Art of the Matter
Evan Plotkin says he decided to call it the ‘Springfield Room.’
That’s because … most all of the paintings on the walls, courtesy of artist John Simpson and his students, depict well-known personalities who either live in the city or have strong connections to it.
It’s a diverse group that includes Herbie Flores, the long-time director of the New England Farm Workers’ Council, as well as philanthropist Lyman Wood, White Lion Brewery founder Ray Berry, and even Plotkin himself, who has become well-known for his work in recent years to being more people — and more vibrancy — to the city’s downtown.
The paintings, all of which are for sale, are just one of the selling points of this facility, part of what is now known as the 1350 Conference Center, one of Plotkin’s latest efforts to re-envision, and repurpose, the property at 1350 Main St., which he co-owns.
The center is located on the ninth floor, in space that had served as what Plotkin called “an informal art gallery and event space” that was used occasionally for fundraisers and other gatherings. It was not marketed or really open to the public, he said, adding that it has been given a facelift to bring another amenity to existing tenants, hopefully attract others, and bring new meeting space to downtown Springfield.
And Plotkin believes the timing is right for such an undertaking. After more than two years of COVID, he noted, gatherings of all sizes and types are becoming more prevalent as the region continues to move beyond the pandemic, even at a time when most meetings have at least some type of remote component.
“The artwork in here is spectacular, and combining an event space with a gallery made a whole lot of sense.”
“Most meetings are hybrid now,” he noted. “You have people who can attend the meeting live, and there’s an opportunity to bring in others via Zoom. With such formats, your meetings tend to be better-attended, but most groups are gathering in-person again.”
Plotkin acknowledged that there are several meeting spaces in the region, including others in downtown Springfield, but nothing quite like the one he has created.
Indeed, it is different because of the art, he said, but also the location, in the center of downtown, and the amenities, including state-of-the-art equipment and new furniture.
“The artwork in here is spectacular, and combining an event space with a gallery made a whole lot of sense,” he noted. “And the response I’m getting from social media and the tenants who have been up here has been very positive; people are excited about it.”
Meanwhile, the new conference center is not the only intriguing development at 1350 Main St.
Indeed, Plotkin said he has several new tenants coming in that will turn on the lights on floors that have been dark, or mostly dark, for several years.
The long-vacant sixth floor is now home to lawyers and support staff with the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Meanwhile, the Department of Children and Families is poised to sign a lease to take the seventh and eighth floors and part of the 15th. In all, roughly 60,000 additional square feet will be under lease by the summer, he said, adding that these new additions should help bring more foot traffic to downtown businesses and help them make a full recovery from COVID.
For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Plotkin about the new conference center and other developments, literally and figuratively, at 1350 Main St.
Plotkin told BusinessWest that he recently took a prospective tenant through the building for a detailed look-see. The last stop on the tour was the re-envisioned ninth floor.
“After going through, they said, ‘where do we sign?’” he recalled, adding that the business in question stages training programs on a regular basis and needs such a facility.
A desire to solicit such responses was one of the motivating factors for renovating the space, said Plotkin, adding that, overall, he believes there is room for additional meeting and event space in the region, especially something that falls into the category of ‘different.’
The art makes it so, he said, adding that the works currently on display are mostly from Simpson, a self-described painter, sculptor, muralist, and teacher, whose works can also be found throughout downtown Springfield, on museum and office-building walls and adorning the sides of buildings as well.
But new works from various artists will be rotated in and, hopefully, sold, said Plotkin, adding that the art gives the space a unique, always-changing look.
There are three rooms in the 1350 Conference Center, he said, listing a larger room ideal for presentations and meetings of up to 200 people, and two smaller rooms, including the Springfield Room, that are designed for smaller gatherings, training sessions, team meetings, and more.
“We’re still just moving the pieces around. We need to get some net gains in the downtown, and the region as a whole.”
The space can be used for a variety of different uses, including fundraising events, annual meetings, and even holiday parties, he went on, adding that he only recently opened the space to the public — the sign outside the entrance went up late last month — and has already had a number of inquiries.
“I’m ready now to get the word out to the public and offer it to organizations across the region as another option; I think it’s going to really take off,” he said, adding that the space will be free to tenants of the building, while there will a fee charged to for-profit businesses and a lower fee to nonprofits.
He expects interest to spread through word of mouth, and noted that the space is just one of several intriguing developments at 1350 Main St.
As noted earlier, three long-vacant floors — six, seven, and eight — will have new tenants. The Committee for Public Counsel Services, which includes the Public Defender division, Children and Family Law, and the Youth Advocacy division, will bring close to 100 people to the building. Meanwhile, the Department of Children and Families will bring an additional 200 people to that address.
As they do so, they will do more than activate some long-vacant space, said Plotkin, adding that these additions should help many downtown businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic and the accompanying trend toward remote and hybrid work schedules.
“We’re bringing 320 people downtown — that should make the restaurants happy,” he said, adding that history has shown the importance of the downtown office towers — especially when vacancy rates are low — to the surrounding business community.
With these new additions, 1350 will approach 70% occupancy, said Plotkin, adding that he is exploring all options for the remaining spaces, which include the 16th and 17th floors (the ‘penthouse’), which were occupied by Disability Management Services until last June, and several retail spaces on the ground floor, including the large space last occupied by Santander Bank.
As he goes about trying to fill those spaces, he reiterated his contention that what the city — and the region — need are positive momentum when it comes to absorption, and less movement by existing businesses from building to building.
“We’re still just moving the pieces around,” he said. “We need to get some net gains in the downtown, and the region as a whole.”
Talking in general terms about Springfield, the region, and its business community, Plotkin said there is an ongoing need to be creative and do more to bring people to Springfield and its downtown.
With the new 1350 Conference Center, he believes he’s doing both.
He considers this an exciting new addition to the landscape, event space that is a work of art. Time will tell if it generates the interest he expects it will, but this is certainly shaping up to be an intriguing brush stroke as he fills in the canvas that is 1350 Main.