Progress, One Building at a Time


You won’t find it at or anywhere near the top of those oft-cited lists of all the economic-development activity happening in Springfield, a compilation dominated by MGM’s casino, CRRC MA’s subway-car-manufacturing facility, the I-91 reconstruction project, Union Station, and Silverbrook Lofts.

But the recently unveiled $1.8 million purchase and renovation of the historic Merrick Phelps House on Maple Street is significant in its own way — many ways, actually.

The property, once the home to Solymon Merrick, inventor of the monkey wrench, was an eyesore, a blight on the once-proud Maple Street-area neighborhood. No one wanted anything to do with it, and for years it sat there deteriorating, a highly visible symbol of all of the many things wrong with Springfield.

Enter DevelopSpringfield, the nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation created in 2008 to advance development and redevelopment projects, and its energetic president and CEO, Jay Minkarah. Unofficially, the agency’s mission is to generate momentum and progress in the City of Homes through a number of initiatives, one of them being the acquisition and repurposing of properties like the Merrick Phelps House.

And this project has created both.

Beyond restoring one of the proud properties that gives the city its nickname and converting it into business space, this effort is now a highly visible symbol of the many things going right in Springfield — specifically a strong blend of public and private investments that can only succeed in generating more of the same.

Indeed, when residents, business owners, developers, and even state officials see a project like this, they become far more likely to look upon Springfield as a place they want to invest in. They look upon an initiative like this and say, ‘well, if someone can do that, then we can…’

Anyone with an imagination can fill in the blank. And as DevelopSpringfield, other agencies, and private developers undertake more projects like the Merrick Phelps House, more groups and individuals will be inspired to try and do so.

This is the basic formula for redeveloping properties, blocks, streets, neighborhoods, and communities. Progress begets more progress. It’s a simple theory, but it works, as we’ve seen in cities across the country, and locally, in Lowell and even Holyoke.

It is through projects like this that progress spreads beyond the central business district and into surrounding neighborhoods, where people live — and more would choose to live if it were a place they could take pride in.

Springfield, as we all know, is all about neighborhoods, and many of them — in fact, most of them — need to turn to the past tense when putting that word ‘pride’ to use.

When officials and organizations like DevelopSpringfield talk about progress coming one building at a time, it sounds cliché. But it’s not. This is how cities rebuild themselves and restore lost pride — one property, one important project at a time.

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