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Commercial Real Estate

A Tale of Two Cities

Evan Plotkin says congestion and sky-high rents in Boston demand creative solutions. One of them could be incentivizing companies to move west, into Springfield’s downtown.

Evan Plotkin was talking about how “something has to give.”

With that one phrase, he was talking about the commercial real-estate markets in the central business districts of Boston and Springfield.

In the Hub, said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, rents are sky-high and continue to climb — to more than $100 per square foot in some locations and to roughly $63 per square foot on average, with more space being built to accommodate soaring demand. Meanwhile, traffic, congestion, and problems with mass transit are strangling businesses, he said, to the point where meetings can’t start until 10 a.m. and overall productivity is impacted.

Meanwhile, in Springfield, rents are low — less than one-third the average in Boston — and they are flat, as in consistently flat. “They really haven’t gone up at all in maybe 25 years,” said Plotkin, who noted that there are several reasons for this, but especially the fact that there is, by his estimate, roughly 600,000 square feet of vacant class A space in Springfield’s downtown.

Exacerbating this relative stagnancy in the City of Homes has been new and seemingly unneeded inventory coming on the market — especially the 60,000 square feet at Union Station and the redeveloped property known as 1550 Main — and movement among a growing number of businesses to reduce their physical footprint by enabling (or in some cases requiring) employees to work from home.

This is where the ‘something has to give’ part comes in, said Plotkin, in a very candid interview with BusinessWest, noting that things need to change in both cities. And both would seemingly benefit if just some of the state offices now based in the Hub, as well as many different types of private businesses, would change their mailing address from Boston to Springfield when their leases expire.

“There’s 70% rent inflation in Boston, so when these businesses’ leases expire, they’re looking at incredibly high turnover rent,” said Plotkin, who co-owns a portion of the office tower known as 1350 Main St. He noted that class A rents in Boston have climbed $12 to $15 per square foot over the past few years. Meanwhile, in Springfield, property owners are charging $15 to $20 per square foot of class A space.

“It’s outrageous what’s going on in Boston — and everyone can do the math,” he said. “If state agencies don’t have to be in Boston, they can be decentralized and relocated to office space in Springfield or perhaps Worcester. They’re looking for creative solutions for Boston, and this could be one of them.”

Besides these opinions, all Plotkin really has at this point are those numbers he mentioned earlier (as well as some other statistics) and what appears to be that sound theory — that businesses and state agencies that don’t really need to be in Boston could and should be incentivized to seek other locations, including the 413 and especially downtown Springfield.

He has meetings planned with other downtown property owners as well as Rick Sullivan, present of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., to discuss what can and perhaps should be done to at least raise awareness of what Springfield has to offer and perhaps create some migration west.

Plotkin said he understands there are reasons why state agencies and businesses want to be in Boston — especially because they know there’s a skilled workforce there — and he understands that moving about 90 miles west on the Turnpike is expensive and presents some risks, especially when it comes to workforce issues.

But he says the numbers speak for themselves, and if those paying sky-high rents in Boston could come to understand the numbers in this market, they could become inspired to relocate.

And if high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield becomes a reality, then people could, in theory, live in the Boston area and work in businesses and agencies relocated to the 413 — a decidedly differently spin on how that service might change the business landscape in the Bay State.

That’s a very large number of ‘ifs,’ and Plotkin acknowledges this as well. But as he said at the top, and repeatedly, something has to give in both cities.

Space Exploration

As he talked with BusinessWest, Plotkin continually leafed through the pages on a white legal pad he brought with him.

They contain various notes he’s collected over the past weeks and months on the Boston real-estate market and the overall business climate in New England’s largest city.

There are some statistics he’s collected — such as those regarding average rents in the Hub, the amount of new space under construction (2.5 million square feet was the number he had), and the current vacancy rate in the city — an historically low 6%, according to the New York-based real-estate giant Cushman & Wakefield.

But there were also some general thoughts, observations, and notations from various publications and other sources.

Among them was a quote from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council citing a survey which revealed that 60% of the life-science employees working in Boston would “change their job tomorrow” if they could get a better commute. There was also something he read in another publication (he couldn’t remember which one), noting that many Boston-area residents had simply given up on mass transit because it was so unreliable and were instead driving to work and getting there mid-morning.

“In one report I read, business owners in Boston said they had to add staff to make up for transit delays,” he said, putting a verbal exclamation point behind that comment. “Think about how disruptive that is to your business. We don’t understand that here — there’s no such thing as traffic in Springfield.”

Summing up all he’s read and heard about Boston and possible solutions to its congestion problems — everything from incentivizing employers to let workers telecommute to taxing motorists for using certain roads at certain hours — he said the situation is fast becoming untenable for many living and trying to do business there.

“You have inefficiency, spiraling upward costs, shortages of affordable housing, transportation problems, congestion, and sky-high cost of living there,” he said. “Businesses locate in Boston because they can attract that workforce, which makes sense, but if that workforce can’t afford to live there and can’t deal with the congestion, then what’s the point of being in Boston?”

Which brings him back to Springfield and its downtown. And for this subject, Plotkin didn’t need a legal pad.

He’s been working in, and selling and leasing commercial real estate in, downtown Springfield for more than 40 years. He knows what’s changed and, perhaps more importantly, what hasn’t, especially when it comes to demand for space in the central business district, and what would be called net gains.

Indeed, Plotkin said that what the region has mostly experienced — there have been some notable exceptions, to be sure — is companies moving from one downtown office building to another.

In this zero-sum real-estate game, one building owner loses a tenant, and another gains one — but the city and its downtown don’t gain much at all, he said.

“There’s been negative absorption in the downtown for many years now, and I don’t see anything really changing,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m seeing people moving from one block to another, one office building to another, but not many new businesses moving in. Meanwhile, everyone’s vying for the same tenants, which drives the rental rates down even lower than they have been historically; it’s a tenant’s market here.”

It’s anything but that in Boston, which has seen a surge of new businesses moving in — everything from tech startups to giant corporations, like GE. The real-estate market is exploding, and traffic woes and mass-transit headaches have been consistent front-page news. All this calls for creative thinking — as in very creative — and perhaps looking west, said Plotkin, who did some simple math to get his point across.

“Using the example of a 20,000-square-foot tenant paying $63 per square foot in Boston … if the same tenant came to Springfield and paid $18 per square foot, we’re talking about millions of dollars,” he explained, adding that these numbers should strike a chord, especially when it comes to businesses and agencies that don’t have to be in Boston.

Many of those who think they do need to be in Boston are focused on workforce issues, he went on, adding that he believes the Greater Springfield area can, in fact, meet the workforce requirements of many companies.

And over the past several years, the city has become more vibrant with the addition of MGM Springfield, said Plotkin, adding that there are certainly other selling points, like a high quality of life and a cost of living that those residing in and around Boston might find difficult to comprehend.

Bottom Line

As he talked with BusinessWest, Plotkin all but acknowledged that getting businesses and agencies to trade Boston for Springfield will be difficult, for all the reasons stated above.

But the situation in the Hub could be reaching a tipping point when it comes to affordability, traffic, congestion, and quality of life.

And these converging factors might, that’s might, finally convince some decision makers to seek a very creative alternative.

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

Commercial Real Estate

Warming Trend

A confluence of factors — from the opening of MGM Springfield to the dawn of the cannabis era in Massachusetts — have fueled heightened interest in real estate in downtown Springfield. Brokers report that the level of activity — inquiries, showings, leases, and sales — is the highest they’ve seen in recent memory.

Freddy Lopez Jr. says there’s a rather complex algorithm, as he called it, when it comes to locating a cannabis dispensary in Springfield.

Such a facility can’t be within 500 feet of a school, he noted. Or within 300 of another dispensary. Or within 50 feet of a Class A residence. And there are many other restrictions, as well as a host of hurdles to clear locally and with the state, just to get the doors open.

But this rather high degree of difficulty doesn’t seem to be stopping many people from trying to get in the game in downtown Springfield — and at other locations within the city, said Lopez, a broker with Springfield-based NAI Plotkin.

He said he’s lost count when it comes to how many properties he’s shown to various parties, and noted that the interest is constant and only increasing, as desire to be part of the cannabis wave, if you will, intensifies.

“There’s a lot of interest across the area, but the hot spots are downtown, and especially locations near the casino,” said Lopez, who recently brokered the sale of 1665 Main St., once the headquarters of Hampden Bank, to a party (RLTY Development Springfield LLC) interested in converting it into a dispensary. “There’s a lot of competition for good sites.”

1665 Main St., recently sold to a party interested in converting it into a cannabis dispensary. Evan Plotkin, left, and Freddy Lopez Jr. of NAI Plotkin, which brokered the sale.

The Main Street property, located across from the Hippodrome and a block from Union Station, was most recently assessed at $127,600, but sold for $285,000, a clear sign of the times and an indicator of how hot the race to secure locations for cannabis facilities can, and probably will, become.

“People are jockeying for position right now,” said Lopez, adding that some parties are securing options, some are leasing, and others, like RLTY, are going ahead and buying properties in anticipation of winning a coveted license.

But the cannabis industry is only part of the story when it comes to growing interest in Springfield and especially its downtown, said Mitch Bolotin, a principal with Colebook Realty, based in the heart of downtown.

MGM Springfield has certainly had an impact as well, spurring interest in various forms of development, from retail to housing. But there have been many other positive developments as well, from the relocation of the Community Foundation of Western Mass. to a location on Bridge Street, to the renovation of Stearns Square, to an improved outlook on the part of many when it comes to public safety.

“There are a number of factors driving this,” said Bolotin late on a Friday afternoon after a day of showing various properties, referring to a surge in interest and activity in Springfield and its downtown. “I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years now, and this is the strongest I’ve ever seen it.”

Mitch Bolotin says MGM Springfield is just one of many factors stimulating the most activity seen in the downtown Springfield market in recent memory.

Mitch Bolotin says MGM Springfield is just one of many factors stimulating the most activity seen in the downtown Springfield market in recent memory.

Demetrius Panteleakis expressed similar sentiments. The president of Macmillan Group LLC, now based in Tower Square, said the last quarter of this year has been extremely busy, and he expects that pattern to continue.

“I haven’t seen an October-November-December period as busy as this one — this is usually a slower time,” he noted. “There is a lot of movement; things are very robust right now.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest looks at why things are heating up in the downtown market and what this warming trend means for 2019 and beyond.

Where There’s Smoke…

Lopez said he has a number of anecdotes that capture the soaring level of interest in Springfield and its impact on the real-estate market.

One of his favorites concerns a party calling to inquire about securing a luxury apartment in downtown Springfield. Lopez explained that the city doesn’t really have any of those, much to the disappointment of the caller.

“This person was looking to do some investing in Springfield, and I think he wanted to use this apartment as a base — he could meet people there,” Lopez explained, adding that this phone call, all by itself, speaks volumes about how the commercial real-estate market is heating up in the city, and also how widespread the interest is.

Indeed, while there are many local parties interested in investment and/or development opportunities, the callers and visitors are also coming from well outside the 413.

“We’re getting calls from developers and investors in Boston, Rhode Island, New York City, and beyond,” he said, noting that many of these calls involve potential housing developments. “People who have never set foot in Springfield now have an interest in the city, and that’s very encouraging.”

That interest comes in many flavors, said those we spoke with, adding that the cannabis industry, and a strong desire to join it, are sparking many of the inquiries.

But these robust times are manifesting themselves in many ways.

Bolotin noted that he recently secured a lease for a new food-service business on Bridge Street. He couldn’t give specifics, but said the deal involved one of the vacant storefronts on that street, damaged first by the natural-gas blast and later by explosions triggered by a water-main break.

It’s an example of the strong interest in the market that he noted earlier, arguably the most activity he’s seen in recent memory.

“We’re seeing a lot of positive signs in the marketplace in terms of activity and interest, leases, and sales,” he said, adding that this vibrancy is reflected in everything from higher occupancy rates in the buildings managed by Colebrook — and there are many in the downtown, including the TD Bank Center and the Fuller Block — to how many showings of properties he’s conducted in recent months.

Overall, Bolotin, like others we spoke with about this, said there is considerably more positive energy concerning the downtown than there has been in some time. MGM deserves some credit for this, he noted, but there are many other factors as well, from the developments on and around Bridge Street to the renovation of the Fuller Block, to less apprehension about public safety. “The attitude is much more positive than it’s ever been.”

He noted that Patricia Canavan, president of United Personnel, who moved her business onto Bridge Street, Katie Alan Zobel, who relocated the Community Foundation to that same area, Tom Dennis, owner of the Dennis Group, who purchased and renovated the Fuller Block, among other buildings downtown, and Martin Miller, general manager of WFCR, who moved his operation from Amherst into the Fuller Block, are all examples of people investing in the downtown, and through, their actions, inspiring others to do so.

Panteleakis has also seen considerable optimism and less apprehension about public safety. “You don’t hear as many concerns about safety,” he said. “Before, safety was a real issue — it kept some people from coming downtown. But you don’t hear that much anymore.”

Meanwhile, housing has become a huge area of interest, in part because of MGM and the needs of its huge workforce, but also because of rising activity levels in general and growing anticipation that the city will soon become, if it isn’t already, a landing spot for younger people and empty-nesters alike.

Evan Plotkin, a principal with NAI Plotkin and long-time champion of downtown Springfield, noted the purchase of the former Willys-Overland building in the so-called ‘blast zone’ by Boston-based Davenport Advisors LLC, and that company’s acquisition of the old Registry of Motor Vehicles site, possibly for the same use, as harbingers of things to come.

“I’m seeing a lot of developers coming in looking to develop residential,” he said. “I see tremendous potential for new developments in parts of our city that have been stagnant for a long time, including areas on the fringes of downtown and in the downtown itself.”

Joint Ventures

While interest in potential housing development grows, the cannabis industry is the source of much of the activity downtown.

The brokers we spoke with said they’ve been showing multiple sites to groups interested in all facets of this business, from cultivation to retail. And while sites across the city are being explored — as many as 15 sites might become licensed in Springfield — the downtown is becoming the focal point.

“Things have been crazy for the past two years when it comes to this business,” he said, adding that he’s brokered the sale of sites for marijuana-related businesses in Holyoke and Easthampton. “Now, the focus is shifting to Springfield and the downtown area; people are trying to line up sites.”

Lopez concurred, noting that there is a broad mix of local, national, and even international companies looking to start a cannabis dispensary or cultivation site in this region, with many focused on Springfield and an initiative known as the Opportunity Zone Program.

Created as part of the U.S. Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, the program provides incentives for investment in low-income communities, like Springfield. Individuals and groups looking to develop in these designated geographic areas can gain favorable tax treatment on their capital gains, said Lopez, adding that he has worked with several owners and investors in the city’s Opportunity Zone.

The purchase of 1665 Main St. falls into this category, he said, noting that the acquisition is a good example of investors jockeying for position through options, leases, or outright purchases.

And the race for cannabis locations should provide a substantial boost for owners of properties downtown, said Plotkin, noting that prices are moving higher as interest grows, in a movement that echoes what happened when MGM Springfield and other casino-industry players jockeyed to enter this market.

“When you were dealing with a casino developer, like MGM or the other parties interested in Springfield, there was what we all referred to as the ‘casino rate,’” he explained. “They’ll pay more for real estate than the average buyer will.

“In the case of a marijuana dispensary, because the business is so lucrative, they will pay a lot more rent per square foot,” he went on, noting that a ‘marijuana rate’ is taking shape. “Rents that may have been $15 a square foot a year ago … for a marijuana shop, we’re taking about $20 to $25 per square foot, and in some cases more, depending on where it is.”

As for what the cannabis industry might mean for Springfield, Plotkin, who has traveled extensively, expressed some hope that the city might someday become somewhat like Amsterdam, a city famous for its culture, nightlife, and countless shops selling marijuana, other drugs, and related paraphernalia.

“I think Amsterdam is a great example of just how the very liberal nature of that city has led to incredible street life in that town that’s very safe,” he said. “Amsterdam is a great city, one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and maybe we can learn from its example.”

Bottom Line

Whether Springfield can become anything approaching Amsterdam — as a tourist destination or cannabis hotspot — remains to be seen.

For the time being, it is a hotspot when it comes to its commercial real-estate market.

There is interest and activity unlike anything that’s been seen in decades, and the consensus is that this pattern will likely continue and perhaps even intensify.

Springfield and its downtown have become the right place at the right time.

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

Commercial Real Estate

Making a Big Splash

This rendering shows the many components of the planned $650 million resort and water park in Palmer.

This rendering shows the many components of the planned $650 million resort and water park in Palmer.

More than five years after Palmer residents rejected a casino proposal for a huge tract of land just off Turnpike exit 8, the property is back in the news, this time as the planned site of a $650 million water park, resort spa, and sports complex.

It’s the most basic tenet in commercial real estate.

Location, location, location.

Since the Massachusetts Turnpike opened in 1957, the large tract of land sitting atop the hill overlooking the exit 8 ramp in Palmer has always possessed that coveted quality. But over the ensuing 60-plus years, little has been done to capitalize on it.

Indeed, among the more than 20 exits on the Pike, exit 8 is arguably the least developed. There’s a small gas station and attached convenience store just off the exit ramp, but one has to go a half mile left or right to find much commercial development, and even then there isn’t much.

Still, Northeast Development saw the enormous potential in the property more than 20 years ago, and first obtained an option on more than 200 acres owned by the late John Lizak — who owned several properties within the town — and later acquired it outright soon after casino-gambling legislation was passed in the Commonwealth.

An opportunity to place a casino, proposed by the owners of Mohegan Sun, at the site went by the boards in 2013, when Palmer residents rejected a casino referendum, but now the property is the focus of another high-profile initiative — one on almost the same scale as the MGM casino eventually placed in the South End of Springfield.

“I remember being at a meeting with them and hearing them say, ‘this is a hot idea — irrespective of the casino, water parks are hot commodities if they’re done right.’”

And, ironically, it’s a concept that actually became part of the rejected casino proposal — a water park.

Or a water park on a much, much larger scale, to be more specific. This would be a $650 million water park resort and spa, featuring everything from a man-made tubing river (if constructed as planned, it would be the longest in the country) to batting cages to athletic fields.

“As the casino competition started heating up, everyone was putting something new into what they were doing,” said Paul Robbins, president of Paul Robbins Assoc., a Wilbraham-based marketing and public-relations firm and spokesperson for the Palmer Sports Group. His firm has also represented Northeast Development for many years. “Doug Flutie was going to be part of Ameristar [one of the casinos proposed for Springfield], and MGM was touting its entertainment. That’s also when Mohegan introduced the concept of a water park.

“And I remember being at a meeting with them, and hearing them say, ‘this is a hot idea — irrespective of the casino, water parks are hot commodities if they’re done right.’”

Those at Palmer Sports Group obviously feel the same way.

Led by Winthop ‘Trip’ Knox, who has been involved with the design and construction of more than 3,000 water-related facilities for water parks, resorts, and deluxe hotels, and Michael D’Amato, who managed the construction of the later stages of the Foxwoods Resort Casino, including the Grand Pequot Tower, the group is thinking big.

As in very big.

Indeed, the complex will feature indoor and outdoor sports facilities, a resort hotel, and two indoor water parks, as well as an indoor hockey and basketball facility, an indoor sports bubble, a baseball complex, soccer and mixed-use fields, beach-volleyball courts, restaurants, and on-site townhomes.

There is demand for all of the above, said Robbins, adding that there isn’t anything like this in the Northeast, and the developers expect to draw visitors from a 300-mile radius and do so for at least 10 months out of the year; yes, the water in the tubing river will be heated.

“The developers believe there are 25 million people in the catchment area for this facility,” said Robbins, who used the phrases ‘Disney-esque’ and ‘think Orlando’ a number of times as he talked about just what is being proposed for the Palmer site.

Elaborating, he said there will be a large water park attached to the resort complex (again, like the Disney parks) that become part of the package of staying at that facility. There will also be second water park for day trippers, as well as a host of other facilities.

Robbins said the Palmer site, while somewhat remote (which explains the lack of development at and around the exit 8 interchange), lies roughly halfway between Springfield and Worcester and is easily accessible to several major population centers. And that has made it a hot property, as they say in this business, for some time.

“When Mohegan signed on, I had a number of meetings with them, and they absolutely loved that site,” said Robbins. “They loved it because [then-Gov.] Deval Patrick said he wasn’t thrilled about casinos going to urban areas; his vision was for a bucolic, ‘drive to the destination, stay a few nights’ type of resort, and that’s what Mohegan is. But the location is also ideal.”

So much so that Northeast pursued a number of different development opportunities for the site, but eventually returned to the concept that grew out of the casino proposal and may eventually replace it as Palmer biggest hope to replace the many manufacturing jobs that were lost there over the past few decades and bring new vibrancy to the community.

Preliminary estimates call for 2,000 jobs, said Robbins, adding that the project might well become a synergistic complement to the recently opened MGM Springfield, offering people from outside the region more reason to come to the Bay State, and specifically Western Mass., for an extended stay.

At present, there is no timetable for the development, said Robbins, adding that the Palmer Sports Group is working with town officials to secure the necessary approvals and make the project a reality.

— George O’Brien

Commercial Real Estate

Lots of Potential

 

Evan Plotkin, left, with parking attendants Joe Martin, middle, and Damien Denesha

Evan Plotkin, left, with parking attendants Joe Martin, middle, and Damien Denesha at the new service just outside 1350 Main St.

Valet parking isn’t exactly a novel concept; banquet halls, restaurants, and hospitals have been offering that service for years, if not decades. But it is when it comes to downtown Springfield’s office towers. One Financial Plaza recently introduced the concept, and in a few weeks, it is living up the promise first foreseen a decade ago.

Evan Plotkin says he first conceived of the idea of instituting valet parking at 1350 Main St. in downtown Springfield — the office tower he co-owns — almost 10 years ago.

Then, as now, he thought the service would bring a needed, higher level of convenience to people visiting professionals and other tenants in the tower, take some off the rough edge off Springfield when it comes to the issues of parking and enforcement of same — matters that can keep some from even venturing into the city to do business — and be another selling point when it comes to attracting new tenants and prompting existing tenants to re-up.

So why did it take a decade for the concept to become reality and, according to early projections, fulfill all that promise?

“I couldn’t really afford it back then,” said Plotkin, who laughed as he said that but was nonetheless quite serious with his tone. But there were other reasons as well, ranging from the economy — that was the height of the recession — to some logistics (getting all the needed approvals from the city), to a vibrancy level that needed to still come up a notch for this to really work. Or two notches. Or three.

All of those issues, including the notches of vibrancy, are now being referred to with the past tense, or certainly will be when MGM Springfield opens its doors in a month. So Plotkin and the other owners of 1350 Main have made that dream from a decade ago a reality, and they’re off to a fast start, by Plotkin’s estimates, with this valet parking venture, which also serves visitors of neighboring City Hall, the county courthouse a block or so away, and other nearby facilities, at the start of this month.

That was the Fourth of July week, as you’ll recall, so the numbers have to be kept in perspective, said Plotkin, adding that those first few days, the attendants were parking 25 to 30 cars a day. By early the next week, the numbers had doubled, and on July 12, a Thursday, they parked 73 cars.

“And I think those numbers will just continue to grow as more people become aware of the service,” said Plotkin, adding that roughly half of the customers thus far have been visitors to City Hall, more than a third have ventured to 1350 Main, and the rest have had other destinations in mind.

The service, managed by Valet Park of America, is roughly as expensive as traditional parking, said Plotkin, noting that the cost is $2 for 20 minutes or less (enough time for a quick visit to tenants at 1350 Main or offices in City Hall), $4 for visits ranging from 20 minutes to two hours (enough time to go the gym on the building’s ninth floor), and $2 for each additional hour after that. Several tenants at 1350 Main already provide vouchers to visitors to cover the cost of the service, just as they would with normal parking.

The service, operated on what’s known as City Hall Place, has a few spaces right outside City Hall, roughly two dozen more in the Civic Center Parking Garage, and more in the lots under I-91, said Plotkin, adding that, with the way the concept is catching on, more may be needed.

This isn’t exactly a novel idea — valet parking has been used by banquet facilities, restaurants, and hospitals for years now. But it is for an office tower, at least in this market, said Plotkin, adding that, as he surveyed a changing landscape downtown and pending changes, especially MGM, he decided it was time to execute that plan he first conceived all those years ago.

“We looked at what was happening downtown, and the construction for MGM and the [I-91] viaduct creates a lot of conversation about parking, and it’s always pretty negative,” he explained. “I really wanted to get ahead of all that with our building.”

Elaborating, he said 1350 Main St. doesn’t have any structured parking (an attached garage or lot) and has historically been challenged by having to rely on nearly facilities. And with MGM set to open, that challenge, and the perception of parking issues, would only grow.

“Visitors there will utilize that garage, but they’ll also be looking for other places to park,” he noted. “And what happens is that regular people who just want to do business downtown will have this fear that it’s going to be challenging to find a space. People will say, ‘it’s a hassle; I don’t want to feed a meter all day.’”

Thus far, the service is doing just what he thought it would. It’s providing that layer of convenience for visitors, his tenants seem to like the service and consider it added value, and, in Plotkin’s mind, it’s helping to put a friendlier face on downtown Springfield.

Or at least a strong counter to the parking patrol that polices the central business district. Those individuals are just doing their jobs, he said, but they put visitors to the downtown area and his building on edge — and sometimes dent their wallet.

Valet service is “putting a positive face on parking in Springfield,” said Plotkin, who has been a tireless promoter and supporter of Springfield and especially and its downtown, and was recognized by BusinessWest as one of its Difference Makers for 2018 for those efforts. “There’s a negative connotation with those meter maids. People don’t like to get $50 tickets; they see those people coming, and they run out of the middle of a meeting or a lunch to put quarters in the meter.”

He said the arrival of MGM Springfield will certainly drive the numbers at the valet service higher and bring the business venture closer to and eventually past the break-even point he knew he couldn’t reach a decade ago.

Damien Denesha, recently named manager of this site by his employer, Valley Park of America, agreed.

“Once MGM opens, there will be a lot more people downtown, and parking will become more difficult,” he told BusinessWest. “Demand for this service will certainly grow.”

It took a decade for the concept Plotkin first put on paper to become reality. But thus far, the service seems to have, well, lots of potential, in every sense of that phrase.

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber has named Ellen Freyman, an attorney with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C. in Springfield, its 2018 Richard J. Moriarty Citizen of the Year. The award is given annually to honor the memory of Moriarty, a long-time active participant in the chamber who gave of his time, talent, and personal and professional resources to the local community.

Since 2007, said chamber President Nancy Creed, “the award has been given to someone in the business community who — like Ellen — selflessly gives of their time, talent, and personal and professional resources to the community and encourages those who work with them and for them to do the same.”

Freyman concentrates her practice in all aspects of commercial real estate: acquisitions and sales, development, leasing, and financing. She has an extensive land-use practice that includes zoning, subdivision, project permitting, and environmental matters.

A graduate of the Western New England University School of Law and Pennsylvania State University, Freyman has been recognized or awarded by the National Conference for Community and Justice for Excellence in Law, the Professional Women’s Chamber as Woman of the Year, the Ad Club of Western Massachusetts as a recipient of its annual Pynchon Award, the Springfield Leadership Institute with its Community Service Award, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as a recipient of its Top Women in Law Award, and Reminder Publications with its Hometown Hero Award. She was also chosen as one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers in 2010.

Freyman is active on many nonprofit boards and currently serves as a member on the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce board of directors, which she has also chaired; the boards of the Community Music School of Springfield, the Center for Human Development, New England Public Radio, the Springfield Museum Assoc., the World Affairs Council, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, the Springfield Technical Community College Foundation, and the Springfield Technical Community College Acceptance Corp., and on the Elms College board of trustees. She is also an active member of the Longmeadow Zoning Board of Appeals, the Jewish Family Service board of directors, and the National Conference for Community and Justice board of directors. She is the founder and president of On Board Inc., a past president of the Springfield Rotary Club, and has been honored as a Paul Harris Fellow.

The breakfast honoring Freyman will be held on Wednesday, June 6 from 7:15 to 9 a.m. at the Flynn Campus Union at Springfield College, 263 Alden St., Springfield, and is sponsored by presenting sponsor MGM Springfield and breakfast series sponsor United Personnel.

In addition to honoring Freyman, the breakfast will feature, as keynote speaker, entrepreneur and author Nataly Kogan, CEO of Happier Inc. and author of the recently released Happier Now: How to Stop Striving for Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones).

Reservations for the breakfast cost $25 for members in advance ($30 at the door), and $35 for general admission ($40 at the door). Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mailing Jessica Hill at [email protected].

Daily News

The Gove Law Office announced that Amanda Carpe has joined the firm as an associate attorney focused on real estate transactions, estate planning, and estate administration.

“Amanda is a very valuable addition to our firm, and will be supporting our growing real estate department, as well as helping clients plan for their future and negotiate the probate process,” said Michael Gove, founding partner of Gove Law Office.

Carpe earned her J.D. from Western New England University in 2016. While in law school, she interned with Gove Law Office, and for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, where she appeared on behalf of the Commonwealth in child-endangerment cases. She also clerked for Judge Charles Belsky.

Carpe began her career in Worcester, where she worked on complex estate planning, elder law matters, guardianships and conservatorships petitions, and probate administrations.

The Gove Law Office, with offices in Ludlow and Northampton, is a bilingual firm with attorneys licensed in Massachusetts and Connecticut who provide practical, solutions-oriented guidance to clients in the areas of residential and commercial real estate, estate planning and administration, business representation, personal injury law, commercial lending, and bankruptcy.

Departments People on the Move
Michelle Chase

Michelle Chase

United Bank announced the hiring of Michelle Chase, a local banker with 16 years of banking and financial experience throughout Western Mass. and North Central Conn., as its new vice president/branch manager of the Ludlow branch at 528 Center St. Chase brings extensive banking experience and financial expertise to United Bank, holding key roles throughout her career in commercial lending, consumer lending, operations, loan servicing, and retail banking. Most recently, Chase spent more than six years with PeoplesBank, where she managed its Westfield branch and led a team that turned it into one of the bank’s top-producing banking offices. Prior to PeoplesBank, Chase was a small-business lender with the Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund from 2008 to 2011 and a Loan Operations manager with New England Bank, formerly Enfield Savings Bank. Her 16-year career in banking started in 2001 as a lending specialist with Southbridge Savings Bank. Chase earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and went on to receive an MBA from Bay Path University. She also studied at the Center for Financial Training. Her reputation in the banking industry spans beyond her professional and educational successes. In addition to winning internal company awards, Chase was selected to BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty class of 2017, which recognizes young civic leaders in Western Mass. She also received the Young Professional Society’s (YPS) Excellence in Leadership Award in 2014 for excellence in leadership skills and initiative and for her mentorship of other YPS members.

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Jennifer Plassmann

Jennifer Plassmann

North Brookfield Savings Bank (NBSB) announced the recent promotion of Jennifer Plassmann to the role of branch manager at the 1051 Thorndike St. branch in Palmer. In her new role, she will supervise and oversee all aspect of banking within the Palmer branch, including managing the teller line, scheduling, opening accounts, taking loan applications, and assisting customers with their banking needs. “Jennifer’s promotion is very well-deserved. She has proven herself to be a very valuable asset to the community and customers of Palmer, to the staff at her branch, and to the entire team at North Brookfield Savings Bank,” said Donna Boulanger, NBSB President and CEO. “We are confident she will continue to deliver many great benefits by sharing her experience, product knowledge, excellent customer-service skills, and her dedication to the community.” Plassmann most recently served as assistant branch manager and acting branch manager at North Brookfield Savings Bank’s Palmer location, where she excelled at being a leader for the branch staff and providing customers with exceptional care and attention, Boulanger said. In addition, she is a strong community supporter, often volunteering her time and efforts for various local community events, including but not limited to the Palmer 300th Anniversary Parade, the Palmer Historical and Cultural Center Tree and Wreath Festival, the Ware Flair Parade, the West Brookfield Asparagus Festival, and annual financial-aid nights at local high schools. “I am so pleased to continue my banking career with North Brookfield Savings Bank and within the community of Palmer,” Plassmann said. “I know and appreciate this neighborhood and all of the wonderful people and businesses who call this home. I am very excited to develop my existing relationships, expand to make some new relationships, and to increase my community involvement.”

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John Gannon

John Gannon

Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. announced that attorney John Gannon was named a partner in the firm on Jan. 1. Gannon, who has been with the firm since 2011, focuses his practice on employment litigation, workplace-safety laws and OSHA compliance, enforcing non-competition and confidentiality agreements, and wage-and-hour compliance. He also provides day-to-day advice to businesses with questions about workplace-related issues. “We are thrilled that John has accepted partnership in the firm,” said attorney Marylou Fabbo, a partner at Skoler Abbott. “John has demonstrated the expertise and leadership necessary to provide our clients with the best possible legal service, whether that means taking a case to trial or helping businesses protect their rights and assets.” Gannon is a frequent speaker on employment-related legal topics for a wide variety of associations and organizations, and was selected by BusinessWest as a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2016. He is a member of the Massachusetts, Hampden County, Connecticut, and American bar associations. He also sits on the board of directors for Riverside Industries, a not-for-profit human-services agency that serves people with perceived limitations and disabilities, and Educational Resources for Children, an Enfield nonprofit that provides out-of-school-time programs for children. “I am excited to enter this next phase in my career, and am honored to be a partner in one of the leading labor and employment law firms in the country,” Gannon said. “I look forward to helping the firm further expand its expertise on behalf of our current and future clients, and I’m privileged to be a contributing member to the Pioneer Valley business community for the foreseeable future.”

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Susan Hillis

Susan Hillis

Susan Hillis has been promoted from treatment director to vice president of Clinical Services at AdCare Hospital. “Ms. Hillis has been a vital component of the clinical team at AdCare Hospital for many years,” said Patrice Muchowski, senior vice president of Clinical Services. “As vice president of Clinical Services, Ms. Hillis will be able to redesign existing treatment programming and develop new modalities to ensure that AdCare remains a leader in substance-use treatment.” A licensed independent clinical social worker, Hillis has served as treatment director since 2006. Prior positions include director of Rehabilitation Services at AdCare Hospital and director of AdCare Outpatient Services offices in Worcester and Boston. She received the 2015 Massachusetts Assoc. of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors’ Robert Logue President’s Award for her long-standing support of membership and her dedication to substance-use treatment, recovery, and professional credentialing in Massachusetts. A former board member and chair of the Massachusetts Professional Recovery System, she currently oversees clinical practicums for students in the Addiction Counselor Education program at AdCare, and provides clinical supervision for students in MSW programs at a number of schools. Hillis presents frequently on substance-use related topics such as “Addiction 101,” “Co-occurring Disorders,” “Motivational Interviewing,” and “Designer Drugs” to community, school, and professional organizations locally, regionally, and nationally. She holds a master’s degree in social work from Boston College and an undergraduate degree in music therapy from Anna Maria College in Paxton.

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Kailee Wilson

Kailee Wilson

Robinson Donovan, P.C. promoted former law clerk Kailee Wilson to the role of associate attorney following her admission to both the Massachusetts and Connecticut bars. Wilson is a 2017 graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law. While attending law school, she also interned with the school’s Tax Clinic, gaining skills and insights that have proven invaluable to her current business practice. In addition, she is now a member of the Massachusetts Bar Assoc., the Hampden County Bar Assoc., and the Connecticut Bar Assoc. “Kailee had a very successful year at Robinson Donovan, P.C., and we are thrilled that she is expanding her role at our firm,” said Partner James Martin. “Kailee has been a real asset to our firm, and we look forward to her having a successful career here.” Wilson assists clients in the areas of business and corporate counseling, commercial real estate, and estate planning. Outside of work, she channels her passion for advocacy into her role as a volunteer coach with the Special Olympics and in the Alumni in Admissions program for her alma mater, Bates College.

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Tara Brewster

Tara Brewster

Greenfield Savings Bank promoted Tara Brewster to vice president of Business Development. Her position includes developing long-term strategies for business development and outreach to perspective customers, including small businesses and individuals for lending and account services. She joined GSB as a Business Development specialist in late 2016. “Tara’s efforts to expand the bank’s portfolio of small-business customers and individuals have been very successful,” said John Howland, president and CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank. “Her more than 20 years of experience in small-business management has given her great insight into the needs of local businesses.” In addition to her duties at the bank, Brewster is active in volunteering on the committees and boards of a wide range of community organizations, including Northampton Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Hampshire Regional YMCA board, Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board, Downtown Northampton Assoc. board, Northampton Redevelopment Authority committee, North Star Self Directed Learning for Teens development committee, Community Health Center of Franklin County marketing committee, as a Northampton Chamber of Commerce ambassador, and as chair of the Pedalmotion for Locomotion Look Park fund-raising event. Before joining the Bank, Brewster worked for independent small businesses and multi-million-dollar companies, including seven years as owner of Jackson & Connor in downtown Northampton and in a wide range of management positions including manager, promotions director, buyer, regional sales manager, and East Coast account executive. She is a graduate of Smith College.

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Theresa Curry has been named executive director of Planned Giving at UMass Amherst. Curry, an attorney, has extensive experience in business and organizational development, nonprofit giving, and gift administration. “We are delighted that Theresa Curry will be joining UMass Amherst’s development team,” said Vice Chancellor of Development and Alumni Relations Mike Leto. “She brings deep expertise in estate planning to this role, as well as her considerable impact and success in fund-raising for higher education.” Curry comes to UMass Amherst from the University of New Hampshire Foundation, where she held several senior management positions in gift planning since 2012. Most recently, she served as assistant vice president for Gift Planning and Administration at UNH. She established UNH’s gift-planning program and played a major role in its recent $275 million fund-raising campaign. Previously, Curry established gift-planning programs as regional director of Philanthropy at the ALS Assoc. and as the capital campaign manager for Merrimack College. She has worked as an employee, consultant, volunteer, and lawyer in gift planning since 1998. She holds a juris doctor degree from the William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minn., and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota. She is also a triathlete and distance runner.

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Packaging prepress provider CSW Inc. announced a strategic re-shaping of company leadership. Longtime company President Laura Wright has transitioned to a new role as CEO. “My grandfather founded CSW in 1937, and I’m proud to continue moving us forward,” she said. “Although I will continue to actively manage all aspects of the company, I decided to share the day-to-day decision making with someone I trust. This lets me address long-term strategies for company growth.” That trusted advisor is new company President Scott Ellison, formerly CSW’s vice president of Sales. Ellison brings more than 15 years of executive leadership experience, including five years in the packaging industry, to CSW. He will manage sales, marketing, customer service, operations, IT, and R&D. According to Wright, “Scott comes to us with new ideas developed from both inside and outside our industry, and has already identified and pursued new growth opportunities for CSW.” Rounding out the organizational shift is former director of Graphics Marek Skrzynski’s new position as technical director. CSW has a long-standing reputation for producing creative solutions to package printing challenges, Wright said. Ellison noted that “Marek has been instrumental to the development of innovations such as WhiteFX ink transfer, X-Color EG separations, and 3D visualization services. This new role allows him to focus on expanding new initiatives such as Web2Plate, an automated prepress workflow for narrow to wide web flexo printers.” Added Wright, “CSW has thrived for over 80 years, thanks to our ability to creatively adapt to our client’s changing needs. These changes are realigning us once again so we can continue to succeed for another 80 — or longer.”

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Springfield College announced that Brooke Hallowell has been named dean of the School of Health Sciences and Rehabilitation Studies. As dean, Hallowell will collaborate with leadership of other divisions and units of Springfield College to participate in strategic planning and implementation activities that further the overall mission of the institution. She will oversee academic areas within her school, including physical and occupational therapy, physician assistant, health science, emergency medical services management, communication disorders, and rehabilitation counseling and disability studies. She will be responsible for assurance of quality of programming in line with student needs, institutional mission, and the requirements of applicable accreditation bodies. According to Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Martha Potvin, “Dr. Hallowell will play a pivotal role in working with faculty to advance education across a broad array of health sciences and professions and to extend the college’s impact on global healthcare issues that we face both in our local and regional communities as well as abroad.” Hallowell has held several academic leadership positions and has a global reputation in advancing research and scholarship and fostering successful interdisciplinary initiatives. Most recently, she served as the founding executive director of the Collaborative on Aging and the coordinator of graduate and undergraduate gerontology certificate programs at Ohio University. She also held several other positions at Ohio University, including associate dean for research and sponsored programs in the College of Health and Human Services; director of the School of Hearing, Speech and Language Sciences; and coordinator of Ph.D. programs for the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences. She also served as director of the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Northern California. Hallowell received a Ph.D in neuropathologies of language and speech from the University of Iowa, a master’s degree in speech language pathology and audiology from Lamar University, and a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science/psycholinguistics from Brown University. She also studied at the Conservatoire National de France in Paris and Rouen.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Robinson Donovan, P.C. promoted former law clerk Kailee Wilson to the role of associate attorney following her admission to both the Massachusetts and Connecticut bars.

Wilson is a 2017 graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law. While attending law school, she also interned with the school’s Tax Clinic, gaining skills and insights that have proven invaluable to her current business practice. In addition, she is now a member of the Massachusetts Bar Assoc., the Hampden County Bar Assoc., and the Connecticut Bar Assoc.

“Kailee had a very successful year at Robinson Donovan, P.C., and we are thrilled that she is expanding her role at our firm,” said Partner James Martin. “Kailee has been a real asset to our firm, and we look forward to her having a successful career here.”

Wilson assists clients in the areas of business and corporate counseling, commercial real estate, and estate planning. Outside of work, she channels her passion for advocacy into her role as a volunteer coach with the Special Olympics and in the Alumni in Admissions program for her alma mater, Bates College.

Cover Story Economic Outlook Sections

Experts Don’t Foresee Any Rocking of the Economic Boat

economicoutlookartMore of the same. That’s what the experts are predicting for this region, and the country as a whole, when it comes to the economy. And by more of the same, they mean growth that is steady if unspectacular — even with tax reform — and few if any signs of what could amount to real trouble. “Another boring year,” was how one economist put it. But for many businesses, boring is more than acceptable.

As a student — and a professor — of economics, Bob Nakosteen fully understands that the region and the nation as a whole are, as they say, due for a recession.

Maybe even overdue.

Indeed, eight and a half years is a long time to be in an expansion, if history and especially 20th-century history is any guide, and that’s about the length of the run the country has been on, said Nakosteen, a long-time educator at UMass Amherst who pegged the summer of 2009 as when the Great Recession ended and the upswing — as unspectacular as it has been, for the most part, in this region — began.

But he quickly noted that there’s no actual relationship between how long a country has been in an expansion and when it’s due for a recession. Time isn’t officially one of the factors that determine such things, he noted, adding that none of the issues and indicators that do are — at this moment, at least — pointing toward recession.

Bob Nakosteen

Bob Nakosteen

The issues in the state economy, especially in Western Massachusetts, are not macro-economic nearly as much as they are structurally micro-economic; there are individual sectors that are really struggling.”

“The expansion is old, certainly, but there’s nothing on the horizon to interrupt the expansion,” he told BusinessWest, adding quickly that a host of factors will shape what course a continued expansion takes. “The issues in the state economy, especially in Western Massachusetts, are not macro-economic nearly as much as they are structurally micro-economic; there are individual sectors that are really struggling.”

Karl Petrick, an economics professor at Western New England University, agreed, and summoned another word for what he’s projecting for at least one more year: boring.

Karl Petrick

Karl Petrick

Trickle-down doesn’t really come to fruition the way people say it will. It’s been promised for decades and decades, but it’s never really happened.”

“Unless you were on Twitter, last year was pretty boring,” he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek while focusing his remarks on what was happening in this region economically. And that was essentially the same thing that’s been happening for the past several years — steady if unspectacular growth that amounts to a few percentage points on average and not the kind of boom times that traditionally follow a recession, especially like the one of almost a decade ago now.

“Even with the tax break, the projections are for the U.S. economy to grow at 2.5% in 2018, and in 2019, 2.1%,” he said. “And if we did see a big increase in growth, it’s very likely that that the Fed will raise interest rates to slow down inflation. The forecast is for another boring year — I hope.”

Indeed, for many in business, boring translates into a decent year, and that’s what Tom Senecal, president of Holyoke-based PeoplesBank, said many of his clients — commercial and residential alike — experienced.

He told BusinessWest that the residential real-estate market is enjoying a surge fueled by low inventories, and that many individual sectors are experiencing steady growth. And he expects tax reform to lift most boats still higher.

Tom Senecal

Tom Senecal

Inventory is extremely low in many area communities, and this is having a big impact on prices. We’re going back to seeing sale prices in excess of asking prices, and that hasn’t happened since the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

“With corporate tax rates projected to decrease from 35% to 20%, that will have a significant impact on most businesses,” he went on. “I expect that to be a determining factor in what our local economy will be like in 2018.”

There are other determining factors, obviously, and some areas of concern, both nationally and locally, including persistently stagnant wages.

Despite steady growth in the economy and soaring corporate profits that have fueled a nearly 20% rise on Wall Street this year, wages have remained flat, said Petrick. And he doesn’t believe — despite what leading supporters say — that tax reform will change that equation. And if wages remain stagnant, that might slow the economy down.

“Trickle-down doesn’t really come to fruition the way people say it will,” he explained. “It’s been promised for decades and decades, but it’s never really happened.”

Meanwhile, Nakosteen said the precipitous decline of traditional retail could pose some problems regionally (more on that later), as could a host of other factors ranging from escalating student debt to tighter immigration laws that could keep some foreign students from landing on area college campuses.

But overall, these concerns are not expected to significantly alter the picture or impact those projections for more of what the region has seen over the past several years.

Onward and Upward

“Stable.”

That’s the word Senecal summoned early and often as he talked about the local economy, and it’s another word business owners always like to hear.

He said the region’s economy has historically been fueled by education and healthcare (‘eds and meds’), and that trend continues. And those sectors are, well, stable, to say the least.

“If you think of the spin-off economies in the Western Mass. market, we clearly benefit from those sorts of industries [healthcare and education] that are not recession-proof, but they certainly come through recessionary times much more stable than the rest of the economy,” he said. “And I see this in the numbers from our residential loans and our commercial loans. The stability and continued growth has been there, and we expect it to continue throughout next year.”

Beyond eds and meds, Senecal noted, a number of sectors are doing “pretty well,” as he put it. These include ‘green’ energy businesses, commercial construction (although moreso in the eastern part of the state than this region) and the residential real-estate market, which, as noted earlier, has picked up dramatically over the past few years.

“Inventory is extremely low in many area communities, and this is having a big impact on prices,” he explained. “We’re going back to seeing sale prices in excess of asking prices, and that hasn’t happened since the late ’80s and early ’90s; it’s clearly a seller’s market right now.”

Surveying the scene locally as well as nationally, those we spoke with said there is no indication of anything that will disrupt this stability to any significant degree.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some question marks concerning the year ahead. And perhaps the biggest concerns tax reform and what it will mean.

Petrick and Nakosteen said such reforms — usually measures to be administered during a recession, not an expansion — can’t (or shouldn’t) be expected to trigger the wage hikes and subsequent consumer spending predicted by supporters of the legislation, because … well, because history shows this isn’t what happens, they told BusinessWest.

“Tax cuts really have little effect,” said Nakosteen, “especially when the economy is not in recession and is near full employment.”

Also, early and unofficial polling of business leaders indicates that wage increases for their employees are not in their plans.

“Many big corporations have already said that, whatever tax breaks they get, they’ll use them to buy back stock,” Petrick noted. “That will do wonders for the stock market, but there’s no indication they’ll use that tax break to raise wages.”

But Senecal projected that tax reform might, in fact, provide a real boost for the economy in the form of investments made by business owners.

“Tax reform has a significant impact on corporate spending,” he opined. “I think that, right now, a lot of businesses are waiting and seeing on tax reform to determine how aggressive or reserved businesses are going to be come 2018.”

Economic Indicators

As for other factors that might impact the year ahead, to one degree or another, Petrick put wages, and the stagnancy of same, at the top of that list.

“We see growth, but the foundation for continued growth continues to be a little bit shaky, in terms of wages at the national level and the state level,” he told BusinessWest. “They’re just not growing, even as unemployment comes down.

“And that is a bit of conundrum for us at the state level and the federal level, because that puts more pressure of households, especially with uncertainty with what’s going to happen with the individual mandate and how that might impact insurance rates,” he added. “It also impacts state tax revenue, because if wages don’t go up, the state doesn’t collect more.”

There are many reasons why wages are stagnant, he went on, listing everything from soaring health-insurance costs for employers to the decline of labor unions, to the retirement of Baby Boomers and their replacement by younger workers earning lower salaries. But the bottom line is that, generally, flat wages are not good for the economy.

Meanwhile, Nakosteen said the continued decline of traditional retail would further change the local landscape, and it might impact the economy in some ways.

Giant retailers like Sears, Toys R Us, Kmart, and others are closing stores in huge volumes, leaving malls with large boxes to fill (or not, as the case may be) and worries about their very existence. Meanwhile, many smaller retailers are disappearing from the landscape, for reasons ranging from the intrusion of online shopping to a lack of a succession plan.

All this is creating a number of empty storefronts and a lot of commercial real estate for sale and lease, said Nakosteen, adding that the problem is impacting even the most vibrant of downtowns, including Northampton’s, where tenants are asking, ‘why are lease rates so high if so many storefronts are empty?’

“And that’s a very good question,” he said, adding that the higher rates will impact existing retailers and perhaps dissuade others from coming downtown.

But it’s an issue in nearly every area community.

“There are so many empty storefronts,” Nakosteen went on, “and the retail sector is so important to so many downtown areas.”

Meanwhile, workforce issues might also have an impact on the course and strength of the ongoing expansion, he noted, adding that a lack of qualified workers within some sectors might stifle growth.

“The state, as a whole, has issues with the labor force not growing fast enough to accommodate the economy,” he explained. “And Western Mass. is even worse. We have very slow labor growth here; you can’t grow the economy faster than you can hire people to fill the jobs.”

Interest rates could play a role as well, the experts noted, adding that, if the economy does start heating up, the Fed will likely raise rates to keep it from overheating and sending inflation higher.

“Prime rate effects people’s home-equity loans, and it effects commercial borrowers,” Senecal explained. “And if the Fed increases rates two or three times, and that’s clearly their intent, that could have an impact on spending.”

Bottom Line

‘Stable. ‘Boring.’ ‘Steady.’ Those aren’t exactly headline-generating adjectives when we’re talking about the economy and where it might head in the months to come.

But they represent reality, and for many in this region — which, as has been noted countless times in the past, doesn’t enjoy stunning highs and crippling lows like other regions — those words are welcome, and much better than the alternative.

And if tax reform works, as Senecal and others believe it might, the region just might wind up doing better than ‘more of the same.’

 

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

Commercial Real Estate Sections

Building Collaboration

The O’Connell Companies has a new home in Holyoke

The O’Connell Companies has a new home in Holyoke (above), replacing the previous headquarters (below) of more than a century.

The O’Connell Companies

The O’Connell Companies traces its history in Holyoke back to 1879, when Daniel O’Connell founded the construction company that eventually branched into property design, management, development, and much more. For more than a century, the company was housed in limited quarters on Hampden Street, but a new headquarters on Kelly Way offers more space, amenities, and opportunities for what one of the firm’s executives called “cross-fertilization.”

In the conference room where Andrew Crystal sat down with BusinessWest recently, the only piece of artwork currently hanging up is a stylized, brightly hued BIM (building information modeling) image of the new headquarters of the O’Connell Companies, located on Kelly Way in Holyoke. On the opposite wall hangs a cutting-edge, multi-screen array for both displaying information during meetings and videoconferencing with other parties.

The room’s long, wooden table, however, is one of the only pieces brought over from the former O’Connell HQ on Hampden Street. The restored table represents some of the connective fiber between old and new that the company wanted its new home to represent, said Crystal, vice president of O’Connell Development Group.

“We’ve managed to incorporate some history,” he said, also referencing a set of century-old, meticulously handwritten balance sheets framed on the wall of another wing, where the accountants work. “The company does have a very long, interesting story, so we tried to preserve some of the history and the culture of the company. That was very important in the design of this.”

Otherwise, the new headquarters, situated on a seven-acre parcel in the woods off Bobala Road, is rife with modern touches, starting with the striking central atrium that connects the wings that house various divisions — O’Connell Development Group, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons (construction), Appleton Corp. (property management), and New England Fertilizer Co. (biosolids management).

The atrium is awash in natural light and features tables and chairs toward the back, along with a kitchen and coffee bar. “We wanted to create some space for people to mingle informally, share a meal or coffee break together, with the intent of getting to know each other and, more important, cross-fertilize, because everything we do is related,” Crystal said. “We design, develop, finance, build, and manage buildings, roads, and bridges — it’s all interrelated for me.”

One of the goals of the new building is to bring together all the company’s divisions under one roof; Appleton previously had its own space on Suffolk Street in Holyoke, while the Hampden Street facility that housed the others had long been insufficient.

“It was an old, tired building, and we had looked at renovating it,” Crystal said. “But, to continue to be a great work environment for present employees, but also with an eye toward the future, it made sense to move to a new location and to have everything under one roof. There’s nothing like being in the same building.”

Dennis Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of the O’Connell Companies, said as much when he addressed hundreds of visitors at a recent open house, noting that it’s been more than a century since the firm dedicated a new headquarters.

Andrew Crystal

Andrew Crystal stands on the walkway overlooking the sunlit central atrium and the woods behind the property.

“When we started this project, our hope was that we could create a modern, contemporary office building where we could more effectively carry out our daily work,” he said. “We wanted improved functionality, a higher level of comfort, and we wanted a few more amenities. We hope that our new headquarters will cultivate a work environment that supports and further develops the spirit and cuture that has made this organization as successful as it has been for as long as it has been.”

For this month’s focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest paid a visit to Kelly Way to check out the results of that effort.

Forward Thinking

The intent, Crystal said, was to house the company’s various divisions in a modern, energy-efficient, healthy environment. “We wanted to be conscientious about the environment in terms of energy efficiency and how we treated the land when we sited the building and took the trees down. And we wanted to preserve and enhance the corporate culture that exists here, which is why we created this atrium space in the middle of the building.”

He has heard of multiple incidents recently of long-time O’Connell employees meeting in person for the first time, which means the design is working.

“Part of the design is to create space and an environment that encourages people to collaborate and work together between companies,” he explained. “It was also done with an eye toward creating a great workplace for employees — not just the employees we have, but as an incentive to attract younger employees. Things like the atrium and a shared coffee bar, and a fitness room downstairs with showers — these are things that younger workers want, and it’s a competitive environment to attract talent.”

As for the subdued exterior of the building, Crystal said he had a specific vision for how the dark-bricked façade would interact with the woods around it.

“We wanted a brick building, but we wanted something that was more unique than red brick, that was an elegant blend with the surroundings,” he explained. “We went through quite a few designs, looking at various mixes of bricks. We’re very pleased with the result; whether it’s a bright, sunny day or an overcast, rainy day, the building really fits into the surrounding environment.”

The natural light that pours in from the building’s tall windows brings aesthetic appeal as well, but doubles as an energy-efficient element — one of many, he explained. “We chose not to get LEED-certified, but the criteria in LEED buildings drove a lot of the decisions around energy efficiency, water efficiency, quality of the air people breathe, and the views people have to the exterior.”

Dennis Fitzpatrick, addressing open-house attendees

Dennis Fitzpatrick, addressing open-house attendees, said it was “high time” O’Connell’s own home reflected some of the modern design elements it was using in its clients’ projects.

For instance, he continued, “all the light fixtures are LED, and all are on occupancy sensors. We have a high-efficiency boiler for heating, and we have energy-recovery ventilation, so when air is exhausted from the building, we recover some of the energy from the air and reuse it.”

Crystal added that the environmentally friendly focus extended to the outdoors, where the building was positioned in such a way that preserved the more mature trees around its perimeter. The plan is to develop some walking trails through the wooded surroundings by next summer. For now, a large outdoor patio overlooks the grounds behind the atrium. “So if you’re on your laptop on a beautiful day, why not sit outside with the beautiful woods and do your work?”

A freshly installed bocce court is another way to help employees enjoy the outdoors during the warmer months, he added. “Again, we want to encourage people to stay after work and recreate and get to know each other. One of our goals is to create a sense of community among employees.”

Daily Impact

In short, Crystal and his development team — which included architectural firm Amenta Emma and a host of contractors and subcontractors from Western Mass. — are firm believers that a building’s design and environment affect both productivity and employee behavior.

“One goal was to encourage collaboration, innovation, and cross-fertilization,” he said, referring not only to the shared atrium, but formal conference rooms in each wing and the open layout of each division, with offices ringing a shared bank of workstations. Each wing also features a small, private room with a phone for employees in the shared space to make private calls.

A color palette heavy on light grays and whites, with a bold splash of blue ringing some walls, was designed to promote brightness and productivity, and the rainbows that occasionally appear in the glass and white-ash floors when the sun hits the atrium’s huge rear windows is “one of those unanticipated surprises,” Crystal noted.

“People seem happy,” he said. “I think the employees are happy to be here. Having a fun, modern, efficient environment to work in is an important piece of that.”

As the company’s president, Fitzpatrick certainly understands the importance of keeping everyone happy.

“Part of our culture is our people working together to come up with creative, innovative solutions to the challenges and risks that our company faces in our daily business,” he told the crowd at the open house.

“At the O’Connell Companies, we all care very deeply about the details,” he went on. “We care about what happens when plane X meets plane Y. We care about quality, and we care a lot about the feel, the sense that you have when you’re in a building, and I wanted this building to represent that. I wanted it to reflect the kind of quality that we hold ourselves accountable for when we go out and develop, build, and manage an asset for someone else. It was high time that our home reflected some of the ones that we were building.”

As Crystal walked BusinessWest past what’s called the Founder’s Room — a formal conference space on the second floor with a black walnut table built by Jonah Zuckerman of City Joinery in Holyoke — he reflected again on how the company’s history in the Paper City impacts how it does business today, and how its new headquarters fits into that history going forward.

“The real value this company has is its intellectual capital,” he said. “Yes, we own real estate, and we own equipment, but what makes the company unique is its intellectual capital, and by locating all our employees in the same building and actively promoting interactions and collaboration, I think the company benefits. That’s what we hoped to accomplish by relocating.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story

A Matter of Speculation

towersquaredpartSince it opened nearly a half-century ago, Tower Square has been both a prominent part of the Springfield skyline and a barometer of sorts for the health and vitality of the city and its downtown. And this explains why there is so much anticipation and speculation accompanying the announcement that the property is being put on the market by owner MassMutual. Experts agree that this will be more than a real-estate transaction — it will likely also be a referendum on Springfield and its apparent resurgence.

Ever since the news broke that Tower Square, the downtown Springfield office tower, hotel, and retail complex, would be put on the market by owner MassMutual, there has been seemingly no end to the speculation about this local landmark.

And it has come in many forms, from questions about why the property is on the block — and why now — to conjecture about who might acquire it and at what price, what the new owner might attempt to do with it, and what role the complex might play in a changing City of Homes.

It was that last question that Bob Greeley found the most vexing.

“What will downtown Springfield look like in 10 or 15 years … I couldn’t answer that one, and I don’t think anyone can — the city can go in one of many directions,” said Greeley, president of RJ Greeley Co. in Springfield and a player in the local commercial real-estate market for four decades.

Most of those other questions were a bit easier to handle, for Greeley and others they were put to. Indeed, there seemed to be general consensus that there will be a healthy market for the property — and for a number of reasons, including its location (much more on that later), Springfield’s ongoing resurgence, the opening of MGM Springfield in 15 months or so, and the solid, consistent performance of the complex’s office tower over the past several decades.

It certainly seems like a good time for MassMutual to explore this option. Not only because of all the recent positive activity in the city, but also because of the large number of regional and national investors looking to acquire long-term strategic assets right now.”

There also seemed to be general sentiment that there would be strong diversity among potential buyers, with interested local parties as well as national and international bidders.

“It certainly seems like a good time for MassMutual to explore this option,” said Ken Vincunas, president of Agawam-based Development Associates. “Not only because of all the recent positive activity in the city, but also because of the large number of regional and national investors looking to acquire long-term strategic assets right now.”

As for the role Tower Square will play in the future and the shape that property will take … here there was far less certainty in the experts’ voices and only conjecture — except when the subject of conversation was the approximately 180,000 square feet of retail space in the complex.

Moving forward, and even now, for that matter, said Greeley, the term ‘retail space’ should probably be replaced by the phrase ‘commercial space,’ because retail, at least in the traditional sense of the word, almost certainly won’t be a big part of Tower Square’s future.

Indeed, urban retail centers, or malls, if you will, which is what Tower Square was 40 years ago, are fast becoming a thing of the past, and, in most ways, they conflict strongly with most cities’ strategies for revitalizing their downtown centers, said Evan Plotkin, president of Springfield-based NAI Plotkin, who has spent considerable time and energy studying that subject.

Bob Greeley

Bob Greeley is among those who believe the sale of Tower Square should be an effective barometer for Springfield’s resurgence and its prospects for the future.

“I think downtown malls are inappropriate in this day and age,” he explained. “Urban malls take people off the sidewalk, and that’s not what you want; you want that hustle and bustle of people going up and down streets.”

So what can and should happen at Tower Square in the years to come? Plotkin envisions a future with more of what is there now — meaning educational institutions such as UMass Amherst, which has a considerable presence in the complex with its UMass Center at Springfield, and Cambridge College.

If nothing else, the sale of Tower Square should serve as a fairly intriguing barometer regarding the relative health of the city, its worthiness in the eyes of the development community, and its prospects for the future.

“I’m hoping that there will be a strong market for this property because, if there is, that will be a clear indication of where we think Springfield is and where it’s going,” said Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer. “Everyone seems to be in agreement that things are going quite well for us here and our future is pretty good; this sale, or potential sale, will go a long way toward validating all that.”

For this issue, BusinessWest presents a snapshot, or summation, of the conjecture surrounding Tower Square, which will be the biggest commercial real-estate deal (outside of the casino, of course) in nearly a quarter-century, but also much more than that. In many ways, as Kennedy noted, it could be a referendum on Springfield — both its present and future.

Right Place, Right Time?

Plotkin often talks about his grandfather, Samuel D. Plotkin, whose full name was over the company’s door for decades, and the real-estate maps he created for not only Springfield, but a host of other cities as well.

The maps were essentially grids that assigned scores, or values, to blocks and individual properties based on location and other factors.

In Springfield, the block of Main Street between what is now Boland Way (years ago, it was Vernon Street) and Bridge Street, has always been what Samuel Plotkin called a ‘100% property,’ said his grandson.

“My grandfather counted how many people walked by a street corner at 12 noon,” Plotkin explained. “And he had some kind of logarithm or formula, and plotted these numbers on these months. The corner of Main and Boland was called a 100% location, and as you go down the blocks, it was 90%, 80%, or 70%; when you were looking for a site for a business, you always wanted to know the areas that had the heaviest foot traffic.”

Springfield’s resurgence

Area brokers say Springfield’s resurgence, the arrival of MGM in 2018, and the office tower’s historically strong performance should create a solid market for Tower Square.

So historically — and into the future, by most all accounts — Tower Square has that first axiom of commercial real estate — ‘location, location, location’ — well-covered.

But that’s only one of the factors that go into the sentiments of general optimism with regard to the sale of the property, the interest it will generate, the price it will command, and the speculation (there’s that word again) that this will be anything but the fire sale that was the acquisition of Monarch Place by Peter Picknelly in 1994 for $25 million, roughly a quarter of what that complex was built for less than a decade earlier.

Others include the generally high-performing, 370,000-square-foot office tower, said Greeley, adding that location certainly plays a role in that success. And while there is some debate about just how much office space will be needed in the future and where it will be needed, the consensus is that 1500 Main St. will long be a business address in considerable demand.

“The office tower has a low vacancy rate, and it’s almost always been that way,” he noted. “It’s a good location and a good facility.”

Meanwhile, the city’s resurgence and the opening of MGM in the fall of 2018 are forces that are projected to make the Tower Square property — and others, for that matter — more valuable and saleable.

“That property is probably worth more today than it has been for a long time,” said Greeley. “This is a good time to be doing this.”

But the question of what the eventual buyer will do with the balance of the property outside the office tower — meaning the Marriott hotel and the 180,000 square feet of retail space — remains the biggest unknown and a question without an easy answer.

Indeed, while several new tenants, including UMass, Cambridge College, Hot Table, and Valley Venture Mentors (soon to vacate its space and relocate to the Innovation Center) have moved in over the past decade, the vacancy rate in the retail component of the building remains high, so much so that it might become a drag on the property during the sale process, said Plotkin.

“Retail is the piece of Tower Square that has been slow to come back,” said Plotkin, noting that, decades ago — or until the construction of suburban malls like Eastfield and Ingleside, according to many observers — it thrived at that location. “The office tower has always done pretty well, and the hotel has always done pretty well. But you’re saddled with a large amount of retail vacancies; it’s been repurposed, and wisely, with the colleges and a few restaurants, but there are still a lot of vacancies.”

Elaborating, Plotkin and others said the retail scene has changed dramatically over the past several years, with Internet sales taking a huge toll on national chains ranging from Sears to Staples, and also on shopping facilities, including urban and suburban malls.

“Retail has been a struggle across the country,” said Greeley, noting that many suburban malls, including Eastfield, are losing anchors and struggling. “Society is changing, and the boxes of retail are going away — not just downtown, but everywhere.”

Space Exploration

This brings Greeley back to his comment earlier about how the retail space in Tower Square should probably be classified as ‘commercial’ moving forward, a term that has a much broader meaning and one that hints at the wide range of possibilities for that space.

Elaborating, Greeley said that eventual uses for those spaces will still have to be synergistic with the office tower and the hundreds of people working there, a consideration that will in some ways limit what can be done.

“You’re not going to put a Chuck E. Cheese in there,” he said with a laugh, adding that many other forms of entertainment and hospitality, especially those focused on children and families, which are now populating suburban malls, may be similarly inappropriate.

Main Street is going to come back, I think, and the city is poised for a resurgence, but a lot of things have to happen before that can take place. And there’s much more to it than what happens with Tower Square. It has to do with how we think about cities and the automobile.”

Plotkin said some urban malls and properties resembling Tower Square in some ways (it is fairly unique in its overall composition) have been repurposed for housing and other uses, such as higher education, but overall, such assignments require imagination and capital — and in large amounts.

He suggests that more of the “college campus” components, as he called them, might be appropriate and, more importantly, viable.

“Education is one of the directions I would be looking at when it comes to redeveloping the property,” he explained. “It could be a law school, it could be a research facility — there are a number of possibilities.

“We should have something happening there that is going to draw young people to the facility,” he went on, adding that educational facilities could in many ways feed off, and contribute to, the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in downtown Springfield.

Evan Plotkin

Evan Plotkin says the retail component in Tower Square remains a challenge, and that more education-related facilities may be the most viable option for that space.

Elaborating, he said the Marriott hotel and its 260 rooms could possibly be retrofitted into a dormitory, bringing a residential campus into the realm of possibility and also the prospect of several hundred young people living in the downtown area, which could fuel further growth of hospitality and service-related businesses.

And with the office tower and its broad mix of tenants in sectors ranging from law and marketing to accounting and financial services, there would be ample opportunities for internships and other learning experiences.

“If someone wanted to be right downtown, there are many amenities there,” said Plotkin, in reference to a college or university. “I’ve always looked upon what UMass is doing there as a start. It’s a good start, but it should just be the beginning.”

And from a big-picture perspective, Tower Square will be just one piece of the puzzle, he went on.

“Main Street is going to come back, I think, and the city is poised for a resurgence, but a lot of things have to happen before that can take place,” Plotkin told BusinessWest. “And there’s much more to it than what happens with Tower Square. It has to do with how we think about cities and the automobile.”

Overall, Kennedy said Springfield’s resurgence and a host of additions to the business and cultural landscape — from MGM to CRRC; from a renovated Union Station to the Innovation Center taking shape on Bridge Street — are creating more interest in the City of Homes, and Tower Square could play a role in bringing more businesses here, either through the office tower or its other available spaces.

“I continue to meet with companies that are interested in expanding into Springfield,” he told BusinessWest. “I have my fingers crossed, but I think things are going to work out.”

New Lease on Life?

That last bit of commentary was offered in reference to the city as a whole, but also to the pending sale of Tower Square.

This will be a real-estate transaction, but also much more than that. As Kennedy and others noted, it will be a referendum or bellwether of sorts on Springfield’s ongoing resurgence and prospects for the future.

And it may also be one of the larger determining factors when it comes to what that future might be — for the downtown and the city as a whole.

That’s why all that speculation is going on, and also why this will be a very closely watched real-estate transaction.

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

Opinion

Editorial

When a property like Springfield’s Tower Square comes onto the market — as the property’s owner, MassMutual, announced Monday — the common reaction is to think that something is wrong, and that such a development is bad news.

Maybe that is the case here, but MassMutual is certainly spinning things a different way, and maybe the rest of us should be thinking in those terms as well.

In acknowledging that Tower Square, opened as Baystate West in 1971, was on the block, a MassMutual spokesperson said this action is being taken because of all the positive developments taking place in Springfield and the realization that commercial real estate downtown is ‘hot,’ or at least much hotter than it has been in some time. Selling now, he said, is a wise move from an investment perspective.

And it is hard to argue with that thinking. Indeed, it only makes sense that this iconic property is worth more now than it has been at perhaps any point in the past 30 years or so. And what’s that old adage about real estate, stocks, and just about everything else — ‘buy low, sell high.’

Thus, this news should be greeted enthusiastically on a number of levels. First, it should be taken as a sign that Springfield’s recovery, or renaissance, as some have called it, is real, and that, as MGM Springfield moves ever closer to opening its $950 million casino, even better times are coming for the City of Homes and its long-struggling downtown.

When it opened to considerable fanfare (it was Springfield’s first building of more than a dozen floors), it was the place to be. Its storefronts were full, and its ground floor and mezzanine were packed with people. Oldtimers (meaning people over the age of 50) can and often do tell stories about spending an entire Saturday in a two- or three-block area downtown, starting at Johnson’s Bookstore, moving on to Baystate West, then going to Steiger’s and Forbes & Wallace.”

The news could also be taken as perhaps the start of a new era in the history of Tower Square, which has perhaps been the best mirror on the city’s health and well-being that we’ve had.

Indeed, when Springfield and its downtown were much healthier, Tower Square, or Baystate West, as it was called before 1996, was the unofficial symbol of success and vibrancy.

When it opened to considerable fanfare (it was Springfield’s first building of more than a dozen floors), it was the place to be. Its storefronts were full, and its ground floor and mezzanine were packed with people. Oldtimers (meaning people over the age of 50) can and often do tell stories about spending an entire Saturday in a two- or three-block area downtown, starting at Johnson’s Bookstore, moving on to Baystate West, then going to Steiger’s and Forbes & Wallace.

Almost all of those destinations are now gone — victims, some say, of the Holyoke Mall’s ascendance, but certainly victims of changing shopping habits and changing fortunes downtown.

By the mid-’90s, Tower Square had become, in essence, a symbol of Springfield’s decline. Most storefronts were empty, others were occupied by discount retailers, and the mall itself was eerily quiet and mostly devoid of people except for those lined up at Dunkin’ Donuts. When proponents of a downtown casino wanted to press their case for how the city needed a spark, they started by pointing to Tower Square and what wasn’t happening there.

So maybe Tower Square is once again becoming a symbol for Springfield, a symbol of its rebirth, of its soaring fortunes in the wake of the casino, Union Station, and a host of other developments.

Time will tell, obviously. No one really knows what kind of market will develop for this still-challenged property — many of its storefronts remain vacant, although occupancy remains solid.

Across this region and across the country, there are worries that traditional shopping malls will soon be obsolete, if they have not reached that state already. Whoever acquires the Tower Square property will have to be imaginative and diligent as they go about trying to build additional vibrancy and foot traffic.

For now, though, the sale of Tower Square should be taken as a positive development, and perhaps a sign that an exciting new era is set to begin for this landmark.

Daily News

When a property like Springfield’s Tower Square comes onto the market — as the property’s owner, MassMutual, announced Monday — the common reaction is to think that something is wrong, and that such a development is bad news.

Maybe that is the case here, but MassMutual is certainly spinning things a different way, and maybe the rest of us should be thinking in those terms as well.

In acknowledging that Tower Square, opened as Baystate West in 1971, was on the block, a MassMutual spokesperson said this action is being taken because of all the positive developments taking place in Springfield and the realization that commercial real estate downtown is ‘hot,’ or at least much hotter than it has been in some time. Selling now, he said, is a wise move from an investment perspective.

And it is hard to argue with that thinking. Indeed, it only makes sense that this iconic property is worth more now than it has been at perhaps any point in the past 30 years or so. And what’s that old adage about real estate, stocks, and just about everything else — ‘buy low, sell high.’

Thus, this news should be greeted enthusiastically on a number of levels. First, it should be taken as a sign that Springfield’s recovery, or renaissance, as some have called it, is real, and that, as MGM Springfield moves ever closer to opening its $950 million casino, even better times are coming for the City of Homes and its long-struggling downtown.

The news could also be taken as perhaps the start of a new era in the history of Tower Square, which has perhaps been the best mirror on the city’s health and well-being that we’ve had.

Indeed, when Springfield and its downtown were much healthier, Tower Square, or Baystate West, as it was called before 1996, was the unofficial symbol of success and vibrancy.

When it opened to considerable fanfare (it was Springfield’s first building of more than a dozen floors), it was the place to be. Its storefronts were full, and its ground floor and mezzanine were packed with people. Oldtimers (meaning people over the age of 50) can and often do tell stories about spending an entire Saturday in a two- or three-block area downtown, starting at Johnson’s Bookstore, moving on to Baystate West, then going to Steiger’s and Forbes & Wallace.

Almost all of those destinations are now gone — victims, some say, of the Holyoke Mall’s ascendance, but certainly victims of changing shopping habits and changing fortunes downtown.

By the mid-’90s, Tower Square had become, in essence, a symbol of Springfield’s decline. Most storefronts were empty, others were occupied by discount retailers, and the mall itself was eerily quiet and mostly devoid of people except for those lined up at Dunkin’ Donuts. When proponents of a downtown casino wanted to press their case for how the city needed a spark, they started by pointing to Tower Square and what wasn’t happening there.

So maybe Tower Square is once again becoming a symbol for Springfield, a symbol of its rebirth, of its soaring fortunes in the wake of the casino, Union Station, and a host of other developments.

Time will tell, obviously. No one really knows what kind of market will develop for this still-challenged property — many of its storefronts remain vacant, although occupancy remains solid.

Across this region and across the country, there are worries that traditional shopping malls will soon be obsolete, if they have not reached that state already. Whoever acquires the Tower Square property will have to be imaginative and diligent as they go about trying to build additional vibrancy and foot traffic.

For now, though, the sale of Tower Square should be taken as a positive development, and perhaps a sign that an exciting new era is set to begin for this landmark.

Features

Sensational Six

40under40contdExcellenceLogo2016
When gathering her thoughts on this year’s six nominees for the Continued Excellence Award, Susan Jaye-Kaplan summoned none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I believe Dr. King once said, ‘we’ll judge people based on what they do, rather than what they look like,’” said Jaye-Kaplan, co-founder and president of Link to Libraries and one of three judges for BusinessWest’s third annual award program honoring extremely high achievers in the region. “The talent, commitment, and caring of all the nominees makes one proud to be in this community, where, for many of our citizens, giving is a moral responsibility.”

BusinessWest launched the Continued Excellence Award in 2015 to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who have built on the business success and civic commitment that initially earned them that honor. The first two winners of the award were Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT, and Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center. Both had been named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008.

The winner of the third annual award will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty gala, slated for June 22 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

The six finalists, as determined by scores submitted by three judges — Jaye-Kaplan; Dana Barrows, Estate & Business Planning specialist with Northwestern Mutual; and Bill Grinnell, president of Webber & Grinnell insurance — are, in alphabetical order:

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

When Fenton was named to the 40 Under Forty in 2012, he was serving his second term on Springfield’s City Council and preparing to graduate from law school. He was also a trustee at his alma mater, Cathedral High School, where he dedicated countless hours to help rebuild the school following the 2011 tornado.

Today, Fenton is City Council president and an associate at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., practicing in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, estate planning, and elder law. He received an ‘Excellence in the Law’ honor from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2014. Meanwhile, in the community, he is a founding member of Suit Up Springfield, director and clerk at Save Cathedral High School Inc., a corporator with Mason Wright Foundation, a volunteer teacher at Junior Achievement, a member of the East Springfield and Hungry Hill neighborhood councils, and an advisory board member at Roca Inc., which helps high-risk young people transform their lives.

Jeff Fialky

Jeff Fialky

Jeff Fialky

A member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2008, Fialky was recognized an an associate attorney at Bacon Wilson in Springfield and for his volunteer work with numerous area organizations. He has since added a number of lines to that résumé. For starters, in 2012, he was named a partner at Bacon Wilson, and is active in leadership capacities with the firm. But he has also become a leader within the Greater Springfield business community.

Former president of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Fialky currently serves as chair of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and is also on the board of trustees of the Springfield Museums, where he chairs the membership and development committee and is the incoming vice treasurer. He has also served on boards and committees such as the Jewish Federation of Pioneer Valley, Leadership Pioneer Valley, DiverseCity OnBoard, the YMCA, and the Pioneer Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.

Scott Foster

Scott Foster

Scott Foster

In 2011, Foster, an attorney with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, was honored as a 40 Under Forty member not only for his work with that firm, where he specializes in general corporate, business, and finance matters, but for his chairmanship of the Forest Park Zoological Society, his work with the Family Business Center at UMass Amherst and the university’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, and his then-recent efforts to co-found Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), a nonprofit organization that connects talented Pioneer Valley entrepreneurs with mentors in the business community.

While his leadership roles at work and on civic boards have expanded in the past six years, Foster’s most significant achievement since then may be the growth of VVM from an all-volunteer organization to a nationally recognized entrepreneurship engine with an annual budget of $1.2 million, six full-time employees, and a track record of helping seed the Pioneer Valley with a culture of successful startups. He spends hundreds of hours each year improving the environment for entrepreneurs, who in turn are helping to lift an entire region.

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Griffin spent 12 years in the insurance industry before launching her own business, Griffin Staffing Network, in 2010. Her work there, helping teens and adults acquire job-related skills and find temporary and permanent employment, earned her 40 Under Forty recognition in 2014, as did her generosity with her time and resources, from founding Springfield Mustard Seed, in response to clients who wanted to become entrepreneurs, to her involvement with a host of community-focused organizations.

Over the past year, Griffin has mentored young mothers through the Square One mentorship program and the New England Farm Workers Council’s teen-mom program, as well as leveraging the skills of her staff to provide recruiting opportunities and career guidance to current and graduating students at area colleges and universities. She was also recognized with the Community Builder Award from the Urban League for helping meet employment needs in Springfield. Meanwhile, she has ramped up her mentorship efforts for young entrepreneurs, chaired a Women’s Leadership Council event that raised $15,000, and lent her support to events benefiting Revitalize CDC.

Amanda Huston Garcia

Amanda Huston Garcia

Amanda Huston Garcia

When she was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2010, Huston Garcia was vice president of operations for Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Mass. Meanwhile, she was active in myriad community organizations, including various chambers of commerce, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and various boards at Elms College and Springfield High School of Science and Technology.

In 2011, she left her position with JA — but still plays numerous roles in the organization — and became a full-time professor at Elms, where her passion for teaching young people about entrepreneurship and financial literacy remains strong. In addition to helping create the Elms MBA program (and serving as its interim director for a time), she developed a partnership between Elms and JA, recruiting more than 60 college students each year to teach JA programs. She also forged a classroom partnership between Elms and Putnam Vocational Technical Academy and is working on a program to help Putnam students earn college credits. She also introduced Elms accounting students to a national business-ethics debate competition, where they finished first in the region twice.

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild

Rothschild, then development and marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Mass., was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 mainly for her tireless work in melanoma awareness. A survivor herself, she began organizing local events to raise funds for the fight against this common killer, and launched a website, SurvivingSkin.org, and TV show, Skin Talk, that brought wider attention to her work.

Since then, Rothschild has stayed busy, transitioning from a board seat with the Melanoma Foundation of New England to a job as marking and PR manager, where she’s the face of the organization’s “Your Skin Is In” campaign. She has testified in Boston and Washington, D.C. in support of laws restricting tanning beds. Meanwhile, she hosts a community talk show on 94.3 FM, and co-founded chikmedia, a marketing firm that specializes in nonprofits and fund-raisers — all while supporting a raft of area nonprofit organizations. Most recently, she joined the board of the Zoo at Forest Park, donating her time to its marketing and PR initiatives, and participated in events benefiting the Holyoke Children’s Museum, Junior Achievement, and a host of other groups.

About the Judges

Dana Barrows

Dana Barrows

Dana Barrows began his association with Northwestern Mutual while a full-time law student at Western New England School of Law. He has used his law background to help clients address a wide range of personal, business, and estate-planning needs, often working closely with their other professional advisors. He has developed a financial-services practice in the areas of estate and business planning. He specializes in working with high-net-worth individuals and owners of closely held businesses in the areas of business continuity and estate planning. Barrows also serves on a variety of professional and community boards and is very active within the Northwestern Mutual’s Financial Representative Assoc.

Bill Grinnell

Bill Grinnell

As president of Webber and Grinnell Insurance, Bill Grinnell oversees a company with 30 employees serving 5,000 clients. Currently vice president of the board of River Valley Investments, he has also served as board co-chair of the United Way Campaign from 2013 to 2015, Northampton Planning Board member from 2014 to 2016, trustee at the Academy at Charlemont from 2009 to 2012, board chair at Hampshire Regional YMCA from 2009 to 2010, vice president and board member at Riverside Industries, board member of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, and board member of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. His agency also supports countless nonprofits in the region.

Susan Jaye-Kaplan

Susan Jaye-Kaplan

Susan Jaye-Kaplan is not just the co-founder of Link to Libraries — an organization whose mission is to collect and distribute books to public elementary schools and nonprofit organizations in Western Mass. and Connecticut — but also founded Go FIT Inc. and the Pioneer Valley Women’s Running Club. Her many accolades from regional and national organizations — far too many to list here — include being named a BusinessWest Difference Maker in 2009, the program’s inaugural year. She is a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a requested speaker at conferences and universities throughout the area. She works part-time as a consultant for the Donahue Institute at UMass Boston.

“It is inspiring to have had the privilege to read about the varied accomplishments of the nominees presented,” Jaye-Kaplan said regarding the judges’ challenge of considering dozens of Continued Excellence Award applications and trying to determine which to nominate this year — and, in the coming weeks, which to name the winner for 2017. “I can see these young people are  responsible to the communities in which they live and work, the environment, and to the bigger community as well. It is an honor to see this in our community.”

Departments People on the Move
Jane Albert

Jane Albert

Jane Albert has been promoted to the position of senior vice president for Marketing, Communications & External Relations at Baystate Health. She will report to Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, and serve as a member of the president’s cabinet. She will oversee the functions of marketing and digital strategy, government and public relations, community relations and public health, communications, and philanthropy. “Jane has been a trusted Baystate Health leader for 15 years in roles that have progressively increased in responsibility and scope. She has a breadth and depth of career experiences and skills that make her ideal for this senior leadership role,” Keroack said. When she joined Baystate Health as manager of Medical Practices Marketing, she presented the first marketing plan to integrate two legacy medical groups to become one organization as Baystate Medical Practices. She then served as manager of Corporate Marketing, overseeing Baystate Health’s marketing efforts, loyalty programs, and events, and developing marketing priorities based on the strategic objectives of the organization. Albert was promoted to director of Public Affairs & Internal Communications, developing metrics for the measurement of media activities while strategically building the community presence of Baystate Health and its entities. She then returned to Baystate Medical Practices, successfully launching the organization’s first physician referral office. Over the last four years, Albert has served as vice president of Philanthropy for Baystate Health and executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation. Among her accomplishments, she led the transformation of the foundation to diversify philanthropic support in alignment with a newly developed strategic plan and recently oversaw the completion of a $5 million capital campaign for the new surgical center at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. “In all of her roles, Jane has helped advance the work of her teams by developing priorities that align with the mission and strategic objectives of the organization. She is a positive ambassador for our health system and has always been a driving force behind providing honest, timely communications to our constituents,” Keroack said. “She is an incredible contributor to Baystate Health on many fronts, and her energy, enthusiasm, and affection for our organization will serve her well in her new role.” Before joining Baystate Health, Albert served as vice president of Advancement and Marketing at Western New England College, with responsibility for national and regional marketing efforts and philanthropic efforts focused on engaging alumni, businesses, and foundations in support of the university. She holds an MBA from Babson College and a BBA in accounting from UMass Amherst. Active in the community, she has held leadership positions on many boards, including Spirit of Springfield, the National Conference for Community and Justice, the Jewish Community Center, Rotary Club, and chambers of commerce. She has been recognized as Woman of the Year by the Springfield Women’s Commission and as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary Club International.

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Lee Bank recently announced the promotion of three leaders within the company and the addition of a mortgage officer to support its continued growth in 2017.

Susie Brown

Susie Brown

Susie Brown has been named to the position of senior vice president, Human Resources and Administration. She has been employed at Lee Bank for more than 37 years and has worked in many areas of the bank, including operations, human resources, building and maintenance, security, and administration. She will continue to oversee human resources, administration and security, and management of board meetings and governance processes for Lee Bank and its holding company, Berkshire Financial Services;

Paula Gangell-Miller

Paula Gangell-Miller

Paula Gangell-Miller has been named to the position of vice president, Community Banking – Retail Operations. She joined Lee Bank 29 years ago and has been involved in many facets of the bank throughout the years, having held positions as teller, operations supervisor, community banker, branch manager, and area manager, in addition to her new role;

Paula Lewis

Paula Lewis

Paula Lewis has been named to the position of first vice president, Retail Lending. She joined Lee Bank in 2012 as vice president of Mortgage Loan Operations. In her new position, she will oversee residential lending and will sit on Lee Bank’s ALCO committee as well as its executive loan committee; and

Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly has joined Lee Bank as a mortgage officer in its Pittsfield office. Kelly has been a mortgage professional for most of her banking career, with First Agricultural Bank, Legacy Banks, and most recently Berkshire Bank.

“I am pleased to announce these well-deserved promotions and to welcome Kathy Kelly to the Lee Bank team,” said President Chuck Leach. “I’m confident that Kathy will not only mesh with but also enhance our culture just as Susie Brown, Paula Lewis, and Paula Gangell-Miller have for many, many years. Lee Bank is very fortunate to have an extremely valuable culture of loyal, dedicated employees who are not only outstanding contributors in the workplace, focused on continued excellence in serving our customers, but also to our Berkshire community.”

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Ellen Freyman, attorney and shareholder with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., was recently recognized by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) for her significant contributions to the local community. NCCJ was founded in 1927 in response to religious divides in the country at the time. The goal of the organization and its prominent founders — including social activist Jane Addams and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes — was to bring together diverse populations to combat social injustice, a mission perpetuated to this day. Freyman concentrates her practice in all aspects of commercial real estate: acquisitions and sales, development, leasing, and financing. She has an extensive land-use practice that includes zoning, subdivision, project permitting, and environmental matters. She is a graduate of the Western New England University School of Law (1988) and Pennsylvania State University (1977). One of the most highly awarded attorneys within the Pioneer Valley, she has been recognized or awarded by BusinessWest magazine (Difference Maker, 2010), the Professional Women’s Chamber (Woman of the Year, 2012); Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts (Pynchon Award, 2012); Springfield Leadership Institute (Community Service Award, 2011); Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (Top Women of Law Award, 2010); and Reminder Publications (Hometown Hero Award, 2010).

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Victoria Owen

Victoria Owen

Victoria Owen has joined United Personnel as the organization’s newest business development representative, as the company expands its team to better serve area businesses. Owen, former owner of Owen Employee Benefit Strategies LLC and past director of Employee Benefits at Northwestern Mutual, brings a wealth of knowledge about business operations and human-resources priorities to her current role at United Personnel. She leverages more than 20 years of industry expertise in employee benefits, strategic planning, and business development to support clients and candidates throughout Western Mass. Owen received her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, serves on the board of directors of the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass., and is committed to building meaningful relationships within the business community.

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Sunshine Village announced several personnel changes as the organization continues to grow its programming footprint in the area.

Jenny Galat was promoted to program manager of the new Litwin Center Day Habilitation Program. Since 2013, Galat has worked for the organization as a developmental specialist, case manager, and program supervisor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in social work from Saint Anselm’s College. When it opens this summer, she will oversee the new program’s focus on innovative day services for adults aged 18-32 years old;

Nichole Chilson came on board as human resource generalist to assist with employee benefits, safety and health protocol compliance, and employee-relations initiatives. Chilson brings more than 25 years of human-resources and customer-service experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice from Western New England University; and

Amie Miarecki was named director of community relations. She brings 15 years of experience working in health and human services, including marketing, community relations, and resource development. She will promote Sunshine Village’s mission to help everyone shine by engaging with community partners and employers. Miarecki holds a master’s degree in corporate and organizational communication with a specialization in leadership from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology from UMass Amherst.

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Maria Mitchell, a graduate of Springfield Technical Community College’s newly accredited Health Information Technology program, is the first person from STCC to receive the MaHIMA Student Achievement award. The Massachusetts Health Information Management Assoc. (MaHIMA) offers the award to an outstanding student from any accredited health-information technology or health-information management program. STCC’s program received accreditation in December, making a graduate of the program eligible for the first time this year. Mitchell received a certificate of achievement and one-year membership to the national American Health Information Management Assoc. (AHIMA), free full-day registration for MaHIMA’s fall and winter meetings, and free MaHIMA webinars for one year. She is seeking a position as a health-information technician or coding specialist and hopes to eventually return to school and earn her bachelor’s degree. Graduates of STCC’s Health Information Technology program receive associate degrees. The program prepares students for certification and practice as registered health-information technicians, who typically work with patient medical records at healthcare facilities. Technicians focus in areas beyond coding, including data analytics, compliance, and more.

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Duncan Mellor

Duncan Mellor

The American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF) honored Tighe & Bond’s Duncan Mellor with its 2017 Distinguished Lighthouse Community Service Award at its annual gala at the Nonatum Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine on May 7. Every year, the organization honors one person who has contributed significantly to ALF’s mission. Since 2011, Mellor has donated his engineering and waterfront expertise to upgrade the Whaleback Lighthouse in Kittery, Maine. This three-phase project included designing repairs for two granite breakwaters and a new docking system with walkways that achieved federal government approval and met ALF’s goals for public access and safety. “This is a well-deserved honor for Duncan — and just one example of his exceptional expertise and commitment to our coastlines and waterfronts,” said Tighe & Bond President and CEO David Pinsky. Mellor leads Tighe & Bond’s coastal engineering services with more than 30 years of experience in the profession. Clients throughout New England know him well for his role in complex coastal projects and solving all types of shoreline and waterfront challenges. Mellor has also overseen unique projects that have required highly creative solutions, such as tidal turbines, offshore structures, and lighthouses. A licensed engineer in New Hampshire and Maine, Mellor has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and master’s degree in Ocean Engineering, both from the University of New Hampshire.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On behalf of current and future home and property owners throughout the country, more than 9,600 Realtors traveled to Washington, D.C., in mid-May to advance key real-estate issues during the 2017 Realtor Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

Members of the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley (RAPV) joined fellow Realtors from Massachusetts and across the nation to attend meetings and informational sessions, as well as meet with regulatory agency staff and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss and advocate on real-estate issues affecting their businesses, communities, and clients.

Members of the National Assoc. of Realtors focused on several significant issues affecting the industry during the legislative-focused meetings, including flood insurance, tax reform, and sustainable home ownership.

“Realtors are critical advocates for the real-estate industry and for their clients, and this meeting is the perfect opportunity to educate ourselves on the issues facing real-estate markets, as well as the legislative and regulatory issues on the horizon that could affect Realtors, home buyers and sellers, and property owners,” said Rick Sawicki, president of the RAPV.

While in Washington, the Pioneer Valley Realtor delegation met with U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Reps. Richard Neal and Jim McGovern on Capitol Hill to discuss and influence public-policy decisions that directly affect consumers’ ability to own, buy, rent, and sell residential and commercial real estate.