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Daily News

HOLYOKE — The 95-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Holyoke, which opened its doors on Aug. 9, is scheduled to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. The hotel is located at 229 Whiting Farms Road, at Ingleside Square, and will operate as a Marriott franchise, owned and managed by Shield Hotels of Northampton.

Ingleside Square is a ground-up redevelopment featuring such restaurants as Applebee’s, Chipotle, and McDonald’s, as well as retail stores. Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce executives and local legislators are expected to attend, and the public is invited.

Located 25 miles from Bradley International Airport, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Springfield/Holyoke at Ingleside Square is close to family attractions such as the Basketball Hall of Fame, Six Flags, Yankee Candle, the Volleyball Hall of Fame, and starting next year, MGM Springfield.

Hotel amenities include an indoor swimming pool, a 24/7 fitness center, valet laundry service, complimentary wi-fi, as well as fax and copy services. The hotel also offers 450 square feet of space to accommodate functions of up to 50 people.

“Delivering both function and comfort, our new design and décor elevate the Fairfield brand, setting a new standard in the moderate tier category,” said Callette Nielsen, gthe chain’s vice president and global brand manager. “At Fairfield Inn & Suites, we provide an easy, positive, and productive travel experience, as well as the promise of consistent and reliable service at an exceptional value. The Fairfield Inn & Suites Springfield/Holyoke at Ingleside Square is a truly stunning example of the brand’s contemporary look and feel, and we are pleased to introduce Fairfield Inn & Suites hotels in the Holyoke area.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As the academic year gets underway, 88 new students from the UMass Amherst College of Nursing’s accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program will begin class at the UMass Center at Springfield (UMCS).

The College of Nursing made the decision to permanently teach the accelerated bachelor’s program in the Tower Square location earlier this year. The 26,000-square-foot space features 10 classrooms and clinical simulation space specifically designed for the needs of the nursing program. State-of-the-art telehealth facilities are being developed and will be ready later this year.

Dean Stephen Cavanagh said there are additional benefits to the location. “The College of Nursing is excited to have our first cohort of accelerated bachelor’s students learning in the UMass Center at Springfield. The downtown Springfield location is accessible for students from all over New England, thanks to its proximity to major highways and the new Union Station. Some of the area’s best hospitals and medical facilities are also just minutes away, making it convenient for our students to complete their clinical studies. We feel this is a great opportunity for both the College of Nursing and the UMass Center at Springfield.”

The partnership between the Springfield Center and the College of Nursing dates back several years and has been mutually beneficial.

“Since we opened our doors in September 2014, the College of Nursing has been a significant academic partner providing a valuable resource for training the healthcare workforce in the Pioneer Valley,” said Daniel Montagna, UMCS director of Operations. “Moving the program to Springfield benefits area businesses, including restaurants and retail shops within Tower Square and throughout downtown. We are elated to be the new home of the accelerated bachelor’s program and to have the university expand its footprint at the center and in this region.”

The 17-month accelerated program is designed for students with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects or for persons interested in a career change, and is taught by College of Nursing faculty. The number of students taking classes in the Springfield Center will double next year when a new cohort begins. Students beginning the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing option now will earn a UMass Amherst degree in December 2018.

Daily News

FLORENCE — Tracy Roth, who launched the Hub Studio, a fitness studio located at the Nonotuck Mill in Florence, will host a grand opening at the studio on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The studio will offer spinning, TRX resistance training, mat Pilates, scientifically backed nutrition-coaching programs, outdoor cycling instruction, workshops, special events, and more.

“The Hub believes it’s our clients’ birthright to feel powerful and complete in their bodies,” Roth said, “and that our true potential, physical and mental, lies within our core — our ‘hub’ — and when you find a way to tap into that core, you access limitless power.”

The grand opening will include refreshments and snacks from local cafés and restaurants, live music from kid-friendly DJ Quintessential, free chair massage, a raffle, and more. The raffle prizes include classes and a three-month membership at the Hub Studio, as well as other exclusive items from area businesses. The event is free, and the public is welcome. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz will attend to assist with the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Located in Suite 202 at the Nonotuck Mill, 296-C Nonotuck St., Florence, the studio will be open full-time starting Monday, Oct. 2 and will include group fitness classes for all levels during the morning, afternoon, and evening hours. The studio will also have classes, workshops, and special events on Saturdays and Sundays. For class descriptions, schedule, a blog, and more, visit www.yourhubstudio.com.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By Alta J. Stark

Colleen Henry says Lee has always had a great location, but as a community, it has also been very innovative.

Colleen Henry says Lee has always had a great location, but as a community, it has also been very innovative.

Ask a Lee business leader or owner what the key to their success is, and you’ll hear one resounding answer: “location, location, location.”

Lee’s prime location at Massachusetts Turnpike exit 2 has afforded the town some of the best economic opportunities in Berkshire County. “It’s ideal in that regard,” said Jonathan Butler, the president and CEO of 1Berkshire.

“Lee has always had a solid amount of traffic through its downtown because of its proximity to the Pike, and having Route 20 run right through its downtown, but the community doesn’t rest on location alone,” he told BusinessWest. “They’ve done a lot of work to make the town a destination, not just a spot people pass through.”

The community has undergone quite an impressive downtown revitalization over the past decade, following a series of economic transitions in the ’80s and ’90s, as large employers, including a series of paper mills, closed. The most recent such closure was Schweitzer-Mauduit International in 2008, which led to the loss of several hundred jobs in the community. Butler says the town got back on its feet by “forging a partnership between its town government and its community development corporation. They did a lot of good work in the 2000s, focusing on redevelopment projects of a few key downtown properties. They also did a big facelift for the downtown, making it look much more inviting for all the traffic that comes through.”

“People have worked really hard to make Lee beautiful and livable,” said Colleen Henry, executive director of the Lee Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very innovative in Lee, and always have been.”

In fact, town founders were so savvy, they redirected the location of the Housatonic River. Lee was founded in the 1700s when the river flowed down the town’s current Main Street. Henry says the area flooded often because it was on a downhill, so the river was redirected to expand to the riverbank and enable downtown to flourish.

Today, there’s a lot of diversity to Lee’s economy, including high-quality manufacturing jobs, farms, quality eateries and resorts, eclectic stores, coffee shops, and iconic retailers.

This mix has created an intriguing business story, one that is continuously adding new chapters. For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns some of those pages.

What’s in Store

The largest employer in Lee is the Lee Premium Outlets, which, during the tourist season, employs about 750 people in its 60 outlet stores. Carolyn Edwards, general manager of the complex, said the facility recognizes the important role it plays in driving the local economy.

“We tend to advertise out of market to draw tourists and shoppers to the region. Our customer base is driven by cultural attractions such as Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, and Shakespeare & Company,” said Edwards. “But once they’re here, they make a day, sometimes a week of it, and we’re always giving recommendations for ‘what’s a great restaurant to eat at?’ or ‘can you recommend a great hotel to stay at tonight?’ If it’s a rainy day, they ask, ‘what can I do with the kids?’

“We try to stay in tune with what’s going on in the community,” she went on. “And I think it’s a good relationship where we offer something for folks who are here, and then we’re driving business elsewhere as well.”

Edwards said the outlets average about 2 million visitors a year, with shoppers coming from local markets, as well as regional and international locations.

Lee Premium Outlets has become a destination within a destination community.

Lee Premium Outlets has become a destination within a destination community.

“I love meeting the customers,” she said. “I’m always amazed at people who show up from far and away. In the summer, we have a lot of foreign camp counselors who come here to ramp up their wardrobes before going back to the UK, France, and Spain. It’s fun to see them buy things that they’re excited to bring back and show their families. We always look forward to their return.”

Edwards said they come for brand names like Michael Kors, Coach, and Calvin Klein, and they return each year to see what’s new. “We always want to deliver a new experience when someone comes. We’re different from maybe your local mall in that respect because we’re kind of a destination. Shoppers look forward to coming, they plan on coming, and when they do, that’s always the first question: ‘what’s new?’”

Down the road a piece is the headquarters and distribution center of another iconic retailer, Country Curtains. Colleen Henry said its annual sale at the Rink is a big draw. “When they have their sales, they put up a sign. People stop their cars and get out. Once they do that, and walk around Lee and see all that we have to offer, then we all benefit.”

Trade, transportation, and utilities lead the list of employment by industry in Lee, followed by leisure and hospitality, and education and health services. Manufacturing is number four on the list, and while many of the paper mills have closed, the sector is still holding strong, making up more than 7% of the workforce in the Berkshires, and representing some of the highest wages in the region. In Lee, in particular, there are three high-tech companies along the Route 102 corridor that are providing some of the highest wages in the region.

Onyx Specialty Papers is the town’s third-largest employer with more than 150 employees. Butler said it’s a remnant of some of the larger mill closings in the 2000s that was bought by local shareholders with a vision. “It’s now locally run and owned, and they’ve innovated their technology to produce very unique, technically exacting papers. Their products are distributed across the globe.”

Down the road there’s Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing, a manufacturer to the pharmaceutical industry, a relatively new employer that found its way to Lee with the help of a strong regional partnership.

“We not only helped them find space, we also worked with our local community college to do some specific training for their workforce needs,” said Butler.

SEE: Lee at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1777
Population: 5,878
Area: 27 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $14.72
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.72
Median Household Income: $58,790
Median Family Income: $71,452
Type of government: Representative Town Meeting
Largest employers: Lee Premium Outlets; Country Curtains; Onyx Specialty Papers; the Village at Laurel Lake; Oak ‘n Spruce Resort; Big Y
* Latest information available

A third high-end employer providing quality jobs is Boyd Technologies, another company that’s been successful in transitioning from one generation of ownership to the next. Butler said he’s encouraged by these companies because “they’re doing a great job of innovating and diversifying what they’re doing. The economy’s evolving, and they’re evolving with it.”

Henry said she’s working to bring in more high-tech companies. “We have the space for it; we have more open land than a few others of the towns in the Berkshires, so we have the room to grow and expand.”

Henry is also excited by a huge project that’s been on the horizon for several years now, the redevelopment of the Eagle Mill. It’s one of those old Schweitzer-Mauduit mills off North Main Street that has been closed for several years.

Renaissance Mill LLC is working to transform the space into a mix of different economic uses that could help expand downtown offerings, adding everything from lodging to additional eateries and attractions.

“Projects like the Eagle Mill give Lee the opportunity to continue to become a bigger and bigger part of the Berkshire visitor economy, and it’s also a space that eventually will be able to attract next-generation families with a variety of different affordable-housing options,” said Butler. “Presently, Lee boasts relatively reasonable real-estate prices from both the rental and buyer’s market perspective. Adding additional affordable housing will position the town to be very competitive.”

Character Building

Of course, the heart and soul of the town is its quintessential New England charm. Lee has maintained its small-town character through decades of growth and change.

“That’s what we’re all about, and what we would like to be known for even more,” said Henry. “We benefit from the location because we’re at the entrance to a great tourist destination, but we also benefit from the location because it’s beautiful on its own.”

Butler agreed, noting that “Lee is one of those Berkshire communities that’s really bounced back in the past 15 years in terms of its downtown being filled up with great coffee shops, cool bars and restaurants, and an interesting mix of quality stores. It really has a destination feel to it for visitors to the Berkshires, but it’s also the type of downtown that’s really prominent for residents who live in the community.”

Joe’s Diner has been serving the community for more than 60 years, literally and figuratively. Customers far and wide know the diner as the backdrop of one of Norman Rockwell’s most well-known works, “The Runaway,” featuring a state trooper and a young boy sitting on stools in the diner.

The Sept. 20, 1958 Saturday Evening Post cover hangs proudly in the diner, next to a photo of the neighbors Rockwell recruited to model for him, state trooper Richard Clemens and Eddie Locke. Longtime staffers are used to the attention, and don’t miss a beat filling coffee cups while they help make memories for visitors.

Lee is also home to “the best courtroom in the county,” where its most famous case was that of Arlo Guthrie, whose day in court is remembered in the lyrics to his famous war-protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant.”

But there are other hidden gems that Henry invites people to discover, like the Animagic Museum on Main Street, where visitors can learn about the many local animators who made movie magic in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings. One of the town’s quirkiest claims to fame is on property that was once the Highfield Farm. “Monument to a Cow” is a marble statue of a cow named Highfield Colantha Mooie, who in her 18 years produced 205,928 pounds of milk.

Henry says it’s the diversity of business and industry that drives Lee’s economy.

“You can get everything you need in Lee. You don’t have to go somewhere else,” she said. “And you can buy from people who you know, people you see in church and in the grocery store and at basketball games. Supporting the community is really important, and people really do that in Lee. Residents understand that supporting the local economy is really important to our survival.”

Edwards said Lee is unique because of its thriving downtown.

“It’s alive, and it’s beautiful. You turn onto Main Street and see flowers everywhere,” she said. “It’s well-kept, and there are locally owned businesses there and restaurants that are very unique and not necessarily chain restaurants, so there is the best of both worlds in Lee.”

On Location

Henry says she’s proud to be part of Lee’s success story and recognizes it’s just part of the bigger Berkshire picture.

“We’re a work in progress, part of a bigger whole that’s more than just individual town thinking,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re tied into this together in a lot of ways.”

Butler agreed, and said the region has a good handle on the future. “We know what the challenges are, and we have a growing understanding of where the opportunities are,” he explained. “Lee is a great microcosm of the Berkshires in that it went through the same economic transitions that the majority of our communities went through in the ’70s into the ’90s and early 2000s, but Lee bounced back.

“It’s found its place in the visitor economy,” he went on. “It’s found its place in having employers that are evolving and doing cutting-edge things, and it’s attracting families. It’s a really great example of the potential for all our Berkshire communities.”

Employment Sections

Hire Power

Wanda Gispert, regional vice president of Talent & Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International.

Wanda Gispert, regional vice president of Talent & Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International.

The final countdown has begun at MGM Springfield; the $950 million casino will be open for business in just over a year. That means roughly 3,000 people must be hired between now and then, a massive task that falls to a team that has already been hard at work for months.

126,000.

That’s the number of applications that Wanda Gispert is expecting for the 3,000 or so positions that MGM Springfield must fill between now and opening night roughly a year from now — actually, well before opening night.

Doing the quick math, Gispert, who takes the title of regional vice president of Talent and Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International, acknowledges that this number equates to just over 40 applicants per job.

That might be the average, but the number of applicants will vary wildly with the position, she told BusinessWest, adding that, for top-level positions, like vice president of table games, there might be hundreds of candidates.

And then, for some positions, 40 applicants for each posting would be a blessing, but certainly not a reality.

“Being a butcher is a lost art — a lot of people don’t have that specific skill,” she said, adding that the casino will need a handful of such individuals. The same is true of pastry chefs and security personnel specifically trained to work with canines.

Filling the hundreds of different kinds of positions needed to operate MGM’s $959 million casino in Springfield’s South End is now Gispert’s responsibility. Actually, she leads a team of people that will handle this assignment, one she is still building.

As she goes about her work, she will draw on years of experience with meeting the considerable workforce challenges of major corporations within the broad hospitality sector.

Her specialty is opening new properties, and her résumé includes considerable work within the hotel industry, specifically with Marriott Hilton, opening more than 200 properties within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, while serving on what is known as the ‘new-opening team.’

She later went to work for MGM Resorts International, and took the lead role in assembling the team of roughly 4,000 for the company’s National Harbor casino, which opened earlier this year.

She will also draw on a host of resources, everything from the area’s community colleges and workforce-related agencies to websites that can tell her which companies are downsizing across the country and, therefore, what types of talented individuals might be looking for work.

Overall, she said assembling a workforce for MGM Springfield will pose some challenges, but nothing out of the ordinary for such assignments.

The region boasts a large, qualified workforce, she noted, and it has the resources in place to train those who will need specific training, such as dealers. Meanwhile, MGM’s name and reputation within the gaming industry will bring a number of experienced workers into this market, giving the new casino ample talent to draw from as its fills out its team.

“With every market that we service, we see challenges in certain areas,” she explained, noting that this region would certainly not boast many experienced casino workers because legalized gaming only came to this state a year ago. “What’s encouraging about this area is that there are professions that easily transfer over to what we need; the banking industry is huge here, for example. From a cage-operations standpoint and how you run a casino behind the scenes — meaning accounting, finance, human resources, and other areas — we have a lot of positions there, but we know skills will transfer over.”

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with Gispert about the hiring process for MGM Springfield and how things will unfold over the next year.

Surveying the Situation

As she assessed the challenge of staffing up at MGM Springfield, Gispert made a number of observations.

Among them is the fact this is a good time to be in a culinary-arts program, and for fairly obvious reasons made clear by her reference to pastry chefs and how hard it will be to find them. It’s also a good time to be a math teacher or a retired math teacher, for less-obvious reasons she would explain. And it’s a good time to be a bank teller, especially one who might be downsized in this time when there is need for fewer of those professionals.

As for math teachers and those who have retired from that profession, Gispert said they are the perfect sorts for the behind-the-scenes positions in surveillance.

“Those jobs are very different from security positions,” she explained. “Everyone in surveillance is given a math test; they have to understand all the games — poker, blackjack, craps, everything that we offer — and they need to be able to do math in their head very well, because if I’m watching a play, how do I know if an odd is being paid out properly?

“They catch mistakes; they catch possible cheating,” she went on. “They’re the eyes and ears of the casino. They must be really sharp, and their facial-recognition skills must be really strong.”

Loss-prevention specialists for major retailers would obviously be good candidates for such positions, she continued, but those math teachers and former math teachers are also ideal.

And teachers, in general, are good candidates for jobs through the casino, and for many reasons.

“They’re off every night, they’re off every weekend, they’re off for Christmas,” she said while listing some. “We love school teachers; many of our employers teach school because they have the perfect schedule.”

As noted, Gispert can talk about filling such positions from experience — lots of it.

A graduate of Georgia State’s respected hospitality program (the school is located in Atlanta, a popular site for conventions), she said she started her career on the front desk of a Holiday Inn at age 18 and has worked in a host of different positions within the hotel sector.

“I think that’s what’s given me my edge,” she told BusinessWest. “I’ve worked all of those jobs — I’ve washed dishes, I’ve made beds, I’ve worked in sales. You’re a jack of all trades at that point, and when you’re recruiting for those positions or training for them, you know what to look for, and you know how to train better because you’ve been in that position.”

Jason Randall

Jason Randall says the process of onboarding MGM employees is well underway.

As noted, she’s taken all that experience in hotels and added casino staffing to her résumé, assignments that are similar to hotels but have some additional wrinkles, such as host-community agreements, which stipulate commitments that the casino will make to hiring people from the specific host community and region surrounding it.

With MGM Springfield, that commitment is to have more than one-third (35%) of the workforce be comprised of people living in Springfield or from Springfield.

That last consideration is a very important one, said Gispert, adding that one of the things Springfield officials hoped to do by luring a casino here was to bring back some of those young people (with ‘young’ being a relative term) who decided they needed to go elsewhere to find fulfillment of their career aspirations.

That commitment to designate a third of the jobs to those with Springfield roots, as well as other commitments (to hire veterans, for example) is essentially a starting point for this assignment, said Gispert.

“That’s how I start crafting how I will approach my workforce-development game plan for the area,” she explained, adding that 90% of the workforce must come from this region, which is defined loosely as Greater Springfield.

Counting Down

Running down some of the numbers involved with her assignment (there are always lots of numbers to consider when talking about a casino), Gispert said the largest specific team, or department, will be dealers; roughly 600 of them will be needed for blackjack, poker, and other games. A large security force will also be needed, she went on, noting that roughly 200 individuals will be required for such work.

There will be a number of restaurants and catering operations, so about 150 culinary artists will be required, she said, adding that there are subsets within that broad realm (pastry chef, for example), and there will be about 80 cashier, or ‘cage,’ positions, as they’re called; these are people who will be handling money.

There are also a number of positions for which the casino will need just a few talented individuals, or perhaps even one. Butcher falls in that category, as does locksmith, security people that can work with dogs, and ‘master tailor’ (there will likely be just one of those).

When asked about the schedule moving forward when it comes to the process of putting a team in place, Gispert said the hiring has already begun in many areas, especially within the higher levels of management, meaning those who will lead the teams that will be assembled.

The matter of when specific positions will be filled will be determined by several factors, she went on, but especially how much training is involved and, obviously, when the employees in question will be needed.

As an example, she noted security personnel. This will be a large force, as noted, and one that will need extensive training. Also, in many cases, individuals will be needed long before the doors to the casino actually open.

“January is the month when a lot of positions will come on board,” she explained. “Because security and surveillance come in first; they take the longest to train, and you need them on the premises earlier than anyone else.

“Once equipment starts to be delivered, surveillance has to be there from that point on,” she went on. “Once slot machines and other equipment start to arrive, it cannot be left unsupervised; it’s 24 hours a day once they’re on the premises.”

And bringing someone onboard, if you will, is a lengthy process, said Jason Randall, who just went through it himself while being hired as director of Talent Acquisition & Development.

A veteran of the tourism industry in the human resources realm — he was a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2014 as director of Human Resources for Peter Pan Bus Lines — he joined MGM in May. He said one of his primary responsibilities is taking new hires “from A to Z,” as he put it.

“Soon, we’ll start building out our human-resources team to start managing that on a volume scale,” he explained. “We’ll have a team that will take over halfway through the process to help initiate drug and background checks, complete offer letters, assisting with gaming-license processing, and eventually queueing everyone up for the big orientation dates.”

Those will be coming after some large hiring events late next spring and into the summer, he went on, leaving ample time for training before the casino opens.

As jobs need to be filled, the positions are posted on LinkedIn and job boards, said Gispert, adding that the response has thus far been solid, and it points toward overall numbers similar to what was experienced with National Harbor — thus that projection for 126,000 applications.

People can apply for as many as three jobs, and many do, she explained, which will be a factor in how many applications MGM receives, but overall, she’s expecting a very strong response, and from people of all ages.

“We reach out to AARP,” Gispert explained, “because a lot of people thought they wanted to be retired, then they retired and they decided, ‘no, I really want something back in the workforce.’”

Odds Are

As she talked about the process of creating a workforce for MGM Springfield, Gispert noted one challenge that might not be apparent to all.

“Not everyone will want to work for us,” she said with laugh, “because if you work for us, you can’t gamble here. Some people would rather be a customer than an employee.”

Perhaps, but she’s quite confident that this obstacle can be overcome as she goes about hiring dealers, security personnel, and even butchers and pastry chefs.

A year from now, roughly 3,000 people will be wearing ‘MGM Springfield’ nametags as part of the work attire. Getting to that point will be a challenge, but the casino and its workforce will be ready, she said.

You can bet on it.

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

Autos Cover Story Sections

Awaiting the ‘Autohaus’

Michelle and Peter Wirth

Michelle and Peter Wirth

Michelle Wirth started her career with Mercedes-Benz as a mechanical engineer. Early on, after only a few visits to Stuttgart, Germany, where the cars are designed and manufactured, she learned that the company doesn’t build to industry standards — it creates an environment where engineers can design to their own, higher standards. These are lessons she and her husband, Peter, apply to their life and how they do business, especially with their new venture, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, set to open next month.

Peter Wirth doesn’t know exactly how long it’s been since Mercedes Benz has had a presence in Western Mass. with a dealership.

He does know that it’s been … well, long enough.

As in, long enough that he knows he and his wife, Michelle, and fellow partner Rich Hesse have a lot of work to do in many different realms as they prepare to open Mercedes-Benz of Springfield on the site of the old Plantation Inn across from Mass. Turnpike exit 6 in Chicopee.

For starters, the partners in this nearly $12 million enterprise have to let people know that Mercedes is, indeed, back in the 413 more than a decade after a small dealership on Riverdale Street, this region’s auto mile, if you will, closed its doors, leaving area consumers to travel to Hartford or just east of Worcester to do business.

And they intend to get that job done in a number of ways, from intensive, targeted marketing to a grand-opening celebration (date to be determined), to some work within the community even before the doors open, to show that they are not just here to sell cars (more on that later).

But there is other work to do, and most of it falls in the category of showing just how much Mercedes-Benz — the company, the cars, and the brand — have all changed since the last time someone had the opportunity to buy or lease a new one in Western Mass.

“What I recognized is that we have to — and we love to — reacquaint people in our area of influence with the Mercedes-Benz brand; a lot has changed in 10 years,” said Michelle Wirth, who will oversee marketing efforts and other duties for the company, but started her career with Mercedes as a mechanical engineer. “There are something like 3,000 to 4,000 Mercedes cars in Western Massachusetts currently in operation. I don’t have exact figures, but I’m sure most of them are older, because people haven’t made the trek to Hartford or Shrewsbury or Albany pick up a new car.

“We want to make sure that those folks who are already convinced about the brand know we exist, and then reacquaint them with the new cars,” she went on. “The vehicles themselves have just transformed in the past 10 years.”

An architect’s rendering of the new Mercedes dealership

An architect’s rendering of the new Mercedes dealership, which will emphasize transparency.

By that, she was referring to everything from the number of models to the depth of the price range. For example, she pointed to the CLA, a Mercedes model that retails for under $33,000, a number that would likely surprise many people, including some who know cars — and Mercedes.

Other things that have changed since Mercedes models were last sold in this region include the carmaker’s focus on safety, and not merely luxury and style (although those are still points of emphasis, to be sure), as well as the dealerships in which the cars are sold and, especially, serviced.

Indeed, dealerships today are well-appointed, convenience-focused, customer-friendly facilities that exist not so much to showcase cars, although they still do that, certainly, but pamper those who buy them.

So much so that Michelle Wirth, as she described the process of designing, outfitting, and operating the facility in Chicopee, said the mindset is that she and her husband are not competing with other dealerships, necessarily, but against hotels, restaurants, and even the new $950 million MGM Springfield casino due to open in about a year, in the manner in which they are all focused on hospitality and taking care of the customer.

“When they walk away from a fine hotel establishment, people say ‘man, they did everything right’ — it’s just a feeling they have,” she explained. “When they walk away, they’re going to feel it, they’re going to feel, ‘wow, they care about me, and they took care of me. That’s the feeling we’re going to create.”

For this issue and its focus on auto sales, BusinessWest visited the dealership a few weeks before its doors are due to officially open to gain some insight into what the partners in this venture are anticipating as Mercedes makes its much anticipated return to the area.

A Major Coup

By now, most in the region’s business community are at least somewhat familiar with the story behind Mercedes-Benz of Springfield.

Back in late 2014, Peter Wirth and Hesse, owners of a Mercedes dealership in Nanuet, N.Y., were approached by the carmaker about bringing the brand back to Western Mass. with a dealership after that aforementioned lengthy absence, and after some extensive research, the two concluded that this region was, indeed, underserved, and that a facility here had considerable potential.

Especially at the site they eventually chose, two turnpike exits east of Riverdale Street, at the old Plantation Inn site. This location is literally across the street from where the tollbooth once stood, and at the eastern end of Route 291, giving the location great accessibility.

And it will be needed, because this dealership will have a huge coverage area, one that includes parts of four states: Western Mass., Northern Conn., Southern Vermont, and Southern New Hampshire.

That large swath of territory will bring some challenges, said the Wirths as they talked about their business venture — especially the large number of markets they must advertise in — but also a great deal of opportunity to better serve thousands of Mercedes customers.

“It’s a big area, and it’s a big task,” said Peter. “But it’s a huge opportunity for people in the Springfield metro area, who have to drive 45 minutes to Hartford, or almost an hour to Shrewsbury, the next-closest dealership, or an hour and a half to Albany.”

More than three years after those initial talks between Mercedes, Wirth, and Hesse began, the Western Mass. Mercedes dealership, or ‘autohaus,’ as such facilities are called in Germany, is nearly ready for prime time.

When BusinessWest toured the site in mid-August, the exterior of the dealership had been completed, and work was continuing inside. The projected opening date will be late September.

Like most of the dealerships being built, many of them replacing facilities 30 or 40 years old, this one will be spacious, well-appointed, modern-looking, and heavy on glass and metal.

There is a corporate identity and design standards for these dealerships, and they make them easily recognizable as Mercedes-Benz dealerships. There are certain kinds of columns, tiles, paint colors, and furniture that are pretty standard across the dealer network. But at the same time, we, together with Mercedes-Benz, worked on laying out the dealership in the way we know it’s going to work.”

And while the Mercedes corporation has a desired look and feel in mind that its dealers must create, there is plenty of room to personalize one’s autohaus, said Peter, citing, as just one example, the dealership’s car wash; Mercedes doesn’t require one, but the partners considered it a key part of the “experience.”

“There is a corporate identity and design standards for these dealerships, and they make them easily recognizable as Mercedes-Benz dealerships,” he explained. “There are certain kinds of columns, tiles, paint colors, and furniture that are pretty standard across the dealer network. But at the same time, we, together with Mercedes-Benz, worked on laying out the dealership in the way we know it’s going to work.

“That’s something that has now become specific to this site,” he went on. “Mercedes-Benz has ideas, but they will also take our input, and we’ve been very vocal in that process and made it our own. While we’ve been using their design cues, the feel and flow of the dealership is what we know works and will serve our customers best.”

Asked to elaborate, he said this dealership isn’t just open, it’s incredibly open.

Wirth said his office has four glass walls, and from it, he can see the front desk, the sales office, the lounge, and the service drive. In many ways, that office embodies the intended feeling of openness, ease of transition from one department another, and a word that’s becoming ever more prominent in business and politics today — transparency.

“It’s easy for customers to not just find their way around, but to transition from one department to another — we’re not compartmentalized,” he explained. “We don’t think of a dealership as a sales, service, and parts department; it’s one unit to us.”

Driving Force

As she talked about the new dealership, plans for it, and the level of service she and her partners plan to create, Michelle Wirth thought this was the time to discuss her career with Mercedes-Benz, which began soon after she graduated from Lehigh University with a mechanical engineering degree.

Peter and Michelle Wirth say much has changed in the decade since Mercedes had a presence in the area

Peter and Michelle Wirth say much has changed in the decade since Mercedes had a presence in the area, and they intend to reacquaint the region with the brand.

“I got hired right out of school and worked in environmental and safety engineering,” she told BusinessWest. “I went to Germany a number of times a year, and actually got to go to the design center in Stuttgart, where they design and build these vehicles. I got to learn — I didn’t know this when I walked in the door — that Mercedes doesn’t just build to standards. They rise above those standards, and they have a holistic approach to safety and a holistic approach to design.

“It’s more about ‘what’s the best solution for the customer,’ and that’s impressive,” she went on, “because it creates a space where engineers get to design to the best possible standard, not just the least common denominator. And that translated over to me. As a young person, eyes wide open, I learned a lot from that. It’s like a standard you set for yourself, and it’s the highest one around.”

This attitude, or mindset, permeates everything the couple does in life and in business, Michelle explained, adding that it shapes everything from how they’ll do in business in Chicopee to how they’re already getting involved in the community that will soon be home — to them and their business.

That involvement has taken the form of support for organizations ranging from Square One to Baystate Children’s Hospital, said Peter, adding that these endeavors are part of a culture the company wants to instill. In other words, rather than doing something that might be expected, such as simply meeting auto industry design and performance standards, they’re setting the bar much higher.

“It’s not just checking a box for us,” he explained. “If you can be involved with the children’s hospital, and you have four healthy children; that comes naturally to us. Yes, you’re getting your name out, but it’s also a natural contact point for us; we can help and do good at the same time.”

Meanwhile, back in the realm of car sales, the Wirths believe they have the right brand at the right time to go along with the right location and the right culture.

Indeed, while some luxury brands have struggled with making all-important connections with younger audiences, Mercedes has made inroads, if you will, by creating lower price points and getting younger people into its vehicles.

And once that happens, they often become customers for life, said Michelle, noting that Mercedes not only has one of the highest loyalty rates in the business, but one of the highest conquest rates (winning over the drivers of other brands) as well.

At the same time, the company has adjusted its marketing messages, said Michelle, to appeal not only to the young, but to those who want to think, act, and, yes, drive like the young.

“Now, the marketing focus is more on ‘young at heart,’” she explained. “That’s how we describe people; it’s ‘do you have that Millennial mindset? You may not be that age, but you have that mindset. By doing that, you broaden the audience that you’re speaking to.”

Getting in Gear

Given the huge geographic area it will be serving, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield will already be speaking to a very broad audience.

The initial message will be that Mercedes is back in Western Mass. after a decade’s hiatus. But soon — in fact, almost immediately — there will be much more to communicate: that Mercedes is back, and that this is a brand for both the young and the young at heart.

Also to be communicated, especially through a visit to the new dealership, is that this venture fully embraces that corporate culture of not merely meeting standards, but setting higher ones.

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

Health Care Sections

A Home for the Dying Finds Life

Ruth Willemain

Ruth Willemain says her decade-long mission to open Harmony House has been a “journey,” during which she’s learned many lessons and met countless wonderful people.

Almost since the day she retired from teaching, Ruth Willemain has been providing hospice care as a volunteer.

And almost from the day she started that second career, she began thinking about ways to provide more and better care to those who don’t have what would be considered a traditional support system as they contend with daunting end-of-life issues and emotions.

It was a poignant, heartfelt plea from one of those who came into her care that, in many respects, turned thought into truly inspirational action.

“This woman said, ‘Ruth, would you please come to my funeral — I don’t want to be alone in the church,’” Willemain recalled, adding that as she pledged to honor that request she understood even more fully that much more was needed for such people than her presence at that service.

So began a decade-long adventure, if you will, that has tested her in more ways than she could have imagined, but also left her fulfilled in ways that few could likely understand.

“It’s been a journey,” said Willemain, using that word for the first of many times. “It’s been 10 long years — I’ve learned many lessons along the way and met many wonderful people.”

This journey is the story of Harmony House, and while getting to here — meaning the grand opening of this unique home — is a great accomplishment in itself, this is really just the first chapter.

Indeed, the small, nondescript, three-bedroom ranch home on Pendleton Avenue in Chicopee is intended to be only a temporary home for Harmony House, with a much larger, six-bedroom dwelling a few miles away eyed as a better, more permanent solution. Meanwhile, opening the home is only the first of many tests; there will be a constant need for volunteers, meals, supplies, and, of course, funding.

But more on all that later.

That ranch house is almost indistinguishable from the dozens of others like it on this quiet street off Memorial Drive — until one ventures inside.

Even then, aside from scattered medical equipment, it looks like a typical home — which is exactly the point. In fact, when this writer referred to it as a ‘facility,’ Willemain recoiled and delivered a rather direct lesson in healthcare terminology — at least her take on it.

“This isn’t a facility — it’s a home,” she said, meaning a home for people who don’t have a home or don’t have anyone who can care for them in their home.

To be more specific, this is what’s known as a ‘social-model hospice home,’ the first in Massachusetts and probably the first in New England. As that name implies, sort of, this is a home essentially operated and funded by the community and staffed entirely by volunteers.

When I walked into that home, I felt like love was in the air — it was something I had never experienced before. Everything told me, ‘this is what you’re supposed to do.’”

Willemain first experienced such a home when she traveled to Cleveland, Ohio years ago for her sister’s birthday, and was asked to pay a visit to an individual in hospice care.

“When I walked into that home, I felt like love was in the air — it was something I had never experienced before,” she explained, adding that it became her mission in life to bring that same feeling to Western Mass.

“Everything told me, ‘this is what you’re supposed to do,’” she said.

As she talked with BusinessWest a few weeks back, Willemain was excitedly looking forward to June 20. This was the day the ceremonial ribbon was to be cut at Harmony House. The mayor had pledged to be there, and so had many area news outlets. There would be a few speeches, and many opportunities to thank what grew into an army of contributors and volunteers that made it all possible. It was to be an important day, to be sure.

But not as important, she noted, as June 26, when the first resident — a woman who had long been on dialysis and decided to end those life-prolonging treatments — would arrive on Pendleton Avenue.

“This is why we’re here — this is what we worked for more than a decade to create,” she noted. “It’s a dream come true.”

For this issue, BusinessWest visited Harmony House and its creator to find out how it came to be, and how there are many chapters still to be written in this remarkable story.

A Dying Wish

As she posed for a few pictures for BusinessWest, Willemain, ever the marketer and fund-raiser as well as the visionary and care provider, quickly added a layer to her outfit — a Harmony House T-shirt, complete with the nonprofit’s very carefully chosen logo.

This would be the trillium flower, and the explanation behind its choice as a symbol for this endeavor goes a long way toward shedding needed light on the home’s mission and how it will go about carrying it out.

Indeed, the three purple petals on the trillium flower represent the three areas of support provided by Harmony House — physical, emotional, and spiritual. And the three sepals represent the three groups of people who will supply that support — hospice teams, support staff, and volunteers.

But to fully explain Harmony House and all that went into its creation, one needs to go well beyond the logo.

For that, we need to turn the clock back to 1999, when Willemain was wrapping up a 45-year career in teaching — one that included stops in New York, Connecticut, and Michigan — at Tatham Elementary School in West Springfield.

“I knew that after teaching I wanted to do something to serve others,” she told BusinessWest, adding that ‘something’ became hospice care, a unique form of healthcare devoted to those who are terminally ill. “I did the training, became a hospice volunteer, and have never been without a patient since.”

As noted earlier, Willemain provided such care for years before embarking on her mission to meet what she saw as an emerging need within this region: to serve those who are — in most ways or all ways — alone as they confront the end of their life.

And there are more individuals in this category than most would think, she said, adding that she knows this from her 16 years of experience as a hospice volunteer.

“Many of the people I cared for didn’t have company,” she noted. “They would say, ‘Ruth, if you didn’t come visit me, I wouldn’t have any company at all.’”

She said this was the case both for people in their homes — if their spouse or other caregiver wasn’t able to care for them — and those in nursing homes.

“For those placed in nursing homes, they were always in a room with a roommate,” she went on. “And there were many times when the roommate would say, ‘no one ever comes to visit me … would you visit me as well?’”

Over the years, Willemain would spend five, six, and sometimes seven days a week visiting those who didn’t have anyone else to visit them. It was immensely rewarding work — “most were just so happy that you found some time to give them some joy” — but also somewhat frustrating.

And such experiences, and especially that woman’s plea to attend her funeral, led Willemain to begin creating that vision for a home that such people could come to.

“This is what broke my heart — I left the nursing home with tears rolling down my cheeks,” she said of that dying woman’s request. “I said, ‘God, we’ve got to do something.’”

As she began her mission to create a home for those in need of such services, Willemain recalls that there were many doubters, those who thought her vision was laudable but the goal was out of reach.

nondescript house on Pendleton Avenue in Chicopee

This nondescript house on Pendleton Avenue in Chicopee is not a ‘facility,’ Ruth Willemain insisted, but a home — and all that term implies.

She listened, but preferred to focus on those who said this would no doubt be challenging, but certainly doable. And they were right.

She started raising money through sales of candy bars and other means, and along the way gathered both supporters and momentum for the social-model hospice home, a concept that certainly needed to be explained because of its uniqueness, even if it isn’t exactly a new concept.

Indeed, as Dr. Karen Wyatt, author of What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying, explains in a recent blog post advocating for this model, it can trace its roots to the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s.

“The first social hospices were created to house AIDS patients as they were nearing end of life and in desperate need of terminal care,” she wrote. “Many of these were literally private residences with multiple bedrooms where a number of patients could be cared for and comforted through the dying process.”

Upon reviewing the current landscape and future issues surrounding end-of-life care, Wyatt noted that the social-model hospice homes may offer solutions to many of the problems she believes lie ahead. They include:

• A shortage of family caregivers: Wyatt noted a study referenced by the AARP Public Policy Institute predicting there will be a severe shortage of family caregivers as the Baby Boom generation ages and faces end of life. While there are currently seven potential caregivers for every patient, the study noted, this ratio is expected to drop to 3 to 1 by 2050.

• A shortage of paid caregivers: Wyatt cited a study published in Health Affairs indicating that at least 2.5 million more long-term-care workers will be needed to look after older Americans by 2030. Social-model hospice homes, she noted, are offering certified training with continuing-education credit for professional caregivers for the terminally ill. These programs will increase the number of workers available to meet the long-term needs of society.

• Need for family respite: Wyatt noted that the Institute of Medicine’s 2014 report “Dying in America” points to a current need for respite and support for family caregivers to help avoid burnout and resulting emergency hospitalizations.

• Cultural barriers to hospice care: Wyatt referenced comments from Dr. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, who stated in a published interview that cultural barriers to hospice care needed to be addressed in the future. These barriers include a lack of cultural diversity in hospice staffs, mistrust of the healthcare system, and worry about insurance coverage and cost of care. The social-model hospice home has the potential to overcome some of these barriers by utilizing volunteers and caregivers from the patient’s own cultural group and neighborhood by functioning largely outside the healthcare system.

• A reduction in Medicare payments for hospice and home care: That Institute of Medicine report mentioned above also indicates that hospice payments from Medicare will be reduced by 11.8% over the next decade, which will likely create financial stress for smaller hospices and lead to decreased access to care.

At Home with the Idea

While Wyatt uses the future tense as she makes her case for the social-model hospice home, Willemain notes that some of these issues are already manifesting themselves.

And in that respect, Harmony House is somewhat ahead of its time, she noted, adding that the home itself, and the model of care to be delivered, have both been designed to maintain a peaceful atmosphere of respect and compassion that honor the dignity of each resident.

This is the essence of hospice care, she went on, adding that this is in many ways an acquired skill, one that involves thoroughly understanding the individual and what they want and need as they confront the end of their life.

“We just want to do whatever they would like us to do for them,” she explained. “For some, it’s simply holding their hand; for others, it’s playing a game with them. It all depends on the individual and what stage they’re at in their lives.”

This is what Willemain wanted to bring to Harmony House, and after years of moving the process forward, she was close to realizing the dream in a large home on View Street in Chicopee. But several legal issues arose concerning that property, which was in foreclosure, she noted, adding that a local family donated the vacant house on Pendleton Avenue to enable Harmony House to open its doors.

That home needed a large amount of work to meet its new purpose, and it received help from a large group of individuals and businesses that handled everything from new wiring to landscaping to the building of a wheelchair ramp.

As Harmony House opens its doors, it is providing what amounts to a home and a surrogate family in the form of trained staff and volunteers who will provide care around the clock.

The home is intended for individuals diagnosed with a terminal illness who have a maximum of three months to live and are under the care of a hospice services provider, which will administer those services at Harmony House instead of a nursing home or other facility.

Care will be delivered by licensed nursing caregivers, food-service personnel, and administrative assistants, but the hallmark of the home will be that around-the-clock volunteer  service.

Each volunteer will work one eight-hour shift a month, meaning there will be a need for more than 90 such individuals, said Willemain, adding that assembling this team of volunteers has been just one of many challenges facing organizers, and the work continues.

It takes many forms, everything from the training of volunteers to recruiting of individuals, families, and restaurateurs to cook meals, to raising the estimated $4,000 a month it will take to pay for a host of expenses, including insurance, utilities, snow plowing, and much more.

To meet these needs, administrators are turning to the community and inviting people to support the home in any way they can. A full wish list of needed items — everything from personal-care items to a small TV for one of the bedrooms — is on the home’s website, for example.

In addition, a meal-a-month program has been launched. It invites churches, families, restaurants, and individuals to follow the lead of Jack Ng, owner of Gnow’s Place in Chicopee, and commit to providing a meal for four to six people each month.

Willemain said the response from the community has been overwhelming, but the need for help will be constant, and will, therefore, pose a stern challenge.

But the need for the Harmony House is real, she said, and she believes the community can and will support the home and its mission.

Final Thoughts

As she talked about Harmony House, the care to be provided there, and her own lengthy career as a hospice volunteer, Willemain said she was probably due for a refresher course in this blend of science, art, and especially compassion.

“So much has changed over the years, including HIPAA and everything else,” she said, adding that she made a point of making sure her training was up to date and up to speed.

What else would one expect from someone who first made hospice care a second career, then made it a passion, and then created and fulfilled a vision to take such care to a new, cutting-edge level?

A level, specifically, where individuals won’t be alone in the church after they die, or — more importantly — during those last few months before they die.

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

Departments People on the Move
Dr. Jennifer Mark

Dr. Jennifer Mark

Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems, announced the promotion of Dr. Jennifer Mark to chief medical officer at Holyoke Medical Center. “Dr. Mark is a highly skilled physician with a proven track record and expertise in leading a team to success. Her focus on patient satisfaction, in conjunction with high-quality care and open communication style, will continue to be an asset to HMC as she enters this new role,” said Hatiras. “Dr. Mark’s knowledge of the culture within the organization will continue to be appreciated and allow for a smooth transition to this position.” Added Mark, “I really like the fact that Holyoke Medical Center is very focused on patient-centered care in terms of our overall strategy and how we make improvements in safety and quality. The administration is aligned with providers and other caregivers, all of whom want what’s best for our patients.” Mark, whose extensive background includes both primary and emergency care, has been with HMC since 2008, serving for the past five years as Emergency Department (ED) medical director. During that time, patient satisfaction has increased by 85% for overall care in the ED, and the length of stay for discharged patients has decreased by about 30 minutes. These changes have been made despite increasing patient volumes and severe space constraints, which should improve in the new ED that opened earlier this month. “It is a beautiful new facility that will be wonderful for our patients,” Mark said. As director, Mark worked closely with the ED nurse manager to direct operations of the facility that treats over 44,000 patients per year, with oversight of 14 doctors and 12 mid-level providers. She also went through intensive communication training and then helped teach those skills to her team in the ED in order to raise patient satisfaction. Previously, Mark, who graduated from Yale University School of Medicine, served in various emergency and adult-medicine physician roles throughout Massachusetts. She was also a founding partner of a private Emergency Department physician group where she served as assistant medical director for five years.

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Michael Oleksak

Michael Oleksak

Westfield Bank announced that Michael Oleksak has joined the bank as vice president, commercial loan pfficer. Oleksak brings more than a decade of banking experience to his new role. He previously served as assistant vice president, business banker at United Bank, where he was responsible for managing and developing small-business customer accounts and establishing new customer relationships. Oleksak is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration. He also completed LEAD NY, a leadership program through Cornell University. He currently serves on the board of the West Springfield Boys and Girls Club, and was previously on the boards of the Cooperative Development Institute and the Charlene Ann Foundation. “I’m pleased to welcome Michael Oleksak to the Westfield Bank team,” said James Hagan, president and CEO of Westfield Bank. “Over his career he’s demonstrated real skill at serving the needs of local businesses by understanding what makes them unique in order to help them realize their potential, and by relating to every customer as an individual person. He knows that better banking for local businesses requires outstanding communication, responsiveness, and the imagination to seek out opportunities for our customers.”

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Calvin Hill

Calvin Hill

Springfield College announced that Calvin Hill, vice president for Inclusion and Community Engagement, is one of 24 senior-level administrators in higher education nationwide selected by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to participate in the 2017-18 Executive Leadership Academy. Individuals chosen for the year-long program are vice presidents or cabinet officers in higher education who aspire to the presidency of an independent college or university. Starting this week, Hill will participate in two seminars in Washington, DC; the opening seminar will take place July 20-22, and the closing seminar will be held June 18-20, 2018. He will also engage in readings, webinars, and a mentoring program. In addition, he will develop and follow an experiential learning plan focused on specific areas of presidential responsibility. “Competition for the available places in the program was intense,” said CIC President Richard Ekman. “The review committee found the nomination materials to be most impressive. They (and I) believe that Dr. Hill has the potential for highly effective leadership as a college or university president.” In July 2015, Hill joined Springfield College as the vice president for Inclusion and Community Engagement. His responsibilities include promoting diversity and inclusion among all constituents of the college, and connecting and promoting the college’s resources to area communities. Hill arrived at Springfield College with more than 20 years of experience in higher education. Prior to his time in Springfield, he served as the university Diversity and Inclusion officer for the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Prior to that, he developed strong ties to higher education in Massachusetts working as assistant to the president and director of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity at Worcester State University. He also has served as associate provost and chief Diversity officer for MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston and assistant dean and director of Diversity Programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Hill is a consultant on diversity issues and presents nationally on issues of inclusion, where he focuses primarily on providing equal access to educational opportunities for underrepresented populations. Fifty-nine percent of participants in the first Executive Leadership Academy cohort (2009-10) have since advanced in the higher-education ranks, and 24% of participants in a recent cohort (2015-16) have already moved up in the ranks. “These indicators suggest that CIC is helping to meet the leadership needs of higher education by offering highly effective leadership development programs for modest fees to member institutions,” Ekman said.

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John Henderson

John Henderson

The Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) announced that John Henderson has joined the EANE team as director of Learning & Development, effective June 2017. John will lead a team to design, customize, and schedule the diverse array of more than 500 substantive training programs presented by EANE each year for members and non-members. Henderson brings more than 25 years of experience working for associations and nonprofits, much of it from a global, cutting-edge perspective. Most recently, was vice president of Industry Relations and Strategy for Fixation Marketing in Bethesda, Md. For more than seven years, he was vice president for Education, Training and Professional Development for the Alexandria, Va.-based International Assoc. of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the world’s largest amusement-industry trade association, representing more than 4,000 member facilities in 93 countries. In this position, he worked with the education committee to develop and launch a three-tiered, individual global certification program and continuously increased attendance at expo-education sessions. He also led the efforts of a task force to completely redesign the Institute for Executive Education. As an accomplished member-association executive, Henderson provides EANE with a proven track record of successful strategic planning and tactical leadership. His background in education and training includes a specific focus on communications skills. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Kent State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the International Assoc. of Exhibitions and Events and a past member of the American Society of Association Executives.

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Christina Royal

Christina Royal

Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal has been appointed to the board of directors of the United Way of Pioneer Valley and the American Assoc. of Community Colleges’ Commission on College Readiness. Her appointment to the United Way board was unanimously approved at the regional nonprofit’s 95th-anniversary celebration and annual meeting on May 31. She began her three-year term on July 1. Her one-year appointment to the Commission on College Readiness also began July 1. The AACC, which is based in Washington D.C., is the principal advocacy group for community colleges in the U.S. Its Commission on College Readiness advises the AACC board and staff on matters related to preparing students for college-level academic work.

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On the heels of a recent $1 million kitchen renovation, the Red Lion Inn recently welcomed new management and culinary talent with two strategic hires: Director of Food & Beverage Fabien Riviere and Sous Chef Jim Corcoran. Both will work with Vice President of Culinary Development Brian Alberg to continue to evolve the inn’s commitment to local sourcing and service excellence. “The continued success of the Main Street Hospitality Catering, with projects like Seeds Market Café at Hancock Shaker Village, calls for bringing in additional expertise,” said Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality Group. “Fabien and Jim will help strengthen the Red Lion Inn, our culinary hub, and continue to heighten our quality, hospitality, and service.” With more than 20 years of restaurant-management experience, Riviere joins the Red Lion Inn from Studio Restaurant at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach, Calif. This marks his return to the Red Lion Inn, where he was sommelier from 2003 to 2005. Working stateside and abroad, Riviere’s résumé includes Felix Restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, Mix Restaurant by Alain Ducasse, and Restaurant Aureole at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. In his new role as Director of Food & Beverage, Riviere will manage all aspects of food and beverage operations, as well as the supervision and direction of all restaurant staff, among other responsibilities. Corcoran joins the Red Lion Inn culinary team from Allium Restaurant + Bar in Great Barrington, where his seasonal menus reflected his passion for locally grown ingredients and the diversity of his background. Corcoran has worked at restaurants throughout New York, including Manhattan’s Delmonico’s Restaurant, Brinkley’s Broome Street, Angolo SoHo, and April Bloomfield’s Breslin, before becoming lead chef of Allium Restaurant + Bar.

Creative Economy Sections

The Show Must Go On

Brian Hale

Brian Hale hopes an ambitious fund-raising plan will transform the Bing Arts Center into a widely known destination.

Folks who grew up in Springfield’s Forest Park area or near the X commercial district have fond memories of attending movies at the Bing Theater — at least, until it was shuttered in 1999 for non-payment of taxes. But a 13-year (and counting) effort to revitalize the site into a multi-purpose arts center has the place buzzing again, with a regular schedule of arts events. Now comes the bigger challenge — renovating the Bing’s main theater and turning it into a regional destination.

Brian Hale remembers growing up near Springfield’s historic X district and watching movies on Saturdays at the Bing Theater. Those excursions, he understands now, were helping to lay the foundation for a lifetime of appreciating the arts — not just film, but art in all forms.

“A lot of people today don’t realize the impact going to the movies had,” he told BusinessWest. “People today take them for granted; you can watch a movie on your phone or your computer. But back then, going to the movies on a Saturday — that was excitement.”

Hale, owner of Design WorkShop Inc. in Springfield and president of X Main Street Corp. (XMSC), the nonprofit that owns the Bing, spends a lot more time there these days than he did as a kid, not just appreciating the arts, but trying to raise their profile and make the facility the community centerpiece it once was.

It hasn’t been an easy road, and there’s still a long way to go, but there is once again a palpable buzz about what is now known as the Bing Arts Center.

“It’s very intimate, very sociable; it’s a listening room, not a bar,” he said of the unassuming structure on Sumner Avenue, which is slowly being renovated while hosting music and educational events in its small lobby, flanked by two small art galleries. “It’s a welcoming space where people can feel comfortable coming and meeting friends. This is about making the community a better place, and a good way to do that is through the arts.”

I get frustrated with the state of the world and the community as much as anyone. But I feel like nothing brings people together like the arts, and having a community space that attracts a wide variety of people from the city who might not otherwise run into each other.”

Since reopening for cultural and community events in 2010, the Bing has quietly built a busy schedule of performances, all of which take place in the building’s front lobby because the former theater space is in need of a serious remodel. But Hale’s vision, and that of his fellow board members and area arts supporters, is to see the entire venue open once again, with multiple spaces housing gatherings both large and small, indoors and outdoors, perhaps even on the roof — all of it, he told BusinessWest, aimed at bringing people together over shared passions during a time when Americans increasingly feel polarized by current events.

“I get frustrated with the state of the world and the community as much as anyone,” he added, “but I feel like nothing brings people together like the arts, and having a community space that attracts a wide variety of people from the city who might not otherwise run into each other.”

The Bing has achieved part of that goal already. The rest will take a lot more work — and money. But the end result, Hale said, will be one more attraction to further stamp Springfield as a city clearly on the rise.

Reel Life

The building wasn’t always a theater, but originally housed Kossaboom’s Service Station through the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. When it closed, the pumps were removed, the front of the building reconfigured, and an auditorium was built in the rear.

The Bing Theatre, named for then-superstar Bing Crosby, opened in 1950 with a showing of Samson and Delilah. For the next half-century, the movies kept coming, concluding that era with Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. That was in 1999, when the city of Springfield took the property for non-payment of taxes, and all activity ceased on the property.

the Bing hosts myriad concerts, lectures, films, and other activities in its lobby.

With the main theater currently unusable, the Bing hosts myriad concerts, lectures, films, and other activities in its lobby.

But before long, a group of arts advocates and business people held a series of meetings and suggested the theater should be used as an arts center.

“The city put out an RFP for some type of community arts use, and our organization, the X Main Street Corp., made up of local business people, got involved,” Hale said. “These Main Street corporations are all over the country, and are generally created to try to revitalize urban commercial districts like the X.”

The organization was formed in 1995 to help revitalize the Forest Park neighborhood, the X commercial district, and the Sumner Avenue corridor, with efforts like starting the Forest Park Farmers’ Market, operating a food-security program, and securing significant streetscape improvements for the area, including new streetlights, benches, planters, and other touches to make the neighborhood more attractive. The XMSC also managed a façade-improvement program and developed and presented a series of technical-assistance seminars for local businesses.

The Bing posed a more significant challenge — but a great opportunity as well.

“When I saw this space was available, I said to the board, ‘this would make a great arts center. We could stimulate development, get people here at night; it’ll be good for local restaurants.’”

In 2002, the board of directors decided to adopt the strategy of arts accessibility to strengthen the community culturally and economically. XMSC then became the preferred developer for the former Bing Theater and, in December 2004, finally convinced the city to sell the property to the nonprofit.

Plans were formulated to convert the storefronts to gallery space, bring everything up to code, and use the former lobby as a multi-purpose space. The marquee and façade were also renovated. After six years of planning, fund-raising, and work, the Bing Arts Center opened in June 2010, and now presents regular cultural and educational programming — everything from visual arts and film screenings to musical performances and art classes — in addition to hosting meetings for other community groups, serving as a neighborhood hub.

“We’ve made an impact. We wanted it to be an arts center and offer as much diverse, eclectic content as we could,” Hale said, rattling off some of the performers who had been through in only the past few weeks, ranging from local rock bands to chamber ensembles to a folksinger from Sweden. Meanwhile, local artists are invited to display their work in rotating exhibits in the storefront galleries that flank the lobby.

“We also have a pop-up gallery where anyone can put their art on the wall for an evening and sell it,” he added. “We have refreshments and music; it’s a fun thing. People who want to see their work in a public space can come in and do it.”

The center also promotes connections between artists and the public instead of building walls between them, he added.

“A filmmaker makes a movie and shows it here, and people enjoy talking to them — ‘how did you do this?’ ‘How did you shoot this scene?’ That’s a good way to experience the arts.

“Springfield does big arts pretty well,” he went on. “We have Symphony Hall, CityStage, the MassMutual Center, and Theodores’ is a great little club; there’s a lot of good things to do. But there isn’t really anything else like the Bing in the area.”

Coming Attractions

To reach Hale’s goal of restoring the large theater, with the goal of featuring national-release independent and art films, preparations for phase 2 are underway. The theater will initially be configured for 300 to 350 seats, including a mezzanine, which it did not have before. The original theater held more than 900 seats, but the plan, as designed by local architect Stephen Jablonski, will accommodate two separate spaces, the main room for larger audiences and a smaller, adjoining space for smaller events.

Phase 1 of the Bing’s revitalization

Phase 1 of the Bing’s revitalization saw its façade, lobby, and gallery space renovated, while phase 2 aims to bring back its large theater.

Achieving all that will take about $1 million in fund-raising, but Hale also envisions creating a roof space for outdoor events, which could also be rented out for parties and receptions. “It would be the coolest arts venue in the valley if we had that,” he said, but admitted that addition could push the price tag close to $4 million.

Support for the main theater restoration has come from unexpected places, including a woman Hale went to school with in Springfield; she lives in Arizona now, but the two have kept in contact on Facebook, and she has donated periodically to the Bing’s revitalization. Recently, she and her husband reached out with a request to purchase naming rights to a program, and after a $25,000 donation, her parents have been memorialized with the Richard and Ethel Hanley Arts Education Program.

Understanding that the valley is full of companies and individuals with the resources to make large gifts, Hale hopes it won’t be the last such naming opportunity. It’s an investment worth making, he added, noting that people talk about the rise of Springfield’s downtown, but only a few thousand people actually live there, while some 26,000 call the X and Forest Park area their home.

“Younger people are coming back to cities; they don’t want to live out in the suburbs, and this is definitely a crucial piece,” he said of attracting that new, younger generation of city dwellers.

“The arts can’t change a place by itself, but they are vital, no doubt,” he added. “A city has to think of itself as a business. You need residents moving into your city. There aren’t enough places for musicians to play, for artists to exhibit, places for arts education that bring artists and the community together, where they can actually interact. But it’s happening here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

HOLYOKE — SkinCatering has scheduled its grand opening D. Hotel & Suites for Tuesday, Aug. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and Pat Duffy, legislative aide to state Rep. Aaron Vega, will be in attendance for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to take place at 5:15 p.m.

The spa is located on the first floor of the hotel and features two massage rooms as well as separate spaces for manicures, pedicures, and facials. The location offers luxurious treatments as well as a selection of the high-end products currently developed and created through SkinCatering’s skin-care line.

The menu for the spa includes packages such as “Nature, to Nurture You” and “Farm to Facial.” These services utilize elements, plants, and other ingredients found locally and throughout Massachusetts. The spa has a modern New England farmhouse aesthetic, featuring neutral colors and reclaimed natural woods.

“I am very excited to provide now a health and wellness option at our Boutique Hotel,” said Linda Rosskothen, proprietor of D. Hotel & Suites. “The beauty and comfort of the spa offers locals and travelers a chance to enjoy our buildings. I am especially excited to see our guests combine their spa experience with their wedding plans, business-travel stay, exceptional dining, or just making it a special treat.”

Guests are welcome to begin booking services, as well as monthly membership packages. D. Hotel & Suites offers complimentary breakfast, access to conference and meeting spaces, and two on-site restaurants, as well as local shuttle services to wedding parties.

“The entire Delaney Log Cabin family has been very welcoming to us,” said Leanne Sedlak, chief visionary officer of SkinCatering. “We look forward to treating their guests and the local public to a wonderful spa experience with locally sourced and natural ingredients.”

Daily News

STOCKBRIDGE — On the heels of a recent $1 million kitchen renovation, the Red Lion Inn recently welcomed new management and culinary talent with two strategic hires: Director of Food & Beverage Fabien Riviere and Sous Chef Jim Corcoran.

Both will work with Vice President of Culinary Development Brian Alberg to continue to evolve the inn’s commitment to local sourcing and service excellence.

“The continued success of the Main Street Hospitality Catering, with projects like Seeds Market Café at Hancock Shaker Village, calls for bringing in additional expertise,” said Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality Group. “Fabien and Jim will help strengthen the Red Lion Inn, our culinary hub, and continue to heighten our quality, hospitality, and service.”

With more than 20 years of restaurant-management experience, Riviere joins the Red Lion Inn from Studio Restaurant at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach, Calif. This marks his return to the Red Lion Inn, where he was sommelier from 2003 to 2005. Working stateside and abroad, Riviere’s résumé includes Felix Restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, Mix Restaurant by Alain Ducasse, and Restaurant Aureole at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. In his new role as Director of Food & Beverage, Riviere will manage all aspects of food and beverage operations, as well as the supervision and direction of all restaurant staff, among other responsibilities.

Corcoran joins the Red Lion Inn culinary team from Allium Restaurant + Bar in Great Barrington, where his seasonal menus reflected his passion for locally grown ingredients and the diversity of his background. Corcoran has worked at restaurants throughout New York, including Manhattan’s Delmonico’s Restaurant, Brinkley’s Broome Street, Angolo SoHo, and April Bloomfield’s Breslin, before becoming lead chef of Allium Restaurant + Bar.

Cover Story

The ‘Pulse’ of MGM Springfield

Alex Dixon

Alex Dixon

Alex Dixon, a self-described third-generation casino worker, has assumed the duties of general manager of the $950 million MGM Springfield resort casino complex. This is a large job with a broad set of responsibilities that he boils down to creating a winning culture. Roughly 15 months out from the grand opening, his work is focused mainly on assembling a team — and especially the corps of senior leaders — and essentially bringing this facility to life.

When Alex Dixon was assistant general manager at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, he went to great lengths to fully understand all aspects of virtually every job at the sprawling complex and what it was like to perform such duties.

In fact, he performed them himself.

“I put on a valet’s uniform and parked cars — that’s the best way to learn valet,” he told BusinessWest. “I put on an environmental-services uniform and learned how to clean toilets. I put on the uniform of many of the positions, if not all the positions, in the facility to spend three or four hours with that group to really understand how I, as a leader, can impact the day-to-day lives of my front-line team members.”

And he plans to do the same in his new role, as general manager of MGM Springfield, both before that $950 million facility opens its doors in the fall of 2018, and after. So visitors should keep their eyes peeled, because they might just spot him dealing them in at blackjack, greeting them at the front door, or parking their car.

That happened quite often in Baltimore, actually.

“It’s amazing the reaction you’ll get from customers when they see you on the floor in a security uniform welcoming guests alongside those team members,” said Dixon, 36, who described himself as a third-generation casino worker (more on that later). “But that’s how you fully understand the challenges with each job; in many cases there are very small things we can do to make things easier, and we need to do those things.”

This is the textbook definition of a servant leader, which is the phrase Dixon summoned when asked to describe his management style and what he will bring to Springfield’s South End.

“There’s not a job in our facility that I would not do myself,” he said. “And we really need to understand the day-to-day life of our employees, because that’s who our customers interact with.”

And that’s clearly why, as he talked with BusinessWest a few months after his arrival in Springfield, Dixon turned the discussion early and often to the people, an estimated 3,000 of them, who will be working at the casino complex — on the front lines and behind the scenes — to present visitors with an experience.

MGM Springfield

Fifteen months or so out, the assignment for Alex Dixon and the team he’s assembling is to bring MGM Springfield, seen in this rendering, to life.

He went on at length about how he will not only play a lead role in hiring team members — especially the eight to 10 people who will comprise the senior management team — but also create the environment in which they will work and the culture that will pervade not only the casino floor but every component of this facility, from the shops to the movie theater to the bowling alley.

This is the very essence of casino operations, he explained, adding that such facilities are not about slot machines and restaurants, ornate hotels, and elaborate shows. They’re about the people providing a brand of service that will draw in visitors — and then bring them back.

With that as a backdrop, Dixon noted that if Mike Mathis, president of MGM Springfield, is the face of the operation, as most would say he is, then he is the “pulse,” or “heartbeat.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Dixon to fully grasp everything he meant by that statement.

Background — Check

Before sitting down with BusinessWest, Dixon offered a quick tour of what amounts to MGM’s new, temporary nerve center on the 20th floor at Monarch Place.

The company, which will eventually settle in at 95 State St., adjacent to the casino complex, was operating out of a smaller suite of offices on the ninth floor at Monarch, but with its leadership team starting to come together, more space was deemed necessary.

There is a good deal of it on the 20th floor, where Dixon gestured to a succession of small offices, almost all of them vacant at that time, which will be occupied by seasoned individuals who will have, in some cases, business cards with titles never before seen in Western Mass.

Like ‘vice president of Slots’ and ‘vice president of Table Games,’ for example, two of the positions mentioned by Dixon as he noted who will be occupying some of the offices he passed. There will be other, more traditional roles, such as vice president of Facilities and vice president of Marketing, he went on, adding that he will be spending a good amount of his time in the next several weeks deciding who will take on such responsibilities.

How Dixon came to occupy what amounts to the corner office on the 20th floor, complete with a window from which he can see the casino complex taking shape, is an intriguing story.

Indeed, while he grew up in and around casinos, Dixon didn’t seem in any way destined for work in that industry. But fate and a few chance encounters would change the trajectory of his career path and ultimately put him on a course for the City of Homes.

Our story really begins … well, where you might expect it would when we’re talking about someone with casino work in his blood — Las Vegas — but, as noted, the tome didn’t develop exactly according to script.

“My family moved from the deep south out to Las Vegas to be the porters, the maids, the cooks, the housekeepers, and then, eventually, dealers, in the casinos,” he explained. “My grandmother was a housekeeper, and my dad was a bartender, and I’ve been fortunate to rise in the ranks to general manager.

Alex Dixon

Alex Dixon, seen here in MGM’s nerve center in Monarch Place, says that if Mike Mathis is the face of the company and its casino, he is the ‘pulse’ or ‘heartbeat.’

“I remember the burgeoning of the casino industry before my eyes,” he went on. “In 1990, the Mirage was the first really big facility built with institutional capital. You can imagine what it’s like growing up in Las Vegas as a young boy and seeing this great volcano coming up in the middle of the Las Vegas desert; I thought that was really cool.”

When he was a senior in high school, and student body president, he recalls the theme for his senior year being “Viva Las Vegas,” with each class decorating its hallway in the theme of one of the resorts operating at the time.

But while casinos were in most ways the backdrop for his childhood, his passions were business and government, and he went east, to Washington, D.C., to pursue a degree in Finance at Howard University’s School of Business.

There, he caught what he called the “investment banking bug,” and did his first internship at J.P. Morgan, gaining an introduction to Wall Street and the world of mergers and acquisitions.

He had a second internship at Goldman Sachs and its Energy & Power group, and took a job there upon graduation in 2003. Later, he had the opportunity to join the company’s international operation and spent the better part of 2005 in London, before moving on to the Los Angeles office, where, still focused on M&A, he was a member of the team that advised Disney on its $7.5 billion acquisition of Pixar.

He and his wife would gravitate to Las Vegas to raise a family, though, and upon returning, he made a number of phone calls as he pursued various opportunities. One of them was to Bill Hornbuckle, currently president of MGM Resorts International, who at the time was president and COO of Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

“Bill put the sell on,” Dixon recalled. “I don’t even remember what the role was, but at the time it just wasn’t the right fit; it was too steep of a financial decline after Wall Street and with the new family and everything else.”

I was very fortunate to learn the business by sitting at the feet of people who had built some of these great facilities in Las Vegas. I had a great number of mentors — people who were able to coach me and inspire me, really.”

Instead, he joined Silver Pacific Advisors, LLC, a boutique investment bank in Vegas that raised capital for developers seeking to build casinos. And it was in that setting that he gained what he considers his first real exposure to general management.

“The developers would put together a management team, the head of slots, the head of table games, and so on,” he recalled. “And in working on the deal as a financial associate, I said, ‘hmmm … that’s what I want to be when I grow up.’”

Odds and Ends

That epiphany, if you will, compelled him to leave Silver Pacific and join Caesars Entertainment, starting as a director of Planning & Analysis and eventually rising in the ranks to vice president and executive associate in Enterprise Shared Services. Along the way, he said, he had the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business.

“I was very fortunate to learn the business by sitting at the feet of people who had built some of these great facilities in Las Vegas,” he told BusinessWest. “I had a great number of mentors — people who were able to coach me and inspire me, really.”

In 2013, he became assistant general manager of the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, developed by a group that includes Caesars Entertainment. Like MGM Springfield, the Baltimore operation is an urban casino, one with roughly 1,500 employees, 2,200 slots, and 150 tables.

There, he was in charge of day-to-day activities, and doing pretty much what he will be doing in Springfield, an opportunity that came about by happenstance and, more specifically, a dinner meeting with Mathis.

Dixon interviewed for the position last fall, prevailed over what he assumes was a large field of candidates — he believes his experience with an urban casino on the East Coast certainly helped his cause — and officially joined the team in February.

But he didn’t really put his boots on the ground in Springfield until several weeks later, because there was first a substantial learning curve involving MGM and how it ran its facilities.

“I spent a lot of time getting to know MGM,” he explained. “I was coming from outside the company, and before coming here, I spent a lot of time in Detroit, in Las Vegas, in National Harbor [Maryland], really making sure I got the ethos of the company before coming here to Springfield.”

When asked for a quick synopsis of his job description as general manager, Dixon said it comes down to essentially replicating what he saw at those MGM locations, while also giving the company’s newest casino its own, unique flavor, or culture.

At the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, Dixon joined the management team roughly two years before the facility opened, a timeline similar to that unfolding in Springfield. And as he talked about what will happen between now and the fall of 2018, he said there is a series of formal and informal timelines, with many of them involving the formation of a team.

Indeed, while there a number of strategic initiatives taking place at once — from the actual buildout of the various facilities to bringing together components of the retail piece, including the restaurants, to the critical work in marketing to get the message out about this facility — the process of assembling a team is paramount.

“In this pre-opening phase, we’re responsible for bringing the facility to life, and that is done by people, so we are going through the interview process for all the roles here,” Dixon said, noting he was on a tight schedule that morning, with several of those interviews also on his calendar.

Much of the focus now is on that senior management team, Dixon went on, using some of those new-to-the-region job titles to explain who might eventually earn them, what goes into those top posts, and how he goes about selecting a candidate.

The vice president of Table Games, for example, is a big job, one to be held down by an individual who will eventually lead a team of several hundred people, he said. Candidates will need to bring an extensive résumé to the table, one that reflects experience at all levels of this gaming division, if you will, as well as leadership abilities.

There will be candidates from within the MGM family, and from across the industry — what Dixon called a “very small world,” despite its seemingly large size — as well, common denominators for each of these top-level jobs.

“You have a new facility that you’re opening in a new town … I had the opportunity to interview for a role, and through a meritocratic process, that’s where I landed,” he said. “So I’m committed to making sure that we give our internal MGM team members a great opportunity, but that we’re also willing to look to the outside to get a great benchmark of how we can infuse talent.

“The VP of Table Games … this is an individual who started at the ground level, as a table-games dealer, and worked their way up,” he explained. “From a game-protection standpoint, as well as how you teach and how you coach — it’s such a technical job that you pretty much have to have done it at all levels to take on this job.”

The table-games employees will comprise the single largest group on the property, Dixon said, adding that there are several layers of administration within that sphere, and the individual at the very top will have a number of responsibilities.

These include working with the area community colleges and other partners to establish a so-called ‘dealers school.’

“He or she will need to identify the location, work with the community colleges on the curriculum, find the instructors who will teach people how to not only count to 21, but ultimately do it with a smile,” Dixon explained. “He or she will be supported by several layers of people — shift managers, assistant shift managers, pit bosses, table-games supervisors, and more.

“The table-games operation will employ upwards of 500 people,” he went on. “And there will be an entire organization, from the people in suits helping to oversee the games to the actual dealers.”

Team-building Exercises

As for the positions several levels down, the ‘front-facing’ team members, as Dixon called them, as opposed to those working behind the scenes, strategies will be put in place for those mass hirings.

When asked about them and the philosophies that will drive the hiring process, Dixon summed it all up by saying, “overall, we hire for attitude, but we train for aptitude,” before elaborating.

“When we go to market and we try to find people, we’re really looking for people who want to smile, who want to learn, who have a great hustle about them to be able to serve guests,” he explained. “We can teach you how to deal cards, we can teach you how to fix a slot machine, we can teach you how to make a great meal, but you have to have that desire on day one, and our hiring process is geared toward finding those people, cultivating them, and getting them into the right roles.”

Dixon acknowledged that he won’t be involved with interviewing and selecting each of the 3,000 people who will eventually wear an MGM Springfield name tag. But he did say that he will “touch” them in some respect, which was his way of saying that he will get to know them whenever possible, and at the very least come to understand every nuance and challenge of the job they perform.

And this brings him back to his track record of donning various uniforms and taking on the corresponding roles for several hours at a time, but also taking the time to listen whenever and wherever he can.

“A big part of my role is to help facilitate and build a culture,” he explained. “And the only way you can do that is by touching people and having an opportunity to not only impart the vision, but listen.

“Part of my job is to understand what impacts the day-to-day role of the front-line employee,” he explained. “So if they’re having trouble getting to work because of a bus drop-off, or if they want to talk about the uniforms they wear or the food in the cafeteria, or about how they can grow and develop outside of work, we need to listen, and we need to provide a workplace that’s best in class.”

As he elaborated, he went all the way back to high school in Las Vegas and his experiences as student body president.

“I had to get to know the nerds, the geeks, the freaks, the jocks, the cheerleaders, and everyone else,” he explained. “And in many respects, it’s the same in this role. “You have the dealers who sit at this table, you have the slot attendants there, and they come in at different times, and because we’re open 24 hours, it’s important to get to know people on all those different shifts; it’s not a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 kind of job.”

And once the doors open at MGM Springfield, they won’t ever close, said Dixon, which is why the next 15 months are so critical to this operation in terms of everything from hiring the right people to putting that culture in place.

“Once we flip on our lights, it’s not like we go home on the weekends,” he explained. “When we flip on to welcome our guests, we don’t close our doors. So once you get on that hamster wheel, you need to be a well-oiled machine.”

Elaborating, he drew an analogy to a marathon, which is what operating a casino is — a long race that, in this case, never really ends.

“If you look at it from the standpoint of a long-distance runner, we’re getting ready for the marathon,” he told BusinessWest. “At this point in the process, we’re in training for this big race that we’re going to run.”

Bottom Line

As part of that training, Dixon is willing to put on — and probably will put on — almost every uniform that will be worn by someone working for MGM Springfield.

He’ll probably have his ‘Alex Dixon’ name tag on, too, complete with his hometown listed underneath — a factoid designed to generate conversation and make connections.

That’s all part of the culture that Dixon was essentially hired to create. It’s a huge job, one that will come with a host of challenges and rewards.

He’s looking forward to all of it — especially the part about being the ‘pulse,’ or the ‘heartbeat,’ of this billion-dollar operation.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By Kathleen Mellen

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz says the city has a solid foundation, but it is not about to rest on its laurels.

You could say Northampton has “good bones.”

Once dubbed “the paradise of America” by opera singer Jenny Lind, it is home to one of the nation’s premier colleges, it boasts a regional general hospital as well as one for military veterans, its population of nearly 30,000 is diverse and well-educated, its labor force is highly skilled and mostly employed, it has a crime rate that is lower than the state average, and it’s one of the hottest locales in the region for shopping, dining, and partaking of a multitude of performance and visual arts.

That’s a strong foundation, said Mayor David Narkewicz, that the city can seize upon to nurture and grow its economy. And, indeed, after weathering economic recessions and a housing bubble that burst, he noted, economic indicators, such as property taxes, meals-tax revenue, and the number of visitors to the city, show a sturdy economy.

But the city is not resting on its laurels.

One of its main engines for economic success, Narkewicz says, is its vibrant downtown area, home to an array of unique retailers, eclectic dining choices, and active arts organizations.

“The success of downtown businesses affects our property taxes and our tax base, which then affects the kinds of services we can provide, the schools we can provide. We all have an investment in it.”

The mayor said the city is making a number of strategic investments that take advantage of that strength.

Indeed, if you drive into Northampton from the south these days, you’re likely to join a long line of traffic as it makes its way slowly along Pleasant Street toward the city’s center. Think of it as a good thing.

The heavy traffic is the result of Northampton’s investment in its downtown infrastructure, which includes roadwork and utility upgrades. Funded by a $2.5 million MassWorks economic-development grant, the work is mainly in support of two housing developments that are going up on that street. The goal, said the city’s Economic Development director, Terry Masterson, is to make Pleasant Street an extension of Main Street and, in turn, to drive investment in that part of the city.

“If people see other people investing, they see the city investing, it creates a momentum,” he said.

The two housing developments are a 58,000-square-foot space at 155 Pleasant St., which will have 70 studio and one-bedroom apartments, as well as a 45,000-square-foot space at 256 Pleasant St., which will feature 55 living units. Both buildings will offer retail and office space, as well as a mix of market-rate and affordable housing. Narkewicz said centralized, affordable housing is an investment in the economic health of the city.

“We want to be a place where people of all income levels can live,” he noted, adding that many of the people who inhabit affordable housing are part of the city’s vital workforce. “That they can live and work in the same city is really important.”

What Makes Downtown Click?

Although its positive effects on downtown development might not be immediately evident, Narkewicz said the purchase in June of 114 acres on the outskirts of the city, which increases the amount of protected, open space to more than 25% of the city’s land, will not only bolster’s Northampton’s ongoing land-preservation and recreation programs, it will also help drive economic growth downtown.

“We want to concentrate development closer to the urban core where most people live,” he said. “So many studies show that one way to keep a downtown vibrant — to support small markets or small restaurants — is to have people living in it.”

The work along Pleasant Street will also include a small park, more parking spaces, and improved sidewalks and bike lanes.

“We’ve already created an incredible bike trail that runs through the city, which we know draws people here,” Narkewicz said. “Now the city is also looking at ways to become even more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, as a way to draw people into the downtown area.”

170 Pleasant St., erected in 2014.

One of the biggest boons to the city’s economy may well be the plan to expand the train platform at 170 Pleasant St., erected in 2014.

In order to improve the downtown district, Masterson said, it’s crucial to know what’s bringing folks in, and what keeps them coming back.

“We’re working on a complete list of every foot-traffic driver in the downtown area — hotels, train stations, arts and culture institutions, entertainment venues, special events, and regular events,” he said, which will be invaluable to the city in attracting new businesses. While the study is still ongoing, and under wraps for the time being, he says he already knows from past studies that the arts scene is a big downtown draw. For example, the Academy of Music, a live-performance, downtown venue, boasts 55,000 visitors and 116 performances a year.

“That’s like 1,000 people a week who are consistently coming into downtown,” Masterson said. “To know that you have a driver that’s bringing in people, that’s really, really impressive.”

Plans are now in the works to create an online map and calendar tool that will combine the activities of all the city’s arts organizations in one place, making it easier, Narkewicz said, for visitors to plan their outings. Beta testing is underway, and the calendar should be up and running later this summer. And, yes, there will be an app for that.

Coming Back for More

Finding ways to bring new business owners, residents, and guests to the downtown area, and keeping them happy while they’re there, is all part of the city’s master plan, Masterson said.

It’s no secret, for example, that parking in downtown Northampton can be a challenge, especially during the busiest hours. And how infuriating is it to run into a store to get change for a meter, only to return to find a ticket on your car?

That’s been taken care of, Narkewicz told BusinessWest. The city’s 25 parking kiosks were upgraded in late June with a pay-by-plate system that accepts credit cards as well as coins. So, instead of going to a kiosk, inserting money (assuming you have the correct change), then taking the ticket back to the car to be displayed on the dashboard, users can simply pay and be on their way.

Later this summer, there’ll be an app for that, too.

“These are the kinds of things people see when they go to other cities, the amenities people expect,” Narkewicz said. “It’s part of creating a customer-friendly environment for visitors.”

Another major development in downtown is the renovation of Pulaski Park in the heart of the city, which was completed last year and is already showing signs of stimulating a positive economic response; realtors and restaurateurs have told the mayor they have seen an uptick in foot traffic since the completion of the renovation.

“A realtor just sold a building across from Pulaski Park for $120,000 over asking price,” he said, adding that looking across the street at that scenic park, as opposed to what the grounds were like four years ago, made a huge difference.

Indeed, it’s crucial, Narkewicz said, for the city to maintain a clean, safe, well-lit, and attractive downtown, with prime spots like Pulaski Park; otherwise, its other efforts may be for naught.

Much of maintaining the welcoming downtown atmosphere is handled by the Downtown Northampton Assoc. (DNA), a voluntary organization open to property owners, businesses, and city residents, whose members work to improve the business and cultural strength of the downtown area through investments in programming, beautification, and advocacy.

It is associated with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, and works in collaboration with the city, which employs a full-time worker who cleans and maintains public property in the downtown business district.

The DNA handles such things as city plantings and holiday lights, and sponsors events that bring visitors to downtown, like the first annual Holiday Stroll, held in December, which drew hundreds of visitors to Main Street for a host of family-friendly activities, even as the temperature dipped to 20 degrees. It was so popular that a Summer Stroll is planned for July.

“The Summer Stroll should be a lot warmer,” Narkewicz quipped.

Riding in on a Rail

One of the biggest boons to the city’s economy may well be the plan to expand the train platform at 170 Pleasant St., erected in 2014 when Amtrak added Northampton as a stop on its Vermonter line.

Northampton at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1884
Population: 28,483
Area: 35.75 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $16.69
Commercial Tax Rate: $16.69
Median Household Income: $59,274 (2015)
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Smith College; Cooley Dickinson Hospital; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System
* Latest information available

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack announced in June that her department will add to the existing, 46-foot-long boarding platform by next summer, extending it to a length of 120 feet — a response, Narkewicz said, to its use, which has exceeded all expectations. Projections had estimated that just over 10,000 passengers would use the platform in a year, but, according to the National Assoc. of Railroad Passengers, it was used by 17,197 passengers last year, making it the third-busiest stop on the Vermonter line.

The state has also agreed to a pilot program, scheduled for fall 2019, in which two morning trips and two afternoon trips will be added to Northampton’s train service.

The mayor said that activity will surely drive further growth in the city. “Having public transit that close to downtown — that’s critical.”

While the tax base is strong in Northampton, he told BusinessWest, the city’s two largest employers, Smith College and Cooley Dickinson Hospital, are nonprofit, and, therefore, tax-exempt, which has been a bone of contention.

“They consume, but don’t pay taxes for, city services,” said Narkewicz, who addressed the issue in 2015 with the institution of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program, in which the nonprofits agree to pay a portion of what they would be taxed if their properties were taxable. As a result, both Smith and CDH made three-year commitments to make voluntary gifts to the city.

Smith has since made investments in projects around the city that support affordable housing, as well as in public-safety features along Elm Street, where the college is located. CDH continues to be an important partner with the city relative to public safety and public health, teaming up to work on such things as disease prevention and breast-cancer awareness. It is also a key partner on the county’s opioid task force, on which the city has taken a leading role.

“We’ve had some collaboration there,” Narkewicz said. “There’s still more discussion to have.”

The Flavor of Northampton

While Northampton’s economic picture is pretty rosy, the mayor noted, there are challenges, of course, including the plethora of Internet companies that are cutting into brick-and-mortar profits. But there are some things, he adds, that one can’t buy online, like Northampton’s unique flavor and one-of-a-kind products.

Narkewicz says he’s mindful of the degree to which the hard work and persistence of downtown business owners have contributed to the city’s overall economic success.

“I have incredible admiration and thankfulness for the work they do, the sacrifices they make,” he said. “People tell me they want their downtowns to be like Northampton. That’s very flattering, but we can’t lose track of the fact that we have to work consistently to maintain that and build on it. It is an important part of our economy, so we want to make sure it continues to be successful.”

Opinion

Opinion

By Eric Lesser

It’s no secret that Boston is booming. On my drive to the State House every week, I see new buildings, new apartments, new restaurants. I can’t throw a baseball there without hitting a construction crane. The city’s reputation for leading advances in biomedicine and investing in tech startups has made it the envy of the world.

But outside Boston’s 617 area code, the story of our state is much different.

Long before I reach my exit for downtown, I pass the long-abandoned factories of Westinghouse, American Bosch, and Chapman Valve. While Boston’s unemployment rate is about 2%, Springfield’s is nearly 7%. Our Commonwealth’s lopsided growth is leaving Western Mass. behind — and it’s hurting the entire state.

As new companies draw more and more young professionals to Boston, the high cost of housing squeezes their finances, and they struggle to pay back student loans. Meanwhile, those young people leave behind gaping holes in the communities they move away from: fewer families, an aging population, a growing housing glut, and a declining tax base.

Reliable, high-speed commuter rail service between Springfield and Boston would help solve this two-sided problem by creating an exchange between regions.

East-west rail would give employees in Western Mass. access to higher-paying jobs in Eastern Mass. And it would give those who are struggling to afford housing in Eastern Mass. more affordable options in Central and Western Mass.

The current economy of Massachusetts is not properly using our different regions’ comparative advantages to their full potential. Western Mass. is a beautiful place to live and raise a family, with plenty of open land to accommodate even more residents. Eastern Mass. has the opposite problem, but offers more job opportunities and more paths to career advancement.

East-west rail is not just a Springfield project or a Western Mass. project. This is a project that would benefit the entire Commonwealth — and business leaders are starting to take note.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has endorsed east-west rail as a way to open up expansion opportunities and consumer markets to businesses in Boston. Realtors and housing advocates have told me that east-west rail would not only ease Boston’s critical housing shortage, but would also be a boon to housing markets outside the city.

But the most important voices in this discussion are those of the workers and families themselves. On June 19, I took a whistlestop tour across the state to raise awareness of my proposal to study the feasibility of a high-speed rail line between Springfield and Boston. When I stopped in Palmer, I met an older woman who told me about the many times she had been laid off because a company had closed or downsized or moved to a different region.

Each time, she said, she would have to go back to school or retrain for a new skill. And each time, when she looked for a new job, the openings were farther and farther away from Palmer — from her hometown, her friends, and her family.

When Western Mass. gets left behind, this is what it looks like: a laid-off worker with very few options.

This is the story being told outside of Boston’s 617 area code. And it would have a happier ending with an east-west rail link that would bring this woman — and other workers like her — to job opportunities closer to home.

State Sen. Eric Lesser represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District.

Features

Curtain Call

An architect’s rendering of what a renovated Massasoit Block might look like.

An architect’s rendering of what a renovated Massasoit Block might look like.

Like all those who have fond memories of taking in movies and shows at the Paramount Theater, Herbie Flores has long dreamed of the landmark’s revival. But nostalgia has never been enough of a force to generate a rebirth. What’s needed is a viable plan, financing, and a vibrant downtown that can fuel such an ambitious venture. Flores, who calls himself “a realist, not a dreamer,” believes the needed pieces to the puzzle are falling into place.

 

Herbie Flores doesn’t have to look far to find some inspiration as he moves forward with ambitious plans to restore the historic Paramount Theater complex in downtown Springfield.

All he has to do is glance across Main Street.

With a slight turn of the neck, one can see the parking garage attached to the massive, nearly $100 million renovation of Union Station, which has been enjoying a nearly two-month-long coming-out party this spring.

“How long did it take them to get that done?” he asked in reference to the station, knowing the answer was four long decades marked by doubts, conjecture, and countless starts and stops. “They didn’t give up on it … they kept at it, and they got it done.”

I’m a realist, not a dreamer. I know what it takes to make something like this a reality.”

For more inspiration, he can look farther north on Main Street and a project in his own portfolio. That would be the comprehensive, $14 million rehabilitation of the Memorial Square Apartments completed this spring.

But Flores, president of the New England Farm Workers Council, which owns the Paramount property among a host of others along that stretch of Main Street between Fort Street and the Arch, has never really lacked for inspiration when it comes to the Paramount and adjoining Massasoit Hotel.

Indeed, he has long been motivated to revitalize this landmark steeped in history, only he’s understood from the outset that proper motivation isn’t nearly enough.

“I’m a realist, not a dreamer,” he said, before admitting quickly that one probably has to be both when it comes to this project. “I know what it takes to make something like this a reality.”

the Paramount project

Herbie Flores says that, with the Union Station project completed and MGM Springfield set to open in 2018, the Paramount project takes on greater significance.

It takes a number of pieces to fall into place, he went on, adding that this is what is finally happening, starting with a City Council vote on June 19 to approve a $3.65 million loan application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to put a much-needed new roof on the property, replace windows, and undertake façade work, steps that will secure the structure, prevent further deterioration, and put a somewhat new, more modern face on the city landmark.

Another piece falling into place is the securing of private financing for what will likely be a $40 million project when all is said and done, said Flores, who believes the curtain could rise again at the Paramount in early 2019 or perhaps even earlier.

“I’m very confident that we’re going to make this happen — it’s real,” he said. “Over the years, many of Springfield’s older buildings have been torn down and replaced with new ones. But this is in the heart of the city, and we don’t need to tear it down; I think this could be a crown jewel for Springfield.”

As he talked about the Paramount and his plans moving forward, Flores said recent developments in Springfield, including Union Station, MGM Springfield, and others, have raised the stakes for the Paramount project, and in several ways.

Indeed, he said those initiatives underscore the need to get the Paramount project done, and they raise the bar in terms of the scope and character of the project.

“Now that we have this casino and the renovated Union Station, we have to take this project to a higher level,” he explained. “We need a project that reflects all the great things happening in Springfield.”

Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief planning officer, agreed.

“With the bookend projects, MGM and Union Station, now done or nearly done, it only makes sense to move forward with what are arguably the two most difficult projects — the Paramount and 31 Elm Street,” said Kennedy, referring, with the latter, to long-discussed efforts to create new uses for a former hotel adjacent to Court Square.

“With 17,000 people coming to Union Station every day and another 10,000 people visiting MGM each day, it doesn’t make sense to leave that eyesore in its current condition,” Kennedy went on, referring to the Paramount.

Kennedy put the Paramount on the ‘most difficult projects’ list for a reason — actually, several of them. First, the landmark has become greatly deteriorated in recent years, as that leaky roof has allowed water to enter and wreak havoc. Also, the project needs to make sense from an economic perspective, meaning recovery of the huge investment needed to restore the property to its former state.

Flores firmly believes that a hotel/theater complex can and will be viable, especially as Springfield continues to stage its own revival. For this issue, he talked with BusinessWest about how the curtain may soon rise and usher in a new chapter in the history of the Paramount — and the city itself.

Marquee Performance

As he talked about the Paramount project, Flores, who never sits still for very long, got up from his seat and went to retrieve a book someone gave him a while back.

Titled After the Final Curtain, it’s a coffee-table book of sorts crammed with powerful photos of grand old theaters, most of them built a century or more ago during the heyday of such movie palaces, in various — and usually serious — states of decline.

While there are a few stories of successful restoration and reuse in this mix — the $90 million rescue of the Loews Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and revival of the Studebaker Theatre in Chicago may be the best examples — most of the facilities highlighted are beyond the point of return and continue to deteriorate. That list of notable landmarks includes everything from the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia to Loews Canal Theatre in New York.

An architect’s rendering of what might be the new look of the Paramount’s interior.

An architect’s rendering of what might be the new look of the Paramount’s interior.

Springfield’s Paramount is not featured in the book, and Flores, like most area residents who can fondly recall seeing movies and shows there decades ago, doesn’t want it to become one of the theaters now referred to solely with the past tense.

But nostalgia has never been enough of a force to get the Paramount project done — just as in the case of those theaters mentioned above, said Flores, adding that there must be a workable business plan in place to secure not only the needed financing, but a viable future for the endeavor.

In many ways, he’s been working on such a plan — while also taking on a host of other projects, such as the Memorial Square Apartments — since the Farm Workers Council acquired the Paramount in 2011 for $1.7 million.

Since then, the theater has hosted a few shows and events, including a formal announcement in early 2013 of Penn National’s proposal (ultimately not chosen by the city, which favored MGM’s plan) to build a casino in the North End of Springfield. The Paramount was going to be one of the centerpieces of that plan, said Flores, who still has an architect’s rendering of a revitalized theater from that proposal in his conference room.

It’s been joined by a few newer renderings over the past few years as Flores has slowly forwarded what he believes is a workable plan for the landmark.

I’ve worked on enough historical buildings to know the time it takes to do things the right way. In the end, you want to end up with a good product.”

It calls for an 81-room hotel (with options to expand that number to 120) to provide a reliable revenue stream for the theater, which will be renovated and become host to different types of shows and programs.

Over the first 85-odd years of its existence, the Paramount — later called the Julia Sanderson Theater and then the Hippodrome — has played host to everything from rock concerts and boxing matches to ballet performances, and Flores projects the same kind of flexibility in the future.

Extensive renovation work is needed, said Flores and Jose Perez, development consultant for the project, as they provided a tour of the Paramount to BusinessWest. They stopped early and often to point to various areas where water has been coming in through the leaky roof.

Overall, though, the landmark has good bones and a solid infrastructure, they noted, adding that, physically, it can be restored to its original luster.

As for its prospects for once again being a successful business operation — and it’s been decades since it could claim such status — those we talked with said that goal is attainable, especially given the improving climate in the city.

Ultimately, Flores expects the restoration of the Paramount and the entire Massasoit Block, as it’s called, to be a catalyst for further development in what he called “Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood,” a reference to the other properties and storefronts along Main Street.

“There will be a focus on entertainment — if you have a hotel, you need bars and restaurants,” he said, making one of several references to “building blocks” and how a project of this type usually develops in stages.

“I’ve worked on enough historical buildings to know the time it takes to do things the right way,” he said. “In the end, you want to end up with a good product.”

When asked about a timeline for the project, Flores said the doors to the Paramount might be open in the spring of 2019. He then paused and offered that it might even be ready at about the same time MGM Springfield is set to open in September 2018.

He acknowledged that this was ambitious, but then said, “it’s better to dream big than not to dream at all.”

Those same sentiments could be applied to every aspect of this ambitious project.

Almost Show Time

As he wrapped up his tour of the Paramount, Flores pointed to one of the famous Tiffany chandeliers in the main lobby.

“I’ve been offered $150,000 for that,” he said matter-of-factly, repeating sentiments given to numerous press outlets over the years, adding quickly that he has never seriously entertained such offers.

Instead, he remains focused on the bigger picture, a complete restoration of the Paramount, not selling off its various pieces.

Both the dreamer and the realist in him believe the project is not only doable, but necessary as Springfield continues to add new chapters to its revival story.

Flores remains dedicated to making the Paramount the next chapter in that book, and not the one about majestic theaters still waiting, against all odds, for a chance to raise the curtain again.

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

Employment Sections

Women Only

By Daniel C. Carr, Esq.

Daniel C. Carr, Esq.

Daniel C. Carr, Esq.

In recent weeks, a Texas movie theatre sparked controversy by holding several women-only screenings of the new Wonder Woman movie, including a promise that only female employees would be scheduled to work during these screenings. The theatre was the target of a great deal of criticism, and many alleged that the theatre was discriminating against men.

Much of the rage came from the usual suspects — men’s rights activists, misogynists, and other groups prone to Internet trolling.  Also among the aggrieved was a less-expected party: University of Albany Law Professor Stephen Clark. According to his statement, Clark wasn’t offended that a screening was held specifically for women, but, rather, that the theatre advertised “No Guys Allowed.”

Particularly maddening was the fact that the theatre actively barred male patrons and promised that only female staff would be allowed to work during the screening. “It’s the principle of the thing,” Clark said. “I’m a gay man, and I’ve studied and taught gay rights for years. Our gay bars have long said that you do not exclude people because they’re gay or straight or transgender — you just can’t do that for any reason … It’s discrimination.”

For many, the special screening made sense. Wonder Woman is not only the first female-led superhero film since 2005’s critically-panned Elektra, but also the first female-led superhero film directed by a female. This, combined with its strong critical and financial performance in the wake of its underwhelming male-led predecessors, has given advocates of equitable representation of women in the film industry cause for celebration. The women-only screenings sold out quickly.

This conflict illustrates an important point: the law still permits single-gender organizations and services in certain contexts, but when do gender-exclusive organizations or services cross the line into actual, illegal discrimination?

The law still permits single-gender organizations and services in certain contexts, but when do gender-exclusive organizations or services cross the line into actual, illegal discrimination?”

The law generally weighs an individual’s First Amendment right to expressive association against the state’s compelling interest in eliminating discrimination. In genuinely private settings, the individual’s First Amendment rights will almost always prevail. Alamo Drafthouse’s women-only screenings would not have been a big deal if the theater had been rented out by a private entity. In fact, in response to one Facebook question concerning whether there would be men-only screenings, Alamo Drafthouse responded with a link to its ‘private events’ booking page.

However, in public-accommodation cases like the one above, Massachusetts and federal law generally find that the state’s interest in eliminating discrimination outweighs an individual’s First Amendment right to expressive association. Massachusetts state law specifically prohibits making any distinction, discrimination, or restriction in admission to or treatment in a place of public accommodation, based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or ancestry. No distinction is made between historically dominant groups and historically disadvantaged ones. Discrimination is discrimination.

But what is a place of public accommodation? According to the law, a place of public accommodation is an entity which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public. Common examples include theaters, hotels, restaurants, stores, banks, hospitals, transportation services, parks, childcare centers, and the like. This is not a complete list. There are no complete lists because there are simply too many unique contexts to draw a clear line.

In contrast to places of public accommodation, genuinely private entities’ right to expressive association is considered to outweigh the public interest in eliminating discrimination, and, therefore, private entities are not bound by the same anti-discrimination laws. An organization’s status as a private entity, and therefore the legality of maintaining a gender-exclusive policy, depends primarily on whether the organization exercises “genuine selectivity” with respect to applicants or members.

For example, in 1997 the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) ruled that a female divorce attorney was liable for gender discrimination for refusing to represent male clients in divorce proceedings. In determining that her law practice qualified as a place of public accommodation, the MCAD noted that she advertised her services to the public, did not have any particular criteria for selecting her clients, and admitted that she refused to represent the complainant solely because of his gender.  In short, there was a lack of “genuine selectivity.”

By way of comparison, in 2014, the MCAD applied the same standard to reach a different result in a case brought by a male victim of domestic violence against a nonprofit organization for female victims of domestic violence. The MCAD ruled that the charity had not violated anti-discrimination law by refusing to provide male victims of domestic violence the low-cost facial reconstructive surgery offered to female victims of domestic violence. The MCAD ruled that the charity had adhered to a policy of “genuine selectivity” because it was not open to the public and it applied an array of eligibility criteria, including economic status, type of injury, anticipated period of recovery, and residency restrictions.

Additionally, under Massachusetts law, certain entities may be places of public accommodations at certain times and not others. For example, in 2002, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a publicly owned building, when booked for an event sponsored by a religious group for the purpose of religious meetings, does not qualify as place of public accommodation during that time; therefore, the group was allowed to ban women from attending the meeting.

Conversely, Massachusetts has recently announced that the reciprocal is true: religious institutions, such as churches, temples, or mosques, are considered places of public accommodations when being used for secular purposes, such as a spaghetti dinner open to the public.

If your business or organization intends to maintain a gender-exclusive policy, it is important that you analyze these factors to ensure the policy’s legality. The law can be tricky, and lawsuits are costly. u

Daniel C. Carr, Esq. specializes exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal P.C., a woman-owned, NAMWOLF-certified, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]

Opinion

Opinion

 By Eric Lesser

It’s no secret that Boston is booming. On my drive to the Statehouse every week, I see new buildings, new apartments, new restaurants. I can’t throw a baseball there without hitting a construction crane.

The city’s reputation for leading advances in biomedicine and investing in tech startups has made it the envy of the world.

But outside Boston’s 617 area code, the story of our state is much different.

Long before I reach my exit for downtown, I pass the long-abandoned factories of Westinghouse, American Bosch and Chapman Valve. While Boston’s unemployment rate is about 2%, Springfield’s is nearly 7%.

Our Commonwealth’s lopsided growth is leaving Western Mass. behind — and it’s hurting the entire state.

As new companies draw more and more young professionals to Boston, the high cost of housing squeezes their finances and they struggle to pay back student loans.

East-west rail would give employees in Western Mass access to higher-paying jobs in Eastern Mass. And it would give those who are struggling to afford housing in Eastern Mass. more affordable options in Central and Western Mass.”

Meanwhile, those young people leave behind gaping holes in the communities they move away from: Fewer families, an aging population, a growing housing glut, and a declining tax base.

Reliable, high-speed commuter rail service between Springfield and Boston would help solve this two-sided problem by creating an exchange between regions.

East-west rail would give employees in Western Mass access to higher-paying jobs in Eastern Mass. And it would give those who are struggling to afford housing in Eastern Mass. more affordable options in Central and Western Mass.

The current economy of Massachusetts is not properly using our different regions’ comparative advantages to their full potential.

Western Mass. is a beautiful place to live and raise a family, with plenty of open land to accommodate even more residents.

Eastern Mass. has the opposite problem, but offers more job opportunities and more paths to career advancement.

East-west rail is not just a Springfield project or a Western Mass project. This is a project that would benefit the entire Commonwealth — and business leaders are starting to take note.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has endorsed east-west rail as a way to open up expansion opportunities and consumer markets to businesses in Boston.

Realtors and housing advocates have told me that east-west rail would not only ease Boston’s critical housing shortage, but would also be a boon to housing markets outside the city.

But the most important voices in this discussion are those of the workers and families themselves.

On June 19, I took a whistle-stop tour across the state to raise awareness of my proposal to study the feasibility of a high-speed rail line between Springfield and Boston. When I stopped in Palmer, I met an older woman who told me about the many times she had been laid off because a company had closed or downsized or moved to a different region.

Each time, she said, she would have to go back to school or retrain for a new skill. And each time, when she looked for a new job, the openings were farther and farther away from Palmer — from her hometown, her friends and her family.

When Western Mass gets left behind, this is what it looks like: A laid-off worker with very few options.

It is unacceptable that a woman in Western Mass. who has worked her whole life should have to worry about finding another job not because she is untrained for it, but because there are no jobs available within an hour’s drive.

This is the story being told outside of Boston’s 617 area code. And it would have a happier ending with an east-west rail link that would bring this woman — and other workers like her — to job opportunities closer to home.

 

Senator Eric P. Lesser is chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads ‘Millennial Outreach’ for the State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Mass.

 

 

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

 

Doug Stefancik

Doug Stefancik says Ludlow’s status as a safe, clean, middle-income community makes it an attractive spot to live or do business.

When it comes to economic development in Ludlow, the sprawling project known as Ludlow Mills has been the lead story for several years. But it’s far from the only story, Douglas Stefancik said.

“We do need economic development, and we take it seriously,” said Ludlow’s town planner. “We look to businesses for tax revenue and jobs. And anytime we can get a new business in town, it enhances the entire area.”

A good deal of that movement has occurred at Ludlow Mills since Westmass Area Development Corp. purchased the site six years ago. Since that time, it has attracted $127 million in public and private investment.

The State Street property encompass a sprawling complex of more than 60 buildings set on 170 acres, and Westmass predicts that, over the next 15 years, more than 2,000 new jobs will be created and retained there, and more than $300 million will be spent in private investments.

The majority of buildings that make up the heart of Ludlow Mills were built between the 1870s and 1920s by Ludlow Manufacturing and Sales Co. From the 1860s through the 1970s, it made cloth, rope, and twine out of Indian-grown jute, flax, and hemp, employing about 4,000 people in its heyday.

Today, the complex is a growing mixed-use complex and home to many small businesses, including Iron Duke Brewery, which opened in a 3,000-square-foot space in December 2014, including a taproom that draws big crowds to the site.

But the jewel so far is HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts, which opened a $28 million acute-care facility on the grounds four years ago, marking the beginning of the revitalization of the largest brownfield mill-redevelopment project in New England, and keeping 75 to 100 jobs in Ludlow.

On the heels of that project, WinnDevelopment, which specializes in housing and mill redevelopment, is in the final stages of a $24.5 million adaptive reuse of Mill 10 that will include 75 apartments for seniors, most subsidized but a few market-rate. Winn is also working on a $60 million conversion of Mill 8, which features the town’s iconic clock tower to a mixed-use complex of market-rate apartments with commercial, retail, and office space on the first floor.

“Winn has been first-class professionals all the way,” Stefancik said. “We’re excited about what they’ve done with Mill 10 and what we expect them to do with Mill 8.

“We’re also finishing up a riverwalk project, with public-safety improvements, lighting, trash receptacles, historical and interpretive signage, and benches,” he went on, describing a project that has drawn well over $1 million in funding to date. “Having walked it a few times, it’s fantastic. Overall, we continue to see the evolution down there. It’s a 20-year project, and we’ll continue to see development happen in phases.”

On the Rise

Nearby, the East Street corridor has been attracting more small restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and convenience stores. Long a fertile ground for insurance agencies, banks, hair salons, bakeries, and other small businesses, “there’s a good, healthy mix there,” Stefancik said. “We just had a lady open a cupcake bakery down in that area, and someone is looking to open a yogurt shop. We continually have interest in the storefront businesses down there.”

He said business activity has been healthy, with 33 changes of occupancy in 2016, following 37 in 2015. “We see a good amount of businesses coming in,” he noted, before taking a stab at explaining why.

“I think we’re a classic middle-income community that’s safe and clean,” he said, adding, “the process for going through permitting is simple. The permitting on the mill site is more of an expedited permit, and we have similar processes and procedures for other types of businesses.”

That’s true, he said, for both a change in ownership in a small, storefront business or a new build from the ground up. “The Planning Board has been good about working with developers to make sure the plans are as close to approvable as possible when they come before them. And I don’t think our rules and regulations make people jump through hoops; I think they’re straightforward and fair.”

Stefancik said Ludlow also approves many special permits for home-based businesses, 18 last year. “These can be anything from a landscaper to someone doing an Internet business.”

Ludlow Mills

WinnDevelopment plans to turn Mill 8 at the Ludlow Mills into a bustling mixed-use complex.

But they’re less visible than storefront businesses that continue to proliferate, such as recent East Street additions like Corner Café, BlueWater Sushi, Casa Pizzeria, Family Pawn, and Treasures of the World.

Meanwhile, the Planning Board recently approved the town’s third solar array, a 1.8-MW installation owned by Eversource on Chapin Street. That joins a town-owned, 2.6-MW photovoltaic system on a capped landfill on Holyoke Street, and a privately owned, 3.8-MW installation on Center Street.

Residential development has been steady as well, with a 13-lot subdivision on Maria’s Way, a 20-lot project on Cislak Drive, and a 35-lot subdivision at Parker Lane Extension. Meanwhile, HAPHousing is planning a 40-unit affordable-housing project on Fuller Street that has run into neighborhood opposition, but is moving through the approval process.

Out and About

Recreation is typically the third pillar of a healthy community, and Ludlow planners have their eyes on a few projects, like a dog park at Camp White on the north side of town.

“The dog park committee has finalized a design for the plan with Berkshire Design Group,” Stefancik said. “It’s one of these amenities that people in town have been asking for. So we researched our area, and Camp White allows passive recreation. A lot of other parks in town are filled to capacity with sports fields, so it’s hard to fit something like that in. For a dog park, we’re looking at one or two acres, if not more.”

The town also continues to look for open space to develop a new complex of sports fields, and is exploring the construction of a new elementary school to replace Chapin Street Elementary and also possibly Veterans Park School. For the older set, a committee is studying the potential for a brand-new senior center or retrofitting the existing center on Chestnut Street.

Finally, Ludlow officials are finalizing the design of a reconstruction of Route 21, Center Street, though the center of town, from Beachside Drive to Sewall Street. “There will be a turning lane in the middle, and pedestrian improvement, with sidewalks where there are none now,” he said. “The end result will be a big improvement to that area.”

Improvement is the name of the game for the Planning Department in any town, and Stefancik says Ludlow has plenty of reason for optimism.

“A lot of good things are going on,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re excited about the momentum, especially with the Ludlow Mills project and the impact that will have on the whole community.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Ludlow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 21,103 (2010)
Area: 28.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $18.13
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.13
Median Household Income: $53,244
MEDIAN FAMILY Income: $67,797
Type of Government: Town Council; Representative Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Hampden County House of Correction; Massachusetts Air National Guard; Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc.; R&C Floral Inc.
* Latest information available

 

 

Daily News

SOUTH HADLEY — The South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce is soliciting help in designing a new logo for the dual-town chamber. The selected winner will be awarded a $150 gift certificate to the Village Commons in South Hadley, which offers a variety of retail stores and restaurants.

The logo must be reflective of both Granby and South Hadley; the chamber serves both towns, and the logo needs to demonstrate that. It must be relatively simple in design to effectively reproduce in a quality manner on letterheads, brochures, etc. Simple does not have to mean dull and boring, though. It must be an original design and free from any publication and/or copyright restrictions in any shape, manner, or form. The South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce name must be included in the logo. Finally, the submitted format must be convertible to render it editable for multiple users.

All submissions will become the sole property of the South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce. The chamber reserves the rights to publish submissions as promotion for this contest or in any other the manner the chamber chooses. You need not be a resident of either Granby or South Hadley to participate. No other payment will be provided to the selected winner apart from the $150 gift certificate.

All submissions must be sent to [email protected] no later than Monday, June 18.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Moe Belliveau

Moe Belliveau

Moe Belliveau says it’s certainly not the most important part of her job. But it just might be the most meaningful.

She was talking about the ribbon cuttings that mark the openings of new businesses and expansions of existing ventures. As executive director of the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, Belliveau, like her colleagues at chambers across the region, has taken part in more of these than she can count. In fact, after borrowing a pair of large ceremonial scissors for her first such celebration nearly three years ago, she ordered her own pair.

But despite some sameness, these ceremonies never get old, she said, because they’re not about her — or the various elected officials who might turn out for the ceremonies. No, they’re for the business owner or owners in question, and for many, it’s one of the biggest days of their lives.

“This is an important day for them — people put their lives into these businesses,” she explained. “And it’s important that these moments are celebrated.”

There have been many ribbon cuttings in Easthampton in recent years, said Belliveau, who took the helm at the chamber three years ago, noting that this former mill town continues to make great strides in the effort to reinvent itself as a center for the arts, retail, hospitality, and, in a word, vibrancy.

The most recent involved Corsello Butcheria, a Roman-style butcher shop opened by Vincent and Kasey Corsello on Cottage Street in April.

By Roman-style, Vincent means a butcher shop modeled on the one they frequented while living in Rome, an open-air facility where shoppers would stop and pick up something fresh for that night’s dinner.

A software project manager by trade — actually, he’s worked in various capacities — Corsello said he returned from Italy determined to become an entrepreneur and intent on starting his own butcheria. And he says Easthampton is the perfect landing spot.

In fact, his commentary sums up the thoughts of many now doing business there or supporting the business community in various ways.

“This is a truly authentic community with all the moving parts,” he told BusinessWest. “Twenty years ago, people would have said Easthampton’s best days are behind it; now, I think, and most people think, its best days are ahead of it.”

Meanwhile, the next ribbon cutting will likely come on June 10 at a venture known as Valley Paddler, which will bring paddle boats to Nashawannuck Pond in the center of the community.

There have been many others in recent years, involving restaurants, breweries (there are three of them now), arts-focused establishments, tech companies, and much more.

Together, they speak to Easthampton’s revival and vibrancy, or its “renaissance,” the word chosen by Mayor Karen Cadieux, who believes it fits.

She’s had what amounts to a front-row seat for this transformation as it has unfolded over the past quarter-century or so. Indeed, she served as an assistant to the selectmen and then the town administrator before Easthampton officially became a city in 1996, and then served in that same capacity to the community’s first mayor, Michael Tautznik.


Karen Cadieux

Karen Cadieux

What happens … is you have new owners who take abandoned buildings, and they bring new ideas to the table. And it becomes growth, and it becomes catchy.”


When Tautznik decided not to seek re-election after eight terms in office, he encouraged her to seek the corner office, which she did, triumphing in the 2013 election.

With all that experience at both desks in the mayor’s office, she spoke with some authority when she said “this is a working mayor’s position,” noting that those two people do it all, but they also work in partnership with a host of other individuals and agencies, including the chamber.

And much of that work, she said, involves making the city more business-friendly and a true destination for a host of constituents, including artists, tourists, craft-beer lovers, and, yes, those looking for a good place to set up shop.

As an example of these efforts in the name of business friendliness, she cited what have come to be known as ‘roundtable meetings.’ These are gatherings involving a prospective new business owner and a number of city officials, where questions are asked and answered and a road map of sorts is laid out for getting to another one of those ribbon cuttings.

“A meeting is scheduled with my office, and anyone who would be involved in the permitting process — the city planner, the building inspector, the fire chief, the DPW director, and others — all of them are there,” she explained. “They can ask anything they want, they bring in their plans, tell us their idea … and in that way, they’re prepared for when they go to the Planning Board.

“It has streamlined the process, and in the meantime, they know we’re willing to work them,” she went on, adding that these roundtables have met with a very positive response.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Easthampton, a city that continues to add new chapters to a compelling storyline of economic revival.

Lager Than Life

It might sound like a line from Casablanca, but in this case, no one who utters it has been misinformed.

People really do come to Easthampton for the water. In 2015, the city won the gold medal for the best-tasting water in the U.S. at the National Water Assoc. Rally in Washington, D.C.
Cadieux has a ceremonial coffee mug to prove it, although she and the city have much more substantial proof of that honor in the form of three craft-beer breweries that now call the city home.

“You need good, clean water, and lots of it, to brew beer,” said Belliveau, adding that Fort Hill, Abandoned Building, and New City Brewery are now helping to … wait for it … create a buzz in this community.

But while water is one of the main ingredients in the city’s revival, both literally and figuratively, there are many others. That list includes an abundance of old mill buildings with large expanses ready for imaginative reuse, public/private partnerships that have made such reuses feasible, a thriving arts community, with many of its members taking up space in those mills, and a city government looking for new and different ways to streamline the process of doing business here.

And now, another critical ingredient is a more active, more responsive chamber of commerce, one that Belliveau came to after a stint with the Westfield Business Improvement District before it was dissolved. She said she was drawn by the energy in the community and a desire to be part of the story that was being written there.

“I was between jobs and in a position to start a new adventure,” she told BusinessWest. “I could feel the buzz starting to rise and the excitement in Easthampton. And the city had an interesting combination — there’s an urban feel, but the city hasn’t lost its suburban charm; there’s an interesting intersection of all that here.”

Since arriving, Belliveau said she has been focused on taking the focus off of merely staging events — for fund-raising, networking, and other purposes — and bringing more value to members.

And that value has come in many forms, from so-called ‘listening sessions,’ where input is sought from businesses across different sectors of the economy, to a universal gift card redeemable at dozens of area businesses that are also chamber members.

“I did a lot of listening; I talked with everyone I could — members, non-members, former members — to try understand who we are and where we wanted to go,” she explained. “When I arrived, the board was very ready for some new energy, some new animation, and moving out into the world.

“We were event planners at that time — that’s what the chamber was,” she went on. “And we decided to do something new and different, and the board has embraced the idea of evolution.”

That specific tone of this evolution has been set as a result of reaching out to various constituencies — members and non-members among them — and responding to the feedback, she said, adding that she initiated something she called “listening lunches.”

One of the first was with restaurateurs and other hospitality-related business owners, she said, adding that this sector was not well-represented on the chamber at the time.

“We started at noon, and I figured people would be on their way by 1; instead, we were still talking at 2,” Belliveau recalled. “There were many takeaways, and one of them was their perception that we weren’t marketing this area as well as we should.”

The universal gift card was part of the response to that feedback, she said, adding that the chamber does essentially all of the heavy lifting — it markets and sells the cards. The original goal when things got started early last fall was to have 25 to 30 participating members on board, a target that was easily reached, and today there are more than 40 participants, and the number continues to rise.

The cards have been popular with the public as well, she said, adding that they sold well in the run-up to the holidays, and have been in demand recently, with graduations, Mother’s Day, and other events on the calendar.

There have been other initiatives within this evolutionary process, she went on, including collaborative efforts with other neighboring chambers, including Holyoke, Northampton, and Westfield, and new, more value-laden events, including a women’s leadership conference to be presented in conjunction with the Holyoke chamber, slated for Sept. 22. “The Art of Risk” will be the broad theme for the day-long conference, which will feature keynote speaker Angela Lussier, founder of the Speaker Sisterhood, a business devoted to helping women find their voice.

High-steaks Venture

As she talked about how Easthampton has evolved over the past quarter-century or so, Mayor Cadieux talked repeatedly about partnerships — on many levels.

They have involved private business and city government, the city and state, and among a host of agencies working within the broad realm of economic development, she said, adding that these efforts have succeeded in making Easthampton a welcoming city when it comes to both business and tourism.

As just one example, she cited the case of an entrepreneur looking to buy a commercial property (a former theater) on Cottage Street.

“The owner wouldn’t sell the property without the adjacent parking lot,” she explained. “But the new buyer didn’t have money for the parking lot, so what we did was obtain a grant for the parking lot, and it became a partnership.”

That was maybe 15 years ago, she went on, adding that there have been countless examples of such partnerships since, and these efforts by public agencies to help private business owners have created an environment conducive to continued growth and vibrancy.

“What happens in such instances is you have new owners who take abandoned buildings, and they bring new ideas to the table,” she went on. “And it becomes growth, and it becomes catchy.”

To sustain this momentum, the city has been diligent about finding ways to continue a dialogue with the business community and continuously improve and streamline the process of helping new businesses plant roots in the city.

The chamber’s listening sessions are one example of this, said the mayor, adding that another involved her successful efforts to attain a technical grant to gauge just how competitive the city is with its permitting process.

“From that, we started the roundtable meetings,” she said, adding that the response to such sessions has been overwhelmingly positive.

“All of our departments are communicating with a prospective new business,” she explained. “You don’t have to go from this department to that department to this department — we’re all right there. It’s another example of partnership, and I think it sends a really good message.”

That message was received by Vincent and Kasey Corsello, who cut the ceremonial ribbon in mid-April and are enjoying early success with a fairly unique venture that offers locally sourced food.

“We cut food to order — if you want a pound of ground beef, we’ll grind it right in front of you,” he noted. “If you want a steak, we’ll cut it right there so it will be just the thickness you want.”

Slicing steaks is a long way from software-development work, but after living and working in Italy for years and seeing how the butcheria was not just a source of fresh meat but also a gathering spot in the community, he decided he wanted to create one of his own.

His family settled in Easthampton, and the Corsellos quickly determined that this community was the right place at the right time for their venture.

“The town looks somewhat unassuming from the outside,” he told BusinessWest. “But has all those moving parts … it has its own truly local economy. I’m thrilled with it; there’s no place I’d rather be at this point.”

A Cut Above

Those ceremonial scissors Belliveau ordered have turned out to be a good investment. In other words, they’ve seen quite a bit of use over the past few years alone.

That’s a reflection of many positive things in the community, from its growing cultural community to the paddleboats soon to arrive on Nashawannuck Pond; from the universal gift card to those craft breweries; from the roundtable meetings to the Roman-style butcheria in the heart of downtown.

They all provide solid evidence of a renaissance, an evolution from an old mill town to a new and exciting destination city.

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

 

Easthampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1809
Population: 16,036
Area: 13.6 square miles

County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $15.59
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.59
Median Household Income: $57,134
median family Income: $78,281
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Berry Plastics; Williston Northampton School; National Nonwovens Co.; October Co.
* Latest information available

Chamber Corners Departments

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• June 2: “Spicing Up Your PowerPoint Presentations,” 8:30-10:30 a.m., hosted by La Quinta Inn & Suites, 100 Congress St., Springfield. Cost: $40 for members, $50 for non-members.

• June 17: Third annual Champions of Chicopee 5K and 2-mile walk, starting at the Portuguese American Club, 149 Exchange St., Chicopee. Registration is at 7:45 a.m., and race begins at 9:30 a.m. Cost: $25 per runner/walker, $15 for kids 12 and under. Each participant receives a T-shirt (if registered by June 3) and lunch at the Munich Haus. Part of the proceeds will benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in memory of Nathan Dumas of Lucky Design + Media. Sponsored by Munich Haus, PeoplesBank, Holyoke Medical Center, Polish National Credit Union, Westfield Bank, First American Insurance Agency Inc., Insurance Center of New England, and MedExpress Urgent Care.

• June 21: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Munich Haus Restaurant, 13 Center St., Chicopee. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• June 29: Business After Hours, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Valley Blue Sox, Mackenzie Stadium, Holyoke. Game time: 6:35 p.m. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.easthamptonchamber.org
(413) 527-9414

• June 6: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., “Move the Mountain” with the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, hosted by New City Brewery, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc. and Westfield Bank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Refreshments will be available. For more information, call the Easthampton Chamber office at (413) 527-9414 or the Holyoke Chamber office at (413) 534-3376.

• June 28: Speaker Breakfast: “Why Ping-pong Tables Do Not Define Your Business Culture,” 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Williston Northampton School, 19 Payson Ave., Easthampton. Featured guest speaker: Tim Retting of Cincinnati-based InTrust. Sponsored by BusinessWest, Easthampton Savings Bank, Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc., Innovative Business Systems Inc., United Personnel, and Williston Northampton School.

• July 13: Networking by Night featuring the Oxbow Water Ski Team, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Oxbow Marina, Old Springfield Road, Northampton. Sponsored by BusinessWest, Fleury’s Outdoor Equipment Inc., and American Boat Restoration. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members.

• July 28: The Chamber Island Golf Tournament, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Southampton Country Club. Visit www.easthamptonchamber.org for additional information.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.holyokechamber.com
(413) 534-3376

• June 6: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., “Move the Mountain” with the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, hosted by New City Brewery, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc. and Westfield Bank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Refreshments will be available. For more information, call the Holyoke Chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or the Easthampton Chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

• June 14: Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Year in Review and Award Winner Announcements, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Wyckoff Country Club, 233 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Sponsored by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Corporate Leaders. Networking, buffet, and announcement of 2017 Business Person of the Year and the Fifield Volunteer Award winners. Cost: $35. The public is invited to attend. Visit holyokechamber.com to register

• June 21: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., sponsored and hosted by Slainte Restaurant, 80 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. Mix and mingle with your friends and colleagues at this casual networking event. Refreshments will be available. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Sign up at holyokechamber.com.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.explorenorthampton.com
(413) 584-1900

• June 7: June Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., at ConVino, 101 Armory St, Northampton. Sponsors: Keiter Builders and MassDevelopment. Networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

• June 23: “Microsoft Excel: Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts,” 9-11 a.m., at the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. Pre-registration is required; space is limited. To register, visit [email protected] Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members.

• July 12: [email protected], 5-7p.m., hosted by Three Sisters Sanctuary, 188A Cape St., Goshen. Sponsored by BusinessWest. Cost: $10 for members.

• Sept. 13: [email protected], 5-7 p.m., hosted by Family Legacy Partners, 48 Round Hill Road, Suite 2, Northampton. Sponsored by Coldwell Banker Upton-Massamont Realtors. Cost: $10 for members.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• June 1: Workshop: “Non-Compete Agreements,” 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Attorneys Mary Jo Kennedy and Ryan Barry from Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, LLP will present on the subject of non-compete agreements. Topics will include the circumstances in which non-compete agreements arise, non-solicitation and non-disclosure agreements, how to structure non-compete agreements, limitations on the enforceability of non-compete agreements, recent cases discussing non-compete agreements; proposed legislation regarding non-compete agreements; and alternatives to non-compete agreements. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. Cost: free for members, $30 for non-members (cash or credit paid at the door or in advance). Light refreshments will be served. Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• June 5: June Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Stanley Park, 400 Western Ave., Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. This event is free and open to the public. Call the Chamber office at (413) 568-1618 to register for this event so we may give our host a head count.

• June 9: June Breakfast featuring Secretary Jay Ash, 7-9 a.m., hosted by Westfield State University in Scanlon Hall, 577 Western Ave., Westfield. Sponsored by Westfield State University (platinum) and Westfield Gas & Electric (gold). Come hear Jay Ash, secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce June Breakfast. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members (paid in advance). There will be a 50/50 raffle to benefit the chamber’s CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• June 14: June After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Westfield Bank, 462 College Highway, Southwick. Our kickoff to summer is a celebration with a cookout. Refreshments will be served. There will be a 50/50 Raffle to benefit the chamber’s CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. Cost: Free for members, $10 for non-members (cash or credit paid at the door). Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• June 1: Professional Women’s Chamber Woman of the Year Dinner honoring Jacqueline Charron of PeoplesBank, 5:30 p.m., hosted by Storrowton Tavern Carriage House, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: $55.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 755-1310

• June 7: [email protected], Annual Meeting honoring the Richard J. Moriarty Citizen of the Year, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Flynn Campus Union, Springfield College, 263 Alden St., Springfield. Cost: $22.50 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members in advance ($35 at the door).

• June 14: After 5 on the Riverfront, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, North Riverfront Park, 121 West St., Springfield. Cost: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. Sponsorship opportunities are available. Register online for events at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or e-mail [email protected] for more information.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• June 7: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Lattitude, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, call the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• June 15: Annual Meeting and Business Grant Drawing, 7-9 a.m., hosted by Chez Josef, Agawam. The event will kick off with the welcoming of new Chairman Frank Palange and the incoming WRC board of directors. Two $500 business grants will be drawn the morning of the event. Guest speaker will be Drew Crandall. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members. For more information and for tickets to this event, call the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD
springfieldyps.com

• June 15: Ninth annual Great Golf Escape, hosted by the Ranch Golf Club. Cost: $95, including lunch and dinner. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m., shotgun start at noon.

Cover Story Restaurants Sections

Your Annual Guide to Eating Out


restaurantguidedpThe Western Mass. region is well-known for its culinary diversity, offering nearly endless choices when it comes to cuisine, atmosphere, price range, and overall experience. For our 2017 Restaurant Guide, we made our way to four restaurants — from a 40-year-old icon to newer establishments well on their way to becoming household names. There’s plenty on the menu, so read on.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

 

‘Accommodating Cuisine

At Sierra Grille, they’re not fixing what isn’t broken

Upwardly Mobile

Cima is making more history at a long-time dining destination

Pop On Over

Judie’s continues to draw a crowd 40 years after its opening

Taking a Simple Approach

The Alvah Stone offers a view — and much, much more

Restaurants Sections

‘Accommodating Cuisine’

By Kathleen Mellen

Sierra Grille sous chef David Moses has his eye on pleasing the customer.

Sierra Grille sous chef David Moses has his eye on pleasing the customer.

We’ve all been out to dinner with that person: you know, the one who pores over a restaurant’s menu and then tries to reinvent it on the spot.

“I’d like the tuna,” your companion might say, “but instead of the baked potato you have listed here, I’ll have mac and cheese, and rather than a salad, I’ll go with butternut squash.”

Let’s face it; the creative orderer can be a waitstaff’s nightmare. It’s why you’ll see the words “no substitutions, please” on so many menus.

But not at Sierra Grille, where diners are invited to build their meals at will, from a menu that features a dozen entrées, 18 ‘small bites,’ 10 special sauces, seven choices of salads and paninis, and nine sugary desserts — and that’s not counting the sliders, soups, and daily specials.

Say you’re craving a blood-red tenderloin steak, but you aren’t a meat-and-potatoes fan, per se, and would prefer a double order of locally grown asparagus in place of the more traditional spuds. No problem. Or, maybe it’s meatless Monday, and your mouth is screwed up for seitan or tempeh, cooked on a veggie-only grill, and paired with royal basmati rice and grilled vegetables. Sierra Grille has you covered.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

This place is a mix-and-matcher’s delight.

“I call it an accommodating cuisine,” said Sierra Grille owner O’Brian Tomalin, in a recent interview at his establishment at 41 Strong Ave. in Northampton. “Did you ever go to a barbecue, where you bring a six-pack, which you add to the collection of six-packs, and then you bring a side dish, and it lands on a table, and there’s something on the grill? You take what you want from the grill, you have this great selection of sides to choose from, and there’s a selection of beer and wine. This is that kind of experience, extrapolated to a restaurant. Everybody can find something they like here, and that’s what I strive for.”

Tomalin, 49, opened Sierra Grille in 2006 after working in restaurants and breweries in his home state of Maine and, later, as the first bar manager at Amherst Brewing Co. And while he says he’d never call himself a chef, he does know a thing or two about cooking. As the youngest of nine children, four boys and five girls, he learned to make himself an egg for breakfast by the time he was 6, out of necessity.

By the way, one of those nine is actress Susan Sarandon, a fellow foodie who has eaten at her brother’s establishment on several occasions, surprising diners as she’s supped on the likes of hanger steak and scallops. After a recent visit, she asked Tomalin what he had used for a marinade on the scallops. “I said, ‘nothing. They’re just beautiful, fresh scallops. A little white wine and a tiny bit of butter.’ She said they were incredible.”

For this issue and the magazine’s annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest visited Sierra Grille and talked at length with Tomalin about his accommodating cuisine and why it resonates with his customers.

Food for Thought

On a recent afternoon, just before the day’s 3 p.m. opening, Tomalin was seated at a two-top high table in the vintage bar area of the restaurant, dressed casually in a short-sleeved shirt, cargo shorts, and a baseball cap. Light poured into the wood-paneled room, its effects dappled in spots as it shone through stained glass embedded at the top of two grand, arched windows.

The mahogany bar top dates from 1947, and while Tomalin had it refurbished about five years ago, he said, nothing was changed — other than removing about 50 cigarette burns that harkened back to the days when smoking was allowed in eating and drinking establishments.

The building was constructed in 1880 as a hotel for railroad passengers who arrived or departed from the city’s train station, just across the street. In the 1980s and ’90s, as the Baystate Hotel, it was a popular venue for live music.

As an ode to that history, Tomalin recently revamped a long-defunct program, “Reanimate the Bay State,” which features live music every Thursday, starting at 10 p.m., with a cover charge of $3.

The dining room at Sierra Grille

The dining room at Sierra Grille in Northampton, home to what owner O’Brian Tomalin calls “accommodating cuisine.”

“The bands — most of them local — get 100% of the cover charge, and they get beers while they play,” Tomalin said. “It’s really exciting.” It has also boosted business, with the bar doing up to an additional $1,000 in sales on Thursday nights.

Tomalin leases the ground-floor space from the building’s owners, brothers Antonio and Efthimios Rizos, who also own the Opa Opa Steakhouse and Brewery in Southampton, and business partners Volkan Polatol and Petros Mirisis. The quartet runs two other restaurants in the building: Mulino’s Trattoria on the second floor, and Bishop’s Lounge on the third.

Sierra Grille is open seven days a week, from 3 p.m. to midnight, but never on holidays (it’s a policy, he says, that his staff appreciates. “The restaurant business is pretty flaky; whatever makes you a whole person — it makes it better for us.”)

An early/late menu that includes everything but the entrées is available from 3 to 5 p.m., and from 10 p.m. to closing.

In addition to the array of culinary choices, the restaurant features 24 beers on tap, as well as a selection of bottled beers. Tomalin is also the owner of Building 8 Brewery in Northampton, and he always has a couple of those brews on tap at Sierra Grille. He also serves selections from other local brewers, including Green River Ambrosia, a mead made with honey from local bees that comes from the Artisan Beverage Cooperative in Greenfield, as well beers from Germany and Belgium and elsewhere in the U.S.

Berkshire Brewing Co. is always on; we pour their Steel Rail and their Coffeehouse Porter,” he noted. They also go through a keg a week of Allagash White, from the Allagash Brewing Co. in Maine, often using it in recipes. The hoppier beers are customer favorites.

Most of his wines are available for purchase by the glass, and are priced in the mid-range (“I call the selection ‘Wine 101’”), and though there are no obvious favorites, customers invariably switch between reds and whites with the seasons.

The biggest change for imbibers is Sierra Grille’s full liquor license, awarded by the state in January after an 18-month-long process of meetings, applications, and more meetings. Tomalin is in the final stages of designing a stable of craft cocktails, with selections from boutique distillers, which will be priced in the $8 to $12 range.

“You won’t be able to get a Jack and Coke here,” he explained. “We like supporting the little guys.”

Tomalin says he’s committed to supporting smaller growers as well, and buys his food locally, or regionally, as much as possible.

“We can get wahoo from Hawaii, and it’ll be here the day after it’s caught, but do you think I want my fish flying on a plane, blasting stuff into the atmosphere? No.”

Seafood comes from the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine; burger meat comes from local sources; and, when they’re in season, he gets his veggies at local farms, like Queen’s Greens in Amherst, as well as from area foragers. During the growing season, he often stops by Northampton’s farmer’s markets to see if anything strikes his fancy. Those items might just turn up in that day’s specials.

Tomalin says his customers appreciate the local freshness. “We just switched over to local asparagus, and we’ve doubled what we’ve been selling.”

With an eye toward environmental sustainability, the restaurant also recycles plastic, glass, tin, and even cooking oil. “Until recently, an employee was using the oil in his car,” Tomalin said.

The restaurant also supports a number of causes dear to Tomalin’s heart (during the last presidential primary, he held a fund-raiser for Bernie Sanders, where he read a statement of support from Sarandon, a longtime political activist), as well as local nonprofit organizations. This month, for example, the restaurant is running a “Half Pints for Half Pints” campaign: half the cost of each pint of beer sold on Mondays is donated to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s “Cooley Cares for Kids” fund-raiser.

“The benefits stuff is pretty great,” he said. “It is nice to do something, have an issue, accomplish that, get it done, and see it work.”

Something to Chew On

Even though Tomalin quips that the restaurant business “would be great if it weren’t for the customers,” he says he’s committed to satisfying diners at his busy establishment.

On an average Saturday, the restaurant serves between 225 and 275 meals; on a bigger weekend, like at college-graduation time, the number rises to about 300.

“People always tout our consistency,“ Tomalin said. “I look at cuisines and see what’s trending, but I don’t want to be trendy. We’re still evolving a bit, but we do what we do. As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

Restaurants Sections

Upwardly Mobile

Tony Dimaio and Mindy Sullivan

Tony Dimaio and Mindy Sullivan say Cima is off to a solid start, thanks to a great location and a diverse, eclectic menu.

Mindy Sullivan says she and partner Tony Dimaio didn’t realize that, when they chose the name Cima for their restaurant venture in Wilbraham, it would turn into such a conversation starter.

But that’s what it has become, and in most all ways, that’s been a positive development.

For starters, there’s the pronunciation; most don’t get it right. It’s actually ‘cheema,’ although most will leave out the ‘h,’ which leads to a quick correction if Sullivan or another staff member is within earshot. Then, there’s the translation of that term, which usually comes up, because most patrons need one.

In Italian, cima means hilltop (or summit or mountaintop, although Sullivan and Dimaio usually focus on hilltop), which is what the restaurant lies on; it’s also the name that was on this building years ago — the Hilltop (it was most recently known as Horizons, however).

Between the pronunciation, the translation, and then a quick history of this property along busy Route 20, there’s plenty to talk about, said Sullivan, adding quickly that there’s generally more to the conversation.

And this often comes down to what Cima Restaurant and Chop House isn’t — although the menu makes this abundantly clear. Indeed, while the name is Italian, this eatery isn’t what would be called traditional Italian in its cuisine.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

Indeed, while there are some of the stalwarts, like linguini with clams, chicken Milanese, veal marsala, and seafood Mediterranean, the menu tilts heavily toward the ‘chop house’ side of its name, said Dimaio, with everything from a 20-ounce ribeye to double-cut lamb chops to a thick veal chop.

“We didn’t want this to be the typical red-sauce Italian restaurant,” he said, adding that the traditional Italian favorites, steaks and chops, and the overall broad diversity of the menu has made it easy for patrons of the other establishments that have been on this site to return to that stretch of Route 20.

“This has long been a dining destination,” Dimaio, formerly the long-time executive chef at the Monte Carlo in West Springfield, told BusinessWest. “And with Cima, it’s become a destination again.”

In many ways, this venture represents the summit — to date, at least — in a career in cooking that began with Dimaio working in various pizza shops before gradually opening his own place, with Sullivan, in rural Erving.

Cima is closer to home (East Forest Park) for the partners, and also closer to the vision of the restaurant operation the two have long sought to operate.

For this issue and its annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest ventured to the hilltop (that’s lowercase) to see why the latest name over the door on this well-known property is generating conversation that goes well beyond that name and what it means.

The dining room at Cima can seat close to 100 people.

The dining room at Cima can seat close to 100 people.

High-steaks Venture

It was a week or so before Mother’s Day, and the calls to the front desk at Cima were coming at a fairly steady clip.

One only needed to hear Sullivan’s side of the conversation to grasp the big picture — and the questions being asked on the other end. Over the span of a few calls, she communicated that the restaurant would have special hours — it would open at noon rather than at 4 — as well as a ‘holiday’ menu with a few additional specials, and, yes, they were still taking reservations.

“It’s become one of the very busiest days of the year — right there with New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day,” said Sullivan, who, by day, is the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Westfield State University. She added quickly that, while Cima would certainly do well on Mother’s Day, as most restaurants do, she and Dimaio were more focused on the hundreds of non-holidays.

And by most all accounts, she said, Cima, which will soon mark a year in business, is off to a very respectable start in a highly competitive business — and also a highly competitive stretch of road.

“We’ve been quite pleased with the response thus far — business has been quite steady, and we have a great base of customers that keep returning on a regular basis,” said Sullivan, who attributed the solid start to a number of factors.

The location is obviously one of them, she told BusinessWest, adding, again, that generations from the same family have now been dining at that location, and essentially from the moment Horizons, which operated on that site for many years, closed, there was speculation — and anticipation — about what would follow, and when.

“A of people missed Horizons, and they were anxious for us to get the place open,” she recalled. “Throughout the three months we were readying it, we had a steady stream of visitors asking when we would be opening.”

And the site has a long history as a restaurant for a reason, said Sullivan, noting that this stretch of Route 20, just a mile or so from the Eastfield Mall in Springfield and also Post Office Park in Wilbraham, is very well-traveled. It’s also accessible to a number of communities, including Ludlow, Palmer, East Longmeadow, Hampden, and others.

And this location certainly played heavily in their decision making as the two partners looked for a solid opportunity within the broad hospitality sector.

“We were looking for something closer to home,” she noted. “And when this particular piece of real estate came on the market, we wanted to be part of the community.”

But location, while always one of the main ingredients for success in this business, to borrow an industry term, is just part of the equation, said Sullivan and Dimaio.

Other important ingredients include an eclectic menu, great service, and, above all else, consistency, they said, with one voice, adding that this is what Cima strives to deliver.

“That consistency is very important,” she noted, adding that it is a key factor in generating both return business and positive word-of-mouth advertising, which have been other factors in Cima’s solid first year in business.

Along with consistency, there is variety, said Dimaio, adding that several specials are offered every evening (prime rib is a common addition), as well as a number of seafood, veal, chicken, pasta, and salad options.

While Cima has become a destination for dinner, it is also “finding its way,” as Sullivan put it, when it comes to private functions such as memorial receptions, showers, birthdays, and others. On the day BusinessWest stopped by, the staff was cleaning up the restaurant after a first Communion gathering.

“The biggest challenge is keeping your product interesting to the public, and consistency is key,” she said in summation. “And we’re definitely keeping things interesting.”

Meat and Greet

While the new name over the door at 2200 Boston Road has been a conversation starter, the diverse menu, thick chops and steaks, and that consistency mentioned earlier are keeping the conversation going.

They’re also helping to continue the site’s long history as a dining destination.

The name means hilltop, and for the establishment’s owners, it means taking things to new heights — in all sorts of ways.

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

Restaurants Sections

Pop On Over

Judie’s

Judie’s has expanded its space multiple times over the years to meet growing demand.

David Williams worked in architecture, not food service, when he was inspired, 40 years ago, to open a restaurant. His inspiration was a young woman named Judie Teraspulsky.

“We had an office in Boston, in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and one here in Amherst,” he said over lunch one recent afternoon at a brightly sunlit table overlooking the stretch of North Pleasant Street that passes by Judie’s restaurant. “We used to take clients to the Lord Jeffery Inn, where Judie was the baker and a lunch waitperson, and we’d always sit in her section.”

Those lunches became well-known and well-liked by clients. “They would come to my office and say, ‘can we cut this meeting short, and go to the Lord Jeffery and sit in Judie’s section?’”

He had an idea.

“One day, I mentioned to her that I recently designed three restaurants in food courts in shopping centers. I said, ‘we should start a restaurant together.’” She found the possibility appealing.

The location they chose had recently housed a natural-foods restaurant that didn’t last long, so Williams bought the property and all the equipment, procured financing, and brought Teraspulsky on as an equal investor. Judie’s opened in May 1977 — 40 years ago this month — and quickly became, and has remained, one of the Valley’s most celebrated culinary success stories.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

“The first day we opened, Judie came to me and said, ‘can I be the manager?’” Williams recalled. “I said, ‘Judie, you own 50% of the business. It’s named Judie’s.’”

He said that particular idea wasn’t hers — she would rather have kept her name off the façade. But he also knew that her reputation at the nearby inn would help bring in patrons in those early days.

The target audience, at first, was professional women, who Williams and Teraspulsky felt were underserved by the town’s culinary choices in the late ’70s. “It was all pizza and hot dogs; there wasn’t a lot of ‘adult food’ in town,” he said. “She targeted women realtors, attorneys, insurance agents — and it took off like a shot.”

David Williams

David Williams says he and Judie Teraspulsky saw a need for more eclectic fare in downtown Amherst in the late ’70s.

The idea was that women were more open to experimental food — “and they tip better,” Williams said with a laugh — and, indeed, Teraspulsky’s eclectic menu, rife with fresh ingredients and interesting combinations, proved an immediate hit.

Even with that early success, what the restaurant needed, they felt, was a signature item. They certainly found one.

Enter the Popover

The fateful inspiration was the Proud Popover, a Boston-based restaurant and tavern affiliated with the Magic Pan. After trying that eatery’s namesake starch, Teraspulsky wanted to create something similar in Amherst — but bigger, and more impressive, than the smaller version she enjoyed.

“She came back here and experimented and managed to come up with the Judie’s popover, and it’s been the staple ever since. Nobody else went that big,” Williams said, adding that they’ve never made public how they’re baked. “There’s a very special way you make them in terms of heat and periods of time. It’s a closely guarded secret.”

A popover slathered with apple butter may be the Judie’s classic, but over the years, she’s turned them into sandwiches, incorporated them in stews and salads, filled them with everything from basil pesto chicken to a spicy gumbo, and even used leftover batter to make popover crepes. The Souper, a soup served alongside a popover and salad, has long been a best-selling item.

“I wanted people to have a ‘wow’ experience,” Teraspulsky told BusinessWest several years ago, “so when we put the trays down, the first thing out of their mouth is ‘wow.’”

The popover isn’t the only well-regarded Judie’s original, though. Williams said she’s been ladling out her popular seafood bisque since day one, among other early creations. And her variety of meal-size Caesar salads are another mainstay.

The experimentation that has made Judie’s menu a hit — and with a much wider audience than professional women — reflects a wave of culinary inspiration that has settled across downtown Amherst in the ensuing decades. Visitors can still get pizza or a hot dog, but Judie’s and the Lord Jeffery Inn are now joined by institutions like Johnny’s, Chez Albert, and Oriental Flavor. Of the latter, Williams noted, “a good friend of mine from Taiwan said that’s the best Chinese food you can eat outside of China.”

He doesn’t think it odd to talk up these offerings while simultaneously competing with them for business, noting that the restaurant scene is part of a downtown renaissance that benefits everyone.

“I’m never scared of competition,” he told BusinessWest. “It means there’s going to be more people coming here, and we’ll always get our percentage because we have a unique menu. Judie has crafted a unique destination in terms of the menu, and, having been a waitperson, she is crazy about the service — it’s got to be perfect.”

Art of the Meal

The years have seen plenty of changes and innovations at Judie’s, many of them related to the restaurant’s consistent growth and need for more space. The partners built out the front of the structure early on, and in 2007, they turned an adjoining bar into still more seating, along with an expanded kitchen and new restrooms; the renovation shut the restaurant down for only five days.

Donna Estabrooks’ wildly colorful tabletops have become a hallmark of Judie’s.

Donna Estabrooks’ wildly colorful tabletops have become a hallmark of Judie’s.

A third partner, Katie Day, took on that role in 2000, after coming to work at Judie’s in the 1980s; her sister was the general manager in the restaurant’s early days, and she learned the business from the ground up.

Judie’s has also become known for its striking, colorful paintings that adorn the walls and tabletops, all created by Florence artist Donna Estabrooks, which has effectively turned the restaurant into a gallery. Patrons are welcome to buy the paintings — and, yes, even tabletops — and Estabrooks changes out the offerings on a regular basis.

“Judie has always been fond of artists,” Williams said, noting that she gave additional vent to this passion a few years ago by opening Judie’s Art Bar, an art classroom tucked behind the restaurant where people come and learn how to unlock their own muse — and leave with their own painted creations.

But Judie’s remains best known for its culinary creations, with head chef Michael Babb firing up everything from sea scallops with tomato tart tatin to lamb shank served with a crisp, shredded potato pancake stuffed with grilled tomatoes, caramelized onions, and mascarpone whipped potatoes.

One might assume a restaurant with a four-decade arc would have passed its peak days, but Williams said business continues to increase an average of 4% every year.

“Of course, the area keeps growing,” he was quick to add, pointing out the window at the main artery through downtown Amherst. “Look at this traffic. In 1970, you could lie down in the middle of the street and never get run over, but now, it’s super busy.”

As Judie’s celebrates its 40th anniversary, Teraspulsky, Williams, and Day continue to welcome patrons eager for a hot, fresh popover or any number of other tempting offerings, in an atmosphere drenched in sunlight and dappled by Estabrooks’ artistic visions.

“When Judie realized she was not the manager, but the owner,” Williams recalled, “she really threw her body, mind, and spirit into this place. She knew what she had here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Restaurants Sections

Taking a Simple Approach

By Kathleen Mellen

The view is just part of the package at the Alvah Stone.

The view is just part of the package at the Alvah Stone.

Tucked away in the tiny Franklin County town of Montague (population 8,437), is the Alvah Stone, a small-burg restaurant with a big-world sensibility — one that it comes by honestly.

Owner Howard Wein has been a major player in the hospitality business for many a year. Since receiving an MBA in hotel and restaurant administration from Cornell University in 1999, he’s built an impressive résumé, launching the W hotel chain and opening big restaurants, like Buddakan and Iron Chef Morimoto, both in New York City, as well as others across the country.

Most recently, Wein, 45, founder and president of Howard Wein Hospitality, created 10 restaurants and bars in eight months for the Diplomat Beach Resort. He finished that job in late April, when he launched establishment number 10 — Monkitail, an izakaya-style Japanese restaurant.

It’s been very exciting (and exhausting), Wein says, but all that corporate work has been for other people. He wanted to create a home where his heart is — in Montague, with his wife, Jennifer, their 8-year-old daughter, Lyla, 7-month-old son, Simon, and, for the past three years, his other baby, the Alvah Stone.

“I love this part of the world,” said Wein, who graduated in 1995 from Hampshire College, where he met Jennifer. “We wanted to come back, but, professionally, I was doing such amazing things. It was impossible to figure out how to ride the career wave from here. Finally we said, ‘we’re not going to figure it out. We’re just going to do it.’”

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

So they moved to Montague, and Wein set up an office next door to the Night Kitchen, a restaurant at 440 Greenfield Road. When that establishment closed in 2013, he decided it was time to create a restaurant of his own. So, in 2014, he signed a lease and opened the Alvah Stone.

“This is the only restaurant I’ve ever done that’s really, truly a reflection of me,” Wein told BusinessWest. “I’m everywhere. I did the design. I hired all the people. Doing this keeps me fresh, keeps me focused on the things that really drive success in this business, which is keeping an eye on quality and building a really strong culture of excellence.”

Owner Howard Wein

Owner Howard Wein says patrons come for the local food items, creative cocktails, and spectacular view.

Wein shares the building with the Montague Bookmill, a popular bookstore whose tongue-in-cheek motto is “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” And though the restaurant, like the bookstore, is decidedly out of the way, customers have increasingly beaten a path to its door, in search of its signature, all-local food offerings; creative, crafted cocktails; and spectacular view (the restaurant is perched high above the rushing Sawmill River).

They also find old-school hospitality.

“We have a simple approach,” Wein said. “The best thing you can do to build your business is to make sure that every single plate that goes out is great, and that every interaction is satisfying.”

The restaurant, which seats 65 inside and 40 on an a deck, weather permitting, is open seven days a week, from noon to 10 p.m., for lunch and dinner, and brunch on Sundays, year-round.

“In a destination like this,” Wein said, “you don’t want people wondering if you’re open. If you change the hours all the time, you’re going to lose people.”

Reservations are accepted, but the restaurant is never fully booked in advance, leaving room for those who stop by unannounced. “If you fully book, that’s the same as being closed to someone who just drove all the way here.”

Historical Perspective

The Alvah Stone is named for the first owner of the mill, which was constructed in 1834. It’s a name that firmly cements the restaurant in the building’s history, Wein says. “I didn’t want a trendy or hokey name —  that’s not who we are. The Alvah Stone has strength. It’s unique to the place and to the story of where we are.”

That attention to detail extends to naming cocktails, too. Each is inspired by the history of the building, the geographic location, or a literary reference. Take the Seldom Heard, for example, which features bison grass vodka, maurin quina (a French aperitif), cashew, coconut, lime, and cardamom.

“We were working with this rye vodka from Poland, infused with bison grass, so we went for a theme based on lyrics to the song “Home on the Range” (“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam …’),” explained bar manager Lincoln Allen, one of 25 employees.

Wein says it’s important that his employees, like Allen, share in the restaurant’s creativity. “We have fun going back and forth about the cocktail names,” Wein said. “If there’s no creative process, then creative people don’t stay. And if we lose creative people, then we don’t have the product we want here.”

Wein calls his food “authentic American,” and says he puts the emphasis on quality and comfort. “We want to be known as one of the best restaurants in the Valley, but definitely not one of the most pretentious. Or serious.”

The menu, which is driven by chef Dave Schrier’s creative juices, features snacks and smaller items, like the li’l pork belly sandwich on a brioche roll with Alabama white sauce, iceberg lettuce, and a pickle; and beets with pickled shiitake mushrooms, toasted seeds, crispy wheat berry, and crème fraîche. Entrées on the menu that changes daily might include an Alvah Stone burger on an English muffin with onion marmalade, mayo, cheddar, and a pickle; and seed-crusted cod, served with a ramp condiment, coconut milk, and sorrel. Desserts and cocktails, wine, and “really local” beers are always available, too.

“The idea of the menu and the pricing is flexibility,” Wein said. “If you want to have a beer and a warm, soft pretzel, you can spend $15. Or you can eat traditionally, where you have a couple of snacks, and everyone gets their own entrée.”

 

Menu items are also determined by what’s fresh. Most vegetables come from the Kitchen Garden in Sunderland and other local farms, and there are also a number of foragers who pop in — including one who arrived on a recent afternoon carrying a tray piled high with pungent ramps.

“We don’t have a green salad with cucumbers and tomatoes unless it’s August or September,” Wein said. “You won’t get a bad tomato on a burger, ever, and we won’t give you mesclun mix from California.”

Just Desserts

The biggest challenge to owning a restaurant is reacting to things you can’t control, Wein says, like rising wages and health-insurance costs for employees. “We’re in favor of always trying to improve the quality of life for workers, at any and all levels, but it’s really difficult when you have a small business.”

And then, there’s the weather. “The deck is an incredible setting, but if it rains every Saturday, it cuts the traffic down, and you’re talking about a dramatic impact on our year.”

But there are plenty of pluses as well, he added.

Before he opened, Wein composed a list of goals: to be a place where people want to work, to be the best restaurant in the Valley, and to have an incredible commitment to hospitality.

And he thinks he’s achieved all three.

Opinion

Editorial

The calendar has turned to mid-May. Winter is a distant memory, and those with events to plan (and that’s most people in business) are already writing e-mails about dates in September, October, or (gulp) beyond.

But first, there’s summer, which is just about here. And when we say ‘summer,’ we’re not referring to the season that starts officially on June 21. The time for summer jobs is already upon us.

Indeed, area college students have taken their last exams, and most have packed up and headed home — wherever that is. Meanwhile, high-school seniors will collect diplomas in a few weeks, and the underclassmen will wrap things up soon after.

In other words, it’s time for area employers large and small to start thinking about the summer and how to create some opportunities for area young people through gainful employment.

We’ve written about this topic often, because it’s an important one. Summer jobs, while sometimes a strain on the budget for a small business, can, and very often do, bring benefits for the employee, the employer, and the region as a whole.

Let’s start with the employee. A job obviously puts needed money in the pocket (and, hopefully, the bank account) of a young person — whether he or she is a high-school junior or a college sophomore — but it does so much more.

It introduces that person to the world of work, if this is their first real job, or it provides them with a new and different experience, if it’s their second, third, or fourth. With each new experience comes opportunities to not only earn money, but develop skills and learn about people and how to work with them.

This is true whether someone is working on the floor for a local manufacturer, on a ride or game at Six Flags, at one of the myriad local restaurants, or at one of the thousands of other small businesses across all sectors of the economy.

As for those employers, by bringing some people on for the summer, they are introducing their company to individuals who just might be lead contributors for years, if not decades, to come.

It happens. In fact, most businesses in this region can tell the story of someone who came on as summer help and was still with that company 20, 30, or even 40 years later.

As for the region, it benefits from summer jobs in a number of ways as well. For starters, when young people have summer jobs, that means they’re not looking for something else to do, which is generally a good thing.

As noted earlier, jobs usually promote responsibility, help develop people skills, introduce and/or reinforce the benefits of teamwork, and so much more. In short, these are learning opportunities as much as they are earning opportunities.

At the same time, summer jobs and internships (almost all of which are now paid positions and therefore jobs) may also introduce some area college students — as well as people from this area going to colleges well outside it — to possible career opportunities within the 413 area code.

Matters are improving somewhat when it comes to the so-called ‘brain drain,’ but still, many young people believe they must look beyond this region to find what they might be looking for. A summer job with the right employer might just alter that mindset.

As we said at the top, summer jobs can be a burden for companies watching the bottom line — and everyone is these days. But for those who have the wherewithal or can somehow find it, these jobs can be game changers in many ways.

Chamber Corners Departments

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• June 2: “Spicing Up Your PowerPoint Presentations,” 8:30-10:30 a.m., hosted by La Quinta Inn & Suites, 100 Congress St., Springfield. Cost: $40 for members, $50 for non-members.

June 17: Third annual Champions of Chicopee 5K and 2-mile walk, starting at the Portuguese American Club, 149 Exchange St., Chicopee. Registration is at 7:45 a.m., and race begins at 9:30 a.m. Cost: $25 per runner/walker, $15 for kids 12 and under. Each participant receives a T-shirt (if registered by June 3) and lunch at the Munich Haus. Part of the proceeds will benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in memory of Nathan Dumas of Lucky Design + Media. Sponsored by Munich Haus, PeoplesBank, Holyoke Medical Center, Polish National Credit Union, Westfield Bank, First American Insurance Agency Inc., Insurance Center of New England, and MedExpress Urgent Care.

• June 21: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Munich Haus Restaurant, 13 Center St., Chicopee. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• June 29: Business After Hours, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Valley Blue Sox, Mackenzie Stadium, Holyoke. Game time: 6:35 p.m. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.easthamptonchamber.org
(413) 527-9414

• June 6: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., “Move the Mountain” with the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, hosted by New City Brewery, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc. and Westfield Bank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Refreshments will be available. For more information, call the Easthampton Chamber office at (413) 527-9414 or the Holyoke Chamber office at (413) 534-3376.

• June 28: Speaker Breakfast: “Why Ping-pong Tables Do Not Define Your Business Culture,” 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Williston Northampton School, 19 Payson Ave., Easthampton. Featured guest speaker: Tim Retting of Cincinnati-based InTrust. Sponsored by BusinessWest, Easthampton Savings Bank, Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc., Innovative Business Systems Inc., United Personnel, and Williston Northampton School.

• July 13: Networking by Night featuring the Oxbow Water Ski Team, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Oxbow Marina, Old Springfield Road, Northampton. Sponsored by BusinessWest, Fleury’s Outdoor Equipment Inc., and American Boat Restoration. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members.

• July 28: The Chamber Island Golf Tournament, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Southampton Country Club. Visit www.easthamptonchamber.org for additional information.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.holyokechamber.com
(413) 534-3376

• June 6: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., “Move the Mountain” with the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, hosted by New City Brewery, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc. and Westfield Bank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Refreshments will be available. For more information, call the Holyoke Chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or the Easthampton Chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

• June 14: Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Year in Review and Award Winner Announcements, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Wyckoff Country Club, 233 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Sponsored by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Corporate Leaders. Networking, buffet, and announcement of 2017 Business Person of the Year and the Fifield Volunteer Award winners. Cost: $35. The public is invited to attend. Visit holyokechamber.com to register

• June 21: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., sponsored and hosted by Slainte Restaurant, 80 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. Mix and mingle with your friends and colleagues at this casual networking event. Refreshments will be available. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Sign up at holyokechamber.com.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.explorenorthampton.com
(413) 584-1900

• May 18: “Intro To QuickBooks,” 9-11 a.m., at the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. This session will cover setting up a new company, invoicing and receiving payments, writing checks, and paying bills. The session will end with a brief introduction to and overview of reports. It is suitable for those who have recently started using QuickBooks and those planning to use it. This session is taught on the PC desktop version, but the basic principles of QuickBooks remain the same for the Windows, Macintosh, and online versions of the program. Be aware that specific details of how to accomplish a task or available features may differ on the different versions, and these differences will not be covered. It is not required, but if you have a laptop or tablet and have QuickBooks installed, you may bring it and follow along. Note: this workshop is designed for training on the basics of QuickBooks and is not intended to troubleshoot problems individuals may currently be experiencing. Those types of questions are better suited to a one-on-one consulting session. Cost: $25 for members, $35 for non-members.

• June 7: June Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., at ConVino, 101 Armory St, Northampton. Sponsors: Keiter Builders and MassDevelopment. Networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

• June 23: “Microsoft Excel: Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts,” 9-11 a.m., at the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. Pre-registration is required; space is limited. To register, visit [email protected] Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• May 22: The chamber’s 56th annual golf tournament, 10 a.m., the Ranch Golf Club, Southwick. Sponsors: Whip City Fiber, SealRyt Corp., Westfield Bank, Baystate Noble Hospital. Along with a round of golf, bid at the live auction to benefit three $500 student scholarships and win some raffles. Online registration, along with information on sponsorships and foursomes, are available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• June 1: Workshop: “Non-Compete Agreements,” 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Attorneys Mary Jo Kennedy and Ryan Barry from Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, LLP will present on the subject of non-compete agreements. Topics will include the circumstances in which non-compete agreements arise, non-solicitation and non-disclosure agreements, how to structure non-compete agreements, limitations on the enforceability of non-compete agreements, recent cases discussing non-compete agreements; proposed legislation regarding non-compete agreements; and alternatives to non-compete agreements. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. Cost: free for members, $30 for non-members (cash or credit paid at the door or in advance). Light refreshments will be served. Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• June 5: June Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Stanley Park, 400 Western Ave., Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. This event is free and open to the public. Call the Chamber office at (413) 568-1618 to register for this event so we may give our host a head count.

• June 9: June Breakfast featuring Secretary Jay Ash, 7-9 a.m., hosted by Westfield State University in Scanlon Hall, 577 Western Ave., Westfield. Sponsored by Westfield State University (platinum) and Westfield Gas & Electric (gold). Come hear Jay Ash, secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce June Breakfast. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members (paid in advance). There will be a 50/50 raffle to benefit the chamber’s CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• June 14: June After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Westfield Bank, 462 College Highway, Southwick. Our kickoff to summer is a celebration with a cookout. Refreshments will be served. There will be a 50/50 Raffle to benefit the chamber’s CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. Cost: Free for members, $10 for non-members (cash or credit paid at the door). Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• June 1: Professional Women’s Chamber Woman of the Year Dinner honoring Jacqueline Charron of PeoplesBank, 5:30 p.m., hosted by Storrowton Tavern Carriage House, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: $55.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 755-1310

• May 17: Speed Networking, 3:30-5 p.m., hosted by Lattitude, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members in advance ($35 at the door).

May 23: Professional Women’s Chamber Woman of the Year Celebration, 5:30 p.m., hosted by Storrowton Tavern Carriage House, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield.

• May 30: Pastries, Politics, and Policy, 8-9 a.m., hosted by TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Cost: $15 for members ($20 at the door), $25 for non-members in advance ($30 at the door).

• June 7: [email protected], Annual Meeting honoring the Richard J. Moriarty Citizen of the Year, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Flynn Campus Union, Springfield College, 263 Alden St., Springfield. Cost: $22.50 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members in advance ($35 at the door).

• June 14: After 5 on the Riverfront, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, North Riverfront Park, 121 West St., Springfield. Cost: $5 for members, $10 for non-members.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. Register online for events at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or e-mail [email protected] for more information.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• May 18: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., hosted by Lattitude in West Springfield. Members or guests of members may attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately the day of the event. We cannot invoice you for these events. For more information or to register, visit www.westoftheriverchamber.com or contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• June 7: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Lattitude, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, call the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• June 15: Annual Meeting and Business Grant Drawing, 7-9 a.m., hosted by Chez Josef, Agawam. The event will kick off with the welcoming of new Chairman Frank Palange and the incoming WRC board of directors. Two $500 business grants will be drawn the morning of the event. Guest speaker will be Drew Crandall. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members. For more information and for tickets to this event, call the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD
springfieldyps.com

• June 15: Ninth annual Great Golf Escape, hosted by the Ranch Golf Club. Cost: $95, including lunch and dinner. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m., shotgun start at noon.

Features

Square Deal

Jay Minkarah

Jay Minkarah stands inside the innovation center now under construction on Bridge Street.

Webster defines momentum this way, among others: ‘capacity for progressive development’ and ‘forward movement.’ Those phrases certainly describe what’s being seen and heard in the Stearns Square area of Springfield, where a project blueprinted to be catalytic in nature, the Innovation Center now taking shape on Bridge Street, has been exactly that.

 

Katie Allan Zobel was talking about life on the 25th floor of Tower Square, and comparing and contrasting it with that in the new offices for the Community Foundation of Western Mass., which she serves as executive director, on the first floor on Bridge Street.

She was qualifying the dramatic change from being more than 250 feet above what’s going on and looking down upon it, literally speaking, to being a big part of what’s going on.

“The views from up in the tower … they’re incredible, but it’s like looking at a postcard of the city,” she explained, while being courteous and quite respectful to her long-time landlord, MassMutual. “Here on Bridge Street, we’re actually in the picture; we’re in the middle of the picture.”

And with that, knowingly or unknowingly, she summed up perfectly the broad strategy — putting more people and businesses in the picture — behind ongoing and quite ambitious plans to revitalize the area the Community Foundation is now in the middle of and can see so clearly out the huge windows facing north from its suite of offices.

It used to be called the Entertainment District, and some still call it that, although the goal is to make it much more. It’s also called Stearns Square, because that 130-year-old park and gathering spot sits in the middle of it and in many ways defines it. And it has another name these days — the TDI District. That’s short for Transformative Development Initiative district, a name contrived by MassDevelopment to describe what this particular program within its portfolio is and does. (We’ll get to that shortly.)

Katie Allan Zobel

Katie Allan Zobel’s office within the Community Foundation’s suite on Bridge Street offers a commanding view of Stearns Square.

It had another name, too. Well, sort of. This area was considered part of what was sometimes referred to as the ‘blast zone’ — the area impacted by the November 2012 natural-gas explosion. And that’s where, in many respects, this story begins, or at least where it gained a huge amount of momentum.

Indeed, in the wake of that blast, a study was commissioned to identify paths to recovery and progress. One of the key components of that document was a revitalization strategy for the Entertainment District, and thankfully, this plan had a different fate than many that came before it.

“It’s a cliché to say it, but many plans were created to sit on a shelf,” said Jay Minkarah, executive director of DevelopSpringfield, another huge player in this saga. “This is actually one of the best examples I’ve seen of a plan really advancing a strategy.”

In broad terms, the plan called for a catalytic project to spur other investments, and it got one when DevelopSpringfield, Valley Venture Mentors, MassMutual, MassDevelopment, and other players came together around plans to create an ambitious innovation center in a group of tired, long-neglected properties in the Bridge Street area known collectively as the Trinity Block.

The plan also called for a number of public and quasi-public entities to make investments in the area to stimulate activity, and several are doing just that:

•  The city will undertake significant improvements to both Stearns Square and nearby Duryea Way, named after brothers Charles and Frank, who built what is considered the first successful gas-engine vehicle on that very spot 125 years ago. And it has also created a restaurant loan program;

• MassDevelopment acquired the former Skyplex property that faces Stearns Square and is moving aggressively toward revitalizing it into a mixed-use facility; and

• The Springfield Business Improvement District is, among other things, building upon a portfolio of events and programming designed to bring people into the downtown and the TDI District.

According to the plan, these investments would eventually encourage the private sector to make similar investments and create still more momentum. And that’s happening as well. In addition to the Community Foundation, the staffing agency United Personnel, which had moved into space on Bridge Street, is said to be looking for more. Meanwhile, serial entrepreneur Delcie Bean will create a café, Ground Up, in the Innovation Center, and the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. has already moved into space there.

“We’re trying to create a truly vibrant mixed-use urban district that supports the development of an entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem for the purpose of advancing Springfield’s economy,” Minkarah said. “That’s what this is all about.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the scene unfolding within the TDI District, how an ambitious plan came together, and what can likely happen next in this historic section of Springfield.

Center of Attention

Evan Plotkin says his travels have taken him all across Europe, and they’ve given some insight into what the Stearns Square area can become, and some inspiration as well — not that he really needed more.

Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, doesn’t expect that district to even approach what St. Mark’s Square and Plaza Mayor are to Venice and Madrid, respectively — millions visit those attractions each year — but he told BusinessWest that it can emulate those landmarks in the sense that they are the very heart of those cities and centers for dining, tourism, business, and pride.

Skyplex building on Stearns Square

MassDevelopment acquired the former Skyplex building on Stearns Square with the expectation that it will spur additional investments in that area.

“In those cities, you have these beautiful plazas surrounded by businesses and residences; you have the outdoor cafés where people gather, socialize, eat, and drink,” he said. “We can have that right here. Stearns Square can be that; it’s been that.”

Plotkin’s offices are now on the 14th floor at 1350 Main St., also known as One Financial Plaza, where he and some partners own the top 12 floors. But for decades, his business — and, in many ways, his mind — were always on Taylor Street and the Stearns Square area.

His former business address, 41 Taylor St. (now home to a dental office), is where the Duryeas built their motorcar, and Plotkin was the catalyst behind the statue depicting that vehicle that now sits in Duryea Way.

Thus, Plotkin has had a front row seat to more than five decades of change and development in the Stearns Square area, and he and his dog, George, still walk through it almost every day.

“My earliest memories of Stearns Square were from when the fountain was working and this was very well-maintained public space,” he recalled. “There was retail, business, and residential space, and in that respect, it was very much like those European cities.”

In the ’90s, the neighborhood evolved into an entertainment district dominated by a number of nightclubs. Those clubs created a great deal of vibrancy — Plotkin recalls a time when Northampton leaders feared losing visitors to the City of Homes — but, eventually, not the kind that the city was really looking for, he went on, adding that, over the past decade or so, the area has been in general decline, with the population falling and crime rising.

The gas blast was a contributing factor in all this, but it also, as noted earlier, eventually provided the blueprint for a turnaround campaign of the highest order.

And this brings us back to that catalytic project that Minkarah talked about, the innovation center.

In most all respects, the Trinity Block fits squarely into the profile, and the mission of DevelopSpringfield, which acquires somewhat low-profile properties described with that hard-hitting adjective ‘blighted,’ with the goal of giving them new life.

The row of buildings along Bridge Street certainly fits that description. Once home to everything from a church to a boxing gym, and almost everything in between, the Trinity Block had been mostly vacant and neglected for years, as evidenced by the many holes in the floor and cracks in the marble stairs that Minkarah pointed out as he offered a tour.

In a matter of a few months, though, there will be several dozen people working in the building and many more arriving for various functions or a cup of coffee in the café, said Minkarah, who used the phrase ‘purpose-built space’ to describe what’s happening at the Trinity Block.

And ‘purpose’ comes at many levels. On one, the purpose is to give Valley Venture Mentors larger space with more flexibility, including co-working space for entrepreneurs. On another, level, though, the purpose is to help the area evolve into a dining district through the café’. On still another level, the purpose is to generate foot traffic, vibrancy, and momentum in that section of the city.

“This will be a very active place, and that’s a big part of the goal,” he explained, adding, again, that the goal is to create that mixed-use urban district, with the mix including places to work, start or grow a business, gather, dine, visit, and, yes, live.

This urban lifestyle, or urbanization, if you will, is a growing movement nationwide, said Minkarah, adding that it’s being fueled by the younger generations and especially Millennials, who are attracted to cities and especially walkable ones.

For Springfield to become part of this trend rather than act as spectator while the phenomenon plays out in several other communities, it is critical that it provides what Minkarah calls, alternately, “the experience” and “the opportunity” of attractive urban life.

Stearns Square and Duryea Way

Public improvements to Stearns Square and Duryea Way (seen here) are designed to stimulate additional private-sector investments in that district.

He was referring specifically to young people looking for a place to launch a business, but he was also talking about individuals seeking a place to live, as well.

“It’s important that you provide an environment that has the kinds of qualities that the younger entrepreneurs are looking for,” he explained, adding that this list includes everything from co-working space to plenty of dining opportunities, to the proverbial ‘things to do.’

And this is virtually the same list that will also attract visitors to this urban district as well.

Motion Science

All this helps explain why, while the innovation center is the centerpiece of progress in the Stearns Square area, it is, as noted, just one of many such pieces.

Indeed, there is a type of symphony of motion, said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer, and it is creating an upbeat tempo that is certainly necessary.

Union Station is nearly ready to begin the intriguing next act in its nearly 90-year history, following a roughly $90 million renovation. MGM Springfield will be opening its doors in about 16 months. The City Council will soon vote on improvements to Stearns Square and Duryea Way, the Springfield Museums will soon open the new Seuss Museum, and the Springfield Central Cultural District is creating new strategies to connect people to downtown through art. Meanwhile, the BID is building and refining a deep roster of programs and events to bring people into Springfield and compel those who work there to stay well past 5 p.m. (see related story, page 11).

The broad strategy that has emerged, he went on, is to essentially build a bridge, if you will, between the development in the South End (MGM) and the development in the North End (Union Station).

But more than a bridge, the new urban district would be, as Minkarah and others have noted, an innovation and dining district with its own identity.

“The deal was, and this is a very simple deal, to have the folks on the private side make some investments here and do the right things with those investments,” he told BusinessWest. “And those of us on the public side will make some investments as well.”

Those public investments include work within the park and Duryea Way, which should commence later this year. These include new grass, new pavement, sidewalk work, lighting, and more — “everything that can make the area appealing and comfortable.”

They also include an aggressive, $1.5 million loan fund to help prospective restaurateurs, who often struggle with gaining conventional financing, to get initiatives off the ground.

And there are other momentum-building initiatives as well, especially MassDevelopment’s purchase of the former Skyplex property at 8-12 Bridge St., with intentions to inspire further investments in that district.

As Laura Masulis, a TDI fellow assigned by MassDevelopment to the city of Springfield, explained, the equity investment undertaken by the agency is, like the innovation center itself, designed to be a catalyst.

“The point of this program is to identify properties that could act as game changers in these TDI districts across the state,” she said. “And this property could be just that — a game changer in that neighborhood. It’s not just one of eight storefronts in the middle of a block; it’s something that really defines that district.”

Home to a number of clubs over the years, the property has been mostly vacant for years, she went on, adding that, because it was highly unlikely a private developer would step in and undertake the massive renovations needed, MassDevelopment filled that void.

The plan moving forward is to essentially have the building reflect the broad goals for the district — meaning to fill it with dining, entrepreneurship, and art, said Masulis, adding there are negotiations with several potential tenants along these lines.

“We definitely want to have a food component in the building,” she explained. “We see this as an opportunity to have multiple tenants and many different components because of the size of the building.”

A number of potentially attractive options are being considered, she went on, listing everything from restaurants to smaller arts and performance venues to creative retail. “We’re open to different possibilities.”

The sign outside the property at present says “Join us in Stearns Square,” and there are many indications that more businesses and organizations will heed that advice.

Meanwhile, the Naismith building next to Theodores’ on Worthington Street is under new ownership, and plans are emerging for the former Fat Cat lounge across the street and the former dental offices further down Worthington Street.

And such private investments will be the key moving forward, said all those we spoke with, noting that the public-side initiatives are already succeeding in moving the needle in an area that was stagnant for some time.

Worthington Street

City officials report considerable interest in many of the vacant storefronts that still dominate Worthington Street (seen here) and Bridge Street.

The Big Picture

As she talked about the circumstances that brought the Community Foundation to that view of Stearns Square out its front windows, Zobel started by talking about the need for more flexibility and visibility through its space.

It had not enough of either in Tower Square, and as its long-term lease was nearing its conclusion, it commenced a search for a location that would remedy that situation, she went on, before taking the discussion in a different direction, one that really gets to the heart of the momentum currently being seen in that area of Springfield.

“We visited all the towers,” she said of a lengthy search led by the brokerage firm Colebrook Realty Group. “But they were not going to afford us visibility. But there was more to it than that; we didn’t really feel as if we were part of the community.

“Finally, I inquired about this block because it seemed like there was potential,” she said, referring to a row of retail storefronts along the south side of Bridge Street. “This had it all, and I couldn’t get over standing in front of this building and looking at the park; it just seemed like we were right here in the community.”

Elaborating, Zobel said she took in all that was going on around this location — a lengthy list that started with the innovation center but also included United Personnel’s move, the elaborate renovations of the Fuller Block and National Public Radio’s relocation there, the Union Station renovations, the city’s planned renovations of the park, MassDevelopment’s purchase of the Skyplex building, the restaurant loan fund, and more — and decided it wanted to be part of that movement.

“I thought ‘OK, this is really compelling,’” she told BusinessWest. “We have the innovation center putting a stake in the ground, we have MassDevelopment putting a stake in the ground … it just felt like we would be part of the revitalization in a very clear, obvious, meaningful way. And that’s why we made this decision — the promise and the potential is real.”

This is that catalytic effect Minkarah was talking about, and all those we spoke with are firm in their belief that the ball is really only beginning to roll in this section of the city.

Indeed, as more people begin to work in the area, as more people attend events at the innovation center, and as more people exiting trains at Union Station create a critical mass of vibrancy in the area, this should generate more businesses to support those individuals, which should, in turn, create more such businesses, which should spur more vibrancy … and so goes the theory.

But, based on what has happened in many other communities in the Northeast, Masulis said, it’s not exactly a theory any more.

She’s seen districts similar to Stearns Square become vibrant new centers of activity in Providence, Cleveland, and a host of other cities. The common denominators in those stories are a strong arts scene, dining, and entrepreneurship, and these are the pieces now coming together in Springfield.

“We’re building on those building blocks,” she said of all the initiatives listed above. “We’re also looking at what strengths we have in that district and in Greater Springfield, and saying, ‘how can we continue to build on what’s there and fill in where the private market is not doing quite as well as we’d like to see it doing?’”

Minkarah agreed, and said the momentum that is gathering is a significant force.

“When you move forward with a catalytic project, or what you believe is a catalytic project, the whole point is to catalyze something and not just sit there in isolation,” he noted. “The fact that we’re seeing other businesses and organizations moving into the district is so encouraging, and it speaks to the strength of the partnership that’s been created to advance this district.”

Age of Enlightenment

Returning to Europe for a moment, again figuratively, Plotkin told BusinessWest that his walks in many cities on that continent would generally take him as far as the last establishment with a light on.

That not-uncommon attitude certainly helps explain the general decline of the Stearns Square area years ago and the broad challenge to achieving overall vibrancy in Springfield.

That would be, simply, to turn more lights on. It’s happening within the Stearns Square area, and there is general consensus that the future of this critical urban district will be brighter in every way.

That’s because more people and institutions will, as Zobel and so many others said, want to be in the middle of the picture.

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

Features

Coming Attractions

Chris Russell

Chris Russell says the BID’s roster of events and programs is creating additional foot traffic and vibrancy in the central business district.

Chris Russell didn’t have all the details, but he had enough to make his point — and make a good segue into his discussion about the Springfield Business Improvement District’s lineup of events for the coming months.

Russell, the BID’s executive director, said an official with one of the downtown Springfield hotels had informed him that the flight crews for one of the major airlines — he’s not sure which one — had made a formal request to lay over in Springfield when flying into Bradley International, rather than Hartford, because there was much more to do in the City of Homes.

And their request was heeded in the form of a long-term contract.

“We were being shopped against Hartford and Windsor Locks,” he told BusinessWest, “and the flight crews had reported back that there’s a lot of good stuff going on here.”

Those at the BID didn’t exactly have airline flight crews in mind when they put together this year’s array of programming, which includes everything from classic car shows to a beer garden to a local music festival, but that constituency was just one of many that figures into the equation.

The broad goal, said Russell, is to create a critical mass of people, a degree of vibrancy, if you will, one that will support businesses downtown while also providing an environment that makes the central business district a true destination.

Elaborating, he said the programming is assembled with several specific goals in mind. One is to give those already working downtown reasons to stay in that area long after 5 o’clock rolls around. Another is to give people not living or working in the downtown a reason to come into it.

“There’s a lot of value to these events,” he explained, referring to them as both singular items and a collective of happenings. “They’re keeping people here longer; the majority of people who work in the downtown doesn’t live in the metro center, so their habit is to get in their car at the end of the day and leave immediately. We wanted to keep people here longer and have them spend money in the downtown longer than just during their workday.

“The popularity of the events has had a transformative effect,” he went on. “And now we’re seeing many more people coming in from out of town.”

The lineup includes:

• Restaurant Week: Set for April 21-30, this now-annual event has become a celebration of Springfield dining. Patrons can expect to dine at participating restaurants across the city and choose a host of specials priced at $20.17 to commemorate this year.

• Cruise Nights: The popular classic car shows will move to Court Square for this year (Stearns Square will be undergoing renovations), and Russell believes this site will bring more people, more attention, and more color to the popular Monday night shows, which begin May 15 and run through at least August.

“Being in the heart of the city, the ease of getting in and out, the photo opportunities … this will be a great venue for these shows,” he said, adding that there will be live music at these weekly gatherings, which usually feature several dozen cars crossing many decades of classics. And the shows have another purpose — raising money for Square One and the Shriners.

• White Lion Wednesdays: The popular beer garden, launched with the goal of helping entrepreneur Ray Berry build awareness of his craft beer, will return starting May 17. They will be staged at three locations on a rotating basis: 1350 Main St., Tower Square Park, and the Shops at Marketplace.

The decision to rotate venues brings attendees to different sites across downtown, and it also creates a greater dialogue about the shows, said Russell, adding that they also generate vibrancy on a different night of the week (Wednesday), which benefits businesses in the district.

At the height of last season, White Lion Wednesdays, which feature local musicians, were drawing north of 300 people, eventually catching the attention of Food & Wine magazine, which called the series one of the best new beer gardens of 2016.

“The music is an important component of these events, but it’s not the primary driver for people to be there,” said Russell, explaining why this has become more than a concert series. “People aren’t coming exclusively to hear music; it’s a networking event, with a lot of young professionals and a lot of older professionals as well.”

• Thunderbird Thursdays: Like the White Lion events a night earlier, these gatherings, inspired by the city’s new American Hockey League franchise, will be staged at three venues on a rotating basis: 1350 Main St., 1550 Main St., and the Shops at Marketplace. And they are similar in nature, with music, a beer garden, food, and networking. They’ll start on July 6 and run through mid-October.

The series will also hit the road — the Big E, to be exact — on Sept. 7 for one night to celebrate the history of hockey in the region at a place where so much of that history was written, the Coliseum. “The Big E has generously donated a musical act, and we’ll be using their Infinity Stage for that night,” Russell explained. “It should be a great evening.”

• The Downtown Farmers Market: Covering still another day of the week (Friday), the markets will start the second season in Tower Square Park on May 19, and run through late October. The market will provide local produce, specialty food items, and hand-crafted merchandise.

“We got off to a very strong start with these markets last year,” said Russell. “And for year two, we’re looking at a much larger number of vendors; we’re adding a musical component and food trucks. With the farmers markets, we’re trying to draw people out during the day, get them to the park where they can buy fresh produce, dairy, and fine-crafted products.”

Also, he noted, “for the residents there, there is no grocery store, so we’re trying to help people make healthier food choices.” To that end, the market was accredited with the Department of Agricultural Resources, so residents with SNAP and EBT benefits may use them at the market.

• Court Square Music Festival: Slated for Sept. 9, the event will feature all local acts, with details to emerge in the coming weeks.

All that should provide those flight crews — and a host of other constituencies — with plenty to do this spring, summer, and fall.

—George O’Brien

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

From left, Douglas Albertson, Kyle Thibeault, and Nicolas O’Connor

From left, Douglas Albertson, Kyle Thibeault, and Nicolas O’Connor say the disc-golf course that will be built at Piper Farm Recreation Area will benefit residents and help make Belchertown a destination.

Bob Bolduc says Pride purchased a 20-acre parcel of land in Belchertown about eight years ago because it believed this was an area where development was likely to occur.

“We envisioned it as an ideal location for a gas station and other businesses,” said the company’s founder and adviser, referring to a site at the junction where Route 202 and Route 21 intersect.

The prediction proved quite prescient; the Eastern Hampshire District Courthouse was built there shortly after the purchase was made, and a bevy of projects are underway. They include a new, $2 million Pride station; a new financial-services center; the town’s first assisted-living facility, to be built on the grounds of the former Belchertown State School; a new disc-golf course on town-owned land; and infrastructure improvements aimed at improving pedestrian safety, solving traffic problems, and enhancing connectivity with the town center, which is a short walk away.

“After many years of work and planning, there will actually be shovels in the ground on multiple projects this spring,” Selectman Nicolas O’Connor told Business West, noting that the projects align perfectly with goals that include meeting the needs of residents while finding ways to use open space for recreational purposes that will attract visitors, benefit local businesses, and spur additional growth.

Decades ago, Department of Public Works Director Steven Williams noted, economic development was concentrated at the end of the corridor that runs in the opposite direction from the town center, which is also within walking distance, although it is a little farther away.

But that area is almost completely built out, so the new hub has become the mile-long stretch of Route 202 that extends from the center to the courthouse. The Pride property sits on one side of the corridor, while the former Belchertown State School campus is across the street. It is owned by the Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corp. (EDIC), which entered into an agreement with MassDevelopment five years ago that designated it as the agent for redevelopment.

Since that time, MassDevelopment has worked with the town and EDIC to access funds to demolish 40 dilapidated buildings on the campus. About half of them have been removed, and anticipation has been building over the past 18 months since approval was granted to build the Christopher Heights assisted-living complex on the site. It will contain 83 units, half of which will be affordable, and fill a real need within the community.

“They expect to break ground soon, which is very exciting,” said Claire O’Neil, vice president of planning and development for MassDevelopment.

She added that the town has plans to make significant infrastructure improvements that will restore water to the state school campus, improve sewer lines, and address pedestrian and traffic issues that will help move plans forward for the property to become a mixed-use development that will include manufacturing, commercial enterprises, and space for anyone interested in building in Belchertown.

An abundance of property is also available across from the campus, which is close to Route 21. “The area has enormous potential to generate new construction, businesses, jobs, and resources for the town,” Williams said, explaining that it will be fueled by the aforementioned $4.5 million in infrastructure work that will be composed of upgraded sidewalks and crosswalks, roadwork with new striping, new turning lanes, a new signal at the Stadler Street intersection and perhaps another at the junction of Routes 202 and 21, and new signage.

The plan is still in the design stage, but Williams estimates it will be completed by the beginning of next year. When the work is finished, he added, it will improve pedestrian access and safety, and connect the area to the town center in a way that will allow development to occur without creating traffic problems.

“Some businesses have already been established along the corridor, but compared to the amount of land available, they constitute a drop in the bucket of future potential,” he said.

For this issue, BusinessWest looks at projects in the planning stages or underway that will make a difference in the town’s economy and help make it a destination for recreation while meeting the needs of residents.

Generating Growth

Alden Credit Union recently opened a new, 4,000-square-foot financial center on State Street in an existing building that sits on a 1.4-acre parcel purchased from Pride.

“They did a major renovation of the property,” O’Connor said, explaining that it will become Alden’s headquarters.

Bolduc noted that Pride’s new, 4,500-square-foot store will be built adjacent to the credit union and will focus on food service.

“Most people think of Pride as a place to get gas that also sells food. But we want to reverse that, have them think of this as a food store where they can also get gas,” he said, explaining that the new store will contain a large bakery, full café with specialty drinks, a drive-thru window, a full deli and grill with a breakfast and lunch menu, and an area with tables and chairs where people can eat. “There will also be a fountain area where people can get real fresh-fruit smoothies.”

Although the exterior will have 10 gas-filling stations, including one for diesel fuel, Bolduc emphasized that “this will be a new version of Pride. We are in the permitting stage and are looking forward to working with the town and hiring locally.”

Town Planner Douglas Albertson said Pride designed the building to fit in well with the neighborhood: the exterior will resemble a brick colonial structure with clapboard, and will have real roof shingles.

Other developments in the area include a new garage being built by Belchertown Motors that will allow it to expand the business; and discussions taking place with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to install a turnaround to accommodate bus traffic to the area, which will become especially important when construction on the Christopher Heights assisted-living complex is complete.

In the meantime, the town is doing everything possible to create new recreational opportunities in the area, which is within walking distance of several public schools.

“We recently moved the Belchertown Family Center into the former Belchertown Day School, which is a town-owned property,” O’Connor said, explaining that the move is in line with officials’ vision of developing more recreational resources in and around the schools.

The Recreation Department also conducted a recent online survey to determine what people would like to see built in the future, and the top choices were a new splash park and public recreation area with pavilions.

“It would be really nice if families could go there for the day with their children, play baseball at our mini-Fenway Park, then head to Jessica’s Boundless Playground, which was recently completed,” O’Connor said.

That may happen at some point, but right now a great deal of effort is being focused on creating an 18-hole disc-golf course in the Piper Farm Recreation Area, where 25 of its 68 acres will be used for that purpose.

“We already have a population in town involved with disc golf, and our new course will draw people from other communities,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Thibeault.

“The golf trails could be used for hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing off-season,” he continued, noting that the course could also be used for after-school activities and instructional programs, especially since the middle school is close to the rear of the property.

O’Connor told BusinessWest that disc golf is rapidly gaining popularity, and people who use the free course could park in the town center and visit the Pride station or existing eateries, as well as other restaurants or businesses that could be established in the future.

“Disc-golf courses have become destinations, and our small-business owners are helping us with this project. We plan to be very aggressive with this project, as it requires a small investment but will provide a positive return for the town,” he said as he spoke about fund-raisers being planned to raise money for the course.

The town also recently completed the acquisition of the Patrick Center on the old state school campus. It sits on a 5.5-acre tract of land, and officials are working with state legislators, the Recreation Department, and a local committee to initiate projects to add additional recreation and public-use spaces adjacent to existing fields and the public-school complex.

“We want to bring things here that people in the community can use, but also want to create unique recreational experiences that will attract visitors,” O’Connor said.

Fruitful Endeavors

Town officials helped establish the Quaboag Connector, a shuttle service that provides rides for people in Belchertown, Brookfield, Hardwick, Monson, Palmer, Ware, and West Brookfield. Priority is given to those who need transportation to and from work, job-training programs, and related destinations that include community colleges and educational programs. The shuttle also allows passengers from outlying towns to be taken to Belchertown, where they can board Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses that go to a number of destinations.

Residential construction is also gaining ground; last year 55 new homes were built, and the Bell Property Corp. is building 24 single-family homes on the former Dudek Farm property. “Woodland Lane will be our first new subdivision in 10 years,” Albertson said.

Both he and O’Neil believe the combination of projects that are planned or underway will benefit residents while attracting new people to Belchertown.

“Things have finally converged here,” Albertson said, noting that there is plenty of land available for new businesses and restaurants in a community that offers many benefits and is a great place to live, work, and play.

 

Belchertown at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 14,838 (2017)
AREA: 52.64 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $18.20
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.20
Median Household Income: $76,968
Family Household Income: $80,038
Type of government: Open Town Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Hulmes Transportation Services; Town of Belchertown/School Department; Super Stop & Shop
(Latest information available)

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Management Consultant, Jen D. Turner, MBA; Age 39

Jen Turner

Jen Turner

Jen Turner calls herself “a beyond-the-box business-performance advisor,” helping small businesses throughout the Pioneer Valley grow and succeed.

“I like working with smaller companies and helping them through transitions,” she explained, adding that she’s been partnering with business owners for six years. Before that, she held traditional jobs in the sales, finance, retail, medical, and software industries. They provided typical benefits, but not a lot of work/life flexibility or job security.

“In my last full-time salaried position, I could see the writing on the wall,” she said. “The company was not really doing well, and I was laid off.”

She seized the opportunity and struck out on her own. “It was a natural progression for me. I had my MBA, and knew I could apply the same analyzing, optimizing, and collaborative skills I’d honed for 17 years without being tied to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule; I wanted the freedom and flexibility to create my own schedule and release my creative spirit.”

So she did, finding her out-of-the-box niche by splitting her time as a financial analyst with the Delta Group and working with more than 30 area companies in industries like agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, fitness, advertising, nonprofits, and even her own.

“I just went through rebranding myself,” said Turner, “and I worked really hard to find the right look and feel for what I do. I’ve tried to be fun without losing sight of the hard work, skill, and determination it takes to help businesses grow and thrive.”

She also has a successful track record working with businesses at the brink of failing, helping them make a comeback and thrive. “It’s been really rewarding to do this work,” she said.

And it’s given her the flexibility she needs to not only volunteer in her community, but also find time to stretch creatively. “I wear many hats,” said Turner, who lives with husband Brad, son Gaius, and daughter Althea. “I’m a wife, a mom, a money manager, and an artist who’s discovered life really is about balance.”

Turner also serves as co-chair of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School Family Assoc., treasurer of the Belchertown Cultural Council, volunteer for Leadership Pioneer Valley, and vice president of the Quabbin Art Assoc., which she founded.

“Everything I do is for my family,” she said, “and I couldn’t do it without their support.”

—Alta Stark

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Denis and Marco Luzuriaga

Denis and Marco Luzuriaga say more than 200 people have already expressed interest in the 18 market-rate apartments they are building on the upper stories of the Cubit building downtown.

Marco Luzuriaga and his brother Denis are betting on the future.

To be precise, that’s the future of Holyoke, a city where years of disinvestment led to vacant buildings with major environmental challenges that squashed any interest developers had in investing in them.

But a slow evolution has occurred over the past few years, and the landscape is undergoing marked change. The combination of Mayor Alex Morse’s proactive stance, support from the City Council, and work by other officials led to the creation of an urban-renewal plan four years ago that is finally coming to fruition.

Notable progress includes a focus on the Innovation District; the establishment of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, a $165 million academic research facility between Cabot and Appleton streets that overlooks the first-level canal; major infrastructure investments; a growing number of artists and art venues; and other measures such as tax credits designed to spur revitalization and attract people of all ages.

When they realized the potential the downtown held and saw energy in the area increasing, the Luzuriaga brothers told BusinessWest, they made a decision to get in on the ground floor of the rebirth in both a literal and figurative manner.

Marco is an IT professional who lives in Maryland and was thinking about a career change, and his brother is a Holyoke artist. They decided to join forces, and after undertaking a feasibility study of the former Cubit Wire & Cable Co. Inc. building at 181 Appleton St., they purchased it for $325,000 and took on a challenge unlike anything they had ever imagined.

“But the amount of open space here in Holyoke is unparalleled, and we have seen a similar pattern of success in places like Soho and Jersey City, where artists moved into an area and they became vibrant, artistic communities,” Marco said, pointing to Gateway City Arts, the Canal Gallery, independent art studios, the Canal Walk, the computing center, Holyoke’s new $4.3 million rail platform, and other major projects within walking distance of the Cubit building, where their $5 million renovation will soon be complete.

The bottom floor will become home to the MGM Resorts HCC Center for Culinary Arts at Holyoke, while the two upper floors will be loft-style, one- and two-bedroom apartments with enormous windows and sweeping views of the area. In addition, the Luzuriaga brothers purchased three vacant lots that abut the Cubit building and will be used for parking.

“The Center for Culinary Arts will double the college’s prior teaching capacity and provide no-cost culinary training to 50 Holyoke residents every year, serving as a career pipeline into jobs from entry level to senior management in a top-employing industry of our region,” said Morse, adding that students are expected to start classes there next spring.

He added that the city has worked with developers and businesses to create solutions for some of its most challenging sites, and these efforts are yielding concrete results, with more than $100 million of investments in the pipeline.

Mayor Alex Morse

Mayor Alex Morse says the renovation of the Cubit building will provide more downtown housing and become home to the MGM Resorts HCC Center for Culinary Arts at Holyoke.

“We’re creating an environment that people want to be part of and are trying to reach the tipping point by putting together solutions for the most challenging sites,” Morse told BusinessWest.

Marcos Marrero, the city’s director of Planning and Economic Development, noted that, although vacant storefronts and shuttered buildings had become part of the downtown landscape and space ready for businesses to move right in is scarce, the situation has undergone a significant change.

“Our downtown is a different place than it was four or five years ago due to the availability of commercial space and opportunities to live and work here,” Marrero said.

Indeed, four major projects are underway, and interest and enthusiasm are exploding. “We have 200 people on a waiting list for the 18 apartments we are creating in the Cubit building,” Marco Luzuriaga said, noting that the list was created thanks to a Facebook posting about the new units, which will rent for $1,000 to $1,400.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Holyoke and the investments developers and businesses are making in the Paper City that will help shape and create a long-awaited and exciting new chapter in its history.

Repurposing Blighted Buildings

The Parsons Paper Co. facility, which was built in 1853 at 84 Sargeant St., was one of the most challenging properties in the city. The contaminated complex was abandoned in 2004, and in 2008 a fire caused extensive damage. Four years later, the city officially foreclosed on the property and took ownership for failure to pay taxes.

Aegis Energy Services Inc. is located next door to the old mill, and when the company expressed interest in the 4.7-acre site due to its desire to expand, the city did everything it could to make the cleanup and purchase possible.

“The Parsons site was one of 10 key areas that were designated as priorities for redevelopment in our 2013 Urban Renewal Plan,” said Morse. “Significant legal, environmental, and financial constraints had impeded progress for years, so we jumped when Aegis told us they were willing to entertain the idea that we would leverage resources to do the $3.6 million environmental cleanup that was needed.”

The work began last March thanks to funding from multiple levels of government, two private companies, and the involvement of every public corporation in the city. Although the majority of the 350,000 square feet of manufacturing space was demolished, Aegis was able to preserve about 40,000 square feet in one section of the structure.

In addition, the city provided Aegis with the most aggressive tax-incentive schedule in its history: a 100% property tax exemption for 10 years as a way to finance a $400,000 portion of the site cleanup costs.

“The financing framework for this project is probably the most complex that Holyoke has seen in decades,” said Marrero. “But the implications a year from now will be significant — blight reduction, building reuse, job creation, expansion of manufacturing, more renewable energy, and improved property values in the neighborhood.”

Aegis plans to do a major renovation to suit its manufacturing needs, which will allow the company to expand its footprint by 200% and almost double its workforce with the addition of 30 new jobs.

However, the project is being undertaken in stages. After the cleanup was complete, Aegis created a 2.5-megawatt solar farm on a portion of the acreage to help pay for its expansion. Holyoke Gas & Electric entered into a power-purchase agreement with the company, and the electricity is being used by property tenants of the Holyoke Housing Authority.

Progress will also soon be visible at 37 Appleton St., which was the second-largest vacant, blighted building in Holyoke. In the past, the site was home to businesses that included Worthington Compressor and the American Dream Modular Home manufacturing company.

Recently, American Environmental agreed to buy it from the city for $1 from the city’s Redevelopment Authority with the agreement that the company would undertake the $600,000 cleanup of the brownfields site.

“We’re about to close on the sale of the property,” Morse said, explaining that it will allow American Environmental to expand and add 50 new jobs.

There are also plans underway to reuse the third-largest blighted and vacant building, the former Farr Alpaca building at 216 Appleton St., for housing.

 

Our downtown is a different place than it was four or five years ago due to the availability of commercial space and opportunities to live and work here.”

 

Winn Development has partnered with the city’s Redevelopment Authority and forged an agreement to renovate the building and turn it into approximately 100 apartments. The company is hoping to get approved for historic tax credits, and if all goes well, Morse said, the estimated $38 million renovation will help fulfill the goal of creating dense housing downtown that will make it a safe, livable place for people of all income levels.

A $34 million rehabilitation of the 18-building Lyman Terrace public-housing complex also began last year. The buildings contain 167 units, and the first phase of work included excavating and building new roads and sidewalks, and installing new water and sewer lines and street lighting.

Morse said improvements to the housing units began this year, and he noted that the project is an example of how the city works closely with residents to respect and meet their needs.

When he took office five years ago, there was talk of demolishing the complex. But people had strong feelings about keeping the historic structure in the heart of downtown. As a result, the Housing Authority decided to renovate it, and after they held a number of public meetings, they were able to integrate recommendations made by residents into the final design.

“The residents had input on every part of the process,” said Morse. “The project is a real partnership that led to a great outcome, and has become a model to think about the way we do projects in the future.”

Another development that sparked controversy was the use of an 18-acre parcel on Whiting Farms Road. It sits across the street from a residential neighborhood, and although Lowe’s and Walmart had looked at the site, neighbors had objected to having a big-box store built there.

“We shepherded the use of the property, reset the conversation in a similar manner to Lyman Terrace, and talked to the residents to get input about what they wanted as well as the city’s goals and how we wanted to accomplish them,” Morse said, adding that the public meetings played an important role in determining a new use for the land. “If you want growth to take place, it needs to be possible, but you also need to build a sense of public support and common ground.”

The model worked well, and the City Council voted for a zoning change to allow Gary Rome to build a new, $10 million Hyundai dealership on 10 of the 18 acres. It opened last October, is the largest of its kind in the country, and led to the creation of 50 new jobs.

Collaborative Efforts

Economic development is also taking place in other areas of the city, including a $21 million project underway at Ingleside Square near the Holyoke Mall.

The former Holiday Inn is being replaced with a Fairfield Inn by Marriott, which will be completed this year. Half of the old hotel was demolished, the remainder is undergoing a major rehabilitation, and the remaining section of the footprint has been turned into pad sites for restaurants or retail stores.

“It’s the first time the city pre-approved a permit to help secure tenants,” Marrero said. “We worked with the developer and visually approved their site plan.”

So far, an Applebee’s and Chipotle have been built there, along with a Vitamin Shoppe and a stand-alone McDonald’s.

One pad site remains, and the mayor said it is a great example of what can be done with an underutilized property.

“For many years, the property was regarded as a homeless hotel because the state used it to house homeless families,” Morse noted. “But it is a prime piece of property located off of I-91, and in addition to creating at least 200 jobs, this reuse will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new tax revenue.”

Other projects in the pipeline include a new Easthampton Savings Bank branch, and redevelopment at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant streets with a planned Dunkin’ Donuts and an additional 2,000 square feet of move-in-ready retail-commercial space.

Morse said job growth continues to take place, and the city’s unemployment rate is 4%, which is the lowest it has been in 17 years.

“We certainly have more to do, but the wheels are constantly in motion,” the mayor told BusinessWest. “There is still plenty of vacant space in Holyoke’s historic mills. We also have the cheapest and cleanest energy source in New England, plenty of water, and the assets to continue filling our core with economic opportunity. Holyoke is increasing opportunity for its residents and strengthening its presence as an economic hub in Western Massachusetts.”

 

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1850
Population: 40,684 (2016)
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.17
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.72
Median Household Income: $37,372 (2015)
median Family Income: $40,559 (2015)
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Holyoke Medical Center; Holyoke Public Schools; Holyoke Community College
Latest information available

Entrepreneurship Sections

Pour Planning

sign

It’s one of the region’s most unlikely success stories — a brewery that doesn’t distribute its beers beyond the building where they’re crafted, yet has managed to amass a passionate following of enthusiasts who wait in long lines to buy that week’s selections. From humble beginnings in a Brimfield barn, Monson-based Tree House Brewing Co. will make its second big move later this year, into a 55,000-square-foot brewery in Charlton, which will dramatically expand its capacity, raise its profile, and put smiles on the faces of a lot more thirsty people.

It’s called Julius, and it’s a different type of IPA beer.

“Julius is a beer that is near and dear to our heart, both because we love it and because it is the embodiment of our identity: a brewery that makes carefully crafted, brightly flavored, contemplative, and pleasant-to-drink malt beverages,” said Nate Lanier, co-founder and head brewer at Tree House Brewing Co.

Describing it as robustly flavored, with notes of citrus, papaya, and mango, Lanier said Julius is typically available year-round at Tree House’s headquarters on Koran’s Farm in the rolling hills of Monson. “If you’re used to light-beer flavors, drinking a Julius will be a shock to the palate — in the most lovely way imaginable.”

No wonder, then, that the day BusinessWest visited, the line to purchase cans of Julius and other ales stretched a football field’s length from the door of the barn that currently houses the brewery’s entire production and retail space (but not for long; more on that later). In fact, fans surge into the farm’s parking lot and brave those sometimes hour-long lines every time the doors open to the public, like zealous fans who can’t find Tree House brews anywhere else.

Because they can’t.

“We’re 100% sold out of this building, and that is uncommon,” said Dean Rohan, one of the brewery’s three co-founders, along with Lanier and Damien Goudreau. But it’s not strictly by design, Rohan said.

“By Saturday, there is no beer left to put on a truck and bring somewhere. We brew 340 barrels of beer a week, and we sell every single drop of it every single week.”

beer
 

It was like nothing they’d had before. A lot of the guys out west were making big, hop-forward beers, and when Nate started brewing hop-forward beers, they were what we called ‘drinkable hops’ — they weren’t so bitter and in your face. People who don’t like IPAs say they like our beer.”

 

But the phenomenon wouldn’t exist were it not for Lanier’s wife, Lauren, who got him started in the craft of home brewing.

“He loved craft beer and would go on pilgrimages to his favorite breweries and stand in line,” Rohan said. “So she bought him a home-brewing kit as a gift. I call her the mother of this place; she started it all.”

The three knew each other through music — they’re all musicians who occasionally played together — but Tree House Brewing Co. was born from a different kind of gathering, when Lanier threw a craft-beer tasting party as his house. Everyone brought favorites, and Lanier tossed three of his own home brews into the mix; when attendees voted, his creations finished first, second, and third among some 25 selections.

That got the three of them talking about investing time and money into making beer together, which they did, in Goudreau’s backyard barn in Brimfield, after getting permission from his wife. In 2012, they applied for and received a license to sell to the public, filling growlers right from the barn.

Tree House Brewing Co. founders (from left) Damien Goudreau, Nate Lanier, and Dean Rohan

Tree House Brewing Co. founders (from left) Damien Goudreau, Nate Lanier, and Dean Rohan say the Charlton expansion will create opportunities for growth and perhaps broader distribution.

“Our business plan said maybe if we could get 25 people to come buy our beer, we’d be able to pay off the little loan we took to buy a 12-gallon, half-barrel system,” Rohan said. “Well, those 25 people came the first day, then 50, then 75. From the day we opened our doors, we had more people than we’d expected.”

That’s a story that would be repeated again and again, resulting in a move to Monson two years ago and the ongoing development today of a much larger brewing facility in Charlton. At its heart, it’s a story about the enthusiasm shared among folks who make beer, and those who seek it out and stand in long lines to buy it.

Word of Mouth

The initial response to that tiny brewery in Brimfield — and, really, much of the marketing ever since — was driven by social media, which has long been a fertile communications network for craft brewers. Beer enthusiasts like the idea of hunting down something new and different, and Lanier had already developed a reputation for his beer.

“It was like nothing they’d had before,” Rohan said. “A lot of the guys out west were making big, hop-forward beers, and when Nate started brewing hop-forward beers, they were what we called ‘drinkable hops’ — they weren’t so bitter and in your face. People who don’t like IPAs say they like our beer.”

Unable to meet the demand from people who were driving up to the barn, the partners quickly outgrew the 12-gallon system, and approached the bank for their first big loan. The funds helped purchase a five-barrel brewhouse — a 150-gallon system — from California.

“That was going to be it,” Rohan said. “We were going to be able to make enough beer in that little barn to keep people happy. But we couldn’t do it.”

Again, simply through word of mouth and social media, beer enthusiasts continued to cram into the Brimfield site. Clearly, it was time to find larger digs.

“After about a year and a half in that neighborhood, the neighbors decided it was getting to be too much, having 125 cars driving up their agricultural, residential road in Brimfield, and rightfully so. We didn’t have an inch to grow in that barn anyway, so we came here.”

The lines to buy beer at Tree House often stretch to an hour or more.

The lines to buy beer at Tree House often stretch to an hour or more.

The partners built the current brewery — a 7,000-square-foot building housing a 30-barrel brewhouse, which could pump out 13,000 barrels per year — at Koran’s Farm in Monson. During construction, they continued to sell beer out of a little red barn across the street.

“This is where we were going to retire,” Rohan said, adding that, at the very least, the farm would be the framework of a five-year plan. But, a year and a half into that plan, production still wasn’t keeping up with demand.

“We have these plans and goals for the future, and the future arrives much faster than we expect it to,” he went on. “Wait, that’s wrong — we actually expect it now.”

It was in Monson that the long-line phenomenon really took off, he added. “In the dead of winter, on days when the news people were saying, ‘coldest day of the year — stay home, don’t go out’ — we’d have 25 cars in the parking lot an hour or two before we opened.” So he started printing tickets with the line order and passing them out so people could stay warm in their cars and not lose their place.

There are benefits to selling on site only, starting with freshness, as everything patrons carry out has been very recently brewed. As the partners note on their website, people like the convenience of finding a favorite beer at the convenience store, but that convenience comes at a price. “The minute our beer leaves our loving hands, it is subjected to forces that seek to destroy it — temperature fluctuations, ultraviolet light, mistreatment, etc. These forces are especially destructive to the pale, hoppy beers we love so much.”

The no-distribution model hasn’t hindered the company’s recognition; Beer Advocate recently listed 14 of its offerings on a list of 100 favorite beers. Besides the ever-popular Julius, other brews in regular rotation include ‘That’s What She Said,’ a milk stout with elements of chocolate and coffee; ‘Sap,’ a piney IPA originally brewed as a Christmas beer; ‘Green,’ a citrus-heavy IPA with notes of pineapple, tangerine, and orange rind; and ‘Eureka,’ which boasts a delicate bouquet of passionfruit and a slight lemon flavor.

Nate Lanier crafts a brew at Tree House’s headquarters in Monson.

Nate Lanier crafts a brew at Tree House’s headquarters in Monson.

Occasional offerings may include ‘Tornado,’ which Lanier concocted in the aftermath of the June 2011 tornado that ripped through Monson and Brimfield, and features notes of pine, tropical fruit, and citrus; ‘Good Morning,’ which pours black in the glass with a creamy head and offers the flavors of milk chocolate, maple syrup, and coffee; and ‘Double Shot,’ a rich, decadent coffee stout.

Stay Awhile

Those beers and more will soon be brewed in Charlton — specifically, in a 55,000-square-foot brewery on a 68-acre parcel that was most recently considered for a Home Depot warehouse, and before that, a casino. Built with the help of a $7.7 million MassDevelopment bond, the facility will initially boast a 30,000-barrel annual capacity, with the potential to expand to 125,000 barrels. Customers will be able to sample beers, buy and fill growlers, and buy cans of Tree House beer.

“For the first time in our history, we will have a taproom where guests can enjoy pints and enjoy a self-guided tour from a mezzanine level of our new, state-of-the-art brewing facility,” Lanier said. “We were lucky to find an amazing property high on a hill off of Route 20 that will allow guests to explore the grounds and disconnect a bit from the world at large.”

The people who wait in line in Monson typically make their purchases and get back in their cars, as there’s no space inside for socializing. Lanier is excited that Charlton will provide that social space.

“Since our inception, we have never been able to make enough beer to keep up with demand. Charlton will solve that problem and allow us to focus more on curating a communal environment,” he said — a place where beer enthusiasts can sit, enjoy the selections, and pass time with friends.

With the much larger quantities Tree House will be able to produce in Charlton, it may be able to keep public hours every day, as opposed to the four days a week — and maybe 20 total hours — it keeps now. While the Monson facility will remain operational, both for testing new beers and probably a scaled-back retail presence, Charlton will become the main hub, potentially doubling the company’s 22 employees.

“Once we get up and running, we may even do a little bit of distribution,” Rohan said. “There are so many taps in Massachusetts that have been waiting for us to give them a keg since the first month we were open. We’d never be able to get kegs to all those bars and restaurants, and we wouldn’t be anything but hyper-local for the next five to seven years. The closer we keep the beer to us, the fresher it will be.”

He expects the long lines and early arrivals at the new facility as well, but said the phenomenon has grown to be endearing phenomenon. “We’re in awe that some people sit there for hours for no other reason than to be first or second in line.”

In a way, he told BusinessWest, customers have made themselves into a community and made new friendships over their shared passion for craft beer. “We’re seeing upwards of 5,000 people a week coming through the doors, and when I walk out and talk to the people in line — some of them have been here four or five times — I feel like we’re friends.”

equipment

It’s a vibe he, Lanier, and Goudreau try to maintain among their employees as well.

“We want to make sure everyone is happy and friendly and can answer questions and give people what they need. We want this to be more than just a place to come get beer — we want it to be an experience, and a good experience. That’s really important to us, and I think that started from the beginning, when they’d walk into the red barn in Brimfield, put a record on the record player, sit on the couch next to the pot-belly stove, and wait for their beer to get poured. I want to give everyone that vibe here, and I’m hoping that vibe comes back twofold or even tenfold in Charlton.”

Climbing Higher

When the founders first petitioned the state for a brewery license, they had to list a company name, and went through a few rustic-sounding options to match their surroundings.

“We thought maybe Red Barn Brewing, or Brimfield Brewing,” Rohan said. “Well, Damien had this beautiful treehouse in one of the trees right next to the brewery. We realized it had to be Tree House Brewing.”

The company’s logo — a treehouse stylized in a whimsical, flowing manner — has become a common sight on car bumpers throughout the Quaboag region, which he finds gratifying. “I can drive down the road and see the sticker in front of me and know they’re coming from the brewery or have been there. It’s recognizable.”

And it all started with a wife’s gift, a tasting party — and an idea.

“We’re riding a wave that is bigger than any of us imagined, for sure,” Lanier told BusinessWest. “We love Tree House — the beer, the community, the philosophy, and the brand — and our goal every day is to wake up and work our tails off to meet the very high standards we set for ourselves before we ever brewed a beer.”

In short, he concluded, “if the beer is good, and the attitude is right, everything else will fall into place.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Past Is Prologue

Michelle Rondeau and Michael Glick

Michelle Rondeau and Michael Glick say the addition to the Chamberlain House includes a patio and suite for wedding parties or groups holding functions in the Garden Tent.

Michael Glick says the Publick House Historic Inn and Country Lodge in Sturbridge is two miles — and two centuries — away from the Mass Pike.

“We have every modern amenity, but when people come here, they step back to a period in time when things weren’t so fast-paced. It’s a place where they can really relax,” said the general manager.

Throughout its 246-year history, the Publick House has been known for its hospitality, excellent food, and New England charm, and has become a popular venue for weddings, celebratory events, and family gatherings. Part of the draw is its central location: it is in close proximity to Route 20 and Interstates 90 and 84 and easy to get to from all of the New England states as well as New York and New Jersey.

The historic inn was built in 1771, houses two restaurants and a pub, sits directly across from the Town Common, and offers a retreat from stress on its 43-acre campus that contains more than eight buildings.

Publick House

Michelle Rondeau says the multi-million-dollar investment in the hotel portion of the Publick House has led to an increase in corporate business.

During the fall and winter, guests lounge in comfortable chairs next to wood-burning fireplaces and spend hours reading or talking to co-workers, friends, or family members.

In the spring and summer, meanwhile, they stroll along meandering brick walkways through lush gardens, relax on patios with sweeping vistas, and enjoy outdoor fire pits.

Although its 11 event rooms can accommodate corporate gatherings of up to 200 people, in the past, marketing efforts were focused almost entirely on weddings and events in the dining room. The complex was never promoted as a place to stay overnight, and Glick says that was purposeful.

The reason was simple: the inn offered 17 rooms, and the Chamberlain House next door had six rooms outfitted with period furnishings and décor. But the remaining 80+ rooms were in the outdated Country Motor Lodge. It was built in the ’60s on a hill behind the inn, has drive-up entrances to each room, and falls short of offering the luxury and amenities people expect today.

Minor upgrades were made over the years, including installation of new hotel bedding, but the discrepancy between the rooms in the Motor Inn and the Publick and Chamberlain House next door was so great, they couldn’t market it as a place to hold multi-day business meetings or group gatherings.

“All of our rooms are sold out every weekend because we have so many weddings here,” said Rooms Division Manager Michelle Rondeau, adding that they hosted 183 weddings last year, and 179 nuptial celebrations have already been booked for 2017.

“But corporate groups were offended by the idea of having to put some of their participants in the old motor lodge,” she noted. “Everyone wanted to stay in the inn or the Chamberlain House, and in order to book multi-day events, we needed to be able to offer similar accommodations.”

In 2014 a decision was made to help resolve that discrepancy, and 15 months ago a $3.2 million renovation and addition to the Chamberlain House was completed that includes 20 new hotel rooms.

It has changed the focus of the Publick House from a quintessential New England restaurant to a charming hotel that can custom-tailor events for businesses and other large groups.

New jobs were created as a result of the project, and salespeople who were hired to market the rooms were successful in attracting businesses, craft-oriented groups, and more for multi-day stays.

The trend is continuing, and construction on a new $5 million to $6 million building is expected to start soon to replace more of the old rooms in the motor inn. It will be built on a site that houses an old barn originally built to store horse feed.

“We’re a boutique hotel, and we are not looking to grow larger,” Glick said, adding that town bylaws allow the facility to have only 125 hotel rooms on the campus. “We just want to replace the motel rooms with ones of a higher quality.”

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest looks at recent changes that have taken place at the Publick House Historic Inn and Meeting Lodge, what people can expect in the future, and the reasons behind the facility’s success.

New Focus

Glick said the Publick House first approached the town about six years ago with the idea of making changes, and in 2014 the architectural and landscape design firm Siemasko and Verbridge was hired to find a creative and appropriate way to add new guest rooms to the campus.

Its design plan involved retaining the exterior of the 1830 Chamberlain House with its wide columned porch, gutting the interior, replacing outdated plumbing and electrical wiring, adding a handicapped entrance, and building an addition onto the rear of the structure that would add 14 new rooms and blend in seamlessly with the neighboring historic buildings.

After the renovation and addition was complete, the rooms were decorated in a simple manner befitting the history of the home and Publick House. Window treatments were purchased from Country Curtains in Sturbridge, and the rooms were furnished with solid-wood bureaus and beds whose high wood posts are topped with pineapples, which are a sign of hospitality commonly seen at New England inns during the Colonial era.

In addition, an outdoor courtyard was built between the Chamberlain House and the Publick House that overlooks the bucolic area where the Garden Tent area is set up three seasons of the year. It can hold 200 guests and is a popular place for weddings.

historic building on the Publick House campus

The new hotel has been designed to meld with the architecture of the historic building on the Publick House campus.

A brick pathway leads directly from the Chamberlain House to the tent, and the suite that faces the area is used as a hospitality room for bridal parties, large gatherings, and corporate events, while the patio is often the setting for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

Two of the five buildings that make up the old motor lodge have been phased out, and more rooms will be closed when the new building is complete, but Glick said they plan to leave a few open for travelers seeking a modest price point.

“The addition and renovation of the Chamberlain House has definitely increased our corporate business,” Rondeau said, noting that companies that have held training sessions, seminars, meetings, and themed events in the country setting.

For example, a Hawaiian Luau in the Garden Tent was created for a business party and included carving a fully cooked pig in the patio area.

“We created a beautiful atmosphere. The outdoor fire pit was burning, tiki torches were lit around the perimeter of the area, and there were lush flowers blooming everywhere,” Glick said, explaining that the acreage allows the company to offer events that might not be possible in a downtown hotel in a large city.

He added that business guests who enjoy the atmosphere and hospitality the Publick House offers are returning for overnight stays with their entire families.

The investment in upgraded rooms proved so successful that Siemasko and Verbridge were rehired last year to create a design for the new hotel building. Its plans involve tearing down the white clapboard-style barn that sits next to the Publick House and replacing it with a 21,314-square-foot structure with 28 hotel rooms.

The building will face the street and resemble a Colonial home on a raised, red-brick foundation linked to a red-barn-style structure with a raised stone foundation.

“It will be nestled between the Publick House and Sadie Green’s,” said Rondeau, referring to the retail emporium, jewelry store, and curiosity shop housed in buildings on the property.

“The new lobby will become the hotel registration center and will feature a double-sided wood-burning fireplace with lots of comfortable seating,” she continued. “The design and layout have a lot of character that includes roof gables and a mock hayloft door. We can’t recreate the Publick House, but we’re doing our best to give the new building a historic feel.”

The town’s design review board approved the plan in November, and it will go before the planning board in April.

However, the project was delayed in December when the Historical Commission put the demolition of the existing barn on hold for a year, but Glick said they are working closely with the commission and hope to come up with a compromise that will allow them to move forward this year.

“But the Publick House will continue to serve as the hub of the property,” he said, noting that its two restaurants and historic pub are convenient for overnight guests.

Ongoing Traditions

The Publick House is known for its fine food, New England specialties, and bake shop, which does $700,000 in business annually.

Glick noted that the majority of dishes on the menu in the dining room never change and include pot roast, chicken pot pie, lobster pie, and a full turkey dinner with all of the fixings that is offered every day throughout the year.

“People come here and expect to be able to order the foods we’re known for,” he explained.

Indeed, families have been coming there for generations and expect things to stay the same. Glick told BusinessWest that the bakery offers a frosted sugar cookie with a smiley face, and when the chef altered the recipe to make it healthier, they received calls and letters of complaint even though there were no signs alerting people to the slight difference in taste. “So we went back to the original recipe,” he said.

Rondeau added that the Publick House is rooted in tradition, and many grandparents bring their grandchildren there to experience history in the same way they did when they were young.

But ultimately, what all of their guests look for and find is the service, attention to detail, and personal touch that Colonial New England inns were known for.

“We have all the luxuries of a downtown hotel, and the quality of our food drives business here. Until last year, we were never known as a hotel, but that is changing,” Glick said. “We’re targeting business groups of about 50 people, but no matter who our guests are, our focus will always remain on offering them true hospitality.”

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE
www.1berkshire.com
(413) 499-1600

• March 15: Chamber Nite, 5-7 p.m., at Community Health Programs, 71 Hospital Ave., North Adams. Bring your business card so you can enter to win a door prize. Cost: free.

• March 29: Career Fair, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Berkshire Community College, Paterson Field House, 1350 West St., Pittsfield. Get in front of Berkshire-based businesses at this annual event. This event is open to the public and is free. No registration is required.

• March 29: Brown Bag Fundraising, noon-1 p.m., at 1Berkshire Central Station, 66 Allen St., Pittsfield. Cost: Free

Register online for events at www.1berkshire.com.

EAST OF THE RIVER
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.erc5.com
(413) 575-7230

• April 27: The Feast in the East, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse, 128 Wilbraham Road, Hampden. This event is open to the public. The ERC5 is preparing to host 30 of the finest restaurants in our area to serve delicious and decadent signature dishes to guests. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at www.erc5.com. Call Nancy Connor, executive director, at (413) 575-7230 with questions.

GREATER CHICOPEE
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• March 8: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., at the Delaney House, 3 Country Club Road, Holyoke. Salutes include Berkshire Bank/165-year anniversary; Chicopee Industrial Contractors/25-year anniversary; Chicopee Colleen and her court; and a Bow of Recognition to Clear Vision Alliance for a 10-year anniversary. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 16: CEO Luncheon featuring Raymond Berry, president and general manager of White Lion Brewing Co., 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Collegian Court Restaurant, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 22: Business After Hours with the Springfield Regional Chamber, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Springfield Thunderbirds main office, 45 Bruce Landon Way, Springfield. Networking, raffle prizes, shoot-the-puck contest on the ice, Plan B Burger, and a cash bar available. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.easthamptonchamber.org
(413) 527-9414

• April 12: Business Expo, 4:30-7 p.m., at the Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke. Sponsored by Florence Bank, Williston Northampton School, and Green Earth Energy PhotoVoltaic. The Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the chambers of Holyoke, Chicopee, and Northampton for a Business Expo. The chambers are now accepting reservations for tables. The cost is $150 if reserved by March 29, and $200 after that date. Table fee includes a 6’ x 30” skirted table, two entrance passes, a light supper, and free parking. Sponsorships are also available. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414 or e-mail [email protected]

GREATER WESTFIELD
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• March 6: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., at Armbrook Village, 551 North Road, Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. Free and open to the public. Call (413) 568-1618 to register for this event.

• March 8: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., at Shaker Farms Country Club, 866 Shaker Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Camp K-9 Doggie Day Camp. Refreshments will be served, and there will be a 50/50 raffle to benefit our CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. Cost: free for members, $10 for general admission (cash/credit paid at the door). Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the Chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, 6-10:30 p.m., at Tekoa Country Club, 459 Russell Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Westfield Bank, platinum sponsor; Savage Arms, gold sponsor; A Plus HVAC Inc., silver sponsor; NorthPoint Mortgage, beer sponsor; and Mercy Continuing Care Network, dessert table sponsor. Join us for our St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, 6-6:30 p.m.; cocktails and networking, 6:30-7:30 p.m.; dinner and program, 7:30-10:30 p.m.; music and dancing. Cost: $38 for singles, $70 for couples, and $300 for a table of eight. Featuring Band O’Brothers, an Irish/American band. For sponsorship opportunities, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618. To register, visit www.westfieldbiz.org.

• March 24: Employment Law Workshop, 8:30-10 a.m., at the Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Topic: “Managing Employee Appearance and Religious Accommodations in the Workplace.” Join attorney Karina Schrengohst for a roundtable-style seminar to discuss appearance in the workplace and religious accommodations, including an overview of religious-discrimination law; dress and appearance standards; body modification (tattoos and piercings); an workplace culture, individual self-expression, and employee retention. Cost: free for members, $30 for general admission paid in advance. Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER
www.myonlinechamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• March 22: Professional Women’s Chamber Headline Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Location to be determined. Cost: $30 for PWC members, $40 for general admission.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER
www.myonlinechamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• March 6: Outlook 2017, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. Cost: $50 for members, $70 for general admission. Reservation deadline: Feb. 22. No walk-ins accepted. No cancellations after RSVP deadline.

• March 8: Lunch ‘n’ Learn, “Apprentices and Internships: The Real Deal,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Presented by David Cruise, president of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $25 for members in advance ($30 at the door), $35 for general admission ($40 at the door).

• March 14: Speed Networking, 3:30-5 p.m., at Lattitude, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for general admission in advance ($35 at the door).

• March 22: “Power Play” After 5, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Springfield Thunderbirds, MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for general admission. Special event presented jointly with the Springfield Regional Chamber and the Greater Chicopee Chamber.

• March 28: Pastries, Politics & Policy, 8-9 a.m., at TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Cost: $15 for members in advance ($20 at the door), $25 for general admission in advance ($30 at the door).

Reservations for all chamber events may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• March 16: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., at Crestview Country Club, Agawam. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately that day. We cannot invoice you for these events. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• March 23: Business 2 Business Meet and Greet with West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt. 7:30 a.m., hosted by Fathers & Sons, 989 Memorial Dr., West Springfield. A casual meet and greet with local businesses and the mayor.

Features

The Time Is Now

Invalid Displayed Gallery

After roughly 40 years of being mostly relegated to Springfield’s past, Union Station is set to begin what will certainly be an intriguing new life. As the station sets to open next month, however, questions remain about just how viable it will be as a business and economic driver. The Union Station in Worcester provides some interesting parallels and talking points.

In many ways, the giant clock in the grand concourse at Springfield’s Union Station has served as a symbol, or metaphor, for that landmark and efforts to revitalize it.

Indeed, for the better part of four decades, time essentially stood still — for the clock (its ornate bronze hands never moved during that time) and for the station itself, which sat mostly idle and, like the timepiece, continued to deteriorate inside and out.

Today, though, the 54-inch-wide clock is functional again, having been repaired by a Medfield-based company that specializes in such work and returned to its place at the south end of the concourse. And the station will soon be functional as well; it is on schedule to be open and serving as a transportation hub next month.

And the comparisons continue. The clock required an extensive makeover, including replacement of its inner mechanism and a surface overhaul. The station? Its multi-faceted renovation has taken several years, and the price tag, when all is said and done, will be north of $80 million.

The clock in Union Station’s concourse before restoration

The clock in Union Station’s concourse before restoration

... and after the work was completed

… and after the work was completed

However, it is at this point that the story lines separate. The clock has been repaired, and its future is no longer in doubt.

The same cannot exactly be said of the station, although there is considerable optimism about what comes next, at least among city development leaders.

Train travel is becoming a larger part of the economic-development picture in the Northeast corridor, and Union Station is well-positioned to play an important part in such efforts. Meanwhile, the station will be a hub for inner-city and perhaps intra-city bus travel as well.

But the station has long been touted as a much larger piece of the economic-development puzzle than that of a mere train and bus station. It is being projected as both a catalyst to further development — of both businesses and residential facilities — as well as home to a number of businesses in its nearly 100,000 square feet of available retail space, a key to its ability to function as something approximating a break-even business.

Chris Moskal, president of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA), told BusinessWest that three vendors have already signed on the dotted line for spaces adjacent to the concourse, and there is considerable interest in some of the available office space above it.

There is more positive news in the form of language within the host-community agreement between MGM and Springfield, said Moskal. It calls for the casino company to pay $7.5 million over the next 15 years toward the costs of operating the station and fitting out space for tenants — an option MGM chose over actually locating at the station itself.

This $500,000 annually should help the facility stem whatever losses it might incur in meeting what is currently projected to be a $750,000 annual operating budget (a number certainly subject to change), with the bulk of that going toward maintenance and security, said Moskal.

But since the restoration of Springfield’s Union Station began, comparisons to the one in Worcester have been inevitable and seemingly constant, and in many ways, this has been unfortunate for the local landmark, because these comparisons serve as a counterweight to the expressed optimism.

That’s because Worcester’s station has mostly been described locally with terms such as ‘under-performing,’ ‘disappointing,’ and ‘unsuccessful.’ And these words are, in fact, accurate, at least when it comes to the real-estate and fiscal performance sides of the equation; the station is expected to run roughly $600,000 in the red this fiscal year, slightly more than the average lately due to some needed maintenance work, and by most accounts, only half its available commercial space is under lease.

They were attracted to that area because of the train station. People can live there, take the train to a job in Wellesley or Newton or Boston; this rail service shortens the distance to those communities.”

But from a bigger-picture perspective, the station (and the vastly improved commuter rail service that has come because of it) are succeeding in their primary role, that of spurring economic development, said Stuart Loosemore, general council and director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce.

Elaborating, he spoke of concentric circles and how development, in the form of market-rate housing, a new hotel, additional restaurants, and more have emanated out from the station, if you will, as train runs from Worcester to Boston have increased to more than 20 a day, including the popular, non-stop Heart to Hub trip, which leaves Union Station at 8 a.m.

“And it gets to Boston in an hour or less,” Loosemore explained, adding that commuting by car will likely take half again as long and bring other inconveniences and expenses, including parking. “That makes it much easier to live in Worcester and get to work or school in Boston; it’s bringing that city much closer.”

Whether similar developments will take shape in Springfield remain to be seen, especially since there isn’t a logical destination for riders, as there is in Worcester with Boston. In keeping with the theme of this story, time will tell.

Soon, though, the speculation about this city’s Union Station — again, about 40 years of it — will soon end, and its next life will begin.

In other words, the time is now.

Hour Town

Tom Erb says the assignment to restore the concourse clock at Union Station, as well as others at that facility, was in most ways typical of those taken on by his family business, Electric Time Co. Inc. And its condition when it arrived at the shop was also typical of what the company has witnessed at several old train-station projects in its vast portfolio, including a recent one in Kansas City.

In short, water had leaked onto and into the clock, manufactured by the Springfield-based Standard Electric Time Co., he explained, requiring extensive repair work to its brass and marble components.

“They were very sad-looking,” he said of the group of clocks and especially the concourse timepiece. “A few of them were missing numbers, which we had to recreate using an oxidizing compound to make them look old … they needed quite a bit of work.

“We replaced the mechanism in the main clock, which was in very bad shape,” continued Erb, whose company has worked on many projects in Western Mass., from restoration of the clock on the Springfield Armory Museum to installation of the massive timepiece now gracing the entrance to the Great River Bridge in Westfield. “We reused the existing clock hands and gave it a small control along with a receiver that latches into atomic time, so the clock will always be absolutely perfect, which is important at a train station.”

The concourse clock is one of many examples of blending old with the new at Union Station, said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer, as he gave a tour of the facility.

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy says the renovated Union Station, and especially its grand concourse, will feature an intriguing blend of the old and the modern.

To get his points across, all Kennedy, who has been involved with redevelopment of the station for roughly 30 years now, needed to do was gesture with his arm across the concourse and just beyond. With that sweep, he pointed out the recently installed retail kiosks, the station’s original (and restored) terrazzo floor, modern exit lights juxtaposed against the original archways, original (and restored) sconces in the ceiling, and wi-fi hook-ups.

“This is an historical renovation,” he explained. “What stands out to me are two things — the neatness of that historical renovation, but also the modern codes of today that require these brightly lit exit signs. You have the 21st century coming together with 1926, and it’s pretty cool.”

The old and new will come together in dramatic and artistic fashion within the renovated tunnel linking the station with downtown Springfield, he went on, noting that there, elaborate murals depicting the history of the station and the city will be installed as part of a project being undertaken in conjunction with Springfield Museums.

While these murals will no doubt become a conversation piece and an attraction in and of themselves, those involved with the station project — especially U.S. Rep. Richard Neal — have stressed that $80 million hasn’t been spent in the name of nostalgia or to establish a museum.

Rather, it’s been spent to create a transportation hub — which the station was for decades before the decline of rail travel — as well as a business center and catalyst for further economic development.

There is little doubt that it will become at least the former. Indeed, 14 trains will soon be moving in and out of the station daily as part of expanded service in the northeast corridor, especially between Springfield and New Haven through what’s known as the Connecticut Line. Meanwhile, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will make the station its hub, with roughly 700 buses running in and out every day.

Intra-city bus service remains a question mark, however. Negotiations continue with Peter Pan Bus Lines, headquartered just a few hundred feet from the renovated station, about its possible presence at the facility, and there are other intra-city companies that may become tenants as well, said Moskal.

The business and economic-development sides of the equation involve more question marks, however, and the performance of Worcester’s Union Station since it was renovated in the late ’90s creates still more.

Up-to-the-minute News

As he gave BusinessWest a tour of the available commercial spaces at the station, Kennedy pointed to the large windows while listing several reasons why the assembled square footage might be an attractive landing spot. Actually, to the windows and beyond.

The windows themselves provide large amounts of natural light, which is preferred by many types of businesses, especially those in the creative fields, he said. Meanwhile, as one looks out those windows, they can see I-91, Route 291 (and signs for the Turnpike on both of them), and the point where they intersect, which translates into convenience for employees and customers alike.

Outside some windows, people can also see the 377-space parking garage, a critical component of the station project and another important amenity for a business located downtown, and from still others, people can see downtown and the many forms of progress there.

Thus, the windows reveal a lot, said Kennedy, who noted that the various spaces in the station, stretched across three floors, with one offering views of the station concourse itself, are already attracting interest, and should draw more once a few tenants settle there.

“I think people needed to see this building completed before they could really understand what we had here,” he explained. “Now that it is completed, I think people will take notice, and when we get a few tenants in here, word will start to spread.”

The concourse area itself is already filling in nicely, said Moskal, noting that agreements have been reached for three of the small retail spaces along its east side, with a convenience store, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway due to move in over the next few months. A fourth is still available, and there has been interest expressed in it.

Meanwhile, the convenience-store developer will also lease two of those aforementioned kiosks in the tunnel, said Moskal, adding that he isn’t sure what will be sold from them, but expects one will likely be dedicated to cell-phone accessories.

Also, a rental car company (the name was not disclosed, but Moskal said it is a major player in that business) has signed on to do business out of the station, with cars to be stored in the parking garage.

As for the office space above the concourse, Moskal said several parties have expressed interest, and he even added the adjective ‘strong’ to describe it.

“We have a number of interested parties, and one of them is very promising,” he said, referring specifically to space on the second floor, which, as noted, has windows with a view of the concourse. “That would be huge for us; this party wouldn’t take all of the second floor, but maybe 70% of it.”

And, like Kennedy, he said signing a tenant or two will likely create some needed momentum. “Once you start to spin that kind of positive news, hopefully, others will take note.”

Overall, the SRA has been “conservative,” a word Moskal used early and often, with regard to projections for tenants and resulting revenues so as not to create unreasonable expectations and disappointment if they are not met. And thus far, those goals are being met or exceeded.

“We set conservative goals — having 30% leased by the second year, and maybe 60% by the third year,” he explained. “And this is a positive for us, because we hope to have more than that under lease.”

The $7.5 million committed by MGM provides a cushion of sorts, especially for the first three years, he said, adding that the hope is that, by year four, that kind of cushion will be less necessary.

On Second Thought

But it is with the bigger-picture perspective that greater optimism likely prevails, and here, Worcester’s station should serve as an inspiration, rather than a cautionary tale, said those we spoke with.

To emphasize this point, Loosemore started with references to what was known as the Osgood-Brady Building, named for the company, which, ironically enough, manufactured railway passenger cars and streetcars there starting in 1914.

Today, it is home to more than 250 students living in more than 80 market-rate apartments carved out of the various spaces. Most of them are there, said Loosemore, specifically for the trains running out of Union Station just a few blocks away.

“They called it ‘purpose-built student housing,’ and I believe this was the first time it was done in Massachusetts,” he explained. “They’re marketing to college students, and part of what attracted them to it is students at the Worcester colleges doing internships in Boston; living next to Union Station, you can get into various areas of Worcester, because you’re right there, but you can also get to access to the train, which will get you to the Boston region and opportunities for jobs, internships, and other expanded learning opportunities.”

A new hotel is also going up in that area, and the developer has stated publicly that commuter rail is a big reason why the project went forward, and in that location. Meanwhile, across the street from the bus depot at the station, a company is building more than 350 units of market-rate housing, Loosemore continued. “They were attracted to that area because of the train station. People can live there, take the train to a job in Wellesley or Newton or Boston; this rail service shortens the distance to those communities.

Indeed, the train station and accompanying commuter rail are creating much stronger connections between New England’s two largest cities, said Loosemore, adding that many are now finding it convenient (and also far more affordable) to live in Worcester and work or go to school in Boston or one of its suburbs.

He added quickly that, while this isn’t the loftiest of goals for the city or its chamber of commerce — both would rather have people living and working in Worcester — such scenarios do bring a host of benefits.

“If I can’t have the jobs, how can I get the workers?” he asked while speaking for the chamber and noting that reliable commuter rail has become at least part of the answer to that question.

And having the workers come back to Worcester at the end of the day has certainly helped prompt growth of the city’s restaurant district, which borders Union Station.

“People come into the station, and they can go around the corner and get dinner or a drink,” he said. “People may work in Boston, but on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, they’re in Worcester.”

Loosemore, who has been with the chamber for roughly two years now, and has learned much of the history of Union Station and the area around it rather than experiencing it first-hand, said what’s happened there didn’t take place overnight. It came incrementally, and as commuter rail became better, faster (the Heart to Hub run, for example), and more frequent.

Tim Murray, president of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and former lieutenant governor, expanded on this thought in a recent op-ed in the Worcester Business Journal, in which he drew parallels between progress in that city and the recent success of the region’s pro football franchise.

“The ability to gain the crucial inch that determines victory often comes as the result of hard work, preparation, and never giving up,” he wrote. “These same principles apply to the progress we have made during the past 15 years to expand commuter rail service between Worcester and Boston … hard work, persistence, and preparation has allowed a team of public and private leaders to go from six round trips a day to 20.

“This progress has contributed significantly to the unprecedented private-sector investments in and around Worcester’s Union Station,” he continued. “Developers, property owners, and business owners including the City Square, Theater District, and Gateway Park projects all tout the presence of rail service as a major catalyst for their investments.”

Whether similar developments will come in Springfield remains to be seen, said Loosemore, noting that the City of Homes does not have a logical or potential-laden destination (like Boston) for commuters — yet, anyway.

In time, more routes going north-south and perhaps east-west (many officials are calling for a high-speed Springfield-to-Boston connection) may be added, and Springfield may see some of that growth in concentric circles that Worcester has.

“Having that commuter rail has certainly been a catalyst for development here,” he said in conclusion. “And it may prove to be the same in Springfield.”

Hands Down

Part of the restoration effort involving the clock in the main concourse was refinishing the words spelled out in the middle of the timepiece — ‘Eastern Standard Time.’

Erb told BusinessWest that, decades ago, it would not have been uncommon for train travelers to cross from one time zone into another in the course of their journey, and thus they might need a reminder as to just what the hour was in the City of Homes.

Such long trips, while still doable, are not a big part of the equation in this new era for Union Station. Meanwhile, cell phones automatically adjust for time zones, and that’s how most people note the time these days anyway.

But the clock still serves a very useful function, said Kennedy, adding that, for the first time in four decades, Union Station does as well. It is a transportation hub, as it was when it opened in 1926, but it is also an economic driver, perhaps one to be as successful in that role as Worcester’s.

Time will tell, but for the first time in a long time, the clock is running at Union Station, in every way, shape, and form.

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

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Eight Massachusetts Restaurant Assoc. restaurants across the state will participate in Massachusetts Restaurant Day on Monday, March 27, for No Kid Hungry. Inspired by Chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, who has hosted a dinner for this cause for the past 20 years, the MRA announced the program’s expansion across Massachusetts.

Last year, participating Boston restaurants raised more than $60,000 to end childhood hunger in Massachusetts. This year, Hotel Northampton is hosting the Western Mass. branch of the event, a multi-course meal with wine pairings. The hotel’s culinary team is working alongside and co-sponsoring with four well-known restaurants in town, including Sierra Grille, Spoleto’s, Packard’s, and Union Station.

“It’s going to be a fabulous event,” said Ruby Meng, Hotel Northampton’s director of Sales and Marketing. “The local culinary talent is very impressive, and we’re going to bring you an unforgettable menu.”

Attendance at this event will not only help to curb childhood hunger in Massachusetts, but will also help local programs that feed children of all ages at school and in the home. The goal is to ensure all children get the healthy food they need, every day. To purchase tickets or to provide sponsorship, click here.

Features

Looking Forward, Not Back

Nate Costa

Nate Costa says the first part of the T-Birds season was about paying tribute to the past; since Jan. 1, though, the team has been working even more diligently to forge its own identity.

Nate Costa was talking about how the eight months since the launch of Springfield’s new American Hockey League franchise, the Thunderbirds, has been both long and quick at the same time.

To get his point across, he pointed to his office in the team’s complex at the MassMutual Center and just how unlived in (or not ready for this writer’s camera) it is.

Indeed, while the credenza over his desk seems somewhat organized, complete with a good-sized bobblehead collection, a photo from his college commencement, and other mementos, the rest of it would certainly not fit that description. A dorm fridge sits on the floor unplugged, the energy-rating tag still attached to the door. Several photos, plaques, and other items, including a wooden clock commemorating the New York Giants’ victory in Super Bowl XXI (Costa’s a huge fan of that team), take up space on shelves or the floor, rather than the walls.

Meanwhile, there are several boxes of team replica jerseys stacked in one corner. They are destined, hopefully, for bars, restaurants, and clubs across the area in an effort to enlist their support — and wall space — in efforts to build momentum and a fan base (more on that later).

“This office … just hasn’t been a priority,” said Costa, the team’s executive vice president, uttering those words slowly for emphasis before going into great detail about what has been a priority. And this would be anything and everything that goes into building the Thunderbirds brand and making this AHL franchise part of the fabric of the community.

A long, quick eight months in, Costa believes he and his team have made significant progress on both scores, enough to imply strongly that he can already declare this inaugural season a success on many levels.

That list does not necessarily include the AHL’s Atlantic Division standings, where the T-Birds are firmly entrenched in sixth place, only a few points ahead of cellar-dwelling Hartford and nearly 30 points behind pace-setting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

But it would include average attendance (roughly 4,500, a marked increase over last year) and the demographic breakdown of those crowds (fans of all ages, but an encouraging number of young people), as well as a host of intangibles Costa noted, including ‘energy,’ ‘buzz,’ and ‘brand recognition.’ (A ‘swear jar’ placed at the T-Birds offices to store fines deposited by those who uttered the former franchise’s name, ‘Falcons,’ has been retired, because no one really does that anymore).

“The vision for this, right from the get-go, was creating a brand and creating an identity in Springfield that was centered not just on community involvement and hockey, but entertainment,” he explained. “That’s family-friendly entertainment that’s affordable and provides value. And I think we’ve accomplished much of that in terms of laying a foundation for something that’s consistent.”

Overall, Costa said his team, using its own imagination while also borrowing heavily from the success of other franchises, has succeeded in creating a game experience that is succeeding in drawing fans no matter what the team’s record happens to be. Perhaps the best example of this is Friday-night games, or the Friday 4-for-All, as the team calls them.

Live music featuring local bands precedes those tilts, which also feature free parking in the Civic Center Parking Garage (as all games do), $1 concessions (hot dogs, soda, and popcorn), and $4 Coors Light draughts.

The package has proven attractive enough to lure college students and families alike, said Costa, adding that the Friday-night games are becoming a fixture, if they haven’t crossed that threshold already.

“Friday nights … you can’t get a better value anywhere in town,” he said. “And it’s starting to spread in terms of awareness. Overall, there’s an atmosphere in the building that wasn’t there before.”

But there’s more, including so-called ‘winning weekdays’ — if the team wins one of those rare non-weekend games, attendees get a free ticket to the next one — as well as a host of on-ice game-day experiences created to attract young people and spur group-ticket sales, and an array of giveaways, special offers, and promotions.

And then, there’s Ric Flair, the former professional wrestler and consummate self-promoter, who will be the special attraction at the Feb. 10 (another Friday) tilt against Hartford.

“The Syracuse Crunch brought him in one night a few years ago, and it was a smash success — it was one of the biggest nights they’ve had in a long time,” said Costa, offering one of many examples of how the team is borrowing best practices. “We’re not sold out yet, but we’re on our way; he’s as topical as ever.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Costa about the progress achieved to date with building a fan base for the T-Birds and the challenges that remain.

Changing Their Tune

Costa grew up in Springfield — he’s a Cathedral High School alum — and has many vivid memories of watching Springfield Falcons games with his father and grandfather at the old Springfield Civic Center.

Generations of people have such memories involving Springfield teams also named the Indians and Kings, he noted, adding that professional hockey in Springfield dates back to the Roaring ’20s. This legacy was certainly on Costa’s mind as he worked with a team of owners to launch the Thunderbirds franchise last spring, and in many ways, the first part of the season was dedicated to the tradition and those who kept it alive, he told BusinessWest.

“I wanted to pay tribute to the history, because I’m a product of that,” he explained. “It wasn’t necessarily the sport, it was the experience — it was getting to spend time with my dad or my grandfather, and it was time that really stuck with me. So the beginning part of our season was really spent celebrating that history.”

Right down to “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” the rally-the-crowd song that has been played before, during, and after AHL games in Springfield for decades, which also greeted the T-Birds as they took the ice or scored a goal.

But starting with the Jan. 4 tilt against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (one of those weekday games the T-Birds won, thus sending attendees home really happy), there was a different sound being heard.

It was “Out of Our Heads” by the Dropkick Murphys, featuring the lyrics:

“Are we gonna make it
Or is this how we’ll go?
Are we gonna take it sitting down?
Hell no!
We’re going to cause a riot
We’re going to rip it up
We’re going to storm the gates
This place is going up.”

As he explained this choice and the retirement of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” Costa said it was a well-thought-out decision that in many ways speaks to what his team (meaning the one in the backroom, not the one on the ice) is doing with this franchise across the board, or across the boards, as they say in this business.

“Our internal mindset was, once we get to Jan. 1, we’re going to flip that switch and embrace that new brand we’ve created in this market around the T-Birds,” he explained. “We switched to ‘Out of Our Heads’ because we were creating our own identity, and one that identifies with a young fan.

“We hear so much about people having memories with their parents and hearing ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll,’ he went on. “I want to create those same memories for a younger generation that may not identify with ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll,’ but does identify with something that’s more current. I’m trying to look forward, and not necessarily backward, and that’s what we’re trying to do continuously.”

That sentiment applies to basically every bullet-pointed item in the strategic plan, he continued, listing everything from marketing to the strategy for group sales to those on-ice promotions, to specific initiatives like Friday 4-for-Alls.

Starting with marketing, he said that, while the team still partakes in what would be considered traditional methods and platforms, its focus is on social media and the methods for reaching younger audiences.

“We’re doing a ton of marketing in a way that’s different from what we’ve seen in years past,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re putting a ton behind digital … being on Facebook and being intelligent about what we’re doing is exposing our product to a completely different fan; the majority of people who are on Facebook, who are on Instagram, who are on Twitter are young people.”

the key to success for all the teams in the AHL

Nate Costa says the key to success for all the teams in the AHL, and especially the T-Birds, is to focus on providing entertainment, not just hockey.

The same philosophy being applied to marketing also prevails with other strategies for attracting and retaining fans, he went on, citing the Win on Weekdays promotion as just one example.

“We had two Wednesdays; we won the first one and had a really good redemption on the people coming back to the next one,” he explained. “We were able to grow our revenue, and it was a positive. Hopefully, what happens is we win a couple of those, you create a buzz, and you give people something to talk about. It’s a fun promotion.”

Changing On the Fly

As he talked about hockey, the AHL, the mindset of looking forward, not backward, and the involved process of turning league games into can’t-miss happenings, Costa focused most of his time and energy on what’s happening in Springfield.

But to put things into perspective — and also to show that everything he was talking about was certainly doable — he started by discussing what has happened in some other AHL cities, including Grand Rapids, Mich., San Antonio, Texas, where Costa cut his teeth in group sales, and especially Utica, N.Y.

That city of 65,000 people in Upstate New York’s Mohawk County, known perhaps more for the beer that’s been brewed there since 1888 than anything else, had an AHL franchise (the Devils, an affiliate of the NHL team with that same nickname) in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but lost it essentially due to lackluster support.

So when there was movement to locate the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate there in 2013, the plan was greeted with a good deal of skepticism, said Costa, who was then working for the league in its Team Business Services Department.

“I was there when they bought the franchise,” he recalled. “And there were a lot of doubters, a lot of people who laughed a bit and said, ‘why would they put a team back in tiny Utica with its 3,800-seat arena?’”

But former AHL and NHL player Robert Esh had a different vision, he went on.

“He took a major-league attitude toward it,” Costa explained. “And he had a vision for what a franchise could do for a small city like that.”

To make a somewhat long story short, the Comets have sold out every game for the last two or three years, said Costa, and tickets have become a hot commodity.

“A Comets’ game is now the thing to do in Utica,” he said. “You can’t get a ticket, you can’t sniff a ticket now, and it’s because of the brand that he’s built. The game-night experience is unbelievable; it’s NHL-quality.”

In some ways, the T-Birds management team has borrowed from the Utica franchise when it comes to the game-night-experience side of the equation, said Costa, but also from the specific mindset of making one of the team’s games the thing to do — on Friday night, yes, but really any night they’re playing.

And the team has borrowed from other franchises as well, he said, especially with regard to the focus and drive put on group sales, which, as noted, is where Costa got his start in pro hockey with the San Antonio Rampage.

When Costa started there, the team was at or near the bottom of the league in attendance. It quickly rose in the ranks through group sales and season tickets.

“We started selling youth-hockey experiences and selling to schools — showing them experiences at the building that they couldn’t get by going to a Spurs game,” he explained. “We found our niche. You could spend $12 and sit in the same building where you would spend $200 to see the Spurs, and get a great experience.”

Net Results

In a nutshell, the assignment is the same in Springfield, said Costa, adding that, while there isn’t an NBA franchise also playing at the MassMutual Center, there are four pro sports teams just 90 minutes down the Turnpike, as well as a host of other attractions vying for the time and attention of families and young people.

Creating an experience for a fraction of the cost of one of those other options is one key to success for the T-Birds, he said, adding that the team is currently taking advantage of several opportunities it has created.

Actually, one was created by the MassMutual Center and its still fairly open schedule. Indeed, there are no other primary tenants competing for prime nights, as in most other AHL cities (San Antonio and Cleveland, where the NBA champion Cavaliers are the lead tenant, are prime examples), so the T-Birds have more Friday and Saturday dates to play with than other teams.

Another opportunity that came about is free parking, achieved through prolonged negotiations with the Springfield Parking Authority, And still another is the $1 price tag put on the hot dogs, soda, and popcorn, and $4 for a cup of Coors, said Costa, adding that they resulted from lengthy talks with Spectra Food Management, which handles concessions at the MassMutual Center, about price points that will yield dividends across the board.

“We’re jointly looking at this as a chance to provide, on one day a week, Friday, an opportunity to expose our product to more people and different fans,” he said of that specific deal, but also the combination of factors that have come together, adding that the strategy is obviously working.

“If you come here on a Friday night now, or a Sunday night when we have an extreme value like for our Sunday Fun Days, you see a ton of kids,” said Costa. “That’s not to say that there weren’t kids before — I came here, and there were absolutely kids. But there’s a different energy in the building, and it’s continued to grow.

tbirdsrick

 

“And it’s not just young kids,” he went on. “We’re seeing more 21- to 35-year-olds than ever before; we’re seeing a lot more college kids coming out on Friday nights, because there’s value, and we’ve put a premium on our game-night experience.”

So much so that Costa and his team are trying to somehow replicate Friday’s energy and atmosphere on Saturday.

But when it comes to exposing the product to new audiences, the real key is group sales, said Costa, adding that they not only help fill the parking garage and the arena, but they create experiences — from listening to local bands to being chosen to sing the National Anthem, to getting on the ice with the team — that will bring people back.

“That’s how we’re going to fill this building,” he said of group sales. “We have to get out and grab people and bring them in. With groups, a lot of them are young people, and when you expose them to the product and bring them in en masse, you make fans for life. Those are the ones who are going to go to mom and dad and say, ‘I had a great time; can we come again?’”

As for those jerseys in the boxes in Costa’s office, he ordered them with the hope, and expectation, that they would be framed and find their way onto the walls of area bars, restaurants, and clubs.

Those establishments would be sold a package (still to be formalized) whereby they would get the framed jersey and thus become part of the efforts to build visibility and buzz for the team.

“My real vision is to have this team become part of the fabric of the community,” he explained. “This bar program is part of that; we can develop a price point that’s easy for them to get to, and then they become partners with us, and we can become partners with them.

“If people go to these places, they see a piece of what we’re about, and they feel that connection to us,” he went on, adding that building these connections is essentially his job description.

A Winning Attitude

When asked when he might get around to hanging his Giants clock or even plugging in his refrigerator, Costa didn’t even bother answering.

His office hasn’t garnered more than a tiny bit of his time and attention over the past eight months, and that isn’t about to change.

Instead, he’s focused on that ongoing challenge of creating a large, stable, committed fanbase for the T-Birds, an assignment he’s embraced with vigor, imagination, and a mindset he’s seen work elsewhere and that he knows will work here.

That philosophy is to celebrate the past, but focus on today and tomorrow, and, as the Dropkick Murphys shout in “Out of Our Heads,” ‘storm the gates.’

In other words, Springfield’s hockey team has changed its tune — in all kinds of ways.

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

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com
(413) 253-0700

• Feb. 8: Chamber After 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Bistro 63 at the Monkey Bar, 63 North Pleasant St., Amherst. Sponsored by UMass Athletics and the Masonic Angel Fund. Come join the Chamber at Bistro 63, a local community-minded business, for some Cajun and Italian cuisine. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Register online at www.amherstarea.com.

EAST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.erc5.com
(413) 575-7230

• Feb. 9: ERC5 Lunch and Learn in Partnership with the West of the River Chamber, noon to 1:30 p.m., at Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Topic: “Robert’s Rules of Order: How to Run an Effective Meeting.” Guest speaker: Robert MacDonald, executive director, Work Opportunity Center Inc. Cost: $35, including a buffet lunch. Register online at www.erc5.com.

• Feb. 17, March 3, March 31: The Dale Carnegie Leadership Course on Transformational Leadership, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Cartamundi, 443 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow. This three-day training is designed for executive senior managers. Cost: $1,600 for members, $1,700 for non-members. (Chamber members: use code 2525 when registering for discount.) To register, e-mail Robert Dickson, president, Dale Carnegie Training, at [email protected] or call (203) 723-9888.

FRANKLIN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.franklincc.org
(413) 773-5463

• Jan. 27: January Chamber Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., at Chandler’s Restaurant at Yankee Candle Village, 25 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield. An inspiring and humorous presentation that will allow you to gracefully and optimistically embrace the challenges ahead in your business and life. Your attitude will be elevated to new heights. Presenter Dr. Steve Sobel is a nationally known motivational speaker, educator, and humorist and continues to teach at the college level, where he has delivered many commencement addresses, and often speaks to school systems as well as corporate and business groups. His book, The Good Times Handbook: Your Guide to Positive Living and an Exciting Life, has been enjoyed by thousands. Cost: $13 for members if pre-paid or at the door, $14 for members if billed, $16 for general admission. Call (413) 773-5463 to register.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• Jan. 26: Business After Hours, 4:30-6:30 p.m., at the Delaney House, 3 Country Club Road, Holyoke. Hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, raffle prizes, and networking. Luke Baillargeon will be in the Mick starting at 6 p.m., and each person who attends the after-hours event will receive 10% off their bill at the Mick if they stay after the event. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Register online at www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org
(413) 527-9414

• March 9: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., at Nini’s, 124 Cottage St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Web-tactics Inc. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Register online at www.easthamptonchamber.org.

• March 17: St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon 2017, noon to 2:30 p.m. at Southampton Country Club, 329 College Highway, Southampton. Sponsored by AZ Storage & Properties, Finck & Perras Insurance Agency, and Taylor Real Estate. Join us for a feast of corned beef and cabbage as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This year’s keynote speaker is Northwestern District Attorney Dave Sullivan. Special appearance by The Pioneer Valley Fiddlers. We will also honor the Greater Easthampton Parade Committee Grand Marshals, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cadieux. We will also recognize 2017 award recipients for the Gallagher Walker Award: Melissa Pike, and the Shamrock Award: Easthampton’s first responders (accepted by Chief Bob Alberti & Chief Motter). Also attending as guests of honor are the 2017 Distinguished Young Women of Greater Easthampton. To register, e-mail the chamber at [email protected]

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com
(413) 534-3376

• Feb. 8: Economic Development Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., at the the Summit View Banquet and Meeting House, 555 Northampton St., Holyoke. Sponsored by Goss & McLean Insurance, United Personnel, United Bank, Holyoke Community College, Hadley Printing, and Marcotte Ford. Guest Speakers include Marcos Marerro, director of Economic Development, Holyoke; Mike Sullivan, town administrator, South Hadley; and Mike Vedovelli, director of Economic Development, Chicopee. Hear how our community local leaders seek to cultivate a strong, sustainable, and economically vibrant community. Cost: $23 for members who sign up before Feb. 4; $28 for non-members, walk-ins, or members who sign up after Feb. 4. Register online at www.holyokechamber.com.

• Feb. 15: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., at the Holyoke Community College PeoplesBank Conference Room at the Kittredge Center, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke. Join us for a casual networking experience. Dress for Success will be on hand to collect new and gently worn business attire. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Register online at holyokechamber.com.

• March 8: Chamber Coffee Buzz, 7:30-8:30 a.m., at Loomis Communities, Jarvis Avenue, Holyoke. Sponsored by Loomis Communities & United Personnel. The Coffee Buzz series is a morning networking program that provides chamber members and guests the opportunity to make new contacts and exchange business information over a light breakfast. The format includes a 30-second introduction of each guest, the host has a five- to 10-minute promotional opportunity, and rest of the event is mingling. No charge. Register online at www.holyokechamber.com.

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Day Business Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Join us for our business breakfast as we celebrate the 2017 St. Patrick’s Parade Committee award winners, the Grand Colleen and her court, local business milestones, and new chamber members. Register by March 3 for discounted price. Visit holyokechamber.com or call (413) 534-3376 for more information.

• March 22: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Summit View Banquet and Meeting House, 555 Northampton St., Holyoke. Meet up with your business associates for networking, food, a 50/50 raffle, and door prizes. Stop in for a bite and say hello to our host, Mike Hamel. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. No invoicing under $20. Register online at www.holyokechamber.com.

• March 24: Leadership Holyoke 2016-17, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Holyoke Medical Center (location subject to change). A series of eight days comprise Leadership Holyoke 2016-17. Faculty members from Holyoke Community College will participate as instructors and facilitators. Community leaders will participate as speakers and discussion leaders.  Tuition varies by program and is due at the start of the course. The fee also covers continental breakfasts, the graduation luncheon, and a trip to the State House in Boston. For business people learning to become community leaders, tuition is $600. Call the chamber at (413) 534-3376 for registration information.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com
(413) 584-1900

• Feb. 1: [email protected], 5-7 p.m., hosted by Lia Chrysler Dodge Jeep, 263 King St., Northampton. Sponsored by Applied Mortgage, WEEI/Smart Reach, Northeast Solar. Arrive when you can, stay as long as you can. A casual mix and mingle with colleagues and friends. Cost: $10 for members. Register by e-mailing [email protected]

• March 3: 2017 Annual Meeting, noon to 2 p.m., host to be announced. Sponsored by PeoplesBank. A fun meeting with your chamber colleagues, including chamber trivia, where we’ll test your knowledge of our members. A fun wrap-up of 2016 and preview of 2017. Presentation of the Dan Yacuzzo Community Leadership Award. Cost: $35 for members, $40 for non-members. Register online at www.explorenorthampton.com.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• Feb. 6: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., at the Holyoke Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. Free and open to the public. Call Pam at the Chamber office at (413) 568-1618 to register for this event so we may give our host a head count.

• Feb. 8: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., at Tucker’s Restaurant and Pro Tour & Cruises, 625 College Highway, Southwick. Sponsored by Romeo & Julietta Bags. Bring your business cards and make connections. Refreshments served, and 50/50 raffle to benefit two Citizen’s Scholarships. Cost: free for members, $10 for general admission (cash or credit card).

• Feb. 9: Lunch and Learn: “Robert’s Rules of Order: How to Run an Effective Meeting,” noon to 1:30 p.m., at Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Dr., West Springfield. Learn how to utilize common rules and procedures for deliberation and debate in order to place the whole room on the same footing. Guest speaker: Robert MacDonald, executive director, Work Opportunity Center Inc. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for general admission.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• March 22: March Ladies Luncheon, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. An afternoon of fun and networking.

QUABOAG HILLS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.qhma.com
(413) 283-2418

• Jan. 25: Michael’s Party Rental After Five, 5-7 p.m., at Michael’s Party Rentals Inc., 1221 South Main St., Palmer. Michael’s Party Rentals is new to Palmer and would love to welcome everyone to a Chamber After 5 meeting in its new home. You will get to see the shocking transformation from what was once an auto-body shop to the company’s new, state-of-the-art warehouse. Mingle between the brand-new showroom and heated tent for cocktails and appetizers. See the newest industry trends by checking out the numerous displays and see what goes into the daily operation of a rental company with a private warehouse tour. Cost: $10 for pre-registered members, $15 for members at the door, $25 for non-members. Register online at www.qhma.com.

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.shgchamber.com
(413) 532-6451

The annual meeting, previously scheduled for Jan. 24, has been postponed. Rescheduled date to be determined.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.myonlinechamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• Feb. 1: [email protected]: “What’s the Big Deal with Big Data?” 7:15-9 a.m., at the Delaney House, 3 Country Club Road, Holyoke. Rob Madrid, director of Digital Solutions for MassLive Media, will talk about ways to harness the power of digital data to understand your customers and grow your business. Leveraging free website tools like Google Analytics and audience data from marketing campaigns, the digital world provides insight into who your customers are and what ultimately drives their decisions. Cost: $22.50 for members ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members ($35 at the door). Reservations may be made online by visiting www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• Feb. 9-March 23: Leadership Institute, 1-4 p.m., at the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. The 2017 Leadership Institute, designed for mid- and upper-level managers, includes an emphasis on strategies and techniques designed to create high-energy and high-involvement leadership. The institute is a partnership between the Springfield Regional Chamber and Western New England University, with support from MGM Springfield and The Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation. Tuition is $885 per participant. The institute runs for seven consecutive Thursdays. For questions about the program or the application process, call Jessica Hill at (413) 755-1310.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• Feb. 1: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Hosted by CHD – Cancer House of Hope, 1999 Westfield St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

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