomplished; the property is in public ownership. Its roof has been repaired and the asbestos removed. Architectural and engineering studies are complete; and
  • Union Station will complement the other critical initiatives recommended by ULI, and it will not compete for the same public resources.

Make no mistake about it, we need to move quickly to bring this project to fruition. A new project manager should be designated, replacing the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority. All the work products prepared by the consultants and engineers should be reassessed with an eye toward devising a practical redevelopment plan that is firmly grounded in market reality. Access issues need to be resolved with Conrail, and commitments need to be secured for the transit operations. A request for proposals should be issued to find a private developer. This is a long and daunting ‘to-do’ list, but it can be accomplished with concerted effort by all involved.

In a larger context, I am very upbeat about Springfield’s future. I believe the city has turned a corner and that momentum is now building. The new federal courthouse is about 60% complete. The public improvements in the State Street corridor will start next year. These projects are only the beginning.

The ULI process challenges us to focus on undertaking a new series of strategic initiatives. These include the redevelopment of the existing federal building, attracting retail to Main Street, developing residential housing on Court Square and in the South End, and continuing riverfront revitalization. Efforts to rehabilitate housing and to stabilize our neighborhoods are also essential.

I look forward to working with Mayor Ryan and Springfield’s emerging private-sector leadership in securing all of these opportunities.

What can you do? Springfield needs to move beyond the cynicism and pessimism of the recent past. We need to turn the page and focus on our future. I hope that you will join me in enthusiastically supporting these efforts to recapture Springfield’s greatness. Let the work begin!-

Richard E. Neal is a U.S. Congressman representing the state’s Second District.