Home Posts tagged expansion
Healthcare News

Meeting a Need

 

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center recently announced the expansion of its facilities with the opening of new adult inpatient treatment beds. These adult beds are in addition to the 16-bed adolescent unit which was recently renovated and now reopened.

The addition of these specialized beds reflects MiraVista’s ongoing commitment to meeting the growing demand for high-quality mental-healthcare services. With mental-health challenges on the rise globally, the Holyoke facility recognizes the importance of providing comprehensive and compassionate care to individuals with mental illness.

“We believe that everyone deserves access to effective treatment in a supportive environment, and these new beds will enable us to provide specialized care to more individuals in need.”

“Our decision to expand our inpatient treatment capacity underscores our dedication to serving our community and the Commonwealth and addressing the increasing need for mental-health services,” said Shelley Zimmerman, MiraVista’s hospital administrator. “We believe that everyone deserves access to effective treatment in a supportive environment, and these new beds will enable us to provide specialized care to more individuals in need.”

The new adult inpatient beds will offer a range of therapeutic interventions tailored to meet the unique needs of each patient. MiraVista’s multi-disciplinary team of experts, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and nurses, will work collaboratively to develop personalized treatment plans focused on promoting healing and recovery.

In addition to individualized therapy sessions, patients will have access to group therapy, medication management, recreational activities, educational workshops, and peer support, all designed to foster personal growth and empowerment. MiraVista’s holistic approach to treatment emphasizes wellness and resilience, empowering patients to achieve lasting positive change in their lives.

Direct admission without first being seen in an emergency department is a new process MiraVista introduced with the reopening of its adolescent unit.

 

Hope and Support

MiraVista also recognized May as Mental Health Awareness Month with a flag raising on May 9 and by illuminating its façade green.

“Green is used for the month to symbolize hope and support for individuals living with a mental illness,” said Kimberley Lee, chief of Creative Strategy and Development. “Our clinicians work across populations to help patients successfully manage their mental-health challenges and lead fulfilling lives in community.”

In conjunction with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) observance of the month, Lee explained, MiraVista will highlight on its social media the diverse mental-health needs of various populations and encourage people to wear green.

“These 31 days are about advancing better understanding of mental health as a component of overall health and the importance of seeking evidence-based treatment for it when needed,” she said. “Whether someone is navigating personal challenges or extending empathy to others, this month holds significance for us all in showing support for mental healthcare.”

Lee said MiraVista will follow SAMHSA’s suggested weekly themes in highlighting the mental-health needs of older adults, children and teens, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and those who identify as LGBTQIA+ and, as a result of bullying and discrimination, are at high risk for mental-health conditions.

“We are amplifying our efforts during May to destigmatize mental health, enhance understanding, and cultivate a supportive environment,” Lee said. “Promoting mental health and treatment for it benefits everyone — from the individual managing it to the family and friends who love them, to the community in which they live and contribute.”

Cannabis Special Coverage

Expanding Their Vision

Co-owners Chris Vianello, Rich Rainone, and Keshawn Warner.

Co-owners Chris Vianello, Rich Rainone, and Keshawn Warner.
Photo by Savanna SLUSA Productions for Dazed Cannabis

 

Chris Vianello said he and his partners at Dazed Cannabis never intended to be the first player on the scene. In fact, their first dispensary in Holyoke, which opened in 2021, was that city’s fourth.

“We were never the only game in town. That’s not our model. If our only claim to fame is that we’re the only game in town, that’s not a sustainable business practice,” Vianello said, noting that Dazed instead stresses quality products and its friendly but funky vibe. “We anticipated competition going into this, especially because Holyoke is not a limited-license jurisdiction.”

The model has worked. Not only has the Holyoke shop has survived a raft of competition, but Dazed co-owners Vianello, Rich Rainone, and Keshawn Warner have opened two stores since then: in New York City in 2023 (first as a pop-up shop in April and then a permanent storefront in November) and, just last month, in Monson, where Dazed is currently the only cannabis game in town.

That store, where the Magic Lantern strip club operated for more than a half-century before closing in 2022, honors the location’s history by keeping a small stage and dancer’s pole as part of the décor.

Rainone told the Cannabis Business Times recently that the first 90 days after a dispensary’s opening are the most turbulent. The first month is all about establishing operating procedures and employee routines, the second about fixing the challenges of the first 30 days, and the third month about putting it all together and excelling.

He told the publication that Dazed is a “fun party brand,” with visitors encountering a “meet and greet” before they get to security, and the environment inside the shop characterized by music playing and a pink-dominated color scheme that extends to all three dispensaries.

When asked why the team chose each location, Vianello told BusinessWest they appeal in different ways.

“We were never the only game in town. That’s not our model. If our only claim to fame is that we’re the only game in town, that’s not a sustainable business practice.”

“You try to find the balance between what’s the ideal location and what’s a doable location,” he said. “We try to straddle that balance; we don’t want to open up a dispensary just anywhere because that’s not going to work, but also we don’t want to get stuck looking for the perfect location and end up not opening anything. They’re all different in where the traffic is coming from and how we attract different folks to different stores.”

At a time when competition is fierce and some stores have actually closed in Massachusetts, Dazed’s focus on customer experience and steady growth has been a winner, he added.

“In 2018, 2019, you had people who were the only game in town. And that worked for those who were able to get themselves positioned to be the first in the market. They had months, even years where they were cranking as literally the only game in town.”

“We never experienced that. We were never the first,” he continued, understanding that being the first shop in Monson is still being one of nearly 400 in Massachusetts. And amid increasing competition, Vianello doesn’t intend to engage in a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing.

“We’ve seen people trying to undercut the next guy by 10 cents and create an environment where you devalue the purpose of even being there,” he explained. “Understanding that price is always part of what people consider when shopping, you still have to differentiate yourself; you have to make yourself stand out. Ideally, you want people that are coming to you rather than other people because they like what you have going on.”

By doing so, he said, “we’re creating our own lane, our own pie, instead of slicing up what’s already out there.”

 

Rolling with the Punches

And there is, indeed, a lot out there, and still considerable debate over whether the burgeoning cannabis industry has a ceiling or whether there’s enough growth potential — from new users or consumers rejecting the illegal market to buy from regulated stores — to make up for more competition emerging from both within the Bay State and from outside its borders.

“A lot of it comes down to community outreach, giving people the information they need to buy legal rather than what they’ve been doing the last 20 years,” Vianello said.

The leaders of Dazed Cannabis

The leaders of Dazed Cannabis hope the recent Monson grand opening isn’t their last, but one of many more.
Photo by Marsco Media for Dazed Cannabis

The discussion these days around a possible ceiling for the industry in Massachusetts doesn’t happen in other sectors, he added. “People don’t talk about us the same way they talk about other businesses, like restaurants, liquor stores. It’s really an open market, a lot of competition. And people are competing. I don’t know that we’re hitting the limit.

“There’s still a lot more legal cannabis dollars that haven’t been realized yet,” he added, citing, again, potential from a massive group of users who currently buy from unregulated sources. “But I don’t think businesses are doing poorly as a whole. I don’t think prices are crashing as much as people suggest. I don’t necessarily see that happening as blatantly as they’re describing it. Businesses still have a lot of growth potential.”

At the end of the day, he added, dispensaries have to offer what people want, and that requires staying ahead of the curve. “There are always new, innovative things coming out in the market. You have to stay up on what’s happening, and with market prices. You try not to be the cheapest on the block because that turns into a whole downward spiral. So you try to have competitive pricing and give people a good customer experience.”

Like all other cannabis entrepreneurs, Vianello hopes for the eventual end of the disconnect between state and federal drug laws that have posed onerous burdens on business owners, from IRS Section 280E, which forbids business owners from deducting otherwise normal business expenses, to hardships around banking, transportation, and other activities.

“That has to happen at some point. I think it’s going to happen. But I don’t think anyone knows when. It’s been right around the corner for years,” he told BusinessWest, acknowledging, like many have, that cannabis is legal for well over half the U.S. population, and bipartisan support exists for decriminalizing cannabis, but lawmakers always seem to have other concerns with which to contend.

“We just act accordingly within the rules in place,” he added. “But we know, if it happens, it will open up a lot of things for a lot of people. We need to have all the same rules and regulations as all businesses, the same opportunities, so we can run these businesses properly.”

 

Land of Opportunity

The New York location, in Manhattan’s Union Square neighborhood, has certainly been a success story, starting with its origin as a pop-up opened under the state’s CAURD (conditional adult-use retail dispensary) program, which invested in communities and entreprenuers that had been harmed by the war on drugs; Warner, a Harlem native, was arrested in 2008 for trying to buy marijuana during a sting operation, which hindered his ability to find employment afterward.

Now, he and his two partners are the employers at three Dazed stores — with more locations in the works, they hope.

“You try not to be the cheapest on the block because that turns into a whole downward spiral. So you try to have competitive pricing and give people a good customer experience.”

“Keshawn and his dedicated team at Dazed exemplify entrepreneurship in action, shining a spotlight on the importance of social equity in the cannabis industry,” Chris Webber of the New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund said upon the Union Square location’s grand opening in November. “This isn’t just about a dispensary; it’s about leveling the playing field, creating opportunities, and building a more inclusive and dynamic entrepreneurial landscape.”

Vianello said it’s been gratifying to hire locally, providing job opportunities to others.

The interior of the Holyoke dispensary

The interior of the Holyoke dispensary is, like other Dazed shops, resplendent in pink.
Photo by Dazed Cannabis

“That’s the most exciting thing. When we started Dazed in Holyoke, we made a conscious effort to hire hyper-locally. Most of our folks are Holyoke residents or from the surrounding areas, Greater Springfield — but mostly from Holyoke. That’s the entire staff, from the general manager to the newest employee; they’re all local, and they’ve all been promoted and hired from within. And when we had the opportunity to expand into Monson, we were able to bring a lot of those folks over and give them a broader opportunity for employment.”

Indeed, many young people entering the cannabis field recognize it as a new industry with plenty of advancement opportunity.

“We want our team to grow with our expansion, and that’s been good for us to see,” Vianello said. “It’s a new industry, so there’s definitely a lot of opportunities for those folks to grow too. Not everyone has a lot of experience, and those that have experience are super valuable.”

As the cannabis workforce continues to mature and move up, Vianello and his partners are excited to see the industry do the same, despite all the challenges and all the hand wringing over how many dispensaries are too many.

“The thing I like best is that it’s changing and growing, with a lot of different opportunities coming up,” he said. “You just don’t know what’s down the road.”

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Moving North

President Dave Glidden

 

Dave Glidden has long referred to it as the “I-91 corridor strategy.”

This is the growth plan for Middletown, Conn.-based Liberty Bank, one that, as the name suggests, focuses on the I-91 corridor, which stretches from New Haven into Southern Vermont.

The bank has followed that strategy, increasing its presence in Southern Conn., and now Western Mass. as well, taking another important step in what could be called its northward advance with the opening last month of its first branch in this region — on Shaker Road in East Longmeadow, just a few miles from the state line.

The facility, a former United Cooperative and then PeoplesUnited branch, was home to a commercial loan-production office that Liberty opened in 2021 and eventually moved to the 23rd floor of Monarch Place in downtown Springfield — after that LPO gave Liberty a foothold of sorts and convinced Glidden, the bank’s president, and other members of his leadership team that it was time to open a full-service branch in the 413.

“We generated a lot of volume and a lot of new customers out of there, and some good deposits,” he said. “When it got to that point, I said, ‘OK … we’ve proven that there’s space and a place for us in this market,’ and that’s when I decided to move the commercial-lending team and their support staff to Monarch Place and tear down the sheetrock and outfit a nice branch on Shaker Road.”

“We are selectively and cautiously considering where to go next. We don’t have to be in a rush, but I can see a total of maybe three to six branches over the next few years — if the right opportunities present themselves.”

With that move, the logical questions — and Glidden was ready for them — is where will the bank go next within the 413, and when?

“We are selectively and cautiously considering where to go next,” he told BusinessWest. “We don’t have to be in a rush, but I can see a total of maybe three to six branches over the next few years — if the right opportunities present themselves.

“I wouldn’t force the issue,” he went on, saying there is no firm timetable and no specific number of locations as a firm goal. “Maybe three to six branches, strategically located, with drive-thrus, with the focus on catering to small to medium-sized business owners. That’s our future plan.”

How this plan shakes out remains to be seen, obviously, and we’ll delve more into where the Liberty name and logo might appear next. For now, the bank wants to continue solidifying its beachhead and take the I-91 corridor strategy to different corners of the 413.

For this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest talked with Glidden about the next possible steps with this strategy and how the drive north will unfold.

 

Points of Interest

Glidden laughed when he noted that, when people tell him they see the bank’s TV commercials — “the ones with the emu and that guy with the mustache” — he no longer makes the effort to correct them and inform them that those are for the insurance giant Liberty Mutual.

“Why bother — what am I fighting it for?” he asked rhetorically, adding quickly that the last four words of each of those frequently, as in frequently, aired spots — ‘Liberty, Liberty, Liberty … Liberty’ — constitute solid name recognition that he doesn’t have to pay for. “Every time I see that commercial, I’m cheering; people come up to me and say, ‘I saw your commercial.’ I just say, ‘thank you; let me open a checking account for you.’”

Bank employees and elected officials

Bank employees and elected officials cut the ceremonial ribbon last month on Liberty Bank’s East Longmeadow branch.

This form of free advertising, if you will, is just one of many things that have gone well for Liberty over the past several years. In fact, Glidden said 2023 may be the bank’s third straight year of record profits, though the final numbers are not yet in.

But even if it’s not a record, the bank is maintaining a strong upward trajectory, which it owes to several factors, but especially its aggressive I-91 corridor strategy and the qualities needed to carry it out and gain market share across that wide area.

Elaborating, Glidden said the bank has several advantages, from a name that resonates and crosses state lines easily to a broad portfolio of products on both the commercial and consumer sides of the ledger; from a commitment to the latest digital technology to an attractive size.

Indeed, with more than $7 billion in assets and 56 locations in Connecticut and two in the Bay State, Liberty, the oldest mutual bank in the country, can “out-local the national banks and out-national the local banks,” said Glidden, a native of Holyoke who is well-known in this region and has long considered Western Mass. the next logical area of expansion for the bank.

“We can deliver a balance sheet that’s going to be large enough for 99.9% of the companies up there to grow to whatever they want to be,” he said, adding that this size, coupled with lenders who know and hail from Western Mass., has enabled Liberty to make solid inroads in the local market and presents opportunities to gain market share in this region.

And many changes to the banking landscape, but especially the advent and continued evolution of digital platforms and mobile apps, make it easier to cross state lines, he went on.

“The habits of consumers and small businesses, what they’re looking for from a bank, are not the same as they were 15 years ago.”

“The habits of consumers and small businesses, what they’re looking for from a bank, are not the same as they were 15 years ago,” Glidden explained. “Do they want to know that their bank has a branch so that, if there’s an issue, they can go in and sit with someone and get advice? Yes. But, across the board, transactions and visitations to branches continue to decline, and that decline is not projected to slow down any time soon.

“And that kind of changes the playing field in the sense of being able to go over the line with maybe a toe in the market,” he continued. “If this was 10 to 15 years ago, and I made the decision that I wanted Liberty to go into Western Massachusetts and compete, I probably would have looked to do it through an acquisition strategy. That doesn’t mean that acquisition strategies are off the table, but you don’t have to do that now with digital and mobile apps.”

 

By All Accounts

As for the growth strategy in the 413, Glidden said that, as with the initial thrust into the region in East Longmeadow, the focus — the ‘macro strategy for this market,” as he called it — is an emphasis on small business and commercial lending, realms that build customers, relationships, deposits, and more, and cement the need for additional branches.

This was the strategy followed in New Haven, where the bank established an LPO, and again in Hartford. And it is the same strategy being deployed north of the border in Greater Springfield.

As he scans the Western Mass. landscape — and, again, he knows it well from his years as regional president at TD Bank — Glidden acknowledged that Western Mass., is, by and large, a no-growth area. And most of its communities — and East Longmeadow is squarely in this category — are considered overbanked.

But there are opportunities, he noted, adding that his team is looking at maps and crunching numbers as they consider where to go next.

There are what would be considered obvious landing spots, he said, mentioning larger population and commercial centers such as West Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, and Westfield, and these may well be the next push pins on the wall map.

“The analytics you use on this stuff gets so complicated … sometimes you need to just take a step back and say, ‘where are all the people, and where are all the businesses?’” he said. “And just put them there.”

‘There’ probably doesn’t mean Hampshire County, at least not at this time, he went on, adding quickly that he certainly wouldn’t rule out putting a branch in a community like South Hadley, which borders Holyoke, Chicopee, and Amherst, and is another of those ‘overbanked’ communities in Western Mass.

“Right now, we’ve had success on the commercial and small-business side; let’s look at Greater Springfield and the surrounding communities,” he told BusinessWest. “If Springfield is the hub, then look at the spokes around there and find the right places to sprinkle a few more branches to service our growing customer base there.”

As he looks ahead, Glidden isn’t expecting another record year when it comes to profitability for Liberty Bank.

Indeed, while 2023 was a very strong year, the pace of growth started to slow during the third and fourth quarters, and this trend will, in all likelihood, continue in the year ahead.

But what will also continue is implementation of the bank’s I-91 corridor strategy, one that has seen Liberty makes its first moves in the Western Mass. market and establish a foothold.

The goal for 2024 and the years to follow will be to strengthen that hold and take the brand to different communities across the region. Just where, when, and how the next steps will take place remain to be seen, but one thing is clear: Liberty’s march north is just getting started.

Features Special Coverage

Fried and True

Peter Picknelly, left, and Edison Yee

Peter Picknelly, left, and Edison Yee, two of the many partners involved with the White Hut location in Holyoke.

When asked about where they might take the White Hut brand — and when, both Edison Yee and Peter Picknelly took long pauses and then looked at each other as if to say, ‘you first.’

They did so to indicate a few things — first, that they’ve obviously been thinking long and hard about that question, and second … they don’t really know the answer yet.

What they do know is that they will bring the concept beyond Memorial Avenue in West Springfield, the location that was rescued in 2020 by Picknelly, chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines; Andy Yee, Edison’s brother; and others within the Bean Restaurant Group after founding owners the Barkett family announced it would close. And also beyond 825 Hampden St. in Holyoke, the location — a renovated former PeoplesBank branch — that opened last month.

“Our goal is to build a microbrand from this White Hut concept,” he said, using that term to describe brands with up to 10 locations, adding that locations are being scouted in Westfield and other communities, and if all goes well in Holyoke, there could easily be another location within a year.

Picknelly concurred. “We believe the White Hut is a brand that’s scalable; we’ve had overwhelming success in West Springfield — our customer count continues to grow there — and we think Holyoke is a great location,” he said. “This a solid brand, and we want to expand it out strategically.”

But both said that, at the moment, they and several co-owners in the Paper City venture, including Holyoke natives Jack Ferriter and Mark Cutting, are hard-focused on that location, the success of which might go a long way toward determining where and when this iconic (yes, that word fits here) brand and its red-and-white color scheme might next be seen.

Nathan Yee, director of Hospitality for the Bean Restaurant Group and part of the proverbial next generation of leadership at the company, believes it will do quite well.

“Our goal is to build a microbrand from this White Hut concept.”

Those involved spent considerable time scouting locations, he said, and eventually zeroed in on the Hampden Street location, which lies on a well-traveled road just a few hundred yards from an I-91 exit.

Beyond location, this site offers … well, everything that has made the White Hut brand iconic — its famous hamburgers, hot dogs, fried onions, shakes, and more — as well as new additions, including a salute to Holyoke: a breakfast sandwich called the Paper City Special, containing a scrambled egg with sausage, hash brown, American cheese, and fried onions on a Venetian water roll.

There are other new wrinkles as well, including a self-ordering kiosk for those who prefer that option, as well as a pickup option by which employees bring the customer’s order directly to their car.

Nick Yee cuts a ceremonial ribbon

Nick Yee cuts a ceremonial ribbon of hot dogs at the grand opening of the Holyoke White Hut last month.

In short, the ownership group is taking a brand that has a storied past and a rich history and bringing it into the future — changing what should be changed, and not changing anything that shouldn’t be changed, like those fried onions.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the institution that is the White Hut, the long-planned move into Holyoke, and those still-evolving plans to bring the brand elsewhere within the 413 — and likely beyond.

 

Relishing the Possibilities

As he talked with BusinessWest in mid-September, Edison Yee had a lot on his plate — and yes, that’s an industry term, sort of.

The Big E was going to start in a few days, and Yee and many others at the Bean Restaurant Group had considerable prep work to do get ready; the group has several locations at the fair, including the White Hut, the Wurst House, and a new addition to the portfolio, a ‘Harpoon Beer hut.’

“We sell a lot of food and lot of beer,” he said, adding that the company probably has 100 or more seasonal employees working at the fair, which has been an ever-increasing part of the business plan for the group since it first started taking part eight years ago.

Meanwhile, Oktoberfest, a huge, nearly month-long celebration at the Student Prince, is coming up fast (Oct. 8 is the official start date), and Yee was deep into the planning stages for that annual happening. And then, there’s ongoing planning and the start of work at the restaurant that will become a linchpin of the redevelopment of the Court Square Hotel on Elm Street in Springfield, another collaboration between Picknelly and the Bean Group.

But on this day, and the days before, the main focus was on the Holyoke White Hut location and making sure everything was in order for the grand opening coming up the next morning. This was an event that was maybe two years in the making, said Yee and Picknelly, noting that, not long after the West Springfield location had been saved and was successfully navigating its way through COVID, talk began to turn to where this iconic brand might go next.

And it wasn’t long at all before the focus turned to the Paper City.

But before we explore this move to Holyoke, we need some background, and some perspective on both the brand and the location in West Springfield, which, to many, has achieved landmark status, figuratively if not literally.

Our story begins in 1939, when Edward Barkett opened a small restaurant on Memorial Avenue and decided to call it the White Hut because that was the principal color.

Suceeding generations of the Barkett family owned and operated the restaurant and eventually took the brand beyond West Springfield — to Amherst, in a venture that met with only limited success, in part, Picknelly believes, because the location was not highly visible.

And while the brand is famous for the loyalty exhibited by its regulars, location and visibility are keys to the success of any restaurant, he went on.

Fast-forwarding a little, E.J. Barkett (Edward’s grandson) announced rather abruptly in 2020 that White Hut would close its doors. Picknelly and Andy Yee, both to be counted as Hut regulars, as well as serial entrepreneurs and part of the group that rescued the Student Prince restaurant in 2015 when its closure seemed imminent, stepped into the breach and saved the White Hut.

And they did so under extreme circumstances. Indeed, that rescue came at the height of COVID, when that restaurant, like all others, had to find ways to do business while also keeping people safe. It already had effective takeout service, said Picknelly, adding that this quality was one of many that enabled it to persevere during those trying times.

Another quality, obviously, was the food itself, he said, adding that another ingredient in the recipe for success was simply not to change much of anything that had made the Hut such a fan favorite.

Such diligence has been rewarded with rankings on a number of ‘best burger’ lists. In 2021, for example, White Hut’s cheeseburger with grilled onions was named the best burger in Massachusetts by Thrillist, and it has been ranked among the best burgers in the country. The Hut was profiled in USA Today in 2019, which said everything about the brand is “frozen in time,” and it’s been included by the Wall Street Journal in its “Essential Guide to America’s Best Burgers.”

That success begs the obvious question — where can this brand go? That query refers to everything from geography to the size of what would have to be called an emerging chain.

 

A Side of Entrepreneurship

The answer to that question begins in the Paper City and the opening of the Hampden Street location, which provides evidence that everything is no longer entirely frozen in time, as we’ll see.

“Holyoke has been on the radar for our group for a long time now,” Edison Yee said, adding that several potential sites were considered before the Hampden Street location, one strongly favored by his brother, Nick Yee, the group’s principal managing partner, became the focus of attention.

the latest White Hut location in Holyoke

From left, Bryan Graham (culinary director and partner), Nick Yee, Peter Picknelly, Edison Yee, and Nate Yee stand in front of the latest White Hut location in Holyoke.

“The traffic counts are great,” he said. “And, growing up in South Hadley, we knew that this was the main street to get onto I-91; you have all the traffic that comes from South Hadley, Granby, parts of Chicopee, and, of course, Holyoke, that are filtering through this road.”

Picknelly agreed, and noted that the traffic count is actually higher on Hampden Street than it is on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield.

Beyond steady traffic, the location provides more convenience to those who travel down I-91, Route 5, or other roads to get to the West Springfield location (and there are many in that category) while also introducing the brand to new audiences.

“We think Holyoke is a great location,” Picknelly said. “Our brand is still strong here, yet it’s far enough away that we won’t be competing against ourselves, and our customers from Holyoke, Northampton, and Granby won’t have to travel as far — that’s the essence of it.”

And while the location is expected to draw people from several area communities and, its owners presume, travelers on I-91, it is a neighborhood restaurant, one that will in some respects replace another iconic eatery, Mel’s Restaurant, which closed recently, just a few hundred feet away.

The location will offer the same menu as the one in West Springfield — and essentially the same food the Hut has offered since 1939 — but with some of those new amenities, such as the self-ordering kiosk, said Nathan Yee, which will bring another layer of convenience to customers.

“With each unit, we’ve identified some of the operational areas that we can improve on, and that’s what we’ve done with this location,” he said. “We’ve added a few new features to make it more customer-friendly.”

Renovation of the former bank branch took more than a year, he noted, and an investment, beyond the purchase of the property, of more than $1 million.

And this may the first of several initiatives to bring the White Hut brand to different cities, towns, and markets, said Picknelly and Edison Yee, noting, again, that Holyoke will be a barometer of sorts for how well the brand may ultimately travel.

“Our ultimate goal is to expand the brand,” Yee said. “This is a great test for us, being in Holyoke, and we feel strongly that, if we can get this unit to operate similarly to West Springfield in terms of metrics, we’re eager to look for another spot.”

Picknelly agreed, noting that expansion, either through owner-operated locations, such as those in Holyoke and West Springfield, or perhaps franchising, is likely if not inevitable.

“There are restaurant groups in Connecticut that have contacted us and want to franchise,” he said. “We want to expand this on our own first; we think it’s really scalable — this is our first venture to do that. Once this gets up and running, I think you’ll see the White Hut brand all over the Northeast.”

“Our ultimate goal is to expand the brand. This is a great test for us, being in Holyoke, and we feel strongly that, if we can get this unit to operate similarly to West Springfield in terms of metrics, we’re eager to look for another spot.”

Elaborating, he said could envision scenarios where there are both owner-operated locations and franchises, and there are plenty of successful models of such operations, including national brands such as KFC, Burger King, and others.

 

Food for Thought

Summing up the current state of this brand, Picknelly said it’s “one that the Barkett family built and the Yee family made better.”

Where can it go beyond West Springfield and Holyoke? Only time will tell, but it’s safe to assume that expansion will continue across Western Mass. and perhaps beyond. A brand that’s been called ‘simple,’ ‘tried and true,’ and, yes, ‘frozen in time’ will continue to be all those things.

But time certainly won’t stand still for the White Hut and its owners.

Banking and Financial Services

Branching Out

Oumkar Tobaran

Oumkar Tobaran says the human element is critical in banking even amid the rise of online and mobile tools.

At a time when a bank’s customers can conduct business from anywhere with a few clicks, dramatic branch expansion may seem outdated.

But it’s not, Ali Zaidi said, explaining why Chase Bank is looking to double its presence in Massachusetts over the next several years, starting with the opening of a downtown Springfield office on March 7.

“When you think about the important life events that customers go through, whether it be retirement planning, buying a house, or the birth of a child, people still have an appreciation for that face-to-face conversation. That makes an impact,” said Zaidi, Chase’s market director for Western and Central Mass. “And about 75% of our customers that have balances with us still come to the branches. So, clearly, the customers are telling us they would love to have that face-to-face interaction, especially with complex life events.”

Oumkar Tobaran, branch manager for the new location in Harrison Place — which has a long history of housing banks, including Third National Bank and, in recent decades, Bank of Western Massachusetts and People’s United Bank — said the human element is critical.

“With all the technology and innovation we have, think of the amount of things that we can go on our phones to do on a daily basis,” he told BusinessWest. “But the minute something doesn’t go right or the minute you need support or additional advice on something, we want to show that customer service matters, with a physical presence.”

The branch is Chase’s 38th in Massachusetts since opening its first Bay State location in Boston in 2018 — an impressive growth trajectory, and a number the institution is looking to double by 2025, including a location to open this spring in the former Silverscape Designs building on King Street in Northampton.

“This is a central point,” Zaidi said of downtown Springfield, noting that Chase has an office a few miles down I-91 in Enfield, but this is technically the first in Western Mass. “There’s definitely a rich history here on Main Street and its local businesses, as well as larger clienteles with MGM and the Hall of Fame. We’re serving clients of different demographics, and I’m very excited that we were able to secure this spot on Main Street.”

Tobaran said he expects plenty of foot traffic downtown, as well as visits from customers who may have been banking in Enfield or branches to the west, while Chase has been conducting outreach to build a larger base of business in the region.

“About 75% of our customers that have balances with us still come to the branches. So, clearly, the customers are telling us they would love to have that face-to-face interaction, especially with complex life events.”

“We wanted to make sure that we have a convenient place for them to visit because it’s important to be able to interact with the community,” he added. “There’s a lot of development happening in Springfield, and we wanted to be part of that momentum as well.”

Zaidi agreed. “Springfield is a key cog that gives us an entry point into expanding into Western Massachusetts and brings convenience to our customers. Springfield is being revitalized, and I feel we can be an integral part of that.”

He also feels there’s an opportunity to add customers who might already be familiar with Chase through its mortgage products and credit cards. “That’s what people know. So one of our consumer-banking priorities is to be a bank for all and make it easy for people to do business with us. And technology-wise, where customers were able to bank with us remotely, this now gives them a physical location to meet their diverse needs.”

Ali Zaidi

Ali Zaidi says downtown Springfield is the first Chase branch in Western Mass. and the springboard to an eventual doubling of the bank’s branches in Massachusetts.

As he showed off the space at 1391 Main St., from the tellers and ITM machines up front to the various offices further back, Zaidi said the new Springfield branch can do all of that.

“We will help our customers with any needs, and we have more licensed specialist bankers to navigate those complex life events — retirement, financial planning, or just navigating your credit-history trajectory if you’re looking to purchase something down the road. We’re so excited to be providing that face-to-face value, and we’re looking forward to continuing the expansion.”

 

Set Up to Help

This first Western Mass. branch is about 3,000 square feet in size and features a modern, bright design with plenty of natural light, quiet meeting areas, and state-of-the-art banking technology, including those ITMs, which allow a higher withdrawal limit than traditional ATMs, as well as access to Chase professionals.

“For customers who have commercial or small-business banking needs, we have our team of experts, partners who will be working out of here and supporting other branches to connect customers. So it’s a one-stop shop.”

A dedicated Chase Private Client team provides premium banking services, personalized attention, and access to the expertise and investment capabilities of J.P. Morgan to help families reach their goals. Customers may also meet with financial and home-lending advisors and business-banking relationship managers.

“Our retail banking operations are here, and we have our licensed bankers to deal with client management,” Zaidi explained, “and for customers who have commercial or small-business banking needs, we have our team of experts, partners who will be working out of here and supporting other branches to connect customers. So it’s a one-stop shop.”

Tobaran said the open layout will help customers easily navigate what they need. “We will have associates in the lobby greeting clients, interacting with them. And then, depending on the transactions they’ll need to leverage, we can go back here and figure out what we need to help them with,” he explained, gesturing away from the front door toward the offices in back.

“But we equip a lot of our associates with tablets,” he added. “So in addition to helping them back there, however we can help support them face to face, sitting down in the lobby area, we will do that with the resources and tools we have.”

Besides banking business, Chase also wants to connect with Greater Springfield in other ways, Zaidi said, through financial-literacy programs and other types of community outreach.

“The idea is to have our branches be community anchors. So when we think about financial-literacy conversations, be it with young professionals or small-business owners, we want to host workshops and assistance in that space as well,” he explained, noting that Chase is working on several community-development efforts around financial literacy, including a partnership with Western New England University. “So this would serve as an anchor for us where we could do before- or after-hours seminars and events. It makes sense.”

Harrison Place

Harrison Place has been home to several banks in the past, from Third National Bank to the Bank of Western Massachusetts and People’s United Bank.

Tobaran added that the bank’s employees also reflect its region, as the branch hired locally, including people who hail from the Latino and Vietnamese communities, among others.

“We want some familiar faces to be representing Chase, saying, ‘hey, these are the resources we have to help you accomplish your goal.’ It was important for us to get local talent, people who had ties to the community, people who are passionate about giving back and who genuinely want to see Springfield succeed.”

 

Only the Beginning

Zaidi and Tobaran know Chase is making an ambitious surge into a region some have called overbanked, and where community banks have long dominated. But they say Chase is committed to local residents and organizations in much the same way locally headquartered banks are, while also bringing vast financial resources to the table.

“When you think about Chase, we have the resources of a large global corporation,” Zaidi said. “And our vision is, how do we take those resources and localize the solutions for our customers? Our technology and data analysis help us strategize and take a more targeted approach, because all the branches are going to operate differently based on the community-specific needs.”

One example is a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, one of the organizations that will be on hand on March 15 for the branch’s official grand-opening festivities.

“That’s one way Oumkar and his team have been making an impact in the community already,” Zaidi said. “We feel that we can be a valued contributor in that space among all the other banks. The competitive edge that we have is not only through our resources, but with the community aspect that we are trying to drive here.”

Architecture Special Coverage

Growth by Design

Tighe & Bond President and CEO Robert Belitz

Tighe & Bond President and CEO Robert Belitz

To say Tighe & Bond is a growing company would be an understatement.

From 2006 to 2016, the Westfield-based engineering firm increased its workforce from 170 to 270, but since then, the tally has expanded to 450, due to a combination of geographic expansion across the Northeast, enhancements to specialized services, and organic growth.

“We like to say it’s still manageable growth — robust, but manageable for us,” said Robert Belitz, who was hired by Tighe & Bond as chief financial officer in 2014 and took the reins as president and CEO three years later. “Our strategic planning process, which we go through every year, says it would be nice to grow between 5% and 10%. So you can see we’re on the higher end of that range.”

Among the recent footprint-expanding additions include an office in Portland, Maine, and two strategic acquisitions. One is a landscape-architecture and urban-planning firm in Boston called Halvorson Design (now Halvorson | Tighe & Bond Studio), which is part of the firm’s continuing strategy in Eastern Mass. and its first office presence in the Hub.

“The work they do is a terrific complement to our existing sites and brings more capabilities to our clients; they also did a lot of coastal-resiliency work as well, and that will continue to be in high demand for us.”

“We like to say it’s still manageable growth — robust, but manageable for us.”

The other recent acquisition was joining forces with RT Group, which expanded the firm’s waterfront and coastal-engineering capabilities in Rhode Island.

“Given where our offices are, there is a tremendous amount of coastline where we have opportunities to support our clients,” Belitz said. “There’s an awful lot of funding that’s being directed toward seawall construction, which is part of our coastal practice. The RT Group does a lot of work around port areas.”

River Valley Co-op in Easthampton

River Valley Co-op in Easthampton is one of the first net-zero-energy grocery stores in Massachusetts.
(Photo by Tighe & Bond)

With offices in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, it’s a natural fit for Tighe & Bond to tackle more coastline work, he added. “There have been a number of natural-disaster events that have raised the awareness of the need for coastal resilience.”

Clippership Wharf in East Boston is a good example. The waterfront residential complex was developed by Lendlease with landscape design by Tighe & Bond and Halvorson, and building design by the Architectural Team. The tiered site includes a harbor walk at the lower level, public access and open spaces at mid-level, and residences and a courtyard above. A ‘living shoreline,’ the first in Boston’s urban harbor, recreates the coastal habitat through the introduction of native plantings and wave-dissipating features to accommodate future sea-level rise, creating a natural flood barrier protecting tenants and other inland properties.

“Our challenge is prioritizing how we can capitalize on all these opportunities in the market.”

Tighe & Bond has also significantly expanded its capabilities in the MEP — mechanical, electrical, and plumbing — area, Belitz said. “We’ve added a significant number of resources there. That’s to serve our existing client base, but it’s also in response to the pandemic, when we were asked to do a fair amount of air-quality work.”

Other growth areas have included traffic and roadway projects as well as asset management, he added. Meanwhile, the firm’s traditional niches in water, wastewater, and other types of projects remain strong.

“We’re still really well-diversified in terms of the services that we can provide to our clients,” he went on. “We’ve trademarked a terminology we call the whole-asset approach, which says we can support a client’s needs on whatever their assets are, from the outset of a project all the way to completion, and that’s because we provide such a broad array of services to our clients.”

At the same time, “I think the stimulus money that’s coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aligns really well with the services that we provide as an organization, including our core water and wastewater services and our environmental work related to brownfield remediation. Our challenge is prioritizing how we can capitalize on all these opportunities in the market.”

 

System Expansion

Founded in 1911 to consult on broad-based civil-engineering projects, Tighe & Bond eventually came to specialize in environmental engineering, focusing on water, wastewater, solid-waste, and hazardous-waste issues, and its growing diversity of expertise has been a buffer against economic downturns in any one area.

Currently, 60% to 65% of its projects are public contracts with municipalities and state government agencies throughout New England and New York, and 35% to 40% are private work for a diverse group of industries.

Clippership Wharf in East Boston

Clippership Wharf in East Boston is an example of a project that includes elements of coastal resiliency.
(Photo by Ed Wonsek)

“It’s a great thing to be diversified during an economic slowdown,” Belitz said. “The diversity of the services we provide has always been beneficial for us.”

That’s particularly important during times of unusual economic disruption, like the current environment.

“We’re always trying to keep an eye on the economic conditions,” he told BusinessWest. “We are partnering very closely with our clients on any supply-chain issues that might cause delays in their projects or extensions of their projects. We’ve been trying to keep a very close eye on that and work closely internally to make sure our people understand how best to communicate with a client. That’s what it comes down to; it’s primarily communication around schedule and timing and making sure that all of that is coordinated.”

The firm has expanded its presence in renewable-energy projects over the past 15 years or so. For example, River Valley Co-op in Easthampton is one of the first net-zero-energy grocery stores in Massachusetts. Tighe’s engineers provided energy-modeling services to evaluate various design alternatives, including HVAC systems, building envelope, and lighting systems. In addition, it designed an array of electric-vehicle charging stations in the co-op parking lot.

Tighe & Bond, like all such firms, has faced an increasingly complex regulatory and permitting landscape, one where environmental concerns once considered minor are now paramount. But Belitz considers these issues not hurdles, but opportunities.

For example, “nitrogen and phosphorous removal for wastewater treatment plants has been a pretty big driver of some of our growth over the last few years,” he explained.

In that vein, the firm recently worked with the town of Southington, Conn. to upgrade its water-pollution control facility. Tighe & Bond developed a phased plan for addressing the town’s wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. Recent improvements included phosphorus removal, odor control, and UV disinfection.

The upgrades helped the town meet new phosphorus discharge limits that protect the Quinnipiac River, and odor-control measures have helped residents in nearby neighborhoods and those using abutting sports fields. The American Council of Engineering Companies of Connecticut honored the project team’s designs with the 2022 Grand Award for Engineering Excellence.

“We are partnering very closely with our clients on any supply-chain issues that might cause delays in their projects or extensions of their projects.”

Meanwhile, Belitz said, “one of the emerging regulatory drivers is what’s called lead service line replacements, which are requirements for communities to do inventories and replacement plans for the lead service lines. We also do a lot of brownfields cleanup, and that’s been a very significant piece of our growth over the past two to three years, and another example of our well-rounded services.”

 

Working on the Pipeline

Asked how Tighe & Bond continues to grow its workforce at a time when companies of all kinds are struggling with finding and retaining talent, Belitz said it’s a multi-layered strategy.

“I’m not sure a day goes by when we don’t talk about our hiring and attraction of talent. We’ve beefed up our talent-acquisition function here at the firm to continue to identify and attract candidates to the firm. And once we get candidates to join us, we’ve always done a really good job of investing in their development, in order to retain our latest employees.”

He said the firm’s “very robust” onboarding and training program consists of not only leadership training, but anything people need to do their jobs: project management, quality management, safety and health principles, and more. “We’ve made a very big investment in that area just because we’ve had to, given our growth. We’ve kind of branded it internally as Tighe & Bond University, where new folks come in and meet with their supervisor and figure out what sorts of training they need to be effective in their jobs, and we think that’s key to a successful onboarding.”

Tighe & Bond has purposefully cultivated a culture of mentorship and teamwork as well, particularly between the older and younger generations of engineers.

“One of the nice things that we hear all the time from people in our organization is they get to work on all different kinds of projects,” Belitz said. “The other thing we’ve always done, but have made further investments in, is the ability to work seamlessly across all of our offices. All our offices are fitted with collaboration tools and the technology that people need to work together, and to complement that, we assign new hires to current employees when they join the firm so they can get that initial mentoring and that on-the-job training that is so important to their success.”

The firm adopted a hybrid work model during the pandemic that has continued to be effective, he added. “We think that allows our people not only to have some of the work-life balance and work-life integration objectives they’ve always had, but it still affords us ample opportunities to collaborate on projects and have that on-the-job mentoring and training. That’s how we’ve approached the pandemic, with a pretty big investment in technology to make sure that happens.

“From the outset of the pandemic, we were very intentional about saying our main goals are to look after the safety and health of our people, to protect the jobs of our people, and also to maintain our employee benefits,” he went on. “There was a lot of uncertainty at the time. We had some sectors that slowed down for a short period of time, but we had others that ramped up, and now I think some of those sectors that have slowed down have come out of the pandemic ready to work with Tighe & Bond on even more projects.”

 

Building a Culture

Belitz said Tighe & Bond’s leadership is proud of the firm’s culture, which includes elements like the Make a Difference program, which affords employees time to give back to their communities through service projects with local nonprofits.

“Even during the pandemic, though we couldn’t do some of those things because of the restrictions, we had a number of our people volunteer in places like food banks and hospitals and places that had the most need during that period of time,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the company’s employee-benefit program has seen additions like a paid-time-off donation program, by which employees can donate hours of unused vacation to co-workers for certain personal needs; and a student-loan repayment benefit through which the company makes a principal payment to an employee’s student loan. “It shows our commitment to importance of education and our commitment to employees,” Belitz said.

Meanwhile, he added, the firm has made further investments in technology, both internally and with tools like drone technology, 3D laser scanning, and enhanced use of GIS. “We think those are things that enhance the client and employee experience.”

The firm has also increased its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through efforts like the Supporting Women at Tighe & Bond Employee Resource Group and a partnership with the National Society for Black Engineers, which includes two scholarships for students in the engineering field; both efforts aim to increase the diversity of the firm’s talent pipeline.

All these efforts create an environment where people want to work, Belitz said.

“One area that’s super important for us is our employee ownership and the fact that, even in a climate today where there’s a lot of consolidation and a lot of influence of equity investment in engineering and architecture firms, we’re remaining committed to our employee ownership model,” he added.

“That, combined with the fact that we have all our offices within the Northeast, is a very good model for us to keep growing, but to grow in a manageable way. Growth creates opportunity for our people, and I think we’ve got a nice growth model in place.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

Cover Story

Form and Function

Interim Dean Tom Moliterno

Interim Dean Tom Moliterno

The Isenberg Innovation Hub, a $62 million expansion and renovation of the business school’s facilities on the UMass Amherst campus, will open its doors to students later this month. The building’s exterior design is stunning, and it gives a new face to Isenberg and perhaps the university, but the architects have made it functional as well.

Dramatic. Striking. Stunning. Powerful. Distinctive.

Those are some of the words that come to mind as one takes in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, a $62 million, 70,000-square-foot addition and renovation to the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, and its copper cladding, circular design, and falling-dominoes effect.

And those who conceptualized this project and then went about raising the money for it certainly had all those adjectives in mind when they went about hiring architects to create something that would effectively, and loudly, announce the Isenberg school’s ascension to the ranks of the best business schools in the country — and also help recruit the next generation of top students.

“Now that we are a top-20 business school, the students who are considering us are also considering a lot of other exceptional business schools. And one of the things that a student and his or her parents think about is the physical space.”

But that’s certainly not all they wanted — or demanded.

“Now that we are a top-20 business school, the students who are considering us are also considering a lot of other exceptional business schools,” said Tom Moliterno, interim dean at Isenberg. “And one of the things that a student and his or her parents think about is the physical space; there is a requirement, much like a football team needs good facilities, for facilities of a certain caliber in order to ensure that we get the best students.

The learning commons in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, like the building itself, has both a striking design and a great deal of functionality; it also doubles as event space.

The learning commons in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, like the building itself, has both a striking design and a great deal of functionality; it also doubles as event space.

“But there’s more to it than that,” he went on. “You need more than a pretty building; you need a building that’s designed to train students and to prepare students for careers in the 21st century.”

Elaborating, he said business schools today require space that is geared far more toward student collaboration, team working environments, distance learning, and career services than even a decade or two ago.

And all of this is reflected in what’s behind the flashy exterior of the Business Innovation Hub. Indeed, as he conducted his formal tour of the new facility, Moliterno seemed to be constantly pointing out places where people, and especially students, could come together and collaborate.

The hallways, like all the areas in the Business Innovation Hub, are designed to promote collaboration.

The hallways, like all the areas in the Business Innovation Hub, are designed to promote collaboration.

In the learning commons, which doubles as event space, there are dozens of soft chairs and small round tables at which people can gather; in the classrooms, the chairs have wheels, and for a reason — so they can be moved and maneuvered to face in any direction, toward the instructor in the front of the room or the student across the table; in the hallway outside the classrooms, there are more soft chairs and gathering spaces; in the courtyard, there are stone benches; on the grand stairway, there are wooden planks affixed to one set of the concrete stairs — again, for a reason.

“If you’re heading up the stairs and you see someone coming down that you want to talk to, you can pull over, sit down on the stairs, and talk,” said Moliterno, adding that the architects — Boston-based Goody Clancy, in partnership with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) of New York and Denmark — went to extremely great lengths to inspire and facilitate collaboration, and this, perhaps even more than the stunning exterior and interior designs, is what the new addition is all about.

Roger Goldstein, the principal at Goody Clancy who headed the Isenberg project, agreed, and said the firm applied lessons from two decades of work designing college business schools and additions to the Isenberg initiative.

An aerial view of the expansion project

“Their aspiration was for something with real distinction — something that would be forward-looking and quite contemporary,” he explained, referring to Moliterno and Mark Fuller, the former dean of the Isenberg School and now associate chancellor at UMass Amherst. “But also a building that works really well and will stand up in the long run.”

Yu Inamoto, lead architect for the BIG group on this project, concurred. “One of the desires put forth by the dean, the faculty, and all the others we interacted with was to have a space that was not only impressive, but a place for gathering, and this is reflected throughout.”

Faculty and staff are currently moving into the new facilities, said Moliterno, adding that the building will be ready when students return to classes later this month.

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms in the Business Innovation Hub.

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms in the Business Innovation Hub.

What they’ll find is a state-of-the-art, user-friendly facility that does a lot for Isenberg, and UMass Amherst on the whole.

It gives the business school — and perhaps the university itself — a bold new face. It also gives the school a powerful new recruiting tool and perhaps the ability to rise still higher in the rankings, something that’s difficult to do as it moves up the ladder.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the Business Innovation Hub and learned how it blends form and function and punctuates the Isenberg School’s ongoing ascent among the nation’s top business schools.

Space Exploration

While obviously proud of the expansion’s ground floor, with its learning commons, courtyard, hallways crowded with gathering spaces, and generous amounts of glass, Moliterno was anxious for his tour to reach the second floor.

Because this is where more of that all-important functionality can be found. And it manifests itself in a number of ways, from greatly expanded and enhanced space for the Chase Career Center to separate lounges for students waiting to be interviewed and recruiters waiting to do some interviewing, to the small interviewing rooms that, when not being used for that purpose, can double as additional gathering spaces for students, thus maximizing each available square foot of space.

“Those rooms are sized and furnished to swing one way or the other depending on what the need is,” said Goldstein. “And that improves efficiency because you’re not creating spaces that have only one use and are empty half the time.”

Before elaborating on this mindset and what the Business Innovation Hub means for Isenberg, its students, faculty, the recruiters who will visit it to query job candidates, and other constituencies, Moliterno first went back to roughly the start of this decade, when the seeds for this facility were planted.

And they were planted out of need, he went on, which came in many forms.

The first was simply spacial. Indeed, while the original Isenberg building, built in 1964, was expanded with the so-called Alfond addition in 2002, by the start of this decade, and actually long before that, a growing Isenberg was busting at the seams.

Architect Yu Inamoto says the copper used in the building’s exterior was chosen in an effort to give it a look that is “authentic and real.”

Architect Yu Inamoto says the copper used in the building’s exterior was chosen in an effort to give it a look that is “authentic and real.”

“What we used to say is that we were a family of eight living in a two-bedroom apartment,” said Moliterno, noting that undergraduate enrollment at Isenberg had risen from 2,500 in to 3,400 in just a few years earlier this decade.

Facilities were so cramped that some departments within Isenberg, such as Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management, were spread out in other buildings, said Goldstein, creating an inconvenience for students and faculty alike. The Business and Innovation Hub brings all of Isenberg’s departments and offices together under one roof.

Beyond the need for more space, though, Isenberg also needed better space, said Moliterno — space that reflected its climb in the rankings in the U.S. News & World Report listings of business schools — both public institutions (it’s now 26th nationwide and first among undergraduate programs in the Northeast) and overall (44th in the nation). And space that would help Isenberg compete for students applying to the other schools just above or below them on those lists.

“Relatively early in his tenure, Mark Fuller realized that the school was on a trajectory, both in terms of growth and in terms of quality, that was going to necessitate new physical space,” said Moliterno, adding that the first discussions and estimates on square footage required date back to 2010 or even 2009.

At this point, the project essentially “went into the queue,” as Moliterno called it, noting that there were a number of building projects being forwarded for consideration and funding. To move up in the queue — something deemed necessary as the school continued its torrid pace of growth as well as its ascent in the rankings — the Isenberg School took the unusual step of committing to provide 60% of the funding for the project, with the rest covered by the university.

This commitment translated into the largest ever made by a specific school for a campus building project, he went on, adding that this bold step did, indeed, move the initiative up in the queue. And in 2014, formal planning — including specific space requirements and preliminary cost estimates — began in earnest.

However, in the two to three years since the initial discussions and rough sketching were undertaken, construction costs had increased 50%, he said, bringing the total cost to $62 million.

While raising that sum was a challenge — met by tapping into a growing base of successful Isenberg alums — it would be only one of many to overcome.

Another would be fitting the building into that crowded area of the campus while also negotiating a veritable rat’s nest of underground utilities in that quadrant.

“There was this bowl of spaghetti of steam lines, electrical conduits, and high-speed data lines,” said Moliterno. “And one of the real design challenges was figuring out how to put a building on this part of campus given everything that was underground.”

Designs on Continued Growth

Creating a road map for navigating this bowl of spaghetti was just one component of the assignment eventually awarded to Goody Clancy and the Bjarke Ingels Group — a partnership that Moliterno called a ‘perfect marriage’ of an emerging force in the design world (BIG) and a company with vast experience in designing not only academic buildings, but business-school facilities.

“There was this bowl of spaghetti of steam lines, electrical conduits, and high-speed data lines. And one of the real design challenges was figuring out how to put a building on this part of campus given everything that was underground.”

Indeed, BIG has been on a meteoric rise, with a portfolio now boasting Two World Trade Center in New York, Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters building, and several dozen other projects either under construction or in the planning stages.

As for Goody Clancy, as noted, it has spent the past 20 years or so developing a strong niche designing new buildings and additions for business schools, and the portfolio includes recent work at Harvard, Boston University, Georgetown University, Texas Tech, and the University of New Hampshire.

Development of this niche wasn’t exactly by design, to use an industry term, said Goldstein, but as often happens in this business, a single project or two can lead to additional opportunities.

And that’s what happened after the firm took on a project for Babson University, known for its programs in entrepreneurship.

“We then did a few more, and before you knew it, we had three business-school buildings, and we thought, ‘OK, this looks like a specialty,’” he told BusinessWest, adding that the company has another four or five business-school projects in various stages of completion, a reflection of the need for such institutions to keep up with the Joneses, if you will, so they can effectively compete for the best students.

“Business schools have wealthy donors and want to build buildings that will advance their brand,” he said. “They want something that will differentiate them.”

Inamoto agreed. “Schools definitely want to make a statement with these buildings,” he said, adding that the Isenberg addition is the first academic project taken on by the firm in this country, and thus it sought to partner with a firm with a deep portfolio in that realm.

As they went about designing the addition, the team of architects focused on both of their priorities — form and function. They conceptualized an exterior that would fit in — sort of — and respect the brutalist style so prominent in other buildings in that part of the campus, such as the Fine Arts Center and the Whitmore Administration Building.

The circular design, meanwhile, would create a dynamic look that would also connect, in dramatic fashion, with the existing Isenberg facility (as the aerial architect’s rendering on page 18 shows) and “close the loop,” as Goldstein put it.

As for the copper exterior, Inamoto said it was chosen — after aluminum was first considered — because the material, like the school itself, isn’t stagnant; it changes over time.

“As a firm, we like the look of copper, and we like to recommend naturally aging materials,” he explained. “The copper panels are already starting to weather; when they’re first installed, they’re a bright, shiny orange, and within weeks, that starts to become darker and brown, and over time, they’ll oxidize to a green copper look.

“Over time, the building weathers,” he went on. “And we didn’t want something that was too flat or too plasticky, if you will. That’s part of our design strategy; we try to select something that’s authentic and real.”

In designing what’s behind the copper façade, they started by gathering extensive feedback, via focus groups, from a number of constituencies, including Isenberg administrators and staff, students, faculty, and others. And they incorporated what they learned into the final design, said Moliterno, citing everything from a café to greatly expanded space for the career center and undergraduate advising.

“They brought in Career Services and said, ‘walk us through everything you do — what are your space needs? You have interviewers here — how many, and what do they need?’” he recalled. “And then, they had that same conversation with Undergraduate Programs and with a committee of faculty who talked about the classroom space.

“And they had the same conversations with students,” he went on. “And this is where we learned that students are often here from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, and thus they want a place to eat in the building, because if they leave the building, they break up their team process.”

As for the career center and undergraduate advising facilities, these are as important to the ultimate success of Isenberg students (and the school itself) as the classrooms, said Moliterno, adding that these facilities provide more services to far more students than they did even a few years ago.

“Students don’t just show up when they’re juniors and look for job postings,” he explained. “They’re working with the career services offices constantly in order to get internships, résumé review, and structure their social-media profile. The hands-on career prep, the number of hours one spends in career services, has grown dramatically over the years, and this is reflected in the design of this building.”

Seeing the Light

As he walked through the expanded career services office during his tour, Moliterno put the Business Innovation Hub and the chosen designs for it in their proper perspective.

“At the initial bid process, when I was speaking to all the architects who were bidding, I said, ‘I want to be clear about something: this might be the most beautiful building in the world, but if it doesn’t work for the students, if it doesn’t enhance and improve the student experience, it will be a failure — full stop,’” he recalled.

‘Most beautiful building in the world’ is a purely subjective matter for discussion, he went on, while the matter of whether a building works for students certainly isn’t.

He’s quite sure that this one does, and while that quality generally doesn’t warrant adjectives like ‘dramatic, ‘striking,’ ‘stunning,’ or ‘powerful,’ it probably should.

And it explains, even more than that façade, why the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub is such an important development for the school and the university.

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