Most would agree that Springfield has come a long way over the past decade or so and especially since the 2011 tornado touched down on Main Street.
But most would also agree there is still considerable work to be done in the City of Homes to bring it back to the prominence it enjoyed decades ago. And while no one would dare suggest that what has accomplished to date has been easy — although MGM Springfield might have been the easiest $1 billion project anyone has ever seen — the work to be done falls into the ‘much harder’ category.
Indeed, over the past decade, city officials, working in collaboration with a host of public and private partners, have succeeded in giving people more reasons to come to Springfield — to work, play, and, yes, live — and they’ve also made it somewhat easier to get here through new rail service and extensive work on I-91.
Collectively, the city has made progress and created momentum, but hard work remains to build on what could be called a foundation, while also making sure that MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other developments are put in a position to succeed.
Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s recently appointed chief Development officer, touched on some of these points in an extensive interview with BusinessWest (see story, page 6). Slicing through his comments, he notes that, while Springfield is now a more attractive place to visit, in many respects, it must focus even harder on creating more opportunities for people to live here, launch businesses, and see them succeed.
Most recently employed by the city of Norwalk, Conn. and its Redevelopment Agency, he said he saw first-hand what can happen when a city succeeds in attracting a larger population of professionals through new market-rate housing initiatives.
Norwalk, roughly an hour’s commute to New York city via train, benefited from its location and developed more housing that in turn brought energy, disposable income, and, yes, business opportunities to the city.
Springfield, doesn’t have the same advantage of geography — although hopes remain for east-west rail that would certainly change that equation — but there is still vast potential to create more market-rate housing in its downtown and the neighborhoods beyond. And tapping this potential is perhaps the number-one priority for the city moving forward.
That’s because, while the city can certainly benefit from people coming to gamble or see an Aerosmith concert or visit the Basketball Hall of Fame or take in the Dr. Seuss museum, true vibrancy comes when people live in your community. Brooklyn, N.Y. is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others.
The assignment, then, becomes giving people a reason (or a good number of reasons) to live in your community.
Springfield is making progress there, but it has to do more to entice private investors to build here. And this brings us to another priority on Sheehan’s to-do list — the city’s many fine neighborhoods. We can still use that adjective, although all of them have seen better days, especially when it comes to their commercial districts.
Sheehan mentioned Boston Road, which is still a vibrant commercial artery but not what it was decades ago, especially at the Eastfield Mall end of the street. The ongoing demise of traditional retail certainly plays a part in what’s happening along these stretches, but Sheehan is right when he says the city needs to develop new plans for these areas, create buy-in from neighborhood institutions, and, overall, inspire investors to what to be part of something.
All this falls into the category of taking Springfield to the next stage. As we said, this is in many ways harder work than what has been undertaken to date, but it’s work that has to be done if Springfield is to enjoy a real renaissance.