BusinessWest launched its Top Entrepreneur program back in 1996 to recognize individuals, groups, and institutions that were honoring a tradition that went back centuries and made Greater Springfield a hub for innovation and industry.
For much of that decade, and into the next one, the list of honorees was top-heavy with those from the IT sector, as might be expected. Indeed, that realm was booming, and a legion of young entrepreneurs were starting businesses focused on hardware, software, and developing solutions for clients.
But over the years, this award has also gone to a college president, a hospital president, a municipal utility (Holyoke Gas & Electric), and a hockey team — actually, the owners and operators of that team, the Springfield Thunderbirds. And there have been more traditional entrepreneurs as well, in fields ranging from auto sales to hardware stores; trash hauling to home care.
The common denominator — and there’s certainly more than one — is calculated risk taking and a desire to meet identified, and often unmet, needs. In most all cases, they’ve done so by overcoming several challenges, and, in the case of decades-old businesses (Rocky’s Ace Hardware and Balise Auto Sales come to mind), adapt to changing times.
This pattern is certainly continuing with this year’s honorees, Vid Mitta and Dinesh Patel, the serial entrepreneurs who have made Springfield’s Tower Square their latest and most ambitious undertaking to date (see story on page 16).
Tower Square, originally known as Baystate West, was conceived and built in the ’60s. It was designed to change the landscape in the city, and it did just that, its office tower rising far above everything around it for another two decades. It was created to be a destination, a place where people would work, shop, and dine, and for a while, it worked.
But when shopping patterns changed and malls were erected in the suburbs, it didn’t.
By the time MassMutual, which built the complex, decided to sell it in 2017, it was, in many respects, tired. There were many intriguing tenants, including UMass Amherst and Cambridge College, but still many vacancies on both the retail and office sides. Meanwhile, the hotel on the property had lost its Marriott flag, was operating as the Tower Square Hotel, and had lost most of its original luster.
While most potential investors saw a troubled property and had visions of a fire sale, Patel and Mitta saw a gem — albeit one that needed some polishing. They rolled the dice, knowing their $17.5 million investment was only the first of many that would have to be made.
Since acquiring the property, they have used imagination — attracting White Lion Brewing Co. and the YMCA’s fitness and daycare operations, for example — and persistence (something that’s certainly needed during a pandemic now entering its third year) to bring new life and energy to the property.
The new façade that has gone up on the hotel is somewhat symbolic of this entire project — it is shiny, it is new, and it is turning a lot of heads.
The partners still have a long way to go with this endeavor, to be sure. There are still many vacancies to fill, and the property is still not entirely worthy of the term ‘destination.’
But three years and more than $30 million in investments later, their gamble is showing signs that it will pay off — for them, the city, and the region.
We don’t know how this story will end, but for now, there are many intriguing plotlines. One of them concerns entrepreneurs taking a chance, planning, and working diligently to make a dream become reality.
That’s the same general pattern followed by all the winners of the Top Entrepreneur award since 1996, and it explains why Mitta and Patel are worthy additions to a distinguished list of honorees.