Recreational Offerings Spur Progress in Southwick
Community Spotlight: Southwick
Sixteen years ago, Freda Brown inherited 120 acres of forestland in Southwick that her parents had purchased generations before.
“It’s a beautiful area that borders my backyard, and I wanted to preserve the open space and find something to do with it that was sustainable and that my children could inherit,” she told BusinessWest. “The last thing I wanted was to see it turned into a development.”
She came up with a viable option several years ago when she met Christopher Barden and Drew Gardner at an event in Southwick and they suggested turning it into a disc golf course, which, as the name suggests, is a facility in some ways similar to a golf track, where players throw flying discs at a series of laid-out targets.
They had developed other courses in the past, and today the three have become partners, with New England Disc Golf Center under construction and set to open on Brown’s land next spring with 18 holes that include tees for beginners and experts.
“It’s something affordable that the whole family can enjoy together,” Brown said, adding that plans are in place to add a nine-hole children’s course. “Southwick is a small, friendly town and a great place to live, and a disc golf course will enhance the recreational opportunities here.”
Russell Fox, chair of the town’s Board of Selectmen, says the disc-golf facility is just one of many ways in which the community has put recreation to use as an economic-development engine. Other examples include everything from four actual golf courses to the hugely popular Congamond Lakes, a boating haven for decades.
Overall, Southwick is resilient, and its property values have remained stable or increased during time periods when other towns saw a decline or were stagnant due to the economy, said Fox, who attributes this to the town’s desirable location; single tax rate; balance between commercial, residential, and open space; an excellent school system; and that wide range of recreational offerings that continues to grow.
“Disc golf has taken off, is fairly inexpensive, and offers a new way for young people to participate in a sport,” he said, adding that, in addition to the golf courses, the town is proud of its 6.5-mile rail trail, which gets more traffic every year as Westfield extends its adjoining rail trail.
Fox told BusinessWest that people travel along the trail from the center of Westfield to sites in Connecticut, and Southwick has some great restaurants accessible from parts of the trail.
“We’re working to improve the sidewalks that connect to it because they provide an entryway into our downtown as well as into smaller commercial areas,” he noted.
Still another major recreational attraction is motocross racing at the Wick, a world-class track built behind the American Legion. Last summer, the national Lucas Oil Pro. Motocross Championship returned there after a two-year absence and signed a new, three year contract.
“Having the nationals here again is a huge economic benefit not only for Southwick, but for the region,” Fox said, explaining that, although it’s a one-day event, it takes months to set up, which benefits local gas stations, eateries, hotels, and motels.
“The race attracts a wide range of fans and different categories of racers from all over the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Japan,” added Karl Stinehart, Southwick’s chief administrative officer.
Major improvements were made to the track and facility before the national race, and the promoter not only worked with the American Motocross Assoc. to meet its requirements, but created a strong social-media following and gained new affiliates. The event was held in July and broadcast live on NBC, and other races have been and will continue to be held there throughout the year.
In addition, Whalley Park has opened on 66 acres of land donated to the town by John Whalley III and Kathy Whalley, in honor of their son John Whalley IV. The new park increased the number of playing fields in Southwick, which is important as they didn’t have enough to accommodate demand.
“We’ve been approached by different organizations that want to rent our athletic fields, and we plan to begin letting outside groups use the facilities, which will help pay for the operating costs, expose people to our community, and add to our entertainment value,” Fox said.
The project is entering phase 2, and a $225,000 contract has been awarded to JL Construction Corp. in Agawam that will be paid for with Community Preservation Act (CPA) money and add lighting to two more fields.
“The townspeople voted to continue the CPA program, which allows us to continue investing in recreational and open-space pursuits,” Stinehart said.
For this edition, BusinessWest looks at the growth taking place in Southwick and other factors that continue to attract and stimulate economic development.
Rite Aid recently staged a grand opening for its new, $2.2 million, 11,000-square-foot building with a drive-thru on College Highway.
“They moved from the center of town and worked with the Mobil station next door to connect their driveways,” Fox said. “Good planning helped the traffic flow and makes it more convenient for customers of both businesses.”
The space that was occupied by Rite Aid filled quickly: it was leased to Dollar Tree, which opened a few weeks ago after a major renovation.
“Businesses have a strong desire to move here; we’re a growing community and get a lot of traffic from Northern Connecticut and the hilltowns via Route 57, as well as from Westfield,” Fox said, adding that the town’s industrial park has done very well.
One building that sat vacant for about a year will soon be occupied by Hudson Holding LLC, which manufactures filters and enclosures for the commercial aerospace market. Stinehart said the company outgrew its space in Connecticut and chose to relocate in Southwick, joining a number of businesses that have moved to the town from out of state as well as the local area.
“Nitor Corporation also expanded and received a special permit to sell guns and ammunition at its location on 5 Whalley Way,” Stinehart noted.
Infrastructure improvements are also underway. The Congamond Road sewer project is being extended to the Gillette Business District, which contains Dunkin’ Donuts, Ocean State Job Lot, and a new Pride station, and the improvements will allow them to grow help attract new ventures.
Residential growth is also occurring in town. High-end homes continue to be built around the Ranch Golf Course, and infrastructure work is underway for a 26-home development called Noble Steed.
“Our excellent school system is one of the reasons people want to live in Southwick,” Fox said, noting that a $69 million project was completed last fall that includes additions and upgrades to Woodland Elementary School, Powder Mill Middle School, and Southwick Regional School, which are all on one campus on Feeding Hills Road.
“The town has positioned itself to keep pace with the modern-day educational needs of youth in Southwick, Granville, and Tolland, which are part of the school district,” Stinehart added.
Town officials are also looking into net-metering credit arrangements with solar facilities to save money. They have an agreement with Nexamp solar farm in Hadley, which went online in October and is expected to result in a 15% savings, but hope to increase that amount.
“We’ve hired a consultant to find additional opportunities for net-metering credits,” Fox said, explaining that the work is being paid for by a $20,000 grant awarded jointly to the town and regional school district by the Mass. Department of Energy Resources.
Ongoing efforts to preserve open space are also gaining ground, as the town hopes to acquire a 144-acre parcel for sale on North Pond at Congamond Lakes.
The Mass. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife awarded Southwick money to help purchase it, and the Franklin Land Trust has embarked on a fund-raising effort to make up the difference in price.
Fox said the parcel is abutted by two different areas owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Connecticut.
“If we’re able to purchase this parcel, the amount of preserved land here will total 800 acres that will be available for hunting, fishing, and hiking, as well as natural habitats which both states are trying to establish,” he told BusinessWest.
Stinehart added that the area is stocked for bird hunting, and the Congamond Lakes are stocked with fish and rated among the top freshwater fishing sites in the state.
Stinehart said the town’s location bodes well for further growth, and there is space for new businesses along the front of several parking lots in the Gillette area that would offer great visibility.
In addition, sand and gravel operations in the Hudson Road area, which is zoned industrial, will be forced to close within a few years as they will have removed the maximum amounts allowed, so that land will become available for reuse in the future.
“We feel encouraged by what is happening here. There are many things in our community that help us remain a desirable place to live, work, raise a family, own a business, and enjoy recreational activities,” he said.
With a location 20 minutes from Bradley International Airport, in close proximity to the Mass Pike, and a short drive to Springfield and Hartford, the town is likely to continue its forward progress as officials and department heads who have worked for the town for decades continue to help strike a balance between family farms, open space, small businesses, and its thriving industrial park.
Southwick at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1775
Area: 31.7 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $17.10
Commercial Tax Rate: $17.10
Median Household Income: $73,555
Family Household Income: $83,314
Type of Government: Open Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Big Y World Class Markets; Whalley Computer Associates; Southwick Regional School District
*Latest information available