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A Time of Challenge, Opportunity for STCC’s Technology Park
Bob Greeley

Bob Greeley says Building 104 at the Technology Park is unique space that should catch the attention of the market.

After an unsuccessful bid to land the state’s backup data center and the departure of long-time tenant Springboard Technologies, managers of the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College have a 116,000-square-foot challenge on their hands. Re-tenanting the property known as Building 104 won’t happen quickly or easily given the current state of the economy, but those charged with that task see an opportunity to add new jobs and bring stronger fiscal health to the park for the long term.

When the Assistance Corporation that administers the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College commissioned a feasibility study on what’s known as Building 104 last fall, there were several possible scenarios in play for the structure built at the start of World War II.

Plan A, if it could be called that, would see the 116,000-square-foot facility become home to the state’s backup data center, an $80 million operation that would store and transfer information on everything from traffic tickets to tax collection and employ hundreds of people. But the tech park site was one of two being considered for the center, and the competition, the former Technical High School, or what’s left of it, on Elliott Street eventually got the nod from the state in January.

Knowing this was a possible eventuality, the Springfield-based architectural firm Dietz & Co., which handled the feasibility study, considered other options, including a consolidation of Building 104’s long-time occupant, Springboard Technology, into a portion of that structure and subdividing what remained for new tenants.

But when Springboard, which handled contract work maintaining and repairing computer components, and had been struggling for some time, eventually fell victim to the faltering economy earlier this year and informed the Assistance Corp. that it couldn’t remain in the park in any capacity, that essentially brought the board to Plan C. This amounts to starting with a clean slate in a building that comprises roughly one-third of the space in the ambitious, 13-year-old technology park created out of several manufacturing complexes in the old Springfield Armory.

The timing could obviously be better for starting anew, said Bob Greeley, president of R.J. Greeley Co., which will be tasked with leasing out the space, noting that the economy has made many companies cautious about moving or expanding. But the space in Building 104 is unique, he said, in that it can handle heavy loads and features redundant power and heavy-fiber connectivity.

This combination should make it attractive to data-center-like facilities and also some manufacturers, he said, noting that, while it may take some time to fill the space, the tech park may likely emerge fiscally stronger from Springboard’s departure. Indeed, while that company took one-third of the space in the park, it certainly wasn’t providing one-third of the revenue, said Greeley, adding that new tenants taking advantage of the building’s highest and best use — data storage and high-tech manufacturing — could yield substantially higher revenues for the long term.

Paul Stelzer, president of Holyoke-based Appleton Corp., which manages the complex, agreed. He said that, while Springboard was a solid, long-time tenant, it was essentially underutilizing much of the space it occupied.

“Looking forward, we see an opportunity for the technology park,” he said, adding quickly that seizing on that opportunity won’t be easy given the current economy.

In this issue, BusinessWest looks at what will certainly be an intriguing next chapter for the tech park, which was created with the help of the state Legislature to house technology-related businesses and startups, and thus bring new jobs to the region.

Park Place

While giving BusinessWest a tour of Building 104, Greeley stopped at what was a $5 million clean room built by Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) when it occupied most of what is now the technology park in the 1980s.

The clean room, later converted for general assembly work by Springboard, is part of the facility’s long history, which dates back to the early ’40s, when the Springfield Armory used it for some manufacturing, but mostly warehousing operations. It has held that role for most of the past 70 or so years for the Armory, then Milton Bradley and General Electric, which both occupied the site for many years after the Armory closed in 1967, and later Digital, from which the Springboard operation was spawned.

But it won’t be a warehouse in the future, said Greeley, noting that it has much more to offer than high ceilings and several loading docks. Indeed, the building’s redundant power and what’s called ‘heavy fiber’ will make it ideal for technology-related ventures, especially data storage.

“There’s a lot of warehouse space on the market in this region,” said Greeley, “but there isn’t any other space like this.”

And it this uniqueness that provides a measure of optimism for park administrators as they go about the task of trying to re-tenant Building 104 in the middle of the worst recession in decades.

Tracing the history of Springboard and its influence on the evolution of the park, Greeley said the company, founded by long-time Digital plant manager Tony Dolphin, originally occupied much more space in the park, including part of what’s known as Building 111. In the late ’90s, park administrators consolidated Springboard’s operations into 104, thus opening up space to be used as a call center by RCN and, later, by current occupant Liberty Mutual, which arrived last summer.

Springboard has struggled for the past several years, said Stelzer, but the Assistance Corp. and park managers remained committed to helping it remain viable — and in the park, albeit in much smaller space.

Springboard’s difficulties and the increasingly pressing need to find a new, more-stable tenant for 104 prompted the Assistance Corp. to propose that space as a suitable home for the state’s data center, he continued. When that two-year-long battle was lost, and when Springboard made its departure official a few months ago, park administrators quickly launched an ambitious effort to market the space.

Until a few weeks ago, however, they didn’t have much to show prospective tenants, said Greeley, noting that Springboard was still in the process of moving out. With that work now completed, he continued, “we can expose the space to the marketplace.”

Getting more specific, he said the target audience will be operations that store, process, and transfer information. There are already a few smaller ventures of this ilk in the park, he said. As one example, he cited Crocker Communications, which occupies 5,000 square feet, in which it operates what would be considered a small co-location facility.

Such operations run 24/7/365 and require high levels of redundancy that doesn’t exist in most facilities, especially in Western Mass., said Greeley, adding that he’s already had some informal inquiries about the site, despite limited marketing to date.

Stelzer told BusinessWest that, while one large tenant is a possibility for the site, it is far more likely that the space will be subdivided into four and possibly more smaller spaces.

“There just aren’t that many 100,000-square-foot tenants out there,” he said, adding that the feasibility study indicates that the property can, and probably should, be divided into spaces ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 square feet.

There are some potential tenants currently doing business in the 413 area code, Stelzer continued, but the property will likely be filled with a mix of businesses from this area and other regions, meaning the potential for additional new jobs for the region.

The wild card in the equation, of course, is the economy, which is currently defined by question marks, said Greeley. “People don’t know what things are going to look like in a few months, let alone a year,” he said. “This recession is not like other recessions I’ve seen; no one can say with any degree of certainty what’s going to happen, and this has left many businesses unsure of what to do.”

New Lease on Life

One thing is for certain: filling the space in Building 104 is critical to the long-term success of the technology park, say those charged with re-tenanting the property.

Yet, the assignment isn’t simply to fill the space, but to find tenants that can make the most of its unique properties, and thus provide better, more-reliable revenue streams for the park.

Time will tell how successful Greeley and others will be in completing their mission, but they’re cautiously optimistic that they can make the most of what they ultimately view as a stern challenge and a unique opportunity.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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