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Opinion

By George O’Brien

If one were to take a walk down Main Street — and I just did — it would be tempting to say that, if Springfield had any luck at all, it would be bad.

Yes, the pandemic is hitting every country, every state, every city and town, hard. As in very hard. But in Springfield, it seems worse, because things were — and I hope I don’t have to keep using the past tense — so much better. And the outlook was certainly bright and quite intriguing.

Now?

Now, we’re left to hope that, when this state gradually turns the economy back on again, the city can maybe pick up where it left off. That might be the best we can hope for at this point, but let’s stay optimistic.

After a quick walk around, it’s hard not to lament all that’s been lost, even though it’s clear that a shutdown was absolutely necessary to flatten the curve and put the region’s healthcare system in a position to do battle with this pandemic.

And it’s momentum that we’ve lost most of all.

Let’s start at MGM Springfield. It’s eerily quiet there, almost as if things are frozen in time. The doors that were never supposed to be locked are now locked. And who can say when they will open again? Likewise, who can say what business will be like when the doors do open again?

After a quick walk around, it’s hard not to lament all that’s been lost, even though it’s clear that a shutdown was absolutely necessary to flatten the curve and put the region’s healthcare system in a position to do battle with this pandemic.

Casino floors are — in the best of times — crowded places with people sitting around blackjack tables, positioned just a few feet from each other at the rows of slot machines, jammed into the food court, and generally milling about, taking it all in. On a busy Friday or Saturday night, it’s difficult to find elbow room. When are people going to want to be in such a place again — especially the older population that makes up such a large part of this casino’s clientele? Indeed, the casino’s best customers are those most at risk.

But that’s just the casino floor. Perhaps the bigger contribution the casino has made has been to vibrancy in the downtown, the nightlife, through events in its ballrooms and shows at the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and other venues. Who can say when there will be another concert, another convention, or even a fundraising dinner for a local nonprofit agency?

People are optimistically eyeing late summer or perhaps the fall as a time when we can return to something approaching ‘normal.’ But how realistic are those projections?

Walk around Springfield, and most of the signs of progress, the indicators that this was a city on the rise, are now as silent as the casino.

There’s the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, which was bringing families from every corner of the country to Springfield. It is now closed. So too is the Basketball Hall of Fame, which has undergone extensive renovations and was looking forward to a huge year as it inducts one of its most prestigious classes of honorees this fall.

The YMCA of Greater Springfield, which recently moved into Tower Square amid considerable fanfare as it started an intriguing chapter in its life, has seen both its fitness center and daycare center, its two largest revenue producers, shut down within just a month or two of opening.

At Union Station, the rail service that was starting to pick up steam has suffered a tremendous setback. People are now reluctant to get on trains, and even if they weren’t reluctant, there are really no places the train can take them — most workplaces are shut down, and so is every cultural attraction in New York.

Meanwhile, the restaurants that were such a big part of the city’s rebirth are now quiet, except for takeout, and many of the new businesses that had moved onto Bridge Street and other locations are locked down with their employees working from home — if they’re still working.

The lockdown, or shutdown, or whatever one wants to call it, isn’t even a month old yet. But it seems like an eternity. And for Springfield, it could not have come at a worse time — not that there’s ever a good time for a pandemic.

The pieces were starting to fall into the place, and the outlook was generally quite positive.

And now?

We have to hope that momentum is all we’ve lost, and that we haven’t lost too much of that precious commodity.

George O’Brien is the editor of BusinessWest.

Coronavirus Sections Special Coverage

A New Reality

The massive federal stimulus that took shape last week brought some clarity to how the government would address troubling impact of COVID-19 and the large-scale economic shutdown that has emerged in response to this public-health crisis. Other efforts on the state and local levels aim to help businesses and families struggling with job loss and the suspension of livelihoods. Of course, the true relief will come when this viral threat subsides and businesses ramp back up. But no one knows exactly when that will be.

The news came in quickly — and landed hard.

Last Thursday morning, the Department of Labor issued its first unemployment-claims report since much of the country began implementing, in various ways and at various speeds, some form of economic shutdown to slow the spread of coronavirus and the respiratory illness it causes, known as COVID-19.

The news was not good. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits skyrocketed to a record-breaking 3.28 million for the week ended March 21 — nearly doubling expectations of 1.64 million claims. The previous record was 695,000 claims filed during October 1982.

It’s a big problem — and sometimes, big problems require big solutions. Which is why lawmakers in Washington spent much of last week hammering out a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at helping families facing sudden job loss, small-business owners trying to survive, and entire battered industries ride out what is increasingly looking like a severe disruption to America’s economic way of life.

“Business owners … will be receiving a lifeline from the federal government that is unprecedented in scope, speed, and breadth,” Scott Foster, a partner with Bulkley Richardson, said the morning after details of the stimulus became known.

Among its many provisions, the Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act appears to apply to every for-profit business with fewer than 500 employees, including sole proprietors, Foster noted. The act would allow these businesses to obtain a loan — at 4% interest with a 10-year repayment term — to cover payroll costs, including healthcare premiums and paid time off, rent, utilities, mortgage payments (interest, not principal), and interest on other pre-existing loans for any eight-week period falling between Feb. 15 and June 30.

“To summarize, if you are a business and are willing to keep your employees on the payroll, pay your rent or mortgage, and stay in business, the federal government is prepared to pay your rent, your utilities, and your payroll — for employees making under $100,000 annually — for eight weeks, and the payment is tax-free,” Foster said. “It sounds too good to be true, but the public policy is sound — the easiest and best way to get financial support to the most Americans is through their employers.”

Unlike most other loans, this one will be forgiven in an amount equal to the sum of payroll costs, payments of interest on any covered mortgage, payments on any covered rent obligations, and covered utility payments. And to encourage businesses to retain their employees, the amount to be forgiven would be reduced if the business reduces its workforce.

“Business owners … will be receiving a lifeline from the federal government that is unprecedented in scope, speed, and breadth.”

Families will receive a simpler but shorter-term fix — a tax rebate totaling $1,200 for most adults and $500 for each child — which will be distributed as checks in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, states will get help in the form of a $150 billion grant fund, to be distributed proportional to population size, with a minimum of $1.25 billion for states with the smallest populations.

For many of the impacted, it’s a start, at a time of unprecedented anxiety — after all, the country has never voluntarily shut down activity on a massive scale due to a health threat, or for any other reason. This issue of BusinessWest details many of the ways businesses and families are coping, and plenty of advice from local professionals on the best ways to do so. It’s a story that changes by the day, but read on for a snapshot of where we are now.

Targeted Assistance

For many, the COVID-19 threat really hit home the morning — March 23, to be exact — when Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 essential services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public at least until April 7, while continuing to operate remotely when possible.

Those ‘essential’ businesses include healthcare and public health; law enforcement, public safety, and first responders; food and agriculture; critical manufacturing; transportation; energy; water and wastewater; public works; communications and information technology; financial services; defense industry base; chemical manufacturing and hazardous materials; and news media.

Everyone else is being asked to work at home, and most area companies were already moving in that direction before Baker’s mandate. The Springfield Regional Chamber polled its members last week about how the order impacted their operations. Almost two-thirds — 62% — said their employees were already working remotely, 27% said they began remote work after March 23, and 11% said they temporarily closed all operations because they cannot work remotely.

The threat of a longer shutdown looms, and may be foreshadowed by the governor’s order last week to keep all schools and most childcare programs closed at least until May 4, while requesting that educators gear up for the long haul by developing and enhancing online-learning capabilities.

“It sounds too good to be true, but the public policy is sound — the easiest and best way to get financial support to the most Americans is through their employers.”

In the meantime, a number of relief efforts have popped up at the federal, state, and local levels. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans for working capital to Massachusetts small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19. Applicants may apply online at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

This week, the Baker-Polito administration also announced economic support for Massachusetts small businesses with the Small Business Recovery Loan Fund, a $10 million fund that will provide emergency capital up to $75,000 to Massachusetts-based businesses impacted by COVID-19 with under 50 full- and part-time employees, including nonprofits. The application is at empoweringsmallbusiness.org.

Meanwhile, Common Capital offers a Fast Track Loan Program to address the needs of local businesses that need quick access to capital. Applicants seeking funding from the program to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can contact Kim Gaughan, loan fund manager, at (413) 233-1684 or [email protected] for more information.

The Baker-Polito administration also announced steps last week to keep vulnerable families in their homes, preserve the health and safety of low-income renters and homeowners, and prevent homelessness due to reduced or lost income. Specifically, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will temporarily suspend terminations of federal and state rental vouchers under its purview, while MassHousing is transferring $5 million to the DHCD for a COVID-19 Rental Assistance for Families in Transition fund to assist families facing rent insecurity.

In addition, the state Division of Banks has issued new guidance to financial institutions and lenders urging them to provide relief for borrowers — several banks have already committed to do so — and will advocate for a 60-day stay on behalf of all homeowners facing imminent foreclosure on their homes. Finally, affordable-housing operators are being urged to suspend non-essential evictions for loss of income or employment circumstances resulting in a tenant’s inability to make rent.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts will delay the collection of sales tax, meals tax, and room-occupancy taxes in the restaurant and hospitality sector for up to three months, while waiving all penalties and interest. And, of course, the IRS has informed all taxpayers that this year’s filing deadline has been moved forward three months to July 15.

Nonprofits are being squeezed by the crisis as well. In response, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) established the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley with a lead gift of $1 million from MassMutual and contributions from a number of area businesses. The fund will provide resources to Pioneer Valley nonprofits serving populations most impacted by the crisis, such as the elderly, those without stable housing, families needing food, and those with health vulnerabilities. To make a gift, visit communityfoundation.org/coronavirus-donations or e-mail [email protected].

Meanwhile, Berkshire United Way and Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation have established the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County to rapidly deploy resources to community-based organizations as they respond to the impact of the coronavirus in Berkshire County. Numerous corporate funders have already emerged. To donate, visit berkshireunitedway.org/donate. Nonprofits can request funds at berkshireunitedway.org.

Finally, to help individuals in need, the United Way of Pioneer Valley established the COVID-19 Recovery and Relief Fund to provide aid and resources to those affected by the current public-health emergency. Funds collected will help families and individuals impacted by the pandemic to meet their basic, childcare, housing and financial needs. Visit www.uwpv.org for more information.

Hunkering Down

Resources such as these are critical because there’s really no telling when the region and country can return to some semblance of economic normalcy. Judging by what the medical community knows about how aggressively coronavirus spreads, the health costs of emerging from this collective cocoon too soon are too great — the healthcare system would simply be overrun. That’s why ‘flattening the curve; has become the watchword of the day.

Unfortunately, many businesses feel overrun in a different way. The Springfield Regional Chamber conducted a different poll recently, asking members what level of impact they expect the COVID-19 crisis have on their business.

More than four-fifths have major concerns; 34% say the crisis may put them out of business, while 47% say it will significantly impact their financials. Another 15% say they’ll be impacted financially but expect to weather the storm, while 4% say it’s too early to know.

In many ways, it’s too early to predict many things related to COVID-19 and its impact. Meanwhile, a nation increasingly shelters in place, seeking relief and solutions where they can find them, and hoping for the best.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Meetings & Conventions

Nothing but Net

John Doleva, left, and Eugene Cassidy say Hooplandia could have a huge economic impact on the Greater Springfield region.

One observer referred to Hoopfest, the giant 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Spokane, Wash., as a ‘phenomenon,’ and the adjective fits. The event consumes 40 blocks in the downtown and literally takes over the city each June. Inspired, a group of organizers are looking to do something similar — although Springfield won’t be taken over — in just four months. The event is called Hooplandia, and it’s already being hailed as a slam dunk for the region.

Mark Rivers called it “an a-ha moment.’ Then he quickly amended the phrase in a poignant manner.

“It was an ‘aha/duh!’ moment.”

He was referring to his visit last summer to the giant 3-on-3 basketball tournament in downtown Spokane, Wash., called Hoopfest. And by giant, we mean giant. Indeed, it is billed as the largest event of its kind in the world, and no one doubts that claim. It annually draws more than 7,000 teams, or 28,000 participants (four people to a team on average), and total visitation for the tournament, staged the final weekend in June, approaches 200,000‚ which is roughly the city’s population.

While taking in Hoopfest and marveling at its size and the manner in which it has become synonymous with Spokane, Rivers, an event promoter by trade who has developed strong ties to both the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Big E, had that aforementioned ‘moment,’ during which he concluded that this event, or something like it, would be an even more natural fit in the birthplace of basketball.

“I was thinking, ‘why isn’t there an event like this in Springfield?’”

“I was thinking, ‘why isn’t there an event like this in Springfield?’” he recalled, adding that not only is the city home to the Hall of Fame, it’s located in the heavily populated Northeast, whereas Spokane is in decidedly rural Central Washington.

“It just seemed to make a whole lot of sense,” he went on, adding that what also made sense was to stage the event in the wide-open spaces of the Big E, which has all the needed infrastructure, and also at the Hall of Fame and its Center Court, which would be a special place to play games and act as a magnet for teams around the world.

Fast-forward eight months or so, and Hooplandia, the name chosen for this event, is moving on a fast train toward its June 26-28 debut. Such speed is attainable because of the partners involved — especially the Big E, where most of the games will be staged, and the Hall of Game, which is, indeed, proving to be a strong selling point.

Mark Rivers, seen here at a recent press event announcing Hooplandia, says the gathering has the potential to be a legacy event for the region.

“I’ve already had inquiries from teams in Russia, Belgium, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland, and Brazil,” Rivers explained. “I don’t know if we’ll get teams from all those countries, but we’ve had inquiries — a lot of these teams have expressed an interest in playing in the hometown of basketball and increasing their profile with games in the U.S.”

The goals for this first edition of Hooplandia — and specifically the one for participation (2,500 teams) — are ambitious, said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Big E, but they are also attainable — and sustainable.

“I firmly believe that, first year out of the box, we can be the second-largest 3-on-3 in the country,” said Cassidy, who experienced Hoopfest while visiting Spokane for a fair-association meeting a few years ago and had the same reaction as Rivers. “And my goal is to supersede Spokane within three to five years.”

Even if the first-year goals are met, or even approached, then Hooplandia could well wind up being one of the biggest single events (the 16-day Big E aside, obviously) the region has seen.

That becomes apparent in the projections for overall economic impact, a formula with a number of factors, including hotel stays, restaurant meals, rental cars, and many others, that Mary Kay Wydra, executive director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, describes this way:

“It’s an industry standard, and we use it for all our conventions. We populate different data fields, like the average daily rate they’ll pay, how many people are coming, how many rooms they’ll be utilizing … we put that into the calculator, and it spits out a number for us.”

However the number is derived, for this first edition of Hooplandia, the projected total is roughly $7.3 million. For some perspective, the recently staged Red Sox Winter Weekend, which brought a host of star players, past and present, fans from across the broad Red Sox nation, and a horde of media, was projected to bring in $2 million (the final numbers are still being tabulated). Meanwhile, the AHL All-Star Classic weekend, staged just over a year ago, brought in $2.8 million, according to Wydra, and the much-publicized square-dancing convention in 2015 that brought 4,000 people to Springfield for eight days brought in $2.3 million.

“I firmly believe that, first year out of the box, we can be the second-largest 3-on-3 in the country. And my goal is to supersede Spokane within three to five years.”

“This is certainly about basketball, but it’s also about economic development and tourism,” said John Doleva, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame. “It’s about filling hotel rooms and having people come to the Hall and the Seuss museum and the Armory and local restaurants … this is a multi-day event, and people will stay for the duration and perhaps longer.”

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Hooplandia, what it can become, and what it might mean to the region.

Court of Opinion

Rivers calls it “getting the plane off the ground.”

That’s an industry phrase of sorts for launching an event of this magnitude. It’s never easy, he said, but with Hooplandia, there are a number of factors contributing to make it somewhat easier.

Especially the ability to stage this huge event at the Big E, a place — and a business — that’s well-versed in hosting large events, everything from the fair itself to a wide range of shows and competitions that fill the calendar.

To help explain, Rivers first referenced Hoopfest, which, essentially takes over downtown Spokane for three days, shutting down roughly 40 blocks in the heart of the city, a logistically difficult and expensive undertaking.

“Typically, when an event like this comes together, you do have a hard time getting the plane off the ground because your first expenses are renting port-a-potties, tents and road barricades, permits, shutting down streets, and doing all those things,” he went on. “You won’t have to do any of those at the fairgrounds, so it just seemed like a natural fit.”

Indeed, the majority of Hooplandia’s thousands of individual games will take place on the roads within the Big E’s 39 acres, although some will be played in its historic Coliseum, said Cassidy, adding that there is infrastructure in place to effectively handle the teams, spectators, media, and anyone else who descends on the area.

“We can handle large numbers of people; we have the capacity to host huge events — it’s what we do,” he said, adding that he has always viewed the Big E as an economic driver for the region — again, not just with the annual fair but all the events staged there — and Hooplandia provides another opportunity to build upon that role.

At the same time, the event provides an opportunity to further leverage basketball for the benefit of the region’s economy.

“It occurred to me that basketball should be an economic growth industry for Springfield,” he noted. “Hooplandia can help drive attendance to the Hall, drive awareness, and build the brand of basketball in the city where it was invented.”

Planning continues for the event, which, as noted earlier, has the ambitious goal of attracting 2,500 teams. And these teams will cover a broad spectrum, said all those we spoke with, adding that this will differentiate this tourney and festival from some others like it and add to its already strong drawing power.

Mark Rivers says the Big E’s vast spaces and deep infrastructure will help ‘get the plane off the ground’ when it comes to Hooplandia.

Indeed, there will be divisions for youths, high-school and college players, professionals, first responders, veterans, military, wheelchair, Special Olympics, and more, said Rivers.

There will also be an under-8, or U8, division, for which entrance fees will be waived in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, the former NBA superstar who died in a recent helicopter crash (and wore number 8 in his playing days).

In addition to the hoop tournaments, a number of other activities are on the agenda, many to take place the Friday night before the playing starts in the Coliseum, said Doleva. These include slam dunk, 3-point shot, free throw, full-court shot, dribble course, and vertical jump competitions.

To date, several partners have signed on, including Chevrolet, the first national-level sponsor, as well as USA Basketball, Springfield College, and Boys & Girls Clubs, which Hooplandia has designated as its charitable partner, offering financial support and playing opportunities for boys and girls in the region. For more information, visit www.hooplandia.com.

Overall, in the opinion of those now planning it, this is the right event at the right time, and the right city (or region), and we’ll address each of those in turn.

Actually, the first two go together. The event is 3-on-3 basketball, and the timing could not be better, because the sport — already described as the largest urban team sport in the world in one study — is enjoying a surge in popularity, said Doleva, with new leagues such as Big3, a league founded by Ice Cube featuring mostly former NBA stars.

And it will almost certainly enjoy another growth spurt after the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where 3-on-3 basketball will make its debut as an Olympic sport.

“3-on-3 has become sort of the hot segment of the sport, and for a bunch of reasons,” said Rivers. “The Olympics is part of it, but beyond that, 3-on-3 makes the sport more accessible because you only need six players, and you only need half a court; it’s particularly hot in Europe, and many of the best teams come from former Soviet Bloc countries — that’s where a lot of the great ball is being played.”

As for the place, as Rivers and others noted, Springfield, and in this case Greater Springfield (the Big E is across the river), is a natural location.

Not only it is the home of the game and its Hall of Fame, but it’s located in the Northeast, two hours from New York, 90 minutes from Boston, and well within reach of a number of large metropolitan areas.

And, as noted, some of those great teams from Europe — and individuals from across the country — are already expressing interest in playing on what could truly be called the sport’s home court.

A Slam Dunk

This brings us back to those projections about overall economic impact. The numbers are still being crunched and there are a number of factors that go into the final projection, said Wydra, but at the moment, the number is $7 million.

That’s based on the assumption that, while many participating teams will be local, meaning they will drive to and from the Big E each day to compete, a good number — again, just how many is not yet known — will have to travel into the region and stay a few nights.

At the moment, the projected number of hotel-room nights is 1,500, said Wydra. Again, to put things in perspective, there were 840 room nights for Red Sox Winter Weekend and 4,666 for the square-dance convention, and for Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the number varies depending on who is being inducted, but the 2019 edition had 850.

And for Hooplandia, these room nights will be coming at an important time for the region’s hospitality-related businesses, she went on, adding that the college-graduation season will have ended, but summer won’t be in highest gear.

“I love the timing — school is just out, and people have the ability to travel,” she said. “The other good thing about the June weekend is that Six Flags is up and running, and we have a lot of things for people to do when they’re not at the event. You bring people in for specific purpose, but if we can expose them to other things, we have the ability to bring them back again as a leisure visitor, and that’s very important.”

Wydra said that a now-former member of her team had a chance to observe and absorb Hoopfest first-hand — and somewhat by accident.

Coincidentally, Spokane was hosting the square-dance convention mentioned earlier the year before Springfield was scheduled to do so — and on the same weekend as Hoopfest. The GSCVB had someone on hand to observe the dance gathering and promote the following year’s edition.

But while doing so, she got a good taste of the reach — and the deep impact — of the 3-on-3 festival.

“I remember her calling in and us asking about the square-dance event, and she said, ‘the city’s been taken over by this massive basketball event, and everywhere you look there’s basketball courts, traffic’s been rerouted … it’s huge.”

It won’t be quite like that in Greater Springfield because the event will mostly take place at the Big E. But the impact will be significant, and the region — and especially its hospitality sector — will know that there are thousands of people in the area to play 3-on-3 basketball.

And organizers say it has the potential to not only reach the size of Hoopfest in terms of teams and visitation, but perhaps match it in terms of impact and providing an identity for the region — which would be saying something given what the Spokane event has become.

“Hoopfest is truly part of the culture of that community,” said Rivers. “Hoopfest is to Spokane what the Tournament of Roses is to Pasadena — it’s the fair-haired community phenomenon of that region, and it’s wonderfully done.

“With Hooplandia, I believe we have the makings of a true legacy event, something that could last for decades, much like Hoopfest,” he went on. “I think it will have meaningful, long-lasting economic impact, and I also think that, over the years, it will become a week in June that will be about more than basketball — it will be a week-long celebration of the sport.”

Cassidy agreed. While in Spokane, he saw and heard that the city referred to itself as ‘Hoop Town USA,’ and has trademarked that brand. “Quite honestly, I was offended by that,” he told BusinessWest, noting that Springfield should have that designation. With Hooplandia, hopefully it will — trademark aside.

Getting a Bounce

Returning to Spokane one last time, figuratively, anyway, Rivers described it as a “phenomenon.”

“It’s unbelievable … you can’t get a hotel room, you can’t get a rental car, you can’t get a dinner reservation,” he said. “It’s exciting, and it’s fun.”

Whether Hooplandia can approach that same kind of impact remains to be seen, but all those involved believe it has the potential to be, as they say in this sport, a slam dunk.

Or, as Rivers and others said, a legacy event for this region.

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

Features

Blast from the Past

Todd Crossett and Sonya Yetter

It’s a small business, but it might just be a big part of a significant movement. Granny’s Baking Table, which opened just a few months ago, speaks to a different age in Springfield’s history, when small, locally owned businesses dominated Main Street and the roads around it. And in many ways, it operates in a way consistent with that age — there’s no wi-fi and, instead, a focus on conversation. It’s a blast from the past, but those behind it hope they represent the future.

Todd Crossett remembers how it all started — and especially how his chapter in this story began.

Then a faculty member at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, he was making beignets, a French pastry featuring dough and powdered sugar, as a hobby more than anything else. His son told him they were so good that he could sell them from a bicycle.

So he did. In downtown Springfield.

“There were a lot of motivations for that, starting with the fact that downtown Springfield was kind of boring at that time, and I complained about it a lot,” he told BusinessWest, noting that he’s lived in the Mason Square area for more than 25 years. “But then I thought, ‘what am I going to do about it?’ So I thought, ‘this is my contribution, a funky bicycle and beignets that people swoon over; that will be my part.’

“But it didn’t end that way, did it?” he went on, with a hearty laugh, gesturing to his current business partner.

That would be Sonya Yetter, who, While Crossett was selling his beignets on his bike, was in business for herself with a soup and sandwich shop in the Forest Park section of the city.

After years spent cocktail waitressing, bartending, and other assorted jobs, she decided to attend culinary school in Europe. Upon returning to the States, she lived and worked in Maryland and Florida before returning to her hometown of Springfield.

“There were a lot of motivations for that, starting with the fact that downtown Springfield was kind of boring at that time, and I complained about it a lot. But then I thought, ‘what am I going to do about it?’ So I thought, ‘this is my contribution, a funky bicycle and beignets that people swoon over; that will be my part.’”

Through a series of circumstances that will be detailed later, the two have come together in a new venture called Granny’s Baking Table, a name that reflects what goes on there, but doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

Granny’s is a blast from the past, and in all kinds of ways, as we’ll see. It’s a nod to a day when the streets of downtown Springfield were teeming with small, locally owned businesses like this one. And it’s a nod to the small bakery, with this one combining the baking traditions of the American South and Northern Europe.

It’s all summed up — sort of — in this line from the eatery’s website: “It is our mission to create a space and products that harken to simpler times, when baking was from scratch and the table was for gathering and conversation.”

The menu, like many other aspects of Granny’s Baking Table, is simple, direct, and a nod to the past.

That table — and there is, for the most part, just one large one that sits in the middle of the room — is indeed just for those purposes. There is no wi-fi, so one could do some work, theoretically, but if they wanted to read the morning paper, they would likely have to do it the old-fashioned way and crack open the print edition.

Speaking of old-fashioned, there’s more of that on display at this venue, from the simple menu displayed on a chalkboard — items include the ‘Oh Lawdy’ to the ‘Goodness Gracious’ to the ‘Not Too Fancy,’ a phrase that describes pretty much everything in the place — to the pictures on the wall; some are of family members, others of random individuals that reflect the diversity of the city and its downtown being celebrated at this establishment, to the holiday cookie exchange staged in mid-December (more on that later)

Overall, Granny’s is a nod to the past, and so far, to one degree or another, it seems to be working. The partners acknowledge that, three months after opening, they’re seeing both newcomers and repeat customers, and a good supply of both. But they acknowledged that it’s difficult going up against national chain coffee shops and other forms of competition. And they also acknowledged that times have indeed changed, and operating a business based on small-batch baking is far from easy.

The scope of the challenge they’re facing is reflected in the skepticism they encountered as they went about securing a site, putting a business plan in place, and getting the doors open. It came from family, friends, and even the broker that showed them the property.

“People didn’t like our concepts; they didn’t like the one table, they didn’t like the no wi-fi — there was so much that people were averse to,” Crossett explained. “But we believed in what we were doing, and we still believe in it.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at this unique new venture and how its principals are undertaking a noble but nonetheless daunting assignment — bringing the past into the present and making it work.

To-Dough List

Returning to the story of how these two came together — a story they share often because they’re asked often — that chapter really began when Crossett was serving as food-vending recruiter for the Springfield Jazz Festival, and knocked on the door to Yetter’s business in Forest Park.

He successfully recruited her for the event, and they kept in touch. “And here we are,” she said while bypassing several subsequent chapters as the two talked with BusinessWest at that large table in the middle of the room — actually, it’s several smaller tables pushed together.

Filling in the gaps, Crossett said he was looking for a space in downtown Springfield — specifically some square footage in the Innovation Center taking shape on Bridge Street — a from which to sell beignets and other items. Unbeknownst to him, Yetter, a UMass graduate who grew up Springfield, had signed a lease for the property almost across the street — one that had most recently been home to the Honey Bunny’s clothing store but had seen a number of uses over the decades — as a second location for her business.

The Innovation Center plans essentially fizzled as the development of that property changed course, Crosset recalled, adding that he left the last discussions on those plans quite dejected. He was on a cross-country tour with his son when he started thinking about how he and Yetter would not be in competition with one another, so maybe they should become partners.

Some of the pastries available at Granny’s Baking Table.

“He texted me and said, ‘we should talk,’” Yetter recalled, again zooming through subsequent steps for another ‘and here we are.’

That text was sent roughly a year ago; the months that followed were spent converting the space into a bakery — ceilings had to be raised, and a kitchen had to be built — as well as overcoming the skepticism of others around them and getting the venture off the ground.

They were fueled by the desire to make downtown less boring and to be a part of ongoing efforts to restore the vitality that Yetter remembers from her childhood.

“I grew up here, so I remember what downtown once was,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she was in one of the last classes to graduate from Classical High School, which closed in 1986. “I spent a lot of time in Johnson’s Bookstore and Steiger’s — it was a booming, booming town.”

By the time she returned to the city, it was no longer booming, she said, adding that she believes the large shopping malls, now struggling mightily themselves, sucked much of the life out of the central business district. The best hope for the future is small businesses moving into the downtown, she said, adding that Granny’s is part of that movement.

“My hope, and my belief, is that there are more people who are interested in becoming small-business owners now and perfect a craft they might have,” she said. “It’s my hope that this will revitalize the downtown area.”

The communal table, designed to stimulate conversation among patrons.

Today, Yetter splits her time between the Super Sweet Sandwich Shop in Forest Park and Granny’s, with more time at the latter because it’s just getting off the ground. Both she and Crossett said they are off to a solid start and they expect to gain momentum as more people find out about them and perhaps change some eating habits — specifically getting away from fast food, not only at lunch but breakfast as well.

Granny’s features an array of pastries — each day the lineup is different — that include danish, scones, sticky buns, muffins, beignets, and more. The lunch menu, as noted, is rather simple and focused on the basics; for example, the Not Too Fancy is pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce, the Oh Lawdy is sweet-tea-brined fried chicken with pimento cheese and spicy peach jam served on a biscuit, and the Goodness Gracious is a mustard-infused, buttery croissant with black forest ham and smoked cheese.

Thus far, there’s been a lot of grab and go, especially with the businesspeople working downtown, said Crossett, but there have been many who have sat down to eat as well.

“It is our mission to create a space and products that harken to simpler times, when baking was from scratch and the table was for gathering and conversation.”

Which means that most have had to adjust some other habits as well, the partners acknowledged, noting again that there is no wi-fi here, and there is that ‘communal table.’

“We have a space where we want people to come in and talk and have a conversation,” Yetter explained, “and hopefully get to know anyone else who’s at the table with them — that’s our goal.”

It’s a goal that’s being met in many respects.

“Sometimes you’ll see a full table, and other times you’ll see a few people there,” said Yetter. “What we’ve noticed is that they talk to each other now, which is what we wanted — getting people to talk that normally wouldn’t.”

What’s Cooking

When asked about the success formula to date, Crosset said there are some interesting ingredients.

“We got into the space together, we both have a good sense of humor, we’re both patient, and we’re both really, really finicky about our product,” he explained. “And those things hold us together.”

Yetter agreed, and said another big factor was successfully creating “the feel and the vibe” they were looking for — which together speak to another age, another time, as reflected in that mission statement on the website and the reference to simpler times and baking from scratch.

Time will tell if the skeptics were right or if these somewhat unlikely partners can actually turn back the hands of time. But for now, they seem to be taking some of the boring out of downtown and giving people something new to talk about — whether it’s at that communal table or back in their office.

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

Meetings & Conventions

Making a Match

Mary Kay Wydra (left) and Alicia Szenda say the region’s recent momentum and new attractions have made it a stronger sell to event and convention planners.

Conventions are good business for a city like Springfield. But they don’t exist in a vacuum.

“We’ll ask if they have time for things outside their program,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB). “Are they bringing spouses? Will they have time, either pre-event or post-event, to go to Yankee Candle, or Six Flags, or the Seuss museum?”

“That’s part of their convention experience as well,” added Alicia Szenda, the GSVCB’s director of Sales. “They might be at the MassMutual Center for three or four days, but they might do a couple off-site events, too. We can help them — ‘OK, do you want to do the Springfield Museums? The Hall of Fame? What is it that your group is interested in?’ Because we do want them to have a good experience and feel welcome.”

Both Wydra and Szenda share a philosophy that, while conventions and major sporting events positively impact the region during the weekend or week they’re around, they also pose an opportunity to draw convention-goers back in the future — either as a group for future events, or individually, as leisure travelers.

That’s why attracting convention business focuses not just on the venue, lodging, and amenities involved in the event itself, but on the entire region.

“Our goal is always to expose them to more of what we have to offer,” Wydra told BusinessWest. “Sometimes we whet their appetite, and they come back as a leisure visitor. That’s a goal. If we do our job right, they’ll come back again.”

And when they’re here, they’ll spend money, from hotels and restaurants to gas stations and recreation destinations, Szenda added. “We’re really lucky we have great attractions, and that’s enough to keep people entertained while they’re here and get them to come back.”

The convention and event mix in 2020 is a diverse agenda, one featuring newcomers and repeat business alike. The city recently hosted the New England Fence Assoc., which the GSCVB had been trying to bring in for years, as well as the New England Region Volleyball Assoc. (NERVA). In its sixth straight year here, the latter event filled 2,000 hotel-room nights over the course of a weekend.

The city will also host the Amateur Athletic Union volleyball super-regional in March — partly because someone who took part in the NERVA event liked what he saw from the city. “We’re hoping that becomes annual as well,” Szenda said.

Other upcoming events include the largest collegiate fencing competition in the country and a First Robotics event at the Eastern States Exposition, both in April; a gathering of the National Assoc. of Basketball Coaches in May; and Hooplandia in June. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In all cases, Szenda said, the goal is to match what an organization needs with what a venue — and the city and region — have to offer. Take the International Jugglers’ Assoc., which convened in Springfield last year.

“This group was looking to go anywhere in the country, so we looked at their parameters and put together a proposal. They needed a convention center, two full-service hotels within walking distance, a historic theater, and a fun kind of bar atmosphere with a stage. I read that and was like, ‘that fits perfectly here,’” she recalled, noting that Symphony Hall was an ideal theater, and Theodores’ fit the bill for the bar.

Our goal is always to expose them to more of what we have to offer. Sometimes we whet their appetite, and they come back as a leisure visitor. That’s a goal. If we do our job right, they’ll come back again.”

The GSCVB will also suggest gathering options that planners might not know about — perhaps a cruise outing on the Lady Bea, or an outdoor reception at the Springfield Museums. “You can have a unique dinner event on Center Court at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Nowhere else in the world can you do that event. We try to be creative, and try to really hype the assets we have.”

Rising Interest

The GSCVB has seen an uptick in conventions in recent years, and Szenda is constantly talking with hotels, asking them to quote rates and block off a certain inventory of rooms, sometimes three years out. Then she gets to work finding the aforementioned local connections, setting up reasonably priced hotel options and assembling tourism information about the region.

The bureau also boasts a hospitality program that many similar-sized cities don’t offer, which includes everything from airport pickups and hotel greeters to downtown maps and goodie bags.

“At the end of the day, it’s about sales,” she said. “We go to trade shows, but we also get leads from locals who live around here who might be part of national associations or hobby groups or special-interest groups who want to bring the event they travel to every year here. Once we make that initial contact, the process becomes pretty streamlined. We want to get all the information we can from them — how many room nights do they need? What kind of venue do they need?”

Organizations based in New England already see Greater Springfield as a convenient location, with interstates 90 and 91 intersecting here, and they might be aware of its recreational and hospitality options. Those from far away, though, may need some convincing, and that’s what Szenda does when she attends those industry trade shows, where she may schedule appointments with up to 30 meeting planners or sporting-event organzers to talk about how this region suits their needs.

“We’re Western Mass. — we don’t have the cachet of a first-tier city, like Boston or Chicago,” Wydra said. “With national groups, a lot of times, that’s where a local person comes into play.”

For instance, the National Square Dance Convention, a national gathering of Daughters of the Nile, and a large insurance convention all landed in Springfield in recent years because a local member got the ball rolling. “I think the local tie to national groups is a really important and powerful one for us.”

One selling point is that national groups that hold conventions in the Pioneer Valley get plenty of local attention — everyone knows they’re here, and are often excited about it.

“We tell the event planner, ‘you’re going to be a big fish in a little pond,’” Wydra said, noting that Daughters of the Nile held its convention in Orlando the year before coming to Springfield. “I don’t know if the local people knew they were in Orlando. But when they came to Springfield, there was a story or photograph in our mainstream media, talking about this group, every day they were here. You kind of take over our city, our region.”

Another plus? Springfield is a different city than it was five years ago, with MGM Springfield, the Seuss museum, and ongoing Basketball Hall of Fame renovations among the recent major stories.

“I go to these trade shows, and all they want to know is what’s new,” Szenda said. “With some cities, they sit there and say, ‘we’ve got the same stuff,’ but we’ve been able to go every year and say ‘this is what’s new, this is what’s new.’”

Wydra agreed. “That makes our job so much easier and more exciting. The sell is easier when we can say we’ve added these things.”

Key Connections

‘It takes a village’ is a bit of a cliché, Wydra admitted, but in the GSCVB’s case, it really is true, especially when it comes to booking events and providing the kind of experience that will bring people back.

“It does take a village to host a group of people. Everyone’s got to work together,” she said, adding that the region is fortunate to have assets like Eastern States, a campus-like setting with plenty of parking and room for large equipment, not to mention a modern convention center in the heart of Springfield and a couple of anchor hotels downtown complemented by a growing roster of lodging options around the region.

“Anyone who lives here and belongs to a group or goes to an event they want to host, they should contact me,” Szenda said, putting that sales hat back on for a moment. “If we get the site visit, we have a better shot of landing that event.”

“We do the work for them,” Wydra added. “We try to make it as easy as possible, but those local leads are so important.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

For years now, economic-development leaders have been talking about the need to better leverage the sport of basketball in the place where it was invented.

What they’ve always meant by that is that Greater Springfield has to a better job of capitalizing on perhaps the strongest point of identification when it comes to the city, and perhaps this entire region, beyond the mountain range known as the Berkshires — to do a better job taking full advantage of what is truly an international sport and one that, unlike football, baseball, or hockey, can be played and enjoyed by people of all ages and levels of ability.

Put another way, what people have been saying is that Springfield needs to be more than the home of the sport’s Hall of Fame; it needs to be the sport’s mecca, if that’s possible, given the number of places — from Madison Square Garden to Tobacco Road in North Carolina to the state of Indiana — that have a rich tradition of basketball and also want to make that claim.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to move in this direction, everything from season-opening games for college basketball at the MassMutual Center to the Spalding HoopHall Classic, which brought hundreds of young people — and top college coaches — to the area. And now, the region is poised to take a huge step forward with an ambitious project called Hooplandia.

This event — hailed as a 3-on-3 tournament and celebration rolled into one — could bring a huge economic bounce (pun intended) for Springfield and the entire region.

Inspired by Hoopfest in Spokane, Wash., which attracts roughly 7,000 teams, 28,000 players, and about 200,000 visitors overall, and firm of the belief that Springfield would be an even better place for such an event, organizers, including the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Eastrn States Exposition, which will host the event and most of the games, have quickly put a new event on the calendar.

This event — hailed as a 3-on-3 tournament and celebration rolled into one — could bring a huge economic bounce (pun intended) for Springfield and the entire region.

They gave it a name, Hooplandia, and scheduled it for the same weekend in late June as Hoopfest. They have ambitious goals, not just for the first year — 2,500 teams and 10,000 players — but to eventually supplant Spokane’s event as the largest of its type.

This is where some people might start to think about the recent and highly publicized competition, if it could be called that, between Springfield and Battle Creek, Mich. for the rights to say which city held the largest breakfast gathering in the world (Springfield liked to claim that its pancake breakfast, staged by the Spirit of Springfield, earned that honor).

But this isn’t about outgunning Spokane to say who has the largest 3-on-3 tournament. It is about aggressively leveraging a tremendous asset — Springfield’s identity as home to perhaps the most popular sport in the world. This is reflected in some early projections for overall economic impact — $7 million, which would be nearly four times the amount from the recent Red Sox Winter Weekend.

It’s still early in the process — registration for Hoolandia didn’t begin until March 1 — but already it appears that teams from not only across the region, but also countries like Russia, Belgium, Poland, and Brazil want to not simply vie for another 3-on-3 title but perhaps play a game on Center Court at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

This is what people, including this publication, have meant by better leveraging the sport of basketball.

We won’t call this a slam dunk yet — that would be presumptuous — but it certainly appears that the region has a winner in the making.

Opinion

Editorial

A few weeks back, we referenced that massive public hearing conducted to provide an update on the ongoing study of rail options for the Commonwealth. At that time, we focused on the high degree of skepticism concerning the state’s projections for cost and especially ridership (Western Mass. planners project almost 500,000 riders annually, while MassDOT has estimated roughly half that number and now promises to take a second look at the projections) and, overall, the many expressed opinions that the state wasn’t being sincere in its approach to this study.

All this is problematic on many levels. But there was one comment that was troubling on another level. It had to do with repeated use of the phrase ‘east-west rail,’ which has been used in most of the discussions and is even the formal name of this ongoing initiative — the ‘East-West Passenger Rail Study.’ The comment was made that it should be called ‘west-east rail’ because this is the region that would be benefit, and — we’re paraphrasing here — it’s essentially a Western Mass. project.

This line of thinking is flawed in a number of respects. Let’s start with the whole Western Mass. inferiority-complex thing — and it is a thing. Many out here have that complex, and it manifests itself in a number of ways, including jokes — if they’re even jokes — about how this region would be better off if it seceded and became part of Vermont. But to suggest that labeling a study ‘East-West’ as opposed to ‘West-East’ is a slight, and an indication of the state’s indifference to all the real estate west of Worcester, is take things too far and miss the far bigger point.

‘East-west’ is a phrase used to describe how roads, highways, and, yes, rail lines run. Few people, if any, say the Turnpike runs ‘west-east.’ It goes in both directions. ‘East-west’ is a figure of speech.

But there’s something else that’s wrong with this line of thinking — something far more important. This isn’t a Western Mass. project, and it can’t simply be a Western Mass. project. Why? Because it will never sell if it is. The state just isn’t going to spend $25 billion or $5 billion or even $2 billion — the various price tags attached to the options outlined at the meeting last month — on a Western Mass. project.

‘East-west’ is a phrase used to describe how roads, highways, and, yes, rail lines run. Few people, if any, say the Turnpike runs ‘west-east.’ It goes in both directions. ‘East-west’ is a figure of speech.

We get it. This project is mostly, if not entirely, being pushed by Western Mass. lawmakers and especially state Sen. Eric Lesser from Longmeadow. And one of their arguments is that this rail line would likely provide a huge boost to many of the cities and towns that are not seeing the same kind of economic prosperity being enjoyed by communities inside Route 128. It would provide a lifeline to communities that are seeing their populations age and decline because young people don’t have enough incentives to live in these places. It would, according to those proposing it, help level the laying field between east and west.

But that’s not the only argument, and it can’t be the only argument if this thing is ever going to move beyond the study phase and stand any chance of being approved by the Legislature.

For this to work, it has to be a project that will benefit not only Chester and Palmer, Pittsfield and Springfield, but also Boston and its suburbs, which are seeing congestion, traffic, and overall cost of living rise to almost untenable levels.

We understand that a name is not a big deal, and it’s mostly about semantics. Why not call it the ‘West-East Rail Study’? We could, if it would make people out here feel better (it wouldn’t make us feel better). But we should instead call it the ‘Commonwealth Rail Study,’ because it’s a project to benefit those living or working on both sides of the state.

If it wasn’t, it would never get off the ground.

Opinion

Editorial

We’ve written in the past that it’s wise to be wary about a good many of these ‘top 10’ or ’50 best’ lists that come out regularly, charting everything from the most attractive places to retire to the ‘most unsafe’ cities in the country.

It’s always best to take them with a grain of salt.

But sometimes, these lists can provide food for thought, and that is certainly the case when it comes to Springfield finding a home — let’s hope it’s a permanent home — on Inc. magazine’s list of the 50 Best U.S. Cities for Starting a Business in 2020, or its ‘Surge Cities Index.’

The City of Homes is right there at No. 46, one spot behind Houston, one ahead of Tulsa, Okla., and 45 behind Austin, Texas. Beyond that general ranking, there are other measures, and Springfield, according to Inc., ranks 14th in wage growth, 22nd in early-stage funding deals, and 28th in net business creation.

These lists are incredibly subjective and wholly unscientific, and no one can really say if Springfield is the 46th-best place to start a business or the 43rd, or the 52nd. But what’s more important than the number is what Inc. had to say about the city and what’s really behind that ranking.

Let’s start with the headline. “In the Pioneer Valley, founders are made, not imported.” That’s an accurate description of what’s going on in this region — businesses get started here and, hopefully, grow here — and a very telling one. Indeed, Western Mass. is trying to grow its base of businesses organically, primarily out of necessity.

Here’s what Inc. had to say:

“This Pioneer Valley city benefits from its proximity to the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Amherst, which serves as an incubator for startup talent. Founders in this Massachusetts town can develop further with Valley Venture Mentors, a grant-fund mentorship organization, and innovation center TechSpring. The latter organization focuses primarily on latter-stage startups in healthcare, while the former has helped more than 300 startups since its founding in 2011. ‘We don’t have a bias toward high tech. We have a bias toward the people who live here,’ says Valley Venture Mentors CEO Kristin Leutz. ‘[People here] see anyone as a potential high-growth entrepreneur.’”

Slicing through this commentary, it is now evident that Greater Springfield’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is not only gaining some momentum, it is gaining some attention. We’re quite sure the region was already on the proverbial map when it comes to startups and innovation, and this ranking provides still more evidence.

Such an ecosystem involves a lot of moving parts — incubators, mentorship groups, colleges and universities with entrepreneurship programs, angel investors, venture-capital groups, and more — and they have to work in unison to create startups, nurture them, get them to the next stage, and, hopefully, keep them in this region.

Springfield has a long way to go before it has a startup environment like Austin, Salt Lake City, Durham, N.C., Denver, and Boise, Idaho — the top five cities on Inc.’s list — but it’s making its presence known, both to the editors at Inc. and hopefully with people looking to launch a business.

Like we said at the top, one has to be careful not to read too much into these ‘best-of’ lists. But we can read something from this one — that all those efforts to encourage and mentor entrepreneurs in this region are starting to pay off. v

Commercial Real Estate

A Tale of Two Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Exploration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

Construction

Beneath the Surface

Jeff Weinman stands on the former York Street Jail site, where a new, state-of-the-art pump station is being built.

The wastewater pump station at Springfield’s riverfront has done its job for more than 80 years, but it’s nearing the end of its useful life and lacks the capacity to keep up with the region’s growth — which threatens the cleanliness of the Connecticut River itself. That’s why the Springfield Water & Commission has launched a $115 million project to build a new station and three new pipelines across the river — a project that comes with some intriguing challenges and equally innovative solutions, including something called microtunneling.

When the wastewater pump station on York Street in Springfield was built 81 years ago, the city’s infrastructure was much different — and so were its sewage-treatment needs.

“The existing pump station is pretty old, though it’s still functional,” said Jeff Weinman, senior project manager Daniel O’Connell’s Sons (DOC), the contractor overseeing the construction of a new, much larger pump station at the site. “The capacity is the issue. As the city has expanded over the years, it’s kind of at its capacity right now, so they need to create additional pumping capacity there. In order to that, they needed to build a bigger pump station with bigger pumps, bigger piping, bigger everything.”

The $115 million project will serve 70% of the region’s population by conveying wastewater from Springfield, Ludlow, Wilbraham, and East Longmeadow across the Connecticut River to the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility on Bondi’s Island. A new, higher-capacity wastewater pump station will be constructed, as well as three new wastewater-conveyance pipes across the Connecticut River.

The project is a cornerstone of the Springfield Water & Sewer Commission’s efforts to comprehensively plan projects that will meet multiple pressing needs such as combined sewer overflow reduction, climate resiliency, system redundancy, and infrastructure renewal. Construction is expected to last well into 2022.

“It’s part of a capital investment on the part of the commission to both increase their infrastructure and enhance water quality in the Connecticut River,” Weinman told BusinessWest. “It can reduce the potential for severe storms to impact water quality in the Connecticut River by having storm runoff or having the city’s sewer system overflow.”

A rendering shows the future pump station’s footprint both above and well below the ground.

The innovative project, expected to create about 150 construction jobs over the next three years, is designed to address four key issues, including:

• Infrastructure renewal (the new, modern station will replace an aging station nearing the end of its useful life and accommodating future growth in the region);

• Environmental protection (increased pumping capacity will prevent an additional 100 million gallons of combined sewer overflows from entering the Connecticut River in a typical year);

• System redundancy (three new pipes under the Connecticut River will add redundancy and improve service reliability for customers in Springfield, Ludlow, East Longmeadow, and Wilbraham); and

• Climate resiliency (flood-control protection will be increased by repurposing the old pump station).

The project is a culmination of years of planning — specifically through the commission’s Integrated Wastewater Plan (IWP). Adopted in 2014, the IWP was one of the first such plans in the country to integrate project planning for regulatory compliance — specifically, projects that fulfill an unfunded federal mandate to eliminate combined sewer overflows — and for renewal of aging infrastructure.

A Question of Capacity

The new station is being built on the former site of the York Street Jail and will connect to the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility on Bondi’s Island through three new, 1,200-foot river crossing pipes. The additional pipes will supplement the two 80- and 50-year-old pipes under the river now, allowing for more regular maintenance and alternatives during emergencies.

“It can reduce the potential for severe storms to impact water quality in the Connecticut River by having storm runoff or having the city’s sewer system overflow.”

A $100 million low-interest loan from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust State Revolving Fund (SRF) is the source of funding for the majority of the project. The SRF is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection with funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and from repayment of past loans.

The project also utilizes an innovative form of construction called ‘construction manager at risk’ (CMAR). Rather than designing a project and then sending it to bid for construction, CMAR incorporates the construction manager earlier in the process to help identify risks that may arise in the construction phase due to design. This garners more price certainty and minimizes project delays due to unforeseen circumstances.

“The delivery method is a little different,” Weinman said. “We did a technical proposal for the job, and based on that we were awarded the contract, then we worked with the design team during the final stages of development of construction documents, providing budgeting support and working with design team as they finalized documents and tailored them to the approach to the work that we thought best.”

The current, 81-year-old pump station is much smaller — and can thus handle much less wastewater — than the one coming online in 2022.

One of the interesting challenges of the project is where it’s sited, shoehorned between West Columbus Avenue and the flood-control wall and the infrastructure on York Street, including the main interceptor pipe for the city of Springfield.

“The pump station needs to be deep enough to work with the existing elevations of the infrastructure and also be able to have the capacity to handle the flow that it needs to handle,” Weinman said. “The bottom elevation of the pump station is 50 feet below existing grade. The site is so small, you have to go pretty much straight down with excavation to build the pump station.”

So, in a move uncommon in Western Mass., DOC will use a slurry wall for supportive excavation. “It’s a type of system usually used in downtown Boston and urban settings where you don’t have a lot of real estate. A concrete wall is built in the ground without using formwork,” he explained. “It’s kind of a unique process — the first time I’ve been involved with a project that employs that system.”

Another challenge involves running the new pipelines under the Amtrak tracks, Weinman noted. “So they’re going to be microtunneling under the tracks. We did a smaller supportive excavation for the launch pit for the microtunneling. That’ll be going on hopefully next summer — boring a hole beneath the flood wall and the railroad tracks out to the other side of the tracks down toward the river.”

Next summer will also see the start of the underwater pipe installation. That phase of the project should take about 12 months, as will DOC’s infrastructure upgrades at Bondi’s Island to expand the capacity of the sewage intake there. The construction of the pump station itself is the most involved part of the project; a groundbreaking took place in the spring, and it should be complete in May 2022.

Water Works

The river-spanning pipe installation — which DOC will subcontract to a firm that specializes in such work — is a relatively straightforward job, but the process of completing the work has become more difficult in terms of the regulatory aspects, Weinman told BusinessWest.

“There’s a lot more awareness now of the potential environmental impacts, so the planning of it becomes a lot more intensive. You work with regulators, MassDEP, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other regulatory agencies involved, making sure you’re tailoring your work in a way that complies with all the regulations and minimizes the impact,” he explained. “It’s an arduous process, and I understand why it’s there.”

Still, the entire project itself will have a major environmental benefit, and that’s keeping the Connecticut River cleaner while better meeting the region’s growing wastewater needs.

“The York Street Pump Station and Connecticut River Crossing Project is a sign of the commission’s smart and future-oriented approach to stewarding the region’s water and wastewater infrastructure,” Commission Executive Director Josh Schimmel said at the spring groundbreaking. “These types of projects may not always be the most glamourous, but they are critical to maintaining public health, service reliability, and environmental protection in the region for the 21st century. We are proud to initiate this project that will maximize ratepayer dollars by meeting multiple needs.”

To Weinman and his team at DOC, it’s another rewarding challenge, particularly in terms of innovative methods like the slurry wall and the trenchless tunneling under the railroad tracks, that promises to lead to a positive outcome.

“That’s the nature of construction,” he said. “There are so many different systems out there, and every job has different challenges and different solutions.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Education

Center of Attention

Nikki Burnett, seen here in one of the Educare center’s outdoor play areas, says the facility is a showcase of what early education should be — and what all young children deserve.

Nikki Burnett says Springfield’s Old Hill neighborhood and those surrounding it certainly need the gleaming new $14 million Educare facility constructed next door to the Elias Brookings Elementary School on Walnut Street.

More to the point, though, she told BusinessWest, they deserve this facility, which can only be described with that phrase state-of-the-art when it comes to everything from its programs to its play areas to its bathrooms.

“Mason Square, Old Hill, McKnight, Bay, all those neighborhoods … they’re so rich in history, so they’re rich in great success stories that have come out of here and are still coming out of here,” said Burnett, the recently named executive director of the 27,000-square-foot facility, who should know; she grew up there herself. “People like Ruth Carter, who just won an Oscar for the costume design in the movie Black Panther — she’s from Springfield.

“We have to celebrate those things, and we have to model those things for our children so they can see that they have greatness in them,” she went on. “One of the very important things about Educare is that it aligns potential with opportunity. I believe all children are born with immense potential, but many do not have the same opportunity to realize that, so Educare will give them that push — it will help readjust their trajectory.”

That’s why this area of the city, traditionally among the poorest neighborhoods in the state, deserves this Educare facility, just the 24th of its kind in the country and the only one in Massachusetts, she continued, adding quickly that this building, and the Educare model itself, were designed to show decision makers and society in general what all young children deserve and what has to be done so that they can all enjoy a similar experience.

Mary Walachy, executive director of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, which spearheaded efforts to bring the Educare facility to fruition, agreed.

“The message being sent here is that it costs money to do this work well,” she said. “It costs money to fund quality at the level that children in this community and others deserve, and we can’t expect outcomes that we want from children if the investment is not there at the front end.”

Considering those comments, Educare is certainly much more than a building, and those who visit it — and many will in the weeks and months to come — will come to understand that.

Indeed, the facility set to open later this year, supported by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and to be operated in partnership with Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, is, for lack of a better term, a standard — or the new standard when it comes to early-childhood education.

And it is, as Burnett and Walachy noted, a model — hopefully to be emulated — that incorporates everything science says young children need to flourish. This includes data utilization, high-quality teaching practices (three teachers to a classroom instead of the traditional two), embedded professional development, and intensive family engagement.

All this and more will come together at the much-anticipated facility, which will provide 141 children up to age 5 (already enrolled at a Head Start facility in that neighborhood) and their families with a full-day, full-year program that Burnett projects will be a place to learn — and not just for the young children enrolled there.

The Educare facility in Springfield is just one of 24 in the country and the only one in Massachusetts.

“Educare is going to be a demonstration site; we’re going to be able to bring in students of education, social work, counseling and therapy, and other areas from across the state and have them observe and learn our model,” she explained. “We understand that 141 children is not every child; however, what we learn here, we’re going to be able to send out — others can do what we’re doing. And on a policy level, it’s my hope that legislators can see the success of this and realize that, when they’re making out the budget, it needs to be funded so everyone can enjoy Educare quality.

“Educare is not going to be on every corner,” she went on. “But that doesn’t mean that the quality of Educare cannot be beneficial to all children.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the Educare facility and talked with Burnett and others about what this unique early-education center means for Springfield and especially those young people who walk through its doors.

New School of Thought

Janis Santos, the longtime director of Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, recalled that, when she toured the Educare facility recently as construction was winding down, she became quite emotional.

“I have to be honest, I started crying,” said Santos, honored roughly a year ago by BusinessWest as one of its Women of Impact for 2018. “One of the construction-crew members said, ‘why are you crying?’ and I said, ‘because I’m so happy.’

“Educare is going to be a demonstration site; we’re going to be able to bring in students of education, social work, counseling and therapy, and other areas from across the state and have them observe and learn our model.”

“This is a dream come true,” she went on, adding that the facility provides dramatic evidence of how far early-childhood education has come during her career — it was considered babysitting when she got her start — and how important it is to the overall development of young people.

Tears of joy have been a common emotional response among those who have toured the site, especially those involved in this initiative from the beginning, but there have been others as well. Indeed, Burnett told BusinessWest, when the staff members assigned to the Educare center visited the well-appointed teachers’ room, many of them started clapping.

These reactions provide ample evidence that the six-year journey to get the facility built and the doors open was certainly time and energy incredibly well-spent.

By now, most are familiar with the story of how an Educare facility — again, one of only 24 in the country — came to be in Springfield. It’s a story laced with serendipity and good fortune at a number of turns.

It begins back in 2014 when an early-childhood center on Katherine Street in Springfield closed down abruptly, leaving more than 100 children without classroom seats, said Walachy, adding that the Davis Foundation began looking at other options for early education in that building.

One of them was Educare, she went on, adding that officials with the Buffett Foundation and other agencies involved, as well as architects, came and looked at the property. They quickly determined that it was not up to the high standards for Educare centers.

“Their model is ‘make it a state-of-the-art, unbelievable building to send a strong message that this is what all kids deserve,’” said Walachy, adding that, after those inspections and being informed that a new facility would have to be built at a cost of more than $12 million, the Educare concept was essentially put on the shelf.

And it stayed there for the better part of two years until an anonymous donor from outside the Bay State who wanted to fund an Educare facility came into the picture.

“This individual pledged to pay for at least half the cost of building an Educare somewhere in the country, and she was willing to do it here in Springfield,” she said, adding that the donor has written checks totaling more than $9 million for both the construction and operation of the facility.

With this commitment, those involved went about raising the balance of the needed funds — the Davis Foundation and another donor committed $2 million each, and state grants as well as New Market Tax Credits were secured, bringing the total raised to more than $20 million — and then clearing what became another significant hurdle, finding a site on which to build.

Indeed, the Educare model is for these facilities to be built adjacent to elementary schools, and in Springfield, that proved a challenging mandate. But the tornado that ravaged the city, and especially the Old Hill area, in 2011, forcing the construction of a new Brookings School, actually provided an answer.

Indeed, land adjacent to the new school owned by Springfield College was heavily damaged by the tornado, making redevelopment a difficult proposition. Thus, the college became an important partner in the project by donating the needed land.

But while it’s been a long, hard fight to get this far, the journey is far from over, said both Burnett and Walachy, noting that another $500,000 must be raised to fund an endowment that will help cover operating expenses at the school.

And raising that money is just one of many responsibilities within Burnett’s lengthy job description, a list that also includes everything from becoming an expert on the Educare model to attending regular meetings of Educare facility directors — there’s one in New Orleans later this year, for example.

At the moment, one of the duties assuming much of her time is acting as a tour guide. She even joked that she hasn’t mastered the art of walking backward while talking with tour participants, but she’s working on it. To date, tours have been given to city officials, funders and potential funders, hired staff members, like those aforementioned teachers, and, yes, members of the media.

BusinessWest took its own tour, one that featured a number of stops, because items pointed out are certainly not typical of those found in traditional early-education centers.

“I literally cannot wait to see the children in there — that will be a special moment.”

Starting with what Burnett and others called the “outside-in” of the building’s design, which, as that phrase indicates, works to bring the outside environment into the school to provide continuity and the sense that the school is part of the larger world. Thus, green, grass-like carpeting was put down in the entranceways, and green carpet prevails pretty much throughout the facility. Meanwhile, the brick façade on the exterior is continued inside the building.

Throughout the building, there are generous amounts of light and state-of-the-art facilities throughout, from the well-equipped play areas inside and out to the two sinks in each of the classrooms — one for food preparation, the other for hand washing — to the restrooms designed especially for small people.

In addition, each classroom is equipped with small viewing areas with one-way mirrors so that so-called ‘master teachers’ and others can see and evaluate what’s happening.

In all, there are 12 classrooms, seven for infants and toddlers and five for preschool. As noted earlier, they will be places of learning, and not just for the students.

Model of Excellence

Returning to that emotional tour of the Educare facility she took a few weeks ago, Santos said that, as joyous and uplifting as it was, she’s looking forward to the next one even more.

“I literally cannot wait to see the children in there — that will be a special moment,” she told BusinessWest, putting almost a half-century of work in early childhood behind those words.

She can’t wait because students will be learning and playing in a facility that really was only a dream a few years ago — a dream that came true.

It’s a facility that those students truly need, but as Burnett and all the others we spoke said, it’s one they deserve — one that all students deserve.

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

Opinion

Editorial

As the headlines keep coming about the state’s casinos not meeting their projections for gaming revenues, the announcement last week that the Boston Red Sox will bring their annual Winter Weekend fan event to MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center was well-timed and quite poignant.

We’ve been saying for some time now — and we’ll keep on saying — that, while the revenue projections for the state’s casinos are somewhat disappointing, they are just part of what gaming brings to the state and the communities in which they are located. Do we wish their revenues were more in line with the projections made all those years ago? Sure, but the casinos, and especially the one in Springfield, have brought benefits well beyond additional revenues to the state.

In the City of Homes, it has created momentum and traffic on most Saturday nights. On nights when there are shows, downtown comes alive and looks like … well, it doesn’t look like Springfield, or at least the Springfield of much of the past several decades. And the casino continues to bring energy and benefits in ways that probably couldn’t have been anticipated when officials were signing the host-community agreement drafted several years ago.

Which brings us back to the Red Sox and the Winter Weekend. This is one of the many benefits resulting from the new, multi-year partnership the team inked with MGM as the “official and exclusive resort of the team” early last year.

That designation once belonged to Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut, meaning that, for two days in January, a large group of Red Sox players (past and present), officials, and, yes, fans traveled to the Nutmeg State and spent a considerable amount of money there.

Next Jan. 17 and 18, those players, officials, and fans — and that spending money — will instead be coming to Springfield. And they’ll be coming during a time when the tourism sector here could certainly use a boost.

Several thousand fans are expected to come to the festival, which will include a town-hall event, autograph sessions, and photo opportunities with the players from today and yesterday.

This will be a great opportunity for fans of the team to connect with the players and coaches in a way they probably never have before. Meanwhile, those who come to see the team’s stars will also see a rising star in the city of Springfield — which they probably haven’t seen up close either.

Overall, this will be a tremendous opportunity for the city to roll out the red carpet and showcase all the good things that have happened here in recent years.

Some logistically minded people are already wondering, ‘what happens if it snows?’ We’re pretty certain the organizers will figure out. And they’ll also figure out how to make these two days something memorable, not only for Red Sox fans but for those doing business in downtown Springfield.

It all came to be because MGM forged a strong business partnership with the Red Sox. That’s one of the benefits you don’t see when you’re just looking at statistics concerning gross gaming revenue. And it’s one of the many reasons why it’s far too early to discuss whether the gaming industry is off to a disappointing start in the Bay State.

The Red Sox are coming to town. And Springfield is the big winner in this game.

Opinion

Editorial

The CVS in Tower Square in downtown Springfield closed its doors the other day as the chain opened a new facility several blocks to the south, almost across Main Street from MGM Springfield.

While this event isn’t in itself newsworthy on most levels, it is part of what is becoming a trend that is rather … well, disconcerting is too strong a word, but it’s pretty close. It’s a trend we would like to see reversed.

And that’s a trend toward businesses and institutions moving a block or two and having officials and business leaders label such activity ‘economic development.’ It might be that on some level — or in some cases, to be precise. But mostly, it’s just musical chairs that isn’t really helping matters when it comes to the big picture.

Let’s start with that CVS. On some levels, we should consider this part of efforts to revitalize the tornado-ravaged South End of Springfield — and that’s what it’s being called. In fact, MGM’s leaders have mentioned this project early and often when talking about how the $960 million facility is stimulating additional development in and around its campus.

Maybe that’s true. That’s maybe. But moving CVS several hundred yards to the south can’t be interpreted as bringing ‘new business’ to Springfield. And moving that store out of Tower Square can’t be helping the ongoing efforts to revitalize that former business hub and shopping center. In fact, the decrease in foot traffic will certainly hurt efforts to bring new businesses into that once-thriving but long-struggling facility. And it will also hurt the employees in the downtown business towers who frequent that convenient location.

But enough about CVS. We’ve seen this musical-chairs activity with bank branches, small businesses, nonprofits, and more. They move into a new space to considerable fanfare while leaving a vacancy somewhere else.

Sometimes it’s necessary — as when a company needs to move to better or larger space, or when a lease is being terminated, as was the case a few years ago with a number of law firms displaced by the arrival of MGM. And it’s nothing unique to Springfield or this region. Indeed, every time a new office building is constructed in Boston, New York, or any other large city, tenants relocate to it from other facilities in the general area.

And, as we noted, sometimes it’s a good thing, as is the case with Peter Pan moving just a few hundred feet into Union Station. That seemingly unnecessary move cleared the way for Way Finders to build a new facility on the Peter Pan site that might help revitalize the North Blocks area, while also helping to speed development in the South End, in property currently home to Way Finders.

But in most cases, this musical-chairs activity is just that — people moving from one chair to another with no real benefits, other than to those doing the moving.

We don’t know all the reasons why CVS moved three blocks down Main Street, and we’re not sure what kind of impact it will have in the South End. Maybe it will be a catalyst for more development, and maybe it will be a solid start to efforts to balance the glitz on the west side of Main Street with some on the east side.

But overall, such moves don’t generate economic development as much as they just move it around. The real goal should be to have companies change their zip code (to one in the 413) when they move, not keep the same one.

Cover Story

The Next Steps for Springfield

Tim Sheehan, who succeeded Kevin Kennedy as Springfield’s chief Development officer in July, may be new to the job, but he’s certainly not new to the city. He grew up there, and later worked for two different mayoral administrations. In recent years, he’s seen the city go from the depths of receivership to what many are calling a renaissance. Looking to build off created momentum, he said there is still considerable work to do.

Tim Sheehan left Springfield, and a job with the state agency MassDevelopment, in 2002 to become director of the Redevelopment Agency in Norwalk, Conn.

But he didn’t exactly leave his birthplace behind.

Indeed, with a number of family and friends still living in and around the City of Homes, he returned frequently — at least once a month, by his estimate — and thus was keeping pace with all that happened in the city over that time.

That’s a lengthy list that includes everything from receivership to the opening of MGM Springfield to the revitalization, decades in the making, of Union Station, a project he’s quite familiar with because, starting in 2017, he took the train to Springfield for those visits.

So Sheehan didn’t have to reacquaint himself with the city, its challenges, and its opportunities when he accepted Mayor Domenic Sarno’s proposition to succeed Kevin Kennedy as Springfield’s chief Development officer.

In this important role, he has some big shoes to fill — Kennedy played a huge part in bringing more than $4 billion in development to the city since that tornado touched down in June 2011 — but also some momentum to build on and opportunities to add new chapters to an ongoing success story.

Indeed, while noting that considerable progress has been made with everything from vitality in the central business district to jobs to the city’s fiscal health, Sheehan concedes that much work remains to be done.

“There’s a very positive perception regarding where the city has positioned itself as a city within Western Mass.,” he said. “But there’s still room to grow on that, and I think Springfield can become a real leader in urban development.”

“The casino has met us a long way in the objective of encouraging people to go out from the casino and explore the city. What we need to do is take the next step so that there’s some sense of equivalence between what’s at the casino and what’s outside on Main Street.”

In no particular order, he listed the city’s many neighborhoods and needed work to revitalize the ‘Main Streets,’ if you will, of Indian Orchard, Forest Park, Six Corners, Boston Road, and even 16 Acres, where he grew up, as well as the need to create more market-rate housing in the city, a realm where he enjoyed success in Norwalk.

Sheehan also mentioned some specific projects that most might think of when they hear the term ‘economic development’ — 31 Elm St. was at the top of that list — and some initiatives they might not connect with that term, such as job training and assistance to small businesses, which are the backbone of the city’s economy.

“There are some studies that looked at employment and job-training initiatives in the city and discussed ways they could be improved,” he noted. “And there are studies that looked at how we could expand and assist the industrial and manufacturing sectors that exist here, and still others that look at the importance of the small-business sector within Springfield’s larger economy, the role it plays, and what government could provide to strengthen small business.

“As much as the large-scale development in the city has been fantastic and they’re a beacon to attract people,” he went on, citing MGM, CRRC, and other eight- and nine-figure projects, “we can’t lose sight of the fact that the smaller businesses — employers with fewer than six people — are the vast majority of the businesses, and they contribute significantly to the economic health of the city.”

And then, there’s MGM Springfield, or what’s happening across the street from it, to be more precise. Actually, it’s what’s not happening that needs to be addressed moving forward, said Sheehan, citing the need for balance or ‘equivalence,’ as he put it.

“The casino has met us a long way in the objective of encouraging people to go out from the casino and explore the city,” he explained. “What we need to do is take the next step so that there’s some sense of equivalence between what’s at the casino and what’s outside on Main Street.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Sheehan about his return to Springfield and how he intends to help build on the positive energy that’s been created and take the city to a still-higher plane.

Tracking Results

Looking out the windows of the train during those trips from New Haven, Sheehan said he could certainly see progress coming to the city he grew up in — and not just in the gleaming casino taking shape in the South End.

He noted improvement in everything from the entertainment district to parks; from public safety to job creation.

But, as noted, there is still considerable work to do, he said, adding that the prospect of leading such efforts was enticing enough to make ‘chief Development officer, city of Springfield’ the next line on an already-intriguing résumé.

And, as mentioned, some of the earlier lines involve Springfield as well. Indeed, he worked for two mayors — Richard Neal (before he become Congressman Neal) and his successor, Mary Hurley, in the Community Development and Planning office.

From Springfield City Hall, Sheehan moved to work for the state at the Executive Office of Communities and Development, and later at MassDevelopment, both at that agency’s Boston office and its first regional office in Springfield, which he directed.

He enjoyed the work, but eventually he desired a return to working on the municipal level and in development work.

“At the time, MassDevelopment was doing a lot of community-development lending, and I was doing projects on the North Shore and Lawrence, and then projects in the Berkshires,” he recalled. “One of the problems, from my perspective, is that I was drifting toward being more of a banker and less of a hands-on community-development/economic-development person.”

While MGM is thriving, Tim Sheehan says, one of the challenges facing the city is the need to achieve what he calls ‘equivalence’ on the other side of Main Street, seen here.

He found an opportunity to get back to the latter in Norwalk, and its Redevelopment Agency, a broad, one-stop shop for planning, housing, and economic development.

In Norwalk, a city roughly half Springfield’s size (85,000 people), one of his biggest achievements involved increasing the number of market-rate housing units in and around downtown, thus growing the population in the central business district.

The city had a number of factors working in its favor as it went about this assignment, he noted, especially its proximity to New York and status as a bedroom community for Gotham.

“It’s an hour by train to Grand Central Station, and 45 minutes to be in Manhattan proper,” he said, adding that these numbers translate into a fairly attractive commute, thus making such projects doable from an economic perspective in terms of the prices developers could charge for such properties.

Springfield doesn’t have such geography working for it, he went on, adding quickly that it can take advantage of some demographic shifts, especially retiring Baby Boomers and Millennials both becoming more drawn to walkable cities and the amenities of urban living.

What’s more, the city has a large stock of older buildings, many of them architectural gems, that could be converted to market-rate housing, perhaps with retail or other uses on the ground floors.

“The architecture in Springfield is far beyond what new development would be able to accomplish today,” he noted. “What we would like to see is a dedicated effort to look at repurposing those buildings with residential uses.”

Still, the numbers have to work for developers to move forward with projects like the one now underway at the former Willys-Overland building, and in some cases, it might be challenging to make them work.

“Springfield has the capacity to absorb more market-rate housing, but I think there’s going to have to be some level of government support for that,” he said, citing statistics showing that, while Worcester added more than 600 new housing units between 2013 and 2017, Springfield added 230. “But these projects have to pencil out from an economic standpoint. That was a challenge in downtown Hartford, but both the state and the city stepped up to understand that.”

“The importance of having a downtown residential population is critical to the long-term economic viability of your municipality,” he went on, underscoring the importance of such initiatives. “This is one of the challenges that Springfield needs to address.”

Overall, the city needs to create much more of a balance downtown between market-rate housing and the large amounts of subsidized housing that still exist in the central business district, he said, adding that this has been a long-standing issue for Springfield and a key to continued revitalization.

“You can’t have all or mostly subsidized housing — that’s not good for your downtown,” he went on, adding that Springfield’s housing stock downtown has been out of balance for some time.

Down on Main Street

But housing is just one of the issues and challenges facing the city, said Sheehan, who returned to the subject of MGM Springfield and the work needed to match the glitter on the west side of Main Street with some on the east side.

At the moment, there is little if any glitter there, he said, noting that there are several vacant or underutilized properties in the shadow of the casino, and this is a situation that needs to be addressed if the property is to reach its full potential and become even more of a catalyst for development.

“You have to give a nod to MGM in terms of the architectural design of the casino — it was meant to be porous, and that’s atypical of casino design, but a net positive for Main Street in Springfield,” he noted. “But in order to have people traversing between Main Street and the casino, there needs to be a sense of equivalence on both sides of the street.

“If I didn’t necessarily want to stay on the casino floor and wanted to come out and see what downtown might have to offer, I’m inhibited from doing that by coming to the front door on Main Street, looking across the street, and seeing that there’s no ‘there’ there for me,” he went on. “I’m going to turn around and go back into the casino.”

Creating a ‘there’ will require private investment, he continued, adding that a consortium of investors have expressed some interest in taking on properties that are “not meeting their full potential.”

And while downtown and the blocks around MGM are certainly a priority for the city, Sheehan said, Springfield’s other neighborhoods need some attention as well, especially their main commercial districts.

“If you look at the neighborhood commercial corridors, there is a lot of work to be done,” and strengthening those corridors is a priority moving forward, he told BusinessWest, listing Main Street Street in Indian Orchard as one such corridor, the ‘X’ in Forest Park as another, and Boston Road, which he grew up near, as still another.

“If you look at Boston Road, there is significant vacancy there,” he said, referring not only to the Eastfield Mall and the exodus of stores there but the full length of that commercial thoroughfare. “It’s not the Boston Road I used to remember as a kid; there are some challenges there.”

Six Corners is another neighborhood corridor where improvement is needed and work is in progress, he said, noting the infrastructure work taking place there, especially a new roundabout designed to ease traffic flow in that area.

The hope is that such civic improvements there and elsewhere will generate private-sector investments, he went on, adding quickly that revitalization of neighborhoods such as Six Corners requires collaborative efforts among a number of parties — and healthy doses of imagination.

We’ve made a big investment in the public infrastructure there,” he said. “Now, we need to look at the sustainability of the businesses that exist there; we’re doing some early planning activity with regard to what commercial activity is appropriate for there.

“We’re also trying to get more engagement in these centers from the institutions that surround them,” he went on. “How can we engage better with AIC and Springfield College to ensure that the businesses that surround them are made more healthy by their populations?”

These projects are often much more difficult to undertake because they do involve private investment, he went on, adding that the public (government) side has to inspire such investments and make them easier through planning and a roadmap for the future.

“In order to entice the private developer to come to those areas, from the city’s perspective, you need to have a plan as to what you want to happen there, and you have to have everything aligned with that plan, so that, if I’m making the investment after reading your plan, I don’t have to deal with zoning in terms of having to change something to fit your plan; it’s already been done,” he explained. “I’ve read the plan, I understand what the city wants, and the city’s done all the heavy lifting to get my project approved.”

Along for the Ride

Talking about the train he took into Springfield, Sheehan raved about everything from the price of the ticket to how full the cars were — at least to the Hartford stop.

“The train is fantastic; the ability to go from Springfield to Hartford or Hartford to Springfield or New Haven to Springfield for $6 or $12 one way … that’s a bargain and a very convenient form of transportation,” he said, adding that the train has become a very attractive alternative to those not looking to battle the traffic on I-95 or I-91 on a Friday afternoon, or any afternoon, for that matter.

It’s not his official job description, but as chief Development officer, Sheehan’s goal is putting even more people on those trains coming into Springfield — professionals, tourists, and those, like him, coming to visit family and friends.

It’s also his job to give them not only more to see out the windows, but more to experience once the train pulls in.

It’s a challenge he certainly embraces, and one that brings his career full circle in many respects — back to the city he grew up in, and back to the city he wants to take the next level.

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

Super 60

Recognition Program Marks 30 Years with Oct. 25 Event

Now in its 30th year, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Super 60 program celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately-owned businesses in the region. Businesses on the Total Revenue and Revenue Growth categories for 2019 represent all sectors of the economy, including nonprofits, transportation, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality. Some have been named to the Super 60 once or many times before, and some are brand-new to the list.

This year’s Super 60 Celebration event will take place on Friday, Oct. 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam. Sheila Coon, founder of Hot Oven Cookies, will be the keynote speaker at the event, which is presented by Health New England and sponsored by People’s United Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, the Republican, MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, and Zasco Productions.

Hot Oven Cookies began in 2015, when Coon started baking cookies for her children while she was in culinary school. She started her business as a cookie-delivery service. With business education from Valley Venture Mentors and SPARK EforAll in Holyoke, the delivery business expanded to a food truck, from which Coon began selling cookies from her repertoire of more than 100 recipes, inspired by her children, at farmers’ markets and other events. When her food truck constantly sold out of cookies, Coon knew there was potential for more.

Coon is also a graduate of the first cohort of RiseUp Springfield, a seven-month, intensive, hands-on program for established and small business owners, powered by Interise’s StreetWise ‘MBA’ curriculum in collaboration with the city of Springfield, the Assoc. of Black Business & Professionals, and the Springfield Regional Chamber.

In just four short years, Coon has found sweet success with Hot Oven Cookies. In 2018, she and her husband, David, opened the brand’s first retail location at 1597 Main St. in Springfield. She has plans to open a production facility in Agawam to accommodate her current business as well as plans for a wholesale business and an online store with national shipping of Hot Oven’s uncooked frozen cookie dough.

“Hot Oven Cookies is an example of a true entrepreneurial story about how an idea, a passion, or a hobby can become a thriving business with dedication and taking advantage of the small-business resources available in Western Massachusetts,” said Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber. “We are thrilled to have a graduate of the first cohort of RiseUp Springfield take the stage at Super 60 to share her success story.”

The event costs $60 for chamber members and $75 for general admission. Reservations may be made for tables of eight or 10. The deadline for reservations is Wednesday, Oct. 16. No cancellations are accepted after that date, and no walk-ins will be allowed. Reservations must be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mailing [email protected]

Total Revenue:

1. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.*
2. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc.
3. Tighe & Bond*
Arrow Security Co. Inc.
Baltazar Contractors
Bob Pion Buick GMC Inc.
Center Square Grill (Fun Dining Inc.)
Charter Oak Financial
Commercial Distributing Co. Inc.
Con-Test Analytical Laboratory (Filli, LLC)
Court Square Group Inc.
David R. Northup Electrical Contractors Inc.
The Dowd Agencies, LLC
E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.*
Freedom Credit Union
Governors America Corp. / GAC Management Co.*
Haluch Water Contracting Inc.
Holyoke Pediatrics Associates, LLP
JET Industries Inc.
Kittredge Equipment Co. Inc.
Lancer Transportation / Sulco Warehousing & Logistics
Louis and Clark Drug Inc.
Maybury Associates Inc.*
Paragus Strategic IT
Rediker Software Inc.
Rock Valley Tool, LLC
Skip’s Outdoor Accents Inc.
Tiger Press (Shafii’s Inc.)
Troy Industries Inc.
United Personnel Services Inc.

Revenue Growth:

1. The Nunes Companies Inc.
2. Brewmasters Brewing Services, LLC
3. Christopher Heights of Northampton
A.G. Miller Co. Inc.
Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc.*
American Pest Solutions Inc.
Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc.
Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C.
City Enterprise Inc.*
Courier Express Inc.
EOS Approach, LLC / Proshred Security International
Gallagher Real Estate
GMH Fence Company Inc.
Goss & McLain Insurance Agency Inc.
Greenough Packaging & Maintenance Supplies Inc.
Kenney Masonry, LLC
Knight Machine Tool Company Inc.
L & L Property Service, LLC
Ludlow Heating and Cooling Inc.
Michael’s Party Rentals Inc.
Oasis Shower Doors (EG Partners, LLC)*
Pioneer Valley Financial Group, LLC
R.R. Leduc Corp.*
Sanderson MacLeod Inc.
Springfield Thunderbirds (Springfield Hockey, LLC)
Summit Careers Inc.
United Industrial Textile Products Inc.
Villa Rose Restaurant (Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc.)
Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency Inc.*
Westside Finishing Co. Inc.*

*Qualified in both categories

Total Revenue​

1. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.*
One Whalley Way, Southwick
(413) 569-4200
www.wca.com
John Whalley, President
WCA is a locally owned family business that has evolved from a hardware resale and service group in the ’70s and ’80s into a company that now focuses on lowering the total cost of technology and productivity enhancement for its customers.

2. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc.
1025 Main St., Holyoke
(413) 536-1900
www.marcotteford.com
Bryan Marcotte, President
The dealership sells new Ford vehicles as well as pre-owned cars, trucks, and SUVs, and features a full service department. Marcotte has achieved Ford’s President’s Award multiple occasions over the past decade. It also operates the Marcotte Commercial Truck Center.

3. Tighe & Bond*
53 Southampton Road, Westfield
(413) 562-1600
www.tighebond.com
Robert Belitz, President and CEO
Tighe & Bond is a full-service engineering and environmental consulting firm offering myriad services, including building engineering, coastal and waterfront solutions, environmental consulting, GIS and asset management, site planning and design, transportation engineering, and water and wastewater engineering.

Arrow Security Co. Inc
124 Progress Ave., Springfield
(413) 732-6787
www.arrowsecurity.com
John Debarge Jr., President
This company provides security for all types of clients and issues, including industrial plant security, patrol services with security checks for homeowners, free security surveys, and more provided by a management team that consists of a diverse group of professionals with law enforcement, private-sector security, and military backgrounds.

Baltazar Contractors
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 583-6160
www.baltazarcontractors.com
Frank Baltazar, President
Baltazar Contractors is a family-owned construction firm specializing in roadway construction and reconstruction; all aspects of site-development work; sewer, water, storm, and utilities; and streetscape improvements in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Bob Pion Buick GMC Inc.
333 Memorial Dr., Chicopee
(413) 206-9251
www.bobpionbuickgmc.com
Rob Pion, General Manager
Bob Pion Buick GMC carries a wide selection of new and pre-owned cars, crossovers, and SUVs, and also offers competitive lease specials and a full service department.

Center Square Grill (Fun Dining Inc.)
84 Center Square, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-0055
www.centersquaregrill.com
Michael Sakey, Bill Collins, Proprietors
Center Square Grill serves traditional American food, with hints of classically prepared French sauces, Latin-inspired fish dishes, and standard Italian repertoire. The facility also has a catering service and hosts events of all kinds.

Charter Oak Financial
330 Whitney Ave., Holyoke
(413) 539-2000
www.charteroakfinancial.com
brendan naughton, general agent
Charter Oak’s services include risk management (including life insurance, disability income insurance, and long-term-care insurance), business planning and protection, retirement planning and investments, and fee-based financial planning.

Commercial Distributing Co. Inc.
46 South Broad St., Westfield
(413) 562-9691
www.commercialdist.com
Richard Placek, Chairman
Commercial Distributing Co. is a family-owned business servicing more than 1,000 bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as more than 400 package and liquor stores. Now in its third generation, the company continues to grow by building brands and offering new products as the market changes.

Con-Test Analytical Laboratory (Filli, LLC)
39 Spruce St., East Longmeadow
(413) 525-2332
www.contestlabs.com
Tom Veratti, Founder and Consultant
Con-Test Inc. provides industrial-hygiene and analytical services to a broad range of clients. Originally focused on industrial-hygiene analysis, the laboratory-testing division has expanded its capabilities to include numerous techniques in air analysis, classical (wet) chemistry, metals, and organics.

Court Square Group Inc.
1350 Main St., Springfield
(413) 746-0054
www.courtsquaregroup.com
Keith Parent, President
Court Square is a leading managed-services company that provides an audit-ready, compliant cloud (ARCC) infrastructure for its clients and partners in the life-sciences industry.

David R. Northup Electrical Contractors Inc.
73 Bowles Road, Agawam
(413) 786-8930
www.northupelectric.com
David Northup, President
This is a family-owned, full-service electrical, HVAC, and plumbing contractor that specializes in everything from installation and replacement to preventive maintenance, indoor air-quality work, and sheet-metal fabrication.

The Dowd Agencies, LLC
14 Bobola Road, Holyoke
(413) 538-7444
www.dowd.com
John Dowd, President and CEO
The Dowd Agencies is the oldest insurance agency under continuous family ownership, and one of the most long-standing, experienced insurance agencies in Massachusetts.

E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.*
5 Rose Place, Springfield
(413) 732-1462
www.efcorcoran.com
Charles Edwards and Brian Toomey, Co-owners
E.F. Corcoran is a full-service plumbing and HVAC contractor. Services include 24-hour plumbing service, HVAC system installs, design-build services, energy retrofits, system replacements and modifications, gas piping, boilers, and more.
Freedom Credit Union
1976 Main St., Springfield
(800) 831-0160
www.freedom.coop
Glenn Welch, President and CEO
Freedom is a full-service credit union serving a wide range of business and consumer clients. Freedom has its main office on Main Street in Springfield, with other offices in Sixteen Acres, Feeding Hills, Ludlow, Chicopee, Easthampton, Northampton, Turners Falls, Greenfield, and Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.

Governors America Corp. / GAC Management Co.*
720 Silver St., Agawam
(413) 786-5600
www.governors-america.com
Sean Collins, President
GAC is a leading provider of engine-governing and system controls to a worldwide list of equipment manufacturers and power providers. The engine-control products are used in a wide range of industries, including generator set, material handling, marine propulsion, mining, locomotive, and off-highway applications.

Haluch Water Contracting Inc.
399 Fuller St., Ludlow
(413) 589-1254
Thomas Haluch, President
Haluch Water Contracting’s main lines of business include sewer contracting, underground utilities, and water-main construction.

Holyoke Pediatrics Associates, LLP
150 Lower Westfield Road, Holyoke
(413) 536-2393
www.holyokepediatrics.com
Kathy Tremble, Adair Medina, Care Coordinators
HPA is the largest pediatric practice in Western Mass., providing primary-care services as well as lactation counseling, behavioral-health services, and patient education. HPA has a medical laboratory drawing site and also provides in-hospital support for new mothers.

JET Industries Inc.
307 Silver St., Agawam
(413) 786-2010
Michael Turrini, President
Jet Industries manufactures aircraft engines, parts, and equipment, as well as turbines and turbine generator sets and parts, aircraft power systems, flight instrumentation, and aircraft landing and braking systems.

Kittredge Equipment Co. Inc.
100 Bowles Road, Agawam
(413) 304-4100
www.kittredgeequipment.com
Wendy Webber, President
Kittridge Equipment is a $57 million equipment and supply giant. It boasts 70,000 square feet of inventory and warehouse, handles design services, and has designed everything from small restaurants to country clubs to in-plant cafeterias.

Lancer Transportation & Logistics / Sulco Warehousing & Logistics
311 Industry Ave., Springfield
(413) 739-4880
www.sulco-lancer.com
Todd Goodrich, President
Sulco Warehousing & Logistics operates a network of distribution centers. Lancer Transportation & Logistics is a DOT-registered contract motor carrier providing regional, national, and international truckload and LTL delivery services.

Louis and Clark Drug Inc.
309 East St. Springfield
(413) 737-2996
www.lcdrug.com
Skip Matthews, President
Louis & Clark provides prescriptions for individuals and institutions and helps those who need home medical equipment and supplies. The company also provides professional pharmacy and compounding services, medical equipment, independent-living services, and healthcare programs.
Maybury Associates Inc.*
90 Denslow Road, East Longmeadow
(888) 629-2879
www.maybury.com
John Maybury, President
Maybury Associates has more than 80 employees and is a distributor for about 1,300 manufacturers. The company designs, supplies, and services a wide variety of handling equipment throughout New England, and provides customers in a wide range of industries with solutions to move, lift, and store their parts and products.
Paragus Strategic IT*
112 Russell St., Hadley
(413) 587-2666
www.paragusit.com
Delcie Bean IV, President
Paragus has grown dramatically as an outsourced IT solution, providing business computer service, computer consulting, information-technology support, and other services to businesses of all sizes.

Rediker Software Inc.
2 Wilbraham Road, Hampden
(800) 213-9860
www.rediker.com
Andrew Anderlonis, President
Rediker Software has been providing school administrative software solutions for more than 35 years. Rediker Software is used by school administrators across the U.S. and in more than 100 countries, and is designed to meet the student-information-management needs of all types of schools and districts.

Rock Valley Tool, LLC
54 O’Neil St., Easthampton
(413) 527-2350
www.rockvalleytool.com
Elizabeth Paquette, President
Rock Valley Tool is a precision-machining facility housing both CNC and conventional machining equipment, along with a state-of-the-art inspection lab. With more than 40 years of experience, the company provides manufactured parts to customers in the aerospace, commercial/industrial, and plastic blow-molding industries.

Skip’s Outdoor Accents Inc.
1265 Suffield St., Agawam
(413) 786-0990
www.skipsonline.com
John and Scott Ansart, Owners
Skip’s Outdoor Accents specializes in a wide range of outdoor products, including storage sheds, gazebos, swingsets, and outdoor furniture, offering installation and delivery to sites with limited or no access. Skip’s shed and gazebo delivery is free to most of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Tiger Press (Shafii’s Inc.)
50 Industrial Ave., East Longmeadow
(413) 224-2100
www.tigerpress.com
Reza Shafii, Jennifer Shafii, Owners
TigerPress is a sustainable, eco-friendly printer, using green technology and operating in a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. The company offers digital printing, commercial printing, and custom package printing all under one roof.

Troy Industries Inc.
151 Capital Dr., West Springfield
(866) 788-6412
www.troyind.com
Steve Troy, CEO
Troy Industries is an industry leader that designs and manufactures innovative, top-quality small arms components and accessories and complete weapon upgrades. All products are American-made and designed to perform flawlessly under intense battle conditions.

United Personnel Services Inc.
289 Bridge St., Springfield
(413) 736-0800
www.unitedpersonnel.com
Tricia Canavan, President
United provides a full range of staffing services, including temporary staffing and full-time placement, on-site project management, and strategic recruitment in the Springfield, Hartford, and Northampton areas, specializing in administrative, professional, medical, and light-industrial staff.

Revenue Growth

1. The Nunes Companies Inc.
658 Center St., Ludlow
(413) 308-4940
www.nunescompanies.com
Armando Nunes, President
The Nunes Companies offers services such as sitework, road construction, and roll-off dumpster rentals, relying on leadership, quality, and cutting-edge technology to get the job done.

2. Brewmasters
Brewing Services, LLC
4 Main St., Williamsburg
(413) 268-2199
Dennis Bates, Michael Charpentier, Owners
Brewmasters Brewing Services is a small craft brewery offering a wide variety of services, including contract brewing and distilling.

3. Christopher Heights
of Northampton
50 Village Hill Road, Northampton
(413) 584-0701
www.christopherheights.com
michael taylor, executive director
Christopher Heights is a mixed-use community located in a natural setting that features scenic mountain views and walking paths. Residents and staff each bring their own experiences and talents, which are recognized and often incorporated into social activities and programs.

A.G. Miller Co. Inc.
53 Batavia St., Springfield
(413) 732-9297
www.agmiller.com
Rick Miller, President
A leader in the metal-fabricating industry, the company’s services include precision metal fabrication; design and engineering; assembly; forming, rolling, and bending; laser cutting; punching; precision saw cutting; welding; powder coating; and liquid painting.

Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc.*
160 Old Lyman Road, South Hadley
(413) 536-5955
www.1800newroof.net
Adam Quenneville, CEO
Adam Quenneville offers a wide range of residential and commercial services, including new roofs, retrofitting, roof repair, roof cleaning, vinyl siding, replacement windows, and the no-clog Gutter Shutter system. The company has earned the BBB Torch Award for trust, performance, and integrity.

American Pest Solutions Inc.
169 William St., Springfield
(413) 781-0044
www.413pestfree.com
Bob Russell, President
American Pest Solutions is a full-service pest-solutions company founded in 1913. With two locations, the company serves residential and commercial customers, offering inspection, treatment, and ongoing protection.

Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc.
36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 583-4440
www.baystateblasting.com
Paul Baltazar, President
Baystate Blasting Inc. is a family-owned drilling and blasting firm that provides a full range of rock-blasting and rock-crushing services, including sitework, heavy highway construction, residential work, quarry, and portable crushing and recycling. An ATF-licensed dealer of explosives, it offers rental of individual magazines.

Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C.
200 North Main St., South Building,
Suite 1, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-0025
www.bsrcpa.com
Andrew Robb, Managing Partner
Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C. is a professional certified public accounting firm providing audit, tax, business-advisory, and business-management services to private businesses, trusts, tax-exempt organizations, and individuals.
City Enterprise Inc.*
52-60 Berkshire Ave., Springfield
(413) 726-9549
www.cityenterpriseinc.com
Wonderlyn Murphy, President
City Enterprises Inc. is a general contractor with a diverse portfolio of clients, including the Groton Naval submarine base, Westover Air Reserve Base, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and many others.

Courier Express Inc.
111 Carando Dr., Springfield
(413) 730-6620
www.courierexp.com
Eric Devine, President
Courier Express is committed to providing custom, same-day delivery solutions for any shipment and a courteous, prompt, and professional delivery agent. The company ships everything from a single envelope to multiple pallets.

EOS Approach, LLC / Proshred Security International
75 Post Office Park, Wilbraham
(413) 596-5479
www.proshred.com
Joe Kelly, Owner
Proshred specializes in the secure, on-site information destruction of confidential and sensitive documents, computer hard drives, and electronic media. It is an ISO 9001:2008 certified and NAID AAA certified mobile shredding company.
Gallagher Real Estate
1763 Northampton St., Holyoke
(413) 536-7232
www.gogallagher.com
Paul Gallagher, Owner
Gallagher Real Estate is an independent brokerage that operates in Hampshire and Hampden counties in Massachusetts and Hartford County in Connecticut. The company specializes in both residential and commercial properties and has offices in Holyoke, South Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Springfield.

GMH Fence Co. Inc.
15 Benton Dr., East Longmeadow
(413) 525-3361
www.gmhfence.com
Glenn Hastie, Owner
GMH Fence Co. is one of the largest fence companies in the region, offering fence installations from a selection of wood, aluminum, steel, and vinyl fencing for residential and commercial customers.

Goss & McLain Insurance Agency Inc.
1767 Northampton St., Holyoke
(413) 534-7355
www.gossmclain.com
Deborah Buckley, President
Goss & McLain is an independent insurance agency offering a diverse portfolio of personal and business property and liability insurance, as well as life and health insurance. It also insures homes, cars, and businesses and protects against personal and business liabilities.
Greenough Packaging & Maintenance Supplies Inc.
54 Heywood Ave., West Springfield
(800) 273-2308
www.greenosupply.com
Craig Cassanelli, President
Greenough is a distributor of shipping, packaging, safety, breakroom, janitorial, cleaning, and facility-maintenance supplies. It also offers custom solutions to customers, such as printed bags, cups, and napkins, as well as custom packaging, including printed tape, boxes, stretch wrap, and strapping.

Kenney Masonry, LLC
P.O. Box 2506, Amherst
(413) 256-0400
www.kenneymasonry.com
Sarahbeth Kenney, Owner
Kenney Masonry is a family-owned company with more than 150 years of combined construction experience working with brick, block, stone, and concrete on commercial, institutional, public, and residential projects.

Knight Machine Tool Company Inc.
11 Industrial Dr., South Hadley
(413) 532-2507
Gary O’Brien, Owner
Knight Machine & Tool Co. is a metalworking and welding company that offers blacksmithing, metal roofing, and other services from its 11,000-square-foot facility.

L & L Property Service, LLC
582 Amostown Road, West Springfield
(413) 732-2739
Richard Lapinski, Owner
L & L Property Services is a locally owned company providing an array of property services, including lawn care, snow removal, sanding, excavations, patios and stone walls, hydroseeding, and more.

Ludlow Heating and Cooling Inc.
1056 Center St., Ludlow
(413) 583-6923
www.ludlowheatingandcooling.com
Karen Sheehan, President
Ludlow Heating & Cooling is a full-service energy company dedicated to providing quality heating and cooling product services including new system installation, oil heat delivery, and maintenance to an existing system.

Michael’s Party Rentals Inc.
1221 South Main St., Palmer
(413) 589-7368
www.michaelspartyrentals.com
Michael Linton, Owner
Michael’s Party Rentals operates year-round, seven days a week. Its 9,000-square-foot warehouse holds more than 100 tents of all sizes, tables, chairs, dance flooring, staging, lighting, and an extensive array of rental equipment for any type of party.

Oasis Shower Doors
(EG Partners, LLC)*
646 Springfield St., Feeding Hills
(800) 876-8420
www.oasisshowerdoors.com
Thomas Daly, Owner
Oasis is New England’s largest designer, fabricator, and installer of custom frameless glass shower enclosures and specialty glass, offering a wide array of interior glass entry systems and storefronts, sliding and fixed glass partition walls, back-painted glass, and switchable privacy glass for bedrooms, offices, and conference rooms.

Pioneer Valley
Financial Group, LLC
1252 Elm St., Suite 28, West Springfield
(413) 363-9265
www.pvfinancial.com
Joseph Leonczyk, Charles Myers, Senior Partners
PV Financial helps clients pursue their goals through careful financial planning and sound investment strategy. Services include retirement planning, asset growth, business planning, college funding, estate planning, and risk management.

R.R. Leduc Corp.*
100 Bobala Road, Holyoke
(413) 536-4329
www.rrleduc.com
Robert LeDuc, President
Since its inception in 1967, the R.R. Leduc Corp. has been a family-owned business that specializes in precision sheet metal and custom powder coatings. The company produces a variety of products for the communication, military, medical, electronics, and commercial industries.

Sanderson MacLeod Inc.
1199 South Main St., Palmer
(413) 283-3481
www.sandersonmacleod.com
Mark Borsari, President
From breakthrough brush innovation projects to supply-chain integration, Sanderson MacLeod leverages its experience and know-how in ways that produce high-quality twisted-wire brushes for its customers.

Springfield Thunderbirds (Springfield Hockey, LLC)
45 Bruce Landon Way, Springfield
(413) 739-4625
www.springfieldthunderbirds.com
Nathan Costa, President
The Springfield Thunderbirds are a professional ice hockey team and the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Since the team began to play in the area in 2016, it has formed the T-Birds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity that benefits causes in Springfield and surrounding Pioneer Valley communities.
Summit Careers Inc.
85 Mill St., Suite B, Springfield
(413) 733-9506
www.summitcareers.inc
Bryan Picard, Owner
Summit Careers is a full-service staffing and recruiting firm that provides temporary, temp-to-hire, and direct-hire services for clients in a variety of sectors, including light industrial, warehouse, professional trades, administrative, accounting, and executive.

United Industrial Textile Products Inc.
321 Main St., West Springfield
(413) 737-0095
www.uitprod.com
Wayne Perry, President
UIT is a family-owned manufacturer that has been making high-quality covers for commercial, military, and industrial applications for more than 60 years. Craftsmen at the company specialize in the creation of custom covers that are manufactured to each client’s unique specifications.

Villa Rose Restaurant (Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc.)
1428 Center St., Ludlow
(413) 547-6667
www.villaroserestaurant.com
Tony Tavares, Owner
Nestled across from the Ludlow reservoir, the Villa Rose offers fine dining in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. The restaurant offers a private room with availability for weddings, receptions, showers, anniversaries, and any other banquet function from 30 to 175 people.

Webber & Grinnell
Insurance Agency Inc.*
8 North King St., Northampton
(413) 586-0111
www.webberandgrinnell.com
Bill Grinnell, President
Webber and Grinnell has provided insurance protection for thousands of individuals and businesses throughout the Pioneer Valley for more than 150 years. The agency is balanced between business insurance, personal insurance, and employee benefits.

Westside Finishing Co. Inc.*
15 Samosett St., Holyoke
(413) 533-4909
www.wsfinish.com
Brian Bell, President
Westside Finishing is a family-owned business specializing in a wide array of services, including pre-treatment/cleaning, conveyorized powder coating, batch powder coating, silk screening, pad printing, masking, packaging, and trucking.

Opinion

Editorial

Most would agree that Springfield has come a long way over the past decade or so and especially since the 2011 tornado touched down on Main Street.

But most would also agree there is still considerable work to be done in the City of Homes to bring it back to the prominence it enjoyed decades ago. And while no one would dare suggest that what has accomplished to date has been easy — although MGM Springfield might have been the easiest $1 billion project anyone has ever seen — the work to be done falls into the ‘much harder’ category.

Indeed, over the past decade, city officials, working in collaboration with a host of public and private partners, have succeeded in giving people more reasons to come to Springfield — to work, play, and, yes, live — and they’ve also made it somewhat easier to get here through new rail service and extensive work on I-91.

Collectively, the city has made progress and created momentum, but hard work remains to build on what could be called a foundation, while also making sure that MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other developments are put in a position to succeed.

Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s recently appointed chief Development officer, touched on some of these points in an extensive interview with BusinessWest (see story, page 6). Slicing through his comments, he notes that, while Springfield is now a more attractive place to visit, in many respects, it must focus even harder on creating more opportunities for people to live here, launch businesses, and see them succeed.

Most recently employed by the city of Norwalk, Conn. and its Redevelopment Agency, he said he saw first-hand what can happen when a city succeeds in attracting a larger population of professionals through new market-rate housing initiatives.

Norwalk, roughly an hour’s commute to New York city via train, benefited from its location and developed more housing that in turn brought energy, disposable income, and, yes, business opportunities to the city.

Springfield, doesn’t have the same advantage of geography — although hopes remain for east-west rail that would certainly change that equation — but there is still vast potential to create more market-rate housing in its downtown and the neighborhoods beyond. And tapping this potential is perhaps the number-one priority for the city moving forward.

That’s because, while the city can certainly benefit from people coming to gamble or see an Aerosmith concert or visit the Basketball Hall of Fame or take in the Dr. Seuss museum, true vibrancy comes when people live in your community. Brooklyn, N.Y. is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others.

The assignment, then, becomes giving people a reason (or a good number of reasons) to live in your community.

Springfield is making progress there, but it has to do more to entice private investors to build here. And this brings us to another priority on Sheehan’s to-do list — the city’s many fine neighborhoods. We can still use that adjective, although all of them have seen better days, especially when it comes to their commercial districts.

Sheehan mentioned Boston Road, which is still a vibrant commercial artery but not what it was decades ago, especially at the Eastfield Mall end of the street. The ongoing demise of traditional retail certainly plays a part in what’s happening along these stretches, but Sheehan is right when he says the city needs to develop new plans for these areas, create buy-in from neighborhood institutions, and, overall, inspire investors to what to be part of something.

All this falls into the category of taking Springfield to the next stage. As we said, this is in many ways harder work than what has been undertaken to date, but it’s work that has to be done if Springfield is to enjoy a real renaissance.

Healthcare Heroes

‘There’s a Magic Here,’ Built on Dedication, Innovation, and Culture

H. Lee Kirk Jr. was speaking at a public event recently, when a woman stood up to tell him about her 3-year-old grandson’s experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield.

“She said, ‘when we take him to the doctor’s office or another healthcare provider, he cries going in, and he’s sprinting out the door to get back home. When he comes to Shriners, he’s sprinting on the way in and happy to be coming, and he’s kicking and screaming when he has to leave,’” he related. “There’s a magic here that’s really hard to get your arms around.”

But Kirk, administrator of the 94-year-old facility on Carew Street in Springfield, tried to explain it the best he could over the course of a conversation with BusinessWest after the hospital was chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2019 in the Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider category.

“This is a special healthcare organization because of the mission,” he said. “The culture is unlike any other I’ve been involved in. We want to be the best at transforming the lives of kids. And we get the privilege of seeing that every day here.”

It’s a culture that employees find attractive, said George Gorton, the hospital’s director of Research, Planning, and Business Development, adding that consulting physicians from other hospitals say, after visiting, that it’s the happiest place they’ve ever worked.

“It’s a palpable difference,” he went on. “As employees, we love that caring, family feeling of being employed by an organization that aligns with our own personal mission. That’s just not seen anywhere else.”

Last year, the hospital produced some short videos with employees to celebrate the opening of its inpatient pediatric rehab unit. In one of them, a nurse hired specifically for that unit talked about how she’s wanted to be a nurse at Shriners since being treated there for a rheumatology issue when she was a child.

“She was in tears, expressing the joy and positivity she had, to be able to take that experience of receiving care and become the person who provides that care to other people,” Gorton said. “It was a really touching moment to hear her express that.”

Then there’s the boy Gorton — who’s been with Shriners for more than a quarter-century — examined decades ago in the motion-analysis center; he’s now a physician assistant at the hospital.

Gorton said it’s impossible to single out any individual person responsible for creating the generational success stories and culture that makes Shriners what it is. The judges for this year’s Healthcare Heroes program agreed, making a perhaps outside-the-box choice in a category that has previously honored individuals, not entire organizations.

Yet, the choice makes sense, said Jennifer Tross, who came on board two years ago as Marketing and Communications manager, because of that unique culture that draws people back to provide care decades after receiving it, and that has kids shedding tears when they have to leave, not when they show up.

“The day I arrived,” Tross said, “I went home and said, ‘I knew this place would change my life, and it has.’”

Countless families agree, which is why Shriners is deserving of the title Healthcare Hero.

Step by Step

When a boy named Bertram, from Augusta, Maine, made the trek with his family to Springfield in February 1925, he probably wasn’t thinking about making history. But he did just that, as the hospital’s very first patient. The Shriners organization opened its first hospitals primarily to take care of kids with polio, but Bertram had club feet — a condition that became one of the facility’s core services.

After the first Shriners Hospitals for Children site opened in 1922 in Shreveport, La., 10 other facilities followed in 1925 (there are now 22 facilities, all in the U.S. except for Mexico City and Montreal). Four of those hospitals, including one in Boston, focus on acute burn care, while the rest focus primarily on a mix of orthopedics and other types of pediatric care.

As an orthopedic specialty hospital, the Springfield facility has long focused on conditions ranging from scoliosis, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida to club foot, chest-wall deformities, cleft lip and palate, and a host of other conditions afflicting the limbs, joints, bones, and extremities — and much more.

While many of the hospitals overlap in services, each has tended to adapt to the needs of its own community. In Springfield’s case that includes pediatric specialties like rheumatology, urology, and fracture care, as well as a sports health and medicine program that includes three athletic trainers and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with training in sports medicine.

H. Lee Kirk (left, with Jennifer Tross and George Gorton) says Shriners is a special healthcare organization because of its mission.

The latter, Kirk said, includes services to kids without medical problems, as the hospital works with schools, clubs, and leagues help provide more preventive and conditioning services and follow up when injuries occur.

Meanwhile, the BFit exercise program targets kids with neuromuscular problems who normally don’t participate in physical activity, sports, or even gym class. The program aims to improve the physical activity of this group, and does it by involving students from area colleges who are studying fields like physical and occupational therapy, exercise science, sports medicine, and kinesiology.

“They volunteer as personal coaches,” Gorton said. “The child learns to adapt their environment and become physically active, and those students learn what it’s like to care for children. Many have gone into pediatric healthcare to do that kind of training because of their experience here. They see it here, and it spreads like a good virus through the population.”

Then there was the 2013 community assessment determining that an inpatient pediatric rehabilitation clinic would fill a persistent need. That 20-bed clinic opened last year following a $1.25 million capital campaign that wound up raising slightly more — reflective of the community support the hospital has always received, allowing it to provide free care to families without the ability to pay (more on that later).

Still, more than 90% of the care provided in Springfield is outpatient — in fact, the facility saw 12,173 visits last year, a more than 40% expansion over the past several years.

The care itself, the clinical component, is only one of three prongs in the Shriners mission, Kirk said. The second part is education; over the past 30 years, thousands of physicians have undertaken residency education or postgraduate fellowships at the various children’s hospitals. In Springfield, residents in a variety of healthcare disciplines — from orthopedics to nursing, PT, and OT — have arrived for 10- to 12-week rotations.

The third component of the mission is research, specifically clinical research in terms of how to improve the processes of delivering care to children. That often takes the shape of new technology, from computerized 3D modeling for cleft-palate surgery to the hospital’s motion-analysis laboratory, where an array of infrared cameras examine how a child walks and converts that data to a 3D model that gives doctors all they need to know about a child’s progress.

More recently, a capital campaign raised just under $1 million to install the EOS Imaging System, Nobel Prize-winning X-ray technology that exists nowhere else in Western Mass. or the Hartford area, which enhances imaging while reducing the patient’s exposure to radiation. That’s important, Kirk said, particularly for children who have had scoliosis or other orthopedic conditions, and start having X-rays early on their lives and continue them throughout adolescence.

Averting Disaster

It’s an impressive array of services and technology, and collectively, it meets a clear need — and not just locally. While about 60% of patients hail from a 20-mile radius, the hospital sees young people from across New England, New York, more than 20 other states, and more than 20 countries as well.

Yet, only a decade ago, the hospital was in danger of closing. At the height of the Great Recession, the national Shriners organization announced it was considering shuttering six of its 22 children’s hospitals across the country — including the one on Carew Street.

In the end, after a deluge of very vocal outrage and support by families of patients and community leaders, the Shriners board decided against closing any of its specialty children’s hospitals, even though the organization had been struggling, during those tough economic times, to provide its traditionally free care given rising costs and a shrinking endowment.

To make it possible to keep the facilities open, in 2011, Shriners — for the first time in its nearly century-long history — started accepting third-party payments from private insurance and government payers such as Medicaid when possible, although free care is still provided to all patients without the means to pay, and the hospital continues to accommodate families who can’t afford the co-pays and deductibles that are now required by many insurance plans.

“It was a wise decision to accept insurance — but it was a controversial decision,” Kirk said. Yet, it makes sense, too. A very small percentage of patients in Massachusetts don’t have some kind of coverage, yet 63% of care at Shriners is paid for by donors — a disconnect explained by the fact that Medicaid doesn’t pay for care there, and gaps exist in other insurance as well.

So, if a family can’t pay, the hospital does not chase the money, relying on an assistance resource funded by Shriners and their families nationwide.

“Donor support allows us to provide free care,” Kirk said. “We don’t send families to collections and contribute to the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in America, which is medical care. It’s a very unique model, and a unique healthcare-delivery system.”

And one that, as Kirk noted, treats a patient population that can be underserved otherwise. For instance, the cleft lip and palate program — a multi-disciplinary program integrated with providers from other hospitals in the region and serving about 30 partients at any given time — begins assessing some patients prenatally, and most need care throughout adolescence and even into young adulthood.

Those consulting relationships are critical to the success of Shriners, which doesn’t seek to compete with other providers in the region, but supplement them while striving to be, in many cases, the best place for young people to receive specialized treatment, whether for orthopedic conditions or a host of other issues.

When Kirk arrived in 2015, the hospital underwent a comprehensive self-assessment process that made two things clear, he said: that there’s a real need for what it does, and that it needs to reinvest in its core.

“And that’s what we did. And that’s about people, not bricks and mortar,” he went on, noting that the facility has added about 70 positions since that time.

“We’re a completely different place today than we were in 2009,” Gorton added, noting that the hospital is stronger in leadership, internal communication, and external connections. Among the 22 Shriners specialty hospitals, Springfield ranks second in the proportion of the budget offset by donations. “Why? Because we have a great relationship with the community. We’ve become more outward-facing, and we’re integrated everywhere in the community.”

The Next Century

Getting back to that 3-year-old who doesn’t want to leave when he visits Shriners, surely the hospital’s child-friendly playscapes and colorful, kid-oriented sculptures and artwork help create a welcoming environment, but those wouldn’t make much difference if the people providing care didn’t put him at ease.

That environment begins with employees who love what they do, Kirk said, and this Healthcare Hero award in the Provider category is definitely shared by all of them. Other families feel the same way, as the facility regularly ranks in the 99th percentile on surveys that gauge the patient and family experience.

“We have happy employees who love being here, who love working with kids, who love delivering the mission — and the patients and families sense that and respond to that,” Gorton said.

That’s why the hospital’s leaders continue to examine the evolving needs of the pediatric community and how they can continue to deepen its clinical relationships and expanding services most in demand — always with the philosophy of “mission over model,” Kirk said.

“We are always thinking about the future,” he added, “so we can sustain this healthcare system for the next 100 years.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story

MGM Looks to Step Things Up in Year Two

It’s been nearly a full year since MGM Springfield opened its doors in Springfield’s South End. It’s been a year of learning — for both the casino’s team and the consuming public as well. As the headlines have announced, the casino has fallen well behind projections for gross gaming revenues (GGR), but in most all of the other ways to measure the success of the operation, it has not underperformed.

Mike Mathis started by stating what has become obvious — and also addressing the topic on the minds of most everyone in this region when it comes to MGM Springfield.

Gross gaming revenues (or GGR, an acronym that is increasingly becoming part of the local lexicon) are not what they were projected to be for the first year of operation, which will end August 23.

Those projections, made several years ago during the licensing process for the $960 million facility in Springfield’s South End, were for roughly $400 million this first year. Instead, the resort casino is on pace to record closer to $275 million, as the chart on page 8, which includes numbers through the end of July, makes clear.

“In the context of a three-year ramp, which is how we view it, we’re off to a slower ramp-up than we’d like,” Mathis, president and COO at MGM Springfield, admitted. “The gaming revenues are less than we hoped for, and the work is understanding where we are performing well and where we are underperforming.”

With that, Mathis hit upon ongoing work that began literally within days of the casino’s opening. And it continues in earnest today, with the expectation that those numbers can and will improve in year two.

Repeating what he said at the six-month mark for MGM Springfield, Mathis noted that new casinos generally go through a lengthy ramp-up period (three years is the timeframe he repeatedly mentioned) before fully hitting their stride. And that this ramping process involves some learning curves, especially when gaming is being introduced to a region, as is the case in Massachusetts.

And much was learned, said Mathis, referencing everything from Super Bowl watching habits — it became clear that most people would rather watch at home than go to the casino, although Mathis still hopes to change that — to the bands that people will come out to watch (it appears locals really like local groups rather than imports), to the casino games people like to play.

A promotion to give away a Mercedes Benz each week for a month is one of many strategic initiatives to drive visitation to MGM Springfield.

Looking ahead to year two, which will kick-off with four performances by Aerosmith and a host of other birthday-celebration events, Mathis said MGM Springfield will enter it with considerable acquired knowledge, as well as what appears to be some momentum.

Indeed, while June’s GGR numbers were the worst for any full month since the facility opened — Encore Boston opened that same month and probably had something to do with that performance — July’s numbers were better, said Mathis, and slots GGR has been generally higher over the past several months.

“There are many examples of facilities that have taken their first year to figure out what the customer is going to react to, what the competition is doing, and achieve real growth,” he said, adding that he firmly believes MGM Springfield will join that list.

He’s pinning those hopes on everything from changes and additions to the casino floor (more on those later) to the possible introduction of sports betting within the Commonwealth, an addition to the gaming landscape now being considered by the Legislature, to the ‘growing-the-pie’ impact of Encore Boston’s opening earlier this summer.

But while the focus has been on GGR, as it should be, said Mathis, there are many other means by which to measure success during MGM’s first year. And with most all of these, the casino has been on target.

These include overall visitation (more than 6 million by the end of the first year); non-gaming revenues (the restaurants and hotel, for example); impact locally in terms of providing a boost to other businesses, especially those in the broad realm of tourism and hospitality; bringing people to the region; boosting the business of meetings and conventions; and employment, especially with regard to hiring Springfield residents and promoting people through the ranks.

“We’re very excited about all the visitors and tourists and eyeballs we’ve brought to the downtown — I know I’ve met many customers who have said ‘this is my first time in Springfield,’ or that they’ve brought their families from other areas to the downtown to show it off,” Mathis told BusinessWest. “One of the emotions I have is a huge sense of pride in what we’ve done here; we’ve given the people of Springfield and Western Mass. a headquarters tourist destination that they can show off to friends and family.”

Rick Sullivan, president of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, agreed. Using yardsticks as unscientific, but still effective, in his view, as waiting times for a table at restaurants in the downtown area, he said the Casino has brought more vibrancy to the central business district. Also, it has deeply broadened the region’s tourism portfolio, prompting not only greater visitation, but longer stays.

Mike Mathis says year one has been a learning experience on many levels for all those on the MGM team.

“The biggest impact MGM has had in the year it’s been open, and the biggest impact it will have going forward, is that you now have gaming and increasing entertainment opportunities to marry to the other tourist attractions that we can be more than just a one-day travel destination,” he said.

Raising the Stakes

Mathis calls it ‘keeping the floor fresh.’

That’s an industry phrase — one of many that are new to people in this region — and one that refers to the need to constantly change, or freshen, the casino floor to bring both more new business and more repeat customers, said Mathis.

“You can’t get complacent about continuing to earn customers’ loyalty in a highly competitive market,” he noted, adding that efforts to freshen the floor at MGM Springfield include the construction of a new bar just inside the Main Street entrance to the casino — what Mathis calls the ‘back corner,’ because most people enter from the parking garage side — as well as some new electronic table games, some ‘stadium gaming,’ described as a mix of table games and slot machines, and special promotions.

“There’s a whole new zone in that corner, where we’re trying to bring some energy to what would otherwise be the back of the building,” he explained. “We’re trying to drive more business to the back; it’s a heavy investment but part of our work to improve the product.”

These steps are part of the ongoing efforts to improve GGR, said Mathis, but also part of what would be considered normal ramp-up of a casino facility as it adjusts to customers’ wants and needs, and the ebb and flow of the competitive landscape.

“I’ve said this in the past, and our competitors have the same view, which is that you need three years to get to a normalized operation,” he said. “And we’re seeing that ourselves; there are holidays and certain events we think are going to be some of our busiest, and for whatever reason they’re quieter. And then we’ll have a random day in the middle of the week that exceeds a weekend day.

“It’s really about trying to understand the patterns and being nimble and reacting to the patterns,” he went on. “Obviously in a market like this, weather is a factor, and we’re learning what the impact of weather is — good and bad.”

Local sports teams are a factor as well, he said, adding that while they have huge followings, this support doesn’t necessarily extend to viewing at the casino, as was learned during the first Super Bowl of the casino era in Massachusetts.

“In this case, business was less than we would normally see in one of other operations — although it was still a really strong day,” he said, “I think there’s a tradition of going to a house party because of the success they’ve had; we’ve got to figure out how to make MGM Springfield the regional house party for the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got great relationships with all the franchises, and we have strategies on how to activate the space and make it fun and interesting, fun and familiar,” he went on. “It’s a fun challenge; it’s not what we expected, but it’s a good problem to have because there’s a huge opportunity there.”

This process of watching, listening, learning, and responding to trends that were not expected extends to every aspect of the operation, he said, including entertainment and that aforementioned affinity for local acts.

“There are some acts that we think that would traditionally do well as they route the country, that don’t perform as well here,” he explained, “And there were other acts where we were pleasantly surprised by the response; country is popular here, so we’re going to look at country a little more.

“Thematically, there are really great regional bands that have a following here that aren’t national and that we’ve had a lot of success with,” he went on, mentioning Trailer Trash, a ‘modern country band,’ as one example. “Anyone in a new market has to figure out what are those great local bands that drive big crowds, local crowds.”

GGReat Expectations

Of course, there are many other things to figure out as well, said Mathis, adding that the broad goal, obviously, is to bring more people to the casino and inspire them to do more (and spend more) while they’re there.

This explains the freshening of the floor, as well as the four Aerosmith shows (now nearly sold out) and a number of other initiatives designed to bring people to the casino — and bring them back repeatedly.

These are the simple forces that drive GGR, said Mathis, who returned to that ongoing work to identify areas where the casino is underperforming, and addressing them.

Overall, he said the broad assignment is to build loyalty, not merely a visit or two to the resort and its casino floor.

“Part of the first year is gaining new visitors and customers who are seeing it for the first time and building loyalty,” he explained. “And in this market, because of the existence of some pretty strong competitors, there’s already strong loyalty and traditions and gaming habits that, quite frankly, we have to disrupt, and that takes some time.”

Meanwhile, there are some lingering patterns when it comes to where customers are coming from — or not coming from — that still need to be addressed.

Indeed, while MGM Springfield is overperforming, in Mathis’s view, when it comes to drawing customers from along the I-91 corridor, “north-south,” as he put it, things are different when it comes to east-west flow.

“It’s been a challenge to get folks to go west within the Commonwealth and give the facility a chance,” said Mathis adding that bookings like Aerosmith are designed to address that specific problem, and he believes there have been some inroads.

As for those efforts to disrupt current gaming patterns and loyalty with other casinos, Mathis noted that there are several arrows in that quiver, including everything from some new games to be introduced in the coming weeks, to a new promotion that involves giving away a Mercedes each week for several weeks, to a recently concluded program called MGM Millions, a lottery-like game that enabled players to win a wide variety of prizes including bonuses and loyalty privileges.

“That was very successful,” said Mathis, “and what we learned is that people like the lottery, and they’d rather have a smaller chance of winning a larger giveaway than a higher chance at smaller gifts — and that’s part of the learning curve.”

It also includes the addition of Symphony Hall to MGM’s portfolio of performance venues (the casino recently assumed management of that facility), which enables the team to book acts such as Steve Martin & Martin Short, coming Sept. 12, Boyz II Men (Sept. 22), and Smokey Robinson (Oct. 18).

“It’s another great venue that fills a niche we didn’t have previously,” he said, noting the hall’s 2,500 seating capacity. “That’s something in the tool shed we didn’t have our first year, especially since we can program into it, so we’re excited.”

He’s excited also by the prospects of sports betting.

“We’ve seen in our other markets that it can provide as much as a 10% lift to the overall business, not just the sports-betting component,” he said. “People will tend to stay longer, they’ll eat in the restaurants, they’ll place a bet, and spend some time on the casino floor on the machines or on the tables. So it’s an important initiative for us, especially in a market like Springfield and New England where people are passionate about their sports; we think it’s a manner of when, not if, this will happen.”

And, moving forward, Mathis said that while Encore Boston might impact MGM negatively in some ways, overall it will grow the pie when it comes to gaming, as evidenced, he believes, by the Springfield casino’s improved numbers for July.

“That demonstrates what we’ve always said — that there’s an ability to grow this market; there’s different customers for different experiences,” he said. “I like to think that the people in Boston will grow the market.”

Beyond the Floor

While much of the focus has been on the casino floor and GGR, Mathis said there are many other facets to this business, and he’s pleased with, and somewhat surprised by, the performance of some of these operations.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by how well-received our non-gaming amenities have been,” Mathis told BusinessWest. “The hotel is far above our projected occupancy rates, and the rate we’ve been able to charge is above what we project as well.”

He said the hotel has been generating a wide mix of business, from casino guests, to families visiting the area, to convention and meeting groups.

“We’ve done entire hotel blocks for different corporate groups that have come in and let us host their annual meetings or their incentive meetings for top salespeople,” he noted. “On every given day there are different types of customers in the hotel. We’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the amount of cash business we’re driving, the occupancy; that’s translating into the restaurants, exceeding our expectations on the amount of business overall.”

So much so that the MGM team is looking at perhaps adding more offerings, on top of the Wahlburger’s restaurant due to open next spring according to the latest estimates (groundbreaking will be within the next few weeks).

Meanwhile, business at the casino’s many bars has also exceeded expectations.

“We’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the amount of night life and bar business we’ve been doing,” said Mathis. “New Englanders enjoy their local IPAs and enjoy our nightlife lounges, so we’ve built some extra bars, such as the plaza bar to support our outdoor entertainment, and it’s been very successful.”

While generally pleased with what’s been happening within the casino complex itself, Mathis said the first year has shown that MGM Springfield’s impact extends beyond those four walls — and also that block in the South End.

As an example he points to the Red Rose restaurant abutting the property. Already a mainstay and hugely popular eatery, the restaurant has clearly received a tremendous boost from the casino.

“I was talking to the owner, Tony Caputo, on a Friday night recently,” Mathis recalled. “And he talked about business being up considerably since our opening, and how it actually started before we opened, during the construction process.

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard that many of the restaurants are up 20%, based on the overflow visitation we’re bringing — there’s more people than we can lodge and more people than we can feed,” he went on. “That was part of the strategy intentionally, and it’s bearing out.”

Rick Sullivan agreed.

“There’s more activity downtown now, there’s more people walking around,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s not like you can’t get a seat at a lunch place, but it is busier and that’s good; I never mind waiting a little longer to get a table — that’s a good thing.”

An even better thing, he went on, is MGM’s apparent ability to ‘extend the stay,’ as those in the tourism business say. Elaborating, he said there is some anecdotal evidence building that the addition of the casino is prompting more people to look to the region as something more than a day trip.

“People are looking to match a day at the casino and the Seuss Museum, or the Basketball Hall of Fame, or Six Flags, or the Big E,” he said. “People will do the Big E for the day and the casino for a day; we’re starting to see that.”

Likewise, he and others are seeing people visiting the region for special events and happenings make a point of also visiting the casino and, therefore, downtown Springfield.

He said he witnessed this first-hand when it came to teams that came from out of town for a sled hockey tournament at Amelia Park ice rink in Westfield, and he expects the same for the Babe Ruth World Series, also to take place in that city.

“It’s a place to take people,” he said, adding that as more of this happens, the overall impact of the casino will only grow.

Toward Year Two

As he talked about what’s coming up for the casino’s first birthday party — Aerosmith, a huge cake, the Patriots cheerleaders, and more, Mathis flashed back 350 days or so to when he and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno rode down Main Street in a Rolls Royce manufactured in Springfield during a parade that preceded the formal ribbon cutting.

The year that followed that triumphant moment has been one of intrigue and learning, for many constituencies, and one where expectations have mostly been met.

In year two, the focus will be on maintaining the current course, but also achieving progress with those expectations that haven’t been met. u

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

Commercial Real Estate

Painting the Town

The East Columbus parking garage after being colorfully decorated by artist Wane One from the Bronx, N.Y.

The East Columbus parking garage after being colorfully decorated by artist Wane One from the Bronx, N.Y.

Artist Wane One from the Bronx, N.Y.

Artist Wane One from the Bronx, N.Y.

Britt Ruhe is a huge fan of public art, specifically mural art.

After attending what have come to be called ‘mural festivals’ in cities such as Worcester and Salem and seeing the many benefits they bring to those communities, she lobbied hard to bring a concept known as Fresh Paint to the City of Homes.

Wanting to find a way to give back to the community, Ruhe, a financial strategist for startups and small businesses by trade, began meeting with festival organizers in other parts of the state to gather input and essentially learn how it’s done.

“I was able to see firsthand what an incredible impact mural festivals have on revitalizing a neighborhood, and I thought, ‘Western Mass. needs something like this,’” said Ruhe, adding that, when she approached Springfield’s business, civic, and community leaders about staging a festival here, she encountered overwhelming support.

Indeed, not only did Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, agree to the festival concept, he pushed Ruhe to set the bar higher than her original proposal of five murals in order to achieve a greater impact.

Over six days earlier this month, 35 artists, with considerable help from the public during several ‘paint parties,’ transformed 10 walls throughout the city during Springfield’s first mural festival.

“It’s been a great success; when you do something in a city the size of Springfield, it has to have the correct impact,” said Kennedy. “I thought five was a little too small to be impactful. This was the first time we were going into multiple murals, and I thought 10 was more impactful than five.”

He said encouraging the arts and culture sector, currently a $50 million business in Springfield, is important for the continued revitalization of the city, especially in the realms of housing and entertainment.

The 28 total works of public art add up to 20,000 square feet of murals, and the larger works were approved by building owners who had no idea what the finished product would look like.

“I was able to see firsthand what an incredible impact mural festivals have on revitalizing a neighborhood, and I thought, ‘Western Mass. needs something like this.’”

“The building owners have the biggest lift; they donate their wall,” said Ruhe. “As part of a festival, the building owner doesn’t have to pay, but they don’t get to choose what goes on their wall, which is a big ask, especially this first year around.”

Overall, the festival was a community effort, with $150,000 raised for the event from donors and several sponsors, including MassMutual, MassDevelopment, Tower Square Hotel, and many others.

Dozens of volunteers took part, and 1,500 cans of spray paint and 500 gallons of liquid paint were used to change the face of many formerly drab buildings and pieces of infrastructure.

But the benefits far outweigh the costs, Ruhe told BusinessWest.

“There’s a lot of data out there that shows that murals increase property value, foot traffic, and they’re good for residential and commercial businesses,” she explained, adding that, although the economic benefits are difficult to quantify, a study is being undertaken to examine the direct effects such a festival has on a city.

While little of the funds raised go to the artists themselves, Kim Carlino, artist of the mural at 8-12 Stearns Square, said there are many other types of rewards, especially the pursuit of such a daunting challenge.

Kim Carlino’s mural at 8-12 Stearns Square is a product of her love for creating illusion and disillusion of space in abstract form.

Kim Carlino’s mural at 8-12 Stearns Square is a product of her love for creating illusion and disillusion of space in abstract form.

Carlino says she loves the challenge of approaching a big piece and the ability to change and adjust the marks she makes.

Carlino says she loves the challenge of approaching a big piece and the ability to change and adjust the marks she makes.

“I like the experience of having something that’s bigger than you and can really engulf you,” she said, while transforming that massive, highly visible wall in the heart of the entertainment district. “Everyone coming by is just so thankful; it’s the same experience I have every time I make a mural — everybody wants more color in their life, and we need more of that in our day-to-day.”

Springfield, as noted, is only the latest in a number of cities — in Massachusetts and across the country — to embrace murals and the concept of a mural festival.

Wane One, a muralist for 38 years, has taken part in many of these events. He said the only American art form started by young children has turned into a worldwide artistic movement.

“This artform has gone global,” he said after creating the mural on the East Columbus parking garage. “It doesn’t matter what part of the world you go to right now, it has pretty much taken over.”

In the city of Worcester, the arts and culture sector is a $127.5 million industry, filling 4,062 full-time jobs. And murals have become a distinctive part of the landscape there.

Che Anderson, project manager in the Worcester city manager’s office, said that community’s mural festival — called “Pow! Wow!” — has brought more people out and into the local community, providing a boost to small businesses.

“Overall, ‘Pow! Wow!’ has provided an international platform to know about Worcester and the things that are already existing,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the festival has improved the city’s walkability. “The festival also provided an outlet for many creatives in the city.”

As for Springfield, similar effects are already in evidence.

“It’s been a great success,” said Kennedy. “It has delivered everything I think the mayor and I hoped for on the cultural side, the economic side, and the reputational side.”

Ruhe said the local business community’s support has been extremely helpful through the course of the festival, and she sees her hopes for the event’s future materializing.

“It’s really bringing the community together. People from all walks of life are coming out for the events or standing on the sidewalks looking at the art, talking with each other, painting together,” she said. “What makes mural art so powerful is that is brings art out into the street and into people’s everyday lives.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Striking a Chord

Donald Harrison and Zaccai Curtis perform on the Charles Neville Main Stage in 2017.  Photo by Ed Cohen

Donald Harrison and Zaccai Curtis perform on the Charles Neville Main Stage in 2017.
Photo by Ed Cohen

Evan Plotkin has always been a firm believer in the arts as an economic-development strategy and vehicle for “changing the conversation about Springfield,” as he likes to say.

And this belief has manifested itself in a number of ways, from the manner in which he has turned 1350 Main St. (the downtown Springfield office building he co-owns) into a type of art gallery to the sculptures he has helped bring to the central business district, to his long-time support of the Springfield Museums and other institutions.

But perhaps the most visible, and impactful, example of his work to use the arts to bring people — and energy — to the city and its downtown is the annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, the sixth edition of which is slated for Aug. 10.

“We’re putting a light on Springfield that is very positive,” said Plotkin, one of the founders of the festival. “The reputation of the jazz festival has been very positively received throughout the music world, regionally and beyond. That has a lot of benefits to changing the conversation about Springfield; you can talk about a lot of things about Springfield, but now you can add the festival to those things.”

The festival strives to connect people of all ages, races, and backgrounds through music and the arts, said Plotkin, and also connect people to Springfield, a city clearly on the rise.

The festival is known for bringing both established and up-and-coming artists together to perform on the same stage — actually, several stages. The 2019 festival headliner is Elan Trotman, who will perform on a stage in the plaza at MGM Springfield at 10 p.m., kicking off the festival’s after-party.

Other performers of the day are split between two stages of equal importance in or near Court Square; the Charles Neville Main Stage and the Urban Roots Stage will offer performances simultaneously.

Artists for the 2019 lineup include Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators, Tia Fuller, Samite, Firey String Sistas!, Kotoko Brass, Molly Tigre, Convergence Project Trio, Tap Roots, and the Holyoke Community Jazz Ensemble. Local artists from the Springfield area include the Billy Arnold Trio, Bomba De Aqui, and Ryan Hollander.

Evan Plotkin believes the jazz festival helps bring people to Springfield and present the city in a positive light.  Leah Martin Photography

Evan Plotkin believes the jazz festival helps bring people to Springfield and present the city in a positive light.
Leah Martin Photography

This year marks the festival’s second without Charles Neville, member of the Neville Brothers and beloved performer at the event, who died in April 2018. Neville’s wife, Kristin, co-founded the event with Plotkin and Blues to Green, a nonprofit organization that uses music to bring people together through performances, and hopes to unite people from many different communities in Springfield that share a common love for art and music.

The organization also works to create a more positive image for Springfield and help erase negative perceptions about the City of Homes. Plotkin told BusinessWest that Charles Neville’s impact on the festival lives on through the performances at the annual event.

“I think he really believed in the healing power of music and its ability to bring people together as one people,” said Plotkin, adding that Neville acted as a guiding light for the festival. “His presence spoke more than almost anything.”

The free outdoor festival has drawn thousands of people to Court Square, giving people the opportunity to meet other music lovers. The $200,000 budget for the event comes completely from sponsors and volunteers.

Plotkin said support for the event has been tremendously helpful, and the positive reactions from attendees are what drive the producers to make it bigger and better each year.

“I love the fact that people are so animated and excited about the music,” said Plotkin, adding that the music ranges from Latino bands to blues artists to gospel singers. “The audience embraces the variety of different genres and feels like this is something that belongs to them.”

Hollander, one of the local artists set to perform at the 2019 festival, agreed that jazz music has the ability to bring people together. “I think jazz music is intended to be the music of the people,” he said.

City on the Rise

The Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival comes at a time where the arts are playing a significant, and growing, role in the revitalization of Springfield and also in creating a better vibe in the city. Examples abound, including everything from high-profile, MGM-organized concerts at the MassMutual Center (Stevie Wonder and Cher have performed, and Aerosmith is booked for this summer) to Fresh Paint, a mural project downtown that has changed the face of many buildings and structures .

“I think this festival coming off of the mural festival is going to push us forward in terms of really positive impressions that people will have about the city,” Plotkin said.

Hollander agreed, noting that the opening of MGM and other initiatives have created more vibrancy and more nightlife, complemented by a greater police presence and, overall, fewer concerns about crime and safety.

“I think that Springfield is definitely on the rise,” he told BusinessWest. “The general downtown just feels safer in most parts. I think any time we find other things to occupy ourselves with, we’re less likely to resort to crime or violence. The festival is an opportunity to do something non-violent and be entertained.”

In 2016, Jazz Times magazine named the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival one of the best jazz festivals to attend, and Plotkin hopes the event can continue to grow in both size and stature.

“The jazz festival helps to define the downtown from its walkability,” he said, adding that his goal would be to model the festival after other famous ones in the region, like the Newport Jazz Festival, and set up several different stages and venues around the downtown area.

“Ultimately, a really cool concept to grasp is how walkable the city is, because that implies that it’s safe,” he said. “A walkable city is a safe city. The more people who are walking the streets, the less worries you have about crime and safety.”

As an example of this phenomenon, he cited the underpass that connects the downtown with Riverfront Park, which has been painted into a Dr. Seuss mural by John Simpson. This connector, Plotkin said, used to be a place where people did not want to go because they were afraid to cross the highway to go to the riverfront.

“Now, by painting that underpass and creating activities on that side of the river as well as downtown, you’re creating this connector,” he explained, adding that the jazz festival acts similarly, showing how possible it is to bring all communities in Springfield together as one. “We haven’t reached that ultimate goal of having this festival throughout the downtown, but by doing the jazz festival, you can see the potential of what can happen if we carry this throughout downtown.”

Plotkin remembers a time in his early 20s where he was able to walk to bars and restaurants downtown and feel completely safe, and feels that Springfield is making its way there once again.

“I think, today, it’s the safest the city has ever been downtown,” he said. “And it can only get better as we finish construction on several parks and as we start to program them with music.

“That,” he added, “is where a wall becomes a bridge.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

When Kevin Kennedy took over as Springfield’s chief Development officer after a lengthy stint as aide to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the city was in a much different place — a much darker place.

It was only a year or so removed from being in receivership and only a few months into the complex, and quite overwhelming, task of rebuilding after a tornado roared through the heart of the city. The casino era was just beginning, and no one really dared dream that one might be built in Springfield. No one had ever heard of a Chinese company called CRRC, and the city’s downtown was, for the most part, living in the past.

Flash forward nearly eight years, and Springfield is a much different, much brighter, much more vibrant place, with a billion-dollar casino and, overall, more than $4 billion in new development over the past several years.

Kennedy, who announced Monday that he will be retiring late this summer, didn’t do it all by himself, obviously. But he set a tone, an aggressive tone, a set-the-bar-higher-than-most-people-would-dare tone.

And it has produced results. MGM is the most obvious example, but there are many others, including Union Station (a project Kennedy worked on for more than 25 years), progress on creating much-needed market-rate housing, growth of the entertainment district, and the start of work to redevelop the so-called ‘blast zone.’

At the press conference to announce Kennedy’s retirement, Mayor Domenic Sarno described him as a “nuts and bolts guy,” and that’s a fairly apt characterization. He knew how to bring a project from the starting line to the finish line, and that’s exactly what the city needed at this critical stage in its history.

It was said that he knew how to get things done, and during his tenure, he proved that repeatedly.

These will be big shoes to fill, and the assignment falls to Timothy Sheehan, currently director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency in Connecticut. It will be his job to build on the momentum Kennedy has helped create. There is still considerable work to do in Springfield; yes, many significant pieces have been added and the outlook is much brighter, but the city must be able to seize this moment in its history.

We can only hope that Sheehan can continue Kennedy’s pattern of getting things done.

Cover Story

Community Spotlight

There’s a stunning new aerial photo of downtown Springfield gracing the wall outside Kevin Kennedy’s office in the municipal complex on Tapley Street.

The panoramic image captures the view from above the Connecticut River looking east, with the new MGM Springfield casino prominent in the foreground. Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, is quite proud of the photo and all that it shows, but regrets that it was taken in the very early stages of the elaborate work to renovate Riverfront Park, and thus doesn’t include that important addition to the landscape.

He joked about Photoshopping something in to make the image more current, but then acknowledged that, at the rate things are changing, he would be doing a lot of Photoshopping — or swapping out that photo for a new one on a very regular basis.

Those sentiments speak volumes about the pace of development in the city over the past decade or so, and especially the past five or six years, as Springfield has rebounded dramatically from the fiscal malaise — and near-bankruptcy — that enveloped it only 10 years ago.

Indeed, Kennedy said he doesn’t have to ‘sell’ Springfield to potential developers anywhere near as much as he did when he assumed this office in 2011 after working for many years as U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s aide. Nor does he have to tell the city’s story as much — people seem to know it by the time they’ve entered the room. And many are certainly entering the room.

“Development in an urban area like this isn’t really development — it’s redevelopment, and that, by its very nature, is usually very complicated.”

“We don’t have to explain ourselves — when people walk through the door, they know what’s happened over the past five or seven years,” he explained, adding that, overall, he doesn’t have to convince people that the city is a good investment — most are already convinced, which, again, is a marked change from attitudes that prevailed at the start of this century and even at the start of this decade.

As he talked with BusinessWest, Kennedy equated Springfield’s progress over the past several years to a large jigsaw puzzle, with many of its pieces falling into place. These include everything from the casino to a renovated Union Station; from a restaurant district now taking shape to restored and expanded parks, such as Steans Square, Riverfront Park, Pynchon Plaza, and Duryea Way.

And still more pieces are coming into place — everything from a CVS on Main Street to a Cumberland Farms at the site of the old RMV facility on Liberty Street; from market-rate housing at the old Willys-Overland property on Chestnut Street to a new home for Way Finders at the site of the former Peter Pan bus station in the North End; from new schools to improved traffic patterns.

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy stands next to the new panoramic photo of Springfield outside his office, the one he’d like to Photoshop to keep up with recent changes to the landscape.

But there are a number of pieces still missing, Kennedy acknowledged, adding that they’re missing for a reason — these are the hardest ones to fall into place because of their complexity.

Among the items on this list are a replacement for the decrepit Civic Center Parking Garage, which is literally crumbling as you read this; 31 Elm St., an all-important component to the downtown’s recovery because of its location and historical importance; the Paramount Theater project, equally important for all the same reasons; CityStage, now dormant for close to a year; and redevelopment of what has become known as the ‘blast zone,’ the area directly impacted by the natural-gas explosion in late 2012.

To explain their complexity, Kennedy started by making a simple yet poignant observation about development in a city like Springfield.

“Development in an urban area like this isn’t really development — it’s redevelopment, and that, by its very nature, is usually very complicated,” he explained, adding quickly that there are signs of progress with each of those initiatives, and some may be moved over the goal line in the months to come.

Mayor Domenic Sarno agreed, noting that, among those missing pieces, the top priority at this point is probably a new parking garage, primarily because it is essential to realizing many of the other items on the to-do list, such as a deeper restaurant district, more new businesses, and, overall, greater vibrancy downtown.

“The garage is a mainstay for our business community, and the MassMutual Center is a state facility — the garage is an integral part for the programming that goes on there, whether it’s MGM, the Thunderbirds, or college commencements,” said Sarno, adding that he’s already had discussions with both state and federal leaders about potential funding sources for such a facility. “We’re looking to move on this ASAP.”

For this, the latest installment its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the jigsaw puzzle that is Springfield — meaning the pieces that have fallen into place and those that are still missing.

Rising Tide

‘The New Wave.’

That’s the name those in the Planning office and the Springfield Regional Chamber gave to what has become an annual presentation detailing planned and proposed projects in the City of Homes.

And ‘wave’ fits, said Kennedy, because new developments have been coming in waves, one after another, and there is a new one making its way to shore.

“One thing that people know is that my team will do business with them. I might not be able to give you 10 out 10 things you might be looking for, but maybe I can give you six or seven or eight. They also know that we know how to connect the dots.”

It follows previous waves that brought MGM Springfield, CRRC, a revitalized Union Station, and a repaired I-91 viaduct, projects that were of the nine-figure variety (MGM was almost 10) or very close — the final price tags for CRRC and Union Station were just under $100 million.

The newest wave has just one initiative of that size, and it’s a municipal project — a new pumping station to be built on part of the land once occupied by the York Street Jail. But while many of the projects are smaller, eight- and seven-figure endeavors, they are equally important, said Kennedy, adding that they represent a mix of expansion efforts by existing companies, or ‘legacy businesses,’ as he called them, and relative newcomers.

Together, the projects touch many different sectors of the economy, include both new construction and renovation of existing structures, and total several hundred million dollars in new development. The lengthy list includes:

• MassMutual expansion. The financial-services giant is relocating 1,500 workers to Springfield, increasing the workforce in the city to 4,500. A $50 million project to renovate and expand facilities in Springfield is slated to be completed by 2021;

• Big Y, with a 232,000-square-foot expansion of the current distribution center in Springfield, bringing the total to 425,000 square feet. The $46 million project is due to be completed later this year;

• Way Finders, which is constructing a new, $16.8 million headquarters building at the location of the Peter Pan bus terminal. The 23,338-square-foot structure, to house roughly 160 employees, is slated to open in the spring of 2020;

• Willys-Overland development, a planned 60-unit, market-rate housing project in the one-time auto showroom. Construction is slated to start soon on the $13.8 million project;

• Innovation Center. Grand-opening ceremonies for the $7 million facility on Bridge Street were staged in February. Work continues on the façade, and a new restaurant is planned for the ground floor;

• CVS. Work is set to commence shortly on a new CVS to be constructed at the corner of Main and Union streets. The $2 million facility, to feature what developers are calling an ‘urban design,’ is slated to open this fall;

• Redevelopment of the former RMV site. The location on Liberty Street will be converted into a Cumberland Farms. The $3 million project will benefit a neighborhood that city officials say is underserved when it comes to convenience and gas;

• The Springfield Performing Arts Academy, specifically a $14 million project to relocate the academy in the former Masonic Temple on State Street;

• Tower Square. The office/retail center is the site of several new developments, including renovations to the hotel (which will be rebranded back to Marriott), a new White Lion brewery, and relocation of the YMCA of Greater Springfield into several locations within Tower Square; and

• Educare. A $14 million, 27,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art early-education facility is currently under construction in the Old Hill neighborhood. The project, a joint partnership between Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, and Springfield College, will serve 141 children and is slated to open this fall.

An architect’s rendering of a proposed new parking garage

An architect’s rendering of a proposed new parking garage on what’s known as parcel 3, the parking lot behind the TD Bank tower. City officials say a new garage is a must for Springfield.

That’s quite a list, said Kennedy, adding that it’s come about largely because of renewed confidence in the city and its future, an attitude far removed from the one that existed even a decade ago, when there were far fewer businesses willing to bet on the City of Homes.

Getting Down to Business

Indeed, today, as evidenced by all the projects in progress or on the drawing board, there is renewed interest in Springfield across many sectors of the economy — from tourism and hospitality to startups looking for a place to launch, to those looking to be part of the burgeoning cannabis industry in the Bay State.

The city has a message for all these constituencies — that it’s open for business and willing to work with those who would make Springfield their home.

“One thing that people know is that my team will do business with them,” said the mayor. “I might not be able to give you 10 out 10 things you might be looking for, but maybe I can give you six or seven or eight.

“They also know that we know how to connect the dots,” he went on. “We know how to work with all the players — federal, state, and on the local level, all the way down. And they know that we’re willing to put skin in the game, too, and that’s been very advantageous.”

Kennedy agreed, and said that, overall, the city has become what he called a “reliable, predictable partner,” something every business is looking for as it considers locating or relocating in a specific community.

“They don’t need showhorses, they don’t need a lot of glitz,” he told BusinessWest. “They simply want to do their business and know they have a good partner, and I think that’s what we’ve done from the start, and when we sit down to negotiate with people, I think they understand that, and they feel comfortable.”

Kennedy traces this growing sense of comfort to the lengthy and involved process of bringing a casino to the area.

“I think the thing that showed people we were serious was the whole casino process — not necessarily MGM, but the whole process,” he explained. “How we did it, and how upfront with everyone we were. People talk about being transparent, and that’s a jargony-type of a word, but we see it that way … and I think that, by virtue of having a billion-dollar investment come your way, a lot of other companies externally took a look at it, and internally said, ‘look what’s happened.’”

That was a reference to those legacy companies he mentioned, including MassMutual, Big Y, Balise Motor Sales, which is planning another major project in the city’s South End, and many others.

This ability to connect the dots, and be a reliable partner, is creating some progress with some of those aforementioned missing pieces to the puzzle, and will hopefully generate momentum with other initiatives in that category, said Kennedy, who started by referencing two important projects downtown — Elm Street and the Paramount project.

The former, the six-story block at 13-31 Elm St., has been mostly vacant for the past three decades. Plans to convert it into market-rate housing received a significant boost earlier this year when MGM Springfield announced it would was willing to invest in the project as part of its commitment to the city and state to provide at least 54 units of market-rate housing in the area near the casino.

“We’re hoping that we have a development deal struck in a matter of weeks,” said Kennedy. “We’re waiting for the last one or two pieces to fall into place. It’s a tough project, but it’s a necessary project.”

Meanwhile, the $41 million Paramount project — renovation of the historic theater and the adjoining Massasoit Hotel — is moving forward, with preservation work on the roof and façade slated to begin later this year.

Mayor Domenic Sarno

Mayor Domenic Sarno has a healthy collection of ceremonial shovels in his office, one visible sign of the progress the city has made over the past several years.

Another large missing piece is activity in the so-called blast zone, he said, referring to the area from Lyman to Pearl streets and from Dwight to Spring streets. He said the Willys-Overland development, in the heart of this zone, may be a catalyst to more development there.

“Once that project gets going, I’m hoping it will give some push to further development in the blast area, which is probably the next horizon for Springfield,” he noted. “Some property owners have done things — there’s been some clearing and demolition — but others are just waiting and being patient. That’s why this [Willys-Overland] development is important; you have to get that first one in the ground and hope things happen from there.”

Still another missing piece is aggressive marketing of the city and its many assets, said Sarno, adding that may not be missing much longer. Indeed, the city, working in conjunction with the Western Mass. Economic Development Council and a number of area media outlets, is getting closer to launching a marketing campaign for Springfield and the region.

It will focus on a number of audiences, he said, including residents of this region, many of whom need to know about the many good things happening locally, and businesses owners far outside it, who also need to know.

“We have a lot to offer in Springfield — and in Franklin County, Berkshire County, and across Hampden County, and we have to do a better job of telling our story,” the mayor said “When you’re making a sauce, you put in the ingredients; we have all the ingredients here — we just need make a push and send out a clarion call. We need a push locally — sometimes we’re our own worst enemy — but then we need to make a regional push.”

But perhaps the biggest missing piece isn’t actually missing — though it will be soon — and that’s a working parking garage downtown.

Spot of Trouble

Which brings us to a downtown property known as ‘parcel 3.’

That was the name affixed to a number of assembled parcels of land that eventually became the surface parking lot behind the TD Bank office tower on Main Street, an initiative that was part of the Court Square Urban Renewal Plan, drafted nearly 40 years ago and amended several times since.

And that name has stuck — well, at least with city development leaders. To the rest of the world, it’s ‘the parking lot behind the TD Bank building.’ But ‘parcel 3’ is becoming part of the lexicon again as discussions concerning the Civic Center Parking Garage and the glaring need to replace it heat up — out of necessity.

Parcel 3 — better known as the parking lot behind the TD Bank building

Parcel 3 — better known as the parking lot behind the TD Bank building — could give rise to a modern parking garage — and open up a development opportunity on the site of the current, deficient garage across the street.

“The garage is on borrowed time,” said Chris Moskal, executive director of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA), quickly adding that this sentiment certainly represents an understatement. The garage probably has only a few years of useful life left, he went on, noting that there are areas on several floors that are currently unusable for parking, thus heightening the need for action.

The SRA, which owns parcel 3, currently leases it to an entity called New Marlboro Corp., which owns the TD Bank facility, a.k.a. 1441 Main St.

That lease, originally 30 years in duration when signed in the early ’80s, was extended several years ago to 2028. And this lease and the fine print within it will obviously become the focal point of discussion in the coming months, said Moskal, as the city tries to move forward with plans to replace the Civic Center Parking Garage with a 1,400-spot facility on the most obvious site for such a facility — parcel 3.

Kennedy agreed, and noted that this is a complex project, in terms of both financing — the projected pricetag is $45 million, and several funding sources would likely be involved, from the Springfield Parking Authority (SPA), which owns the current, failing garage, to the state and the federal government — and the number of players involved, from the SRA to the SPA to TD Bank.

“But just because it’s complicated, we can’t walk away from it,” he said. “A new garage is necessary for downtown; that parking facility at the Civic Center is the main commercial-district parking facility.”

And a new parking garage downtown not only secures a replacement for a long-deficient facility, said Kennedy, but it creates a new and intriguing development opportunity in the central business district — the current garage site.

“You have not only MGM here, but a rehabbed Pynchon Plaza, a burgeoning museum district, especially with the new Dr. Seuss Museum, and other things happening downtown,” he said. “I think we could have a nice mixed-use residential complex there with some indoor parking.”

The mayor agreed. “That’s a very valuable piece of property,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, while it while it might become a surface parking lot for the short term, there are a number of more intriguing possibilities for the long term.

While the city continues to reshape and revitalize the downtown, progress is taking place outside it in the many neighborhoods that define the community, said both Sarno and Kennedy.

Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1852
Population: 154,758
Area: 33.1 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential tax rate: $19.68
Commercial tax rate: $39.30
Median Household Income: $35,236
Median Family Income: $51,110
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Health, MassMutual Financial Group, Big Y Foods, MGM Springfield, Mercy Medical Center, CHD, Smith & Wesson Inc.
* Latest information available

They noted a number of projects, including the planned new Brightwood/Lincoln School, a $70.2 million facility that would replace both the Brightwood and Lincoln elementary schools, and be located adjacent to the existing Chestnut Middle School on Plainfield Street; the new branch of the Springfield Library in East Forest Park, due to be completed this fall; expansion of the residential complex in the former Indian Motocycle manufacturing complex in Mason Square (60 new affordable units are planned); a new Pride store at the corner of State Street and Wilbraham Road; several park projects; a redesign of the troublesome ‘X’ traffic pattern; reconfiguration of the Six Corners intersection; and renewed efforts to reinvent the Eastfield Mall into a community with a mix of housing, retail, and other components.

“We’re making a lot of progress in our neighborhoods,” the mayor said. “People are focused on downtown, but our neighborhoods are important, and we’re making great strides there, too.”

The Big Picture

Getting back to that picture on the wall outside his office, Kennedy acknowledged that, as beautiful as it is, it doesn’t tell the full story of all that’s happened in Springfield over the past several years.

And it will only become less accurate, if that’s the proper word, in the months and years to come.

But that, as they say, is a good problem to have. A very good problem.

For years, Springfield was the picture of stagnancy. Now, it’s the picture of motion and continued progress.

There are still some missing pieces, to be sure, but the puzzle is coming together nicely.

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

Opinion

Editorial

We’ll probably never know how far the talks went between Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts concerning the acquisition of the $2 billion casino in Everett supposedly ready to open any time now.

We’ll just say that we’re glad — and the state should be glad, and the city of Springfield should be glad, and Everett should be glad — that those talks are over, and that MGM will stand pat (yes, that’s an industry term) and not pursue that property.

Had those talks continued and a sale been forged … well, let’s just say we don’t want to go there. And, again, we’re glad the state doesn’t have to. The status quo is working quite well in Springfield, thank you, and if there’s one thing the state and its Gaming Commission don’t need to bring to the picture right now, is question marks — or more question marks, to be more precise.

In case you missed it — and it was hard to miss — word leaked that Wynn Resorts, which is now licensed to operate a casino in Everett under the Encore brand, was in what were called “very preliminary discussions” about a sale of that property to MGM.

Media outlets across the Commonwealth then printed stories laden with conjecture about whether the sale should take place and what might happen if it did. Most of those quoted blasted the concept and projected that it would create something approaching chaos at a time when the state needed just the opposite from its still-fledgling casino industry.

“This isn’t a Monopoly game,” former state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, a key author of the state’s gaming law, told the Boston Globe as news of the talks broke, adding that a sale of the Boston property, which would force MGM to divest itself of the Springfield facility, was far from a slam dunk. Carlo DeMaria, mayor of Everett, went further, saying, “it’s not going to happen.”

Turns out he was right, because amid that wave of negative commentary and gloom-and-doom conjecture, MGM announced that it was playing the hand it was dealt.

Whether that’s the best move for company, we can’t say. But we can say it’s the best move for the state and this region.

MGM is a known commodity, but whichever entity would buy the Springfield casino is not, and while there are plenty of good casino operators out there, we don’t need an unknown commodity at this point.

Especially in Greater Springfield. Communities, businesses, nonprofits, and other constituencies have forged solid working relationships and partnerships with MGM. They haven’t forged them with a casino on Main Street, but instead with a company, one that has come to be a trusted stakeholder in this region.

So we’re glad MGM is not seeking potentially greener pastures in Boston.

But while this threat has passed, we have to wonder about how it materialized in the first place. The fact that Wynn Resorts fought a long, hard, very expensive battle to open a casino in Everett and then explored a sale just as it was set to cross the finish line is a head scratcher, to be sure.

But there is a lot we don’t know about this industry, and maybe a sale makes sense on some levels, especially if Wynn, which desperately wanted into the Massachusetts market, is now intent on getting out.

Just not a sale to MGM.

Now that MGM has backed away, it’s time for the Gaming Commission to determine whether Wynn is still the best fit for the Boston market, and if it isn’t, the state should find another player.

It’s also time to move forward with the next big order of business — sports gambling. As it did with gaming itself, the state is dragging its feet on sports gambling, losing revenue to neighboring Rhode Island with each day that passes.

Thankfully, the state, and Springfield, won’t have to deal with a change of ownership at the casino in Springfield’s South End.

Opinion

Editorial

They called the event ‘The New Wave’ — and that’s an appropriate name for the annual update on Springfield’s business and civic projects.

Staged by the city in partnership with the Springfield Regional Chamber, this annual late-winter event, the latest installment of which was staged recently at the Basketball Hall of Fame, has had several names over the years, most of them rail-oriented — to coincide with the long-awaited revitalization of Union Station and also to provide plays on words such as the city being on the proverbial ‘right track.’

Most just call this the ‘update meeting,’ and they’ve been staged for maybe six or seven years now. That timeline coincides with Kevin Kennedy’s arrival as the city’s chief Economic Development officer and his more aggressive approach to telling the city’s story. It’s also a stretch when there has been a much better story to tell.

Which brings us back to the title of this year’s presentation. What’s been happening in Springfield over the past several years can truly be described as a wave — a $4.19 billion wave that is gathering momentum, and riders, as it moves.

That number conveys the dollar value of business and civic projects since that fateful day in 2011 when a tornado roared through the city. It’s an impressive number that, of course, includes MGM Springfield (almost a quarter of the total), CRRC, and several other nine- and eight-digit projects. But it also includes dozens, if not hundreds, of seven-, six-, and even five-digit projects that all add up — to a wave of positive energy.

“What’s been happening in Springfield over the past several years can truly be described as a wave — a $4.19 billion wave that is gathering momentum, and riders, as it moves.”

And while that number is impressive, perhaps the more meaningful one is $400.4 million. That’s the dollar amount for projects announced since the last of these update meetings, a number that reflects everything from Big Y’s $42 million distribution expansion to MassMutual’s $50 million in investments in Springfield; from the new $14 million Educare facility to the $14 million headquarters for Way Finders taking shape on the site on the old Peter Pan bus station; from the planned renovation of the Paramount ($41 million) to the soon-to-be-announced (we hope) plans to renovate the long-vacant Elm Street block. And we’re pretty sure it doesn’t include a host of cannabis-related businesses now in the talking stages and a planned hotel on the site of the old York Street Jail.

This is what happens when a city gathers momentum and the attention of the development community. People want to be part of what’s happening. People want to ride the wave.

It’s a refreshing change from a dozen years ago when people were talking about the lights going out in this city with doubts about when and if they would go back on.

They have gone back on — and in a big way. And there should be even more evidence of this at the next update meeting.

Features

Complex Equation

Dinesh Patel, left, and Vid Mitta in the soon-to-be-renovated lobby of the Tower Square Hotel.

Dinesh Patel, left, and Vid Mitta in the soon-to-be-renovated lobby of the Tower Square Hotel.

Both the office/retail complex known as Tower Square and the hotel that sits on the property would be considered somewhat risky investments, given their recent history. But the investment group Springfield Hospitality believes otherwise — in both cases. The new ownership group has announced an ambitious plan to get the Marriott flag back on the hotel, and it is confident about gaining a wide range of new tenants on the retail side of the equation.

As they talked about their plans for Tower Square, the downtown Springfield landmark they acquired last year, and the hotel that is a prominent part of the complex, Vid Mitta and Dinesh Patel had to be careful, even cryptic, with some of their comments.

Especially when it came to the long-rumored signing of the YMCA of Greater Springfield as a major new tenant. That deal has not been finalized, said the partners as they talked with BusinessWest following a press conference late last month on their plans for the complex. And when it is, that news will be announced by the Y.

But also when it came to the small park across Main Street from Tower Square. They hinted quietly that this acreage — dubbed the ‘Little Park for a Little While’ after the Steiger’s department store that sat on the site was torn down (yes, that was 24 years ago now) — will likely become the site of another “hospitality-related business,” probably a boutique hotel.

“We really can’t say anything about that at this time; that’s for … later; that will be phase two,” said Mitta, president and CEO of Mitta’s Group and a partner with Patel and also Rohit Patel and Kamlesh Patel of Maine in the Tower Square project.

As for what’s happening now, Mitta and Patel were not at all cryptic or even careful as they talked about Tower Square, the hotel, their plans for both, and their optimism when it comes to achieving progress and profitability at the office/retail complex that has certainly seen better days.

Peter Marks

Peter Marks says a long list of renovations and upgrades must be undertaken to get the Marriott flag back over the hotel, and the new ownership group is committed to making them.

“When we looked at Tower Square as a possible investment, we saw opportunity where perhaps some didn’t,” said Patel, owner of the Hampton Inn on Columbus Avenue in Springfield, a Quality Inn in Chicopee, and other hotels across the region, adding that, while there is a good deal of vacant space in the complex, especially on the retail side, there is a solid foundation on which to build, with two colleges, UMass Amherst and Cambridge College, assuming large footprints in the building.

And there are already some new building blocks in place, including White Lion Brewing, which is constructing a brewery and tasting area in the long-vacant Spaghetti Freddy’s space along Bridge Street.

As for the hotel, the press conference was called to announce that the ownership group is on schedule and on target to get the ‘Marriott’ name back on the façade. It was removed and replaced with ‘Tower Square Hotel’ in the summer of 2017 as the complex’s former owner, MassMutual, was putting the property on the market.

“When we looked at Tower Square as a possible investment, we saw opportunity where perhaps some didn’t.”

To get that brand name back, the owners must complete a comprehensive renovation and upgrade, said Peter Marks, general manager of the hotel, adding that plans have been blueprinted, considerable infrastructure work has already been completed, and the owners are committed to spending “tens of millions of dollars” to return the hotel to prominence and make it a vital cog in the ongoing resurgence in downtown Springfield.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Marks and members of the ownership team about Tower Square and its future (or at least the subjects they could talk about at this time) and why they believe this was a solid investment for them, and the city.

New Lease on Life

Mitta acknowledged that, to the casual observer, anyway, the glass at Tower Square probably looks more half-empty (at least) than half-full.

But the total amount of vacant space (perhaps 20% of the complex) is less than most would think, and there has been, as noted, some progress made toward bringing that number down further.

White Lion will make Tower Square its mailing — and brewing — address, he said, adding quickly that a staffing company and AT&T have come on as tenants recently.

And there is that solid foundation of education facilities on which to build, he said, adding that there are a number of different ways the space may be repurposed in the future.

This is what the new ownership group — operating under name Springfield Hospitality Group — saw when it began looking at Tower Square as a potential investment in 2018. The group paid $7 million for the 25-story office tower and attached retail space, parking garages, and the Steiger’s parcel. The hotel, a separate purchase, was acquired for $10.5 million.

“With Tower Square as a prominent landmark in the city’s downtown, we think we can bring all kinds of businesses, not just retail, to this location,” he told BusinessWest. “We think we can transform the mall into different kinds of uses.”

As an example, he said the complex could become an ‘educational hub,’ or a bigger one, given that there are already two institutions with classrooms and other facilities there.

“We’re working with two other local colleges,” he said, adding that he could not disclose their names because the talks were very preliminary. “Meanwhile, we want to bring in some basic amenities such as a nail salon or a massage parlor or banking. Overall, there are many ways we can fill the available spaces, and we have already started implementing them.”

By that, he meant the AT&T store, the new staffing agency, and the fitness center and daycare components of the YMCA’s operation, which, as noted, have not been finalized.

Overall, flexibility will be the watchword moving forward, he said, and while there are certain visions that have developed for what might the Tower Square complex might look like in a year, or five years, the shape it takes will ultimately be determined by the marketplace and the types of opportunities that present themselves.

“With Tower Square as a prominent landmark in the city’s downtown, we think we can bring all kinds of businesses, not just retail, to this location. We think we can transform the mall into different kinds of uses.”

“We didn’t have a full plan for Tower Square, because as a businessman, you have to take what is available and turn it into opportunity,” Mitta noted, adding that the business plan calls for being profitable “from day one,” and more so with each passing quarter and year.

As for the hotel, it was “unflagged” — yes, that’s the industry term — when Marriott presented a long list of needed renovations and upgrades to the previous owner, MassMutual, which decided those expenditures were not worth making.

As with Tower Square itself, the Springfield Hospitality Group saw things differently, said Patel, adding that he and his partners believe the sizable investment — whatever it will be — will ultimately translate into enough room bookings, weddings, meetings, and other events to justify the expense of getting the Marriott name back over the front desk.

Mitta agreed. He said new construction of a Marriott would require an investment of between $200,000 and $300,000 per room, based on where this building project was taking place. Between the acquisition price of the hotel and the cost of the planned renovations and upgrades, the Springfield Hospitality Group is in that ballpark and probably just below.

“And if those new construction projects are going to work, why not renovations at this prestigious landmark?” he asked, before answering that question himself, in the affirmative.

Plans call for what Marks called an ‘inside-out’ concept, where elements of the city are incorporated into the design and décor of the renovated hotel. Specific improvements call for renovations to each room and the addition of one room, a suite, bringing the total to 266, said Marks. Also, the sixth floor, familiar to most area business owners and managers because it’s home to the banquet space and conference rooms, will get a makeover that includes a new fitness center with glass walls overlooking the rooftop garden.

A new, much larger bridal suite will be added, he went on, noting that the lobby will be given a new look as well.

“There are a lot of exciting changes,” he said, adding that the hotel will become part of what’s called the ‘Reimagined Marriott World,’ a comprehensive survey of customers and potential customers to determine what they want in a hotel — and a Marriott.

“The feedback was, ‘we want more than a place to sleep,’” he told BusinessWest. “They said, ‘we want a place where we can connect, relax, entertain, and do all the things we want to do.’”

And this led to the conceptualization of what he called a ‘great room’ in the lobby.

“The entire great room is the one place to be,” he said. “There’s a bar there, you can eat anywhere in that whole great-room area, and technology will allow our staff to deliver unsurpassed hospitality in the market by going out and greeting the customer with tablet in hand and checking them in the lobby.”

Model rooms will be available for viewing this spring, he went on, adding that construction, already underway on infrastructure systems, will move to more visible areas in the coming weeks.

Staying Power

“We’re going to be the number-one, most prestigious hotel in Western Mass.,” said Mitta, adding that the planned renovations and improvements should position the hotel to fully capitalize on the momentum being seen in downtown Springfield.

He noted that the arrival of MGM Springfield, as well as the performances and events it will bring, add up to considerable opportunity for a name-brand hotel located in the heart of downtown.

“Usually, a casino like this has 1,000 rooms, and some have 1,800 or 2,000 rooms,” Mitta explained. “This one has 250 rooms. That’s not enough when you bring events like Stevie Wonder and Cher to your city. This creates opportunities. If we make this hotel business-friendly with a lot of amenities, people will stay downtown.”

That was the thinking behind this large investment, and the partners who made it are confident their investment will soon start paying real dividends.

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

Commercial Real Estate

Warming Trend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where There’s Smoke…

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

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

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

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

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

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

But these robust times are manifesting themselves in many ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joint Ventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Outlook

Right Place, Right Time

John Doleva shows off the Basketball Hall of Fame’s renovated theater, one of many improvements at the hall.

John Doleva shows off the Basketball Hall of Fame’s renovated theater, one of many improvements at the hall.

They call it the ‘need period.’

There are probably other names for it, but that’s how those at the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) refer to the post-holiday winter stretch in this region.

And that phrase pretty much sums it up. Area tourist attractions and hospitality-related businesses are indeed needy at that time — far more than at any other season in this region. Traditionally, it’s a time to hold on and, if you’re a ski-related business, hope for snow or enough cold weather to make some.

But as the calendar prepares to change over to 2019 — and, yes, the needy season for many tourism-related businesses in the 413 — there is hope and optimism, at least much more than is the norm.

This needy season, MGM Springfield will be open, and five months into its work to refine and continuously improve its mix of products and services. And there will also be the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Game, coming to Springfield for the first time in a long time on Jan. 28 (actually, there is a whole weekend’s worth of activities). There will be a revamped Basketball Hall of Fame, a few new hotels, and some targeted marketing on the part of the GSCVB to let everyone know about everything going on in this area.

“The last half of 2018 has been great, and we’re very optimistic — our outlook for tourism is really positive for 2019. Certainly, MGM is a factor — it’s a huge factor, it’s a game changer — but it’s just part of the story.”

So maybe the need period won’t be quite as needy as it has been.

And if the outlook for the traditionally slow winter months is brighter, the same — and more — can be said for the year ahead, said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, noting that expectations, based in large part on the last few quarters of 2018 and especially the results after MGM opened on Aug. 24, are quite high for the year ahead.

“The last half of 2018 has been great, and we’re very optimistic — our outlook for tourism is really positive for 2019,” she told BusinessWest. “Certainly, MGM is a factor — it’s a huge factor, it’s a game changer — but it’s just part of the story.”

Elaborating, she said MGM is helping to spur new development in this sector — one new hotel, a Holiday Inn Express, opened in downtown Springfield in 2018, and another, a Courtyard by Marriott, is set to open on Riverdale Street in West Springfield — while also filling more existing rooms and driving rates higher.

Indeed, occupancy rates in area hotels rose to 68.5% in October (the latest data available), up nearly 2% from that same month in 2017, and in August, they were up 5% (to 72.6%) over the year prior.

Meanwhile, room revenue was up 4.6% in October, from $113 a night on average in this region to $119 a night, and in August, it went up 7.2%.

And, as noted, MGM is just one of the reasons for optimism and a bright outlook in this sector, Wydra said. Others include the renovated hoop hall, yearly new additions at Six Flags, and the awesome drawing power of the Dr. Seuss museum on the Quadrangle.

An architect’s rendering of the renovated third-floor mezzanine at the Basketball Hall of Fame, which includes the tributes to the inductees.

An architect’s rendering of the renovated third-floor mezzanine at the Basketball Hall of Fame, which includes the tributes to the inductees.

For 2019, the outlook is for the needle to keep moving in the right direction, she said, noting that some new meetings and conventions have been booked (more on that later); Eastec, the massive manufacturing trade show, will be making its biennial pilgrimage to this region (specifically the Big E); the Babe Ruth World Series will again return to Westfield; and the AHL All-Star weekend will get things off to a solid start.

John Doleva, president of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a member of the executive board of the GSCVB, agreed.

“With MGM now in the marketplace and being active, there does appear to be a lift, much more of an excited spirit by those that are in the business,” he noted. “Everybody is saying that, at some level, their business is up, their interest in visitation is up — there is a general feeling of optimism.”

Getting a Bounce

Doleva told BusinessWest that MGM opened its doors toward the tail end of peak season for the hoop hall — the summer vacation months. Therefore, it’s too early to quantify the impact of the casino on attendance there.

But the expectations for the next peak season are quite high, he went on, adding that many MGM customers return several times, and the hope — and expectation — is that, on one or several of those return trips, guests will extend their visit far beyond the casino’s grounds.

“Once people return a few times, they’re going to be looking for other things to do,” he said. “I definitely feel a sense of excitement and anticipation, and I’m definitely looking forward to next summer when it’s the high-travel season, and really get a gauge for what the potential MGM crossover customer is.

“Conversely, there are probably individuals that would probably have the Hall of Fame on their list of things to do,” he went on, “and now that there’s more of a critical mass, with MGM right across the street, I think we rise up on their to-do list.”

But MGM’s arrival is only one reason for soaring expectations at the hall, said Doleva, adding that the facility is in the middle of an ambitious renovation project that is already yielding dividends.

Indeed, phase one of the project included an extensive makeover of the lobby area and the hall’s theater, and those steps have helped inspire a significant increase in bookings for meetings and events.

Mary Kay Wydra says 2019 is shaping up as a very solid year for the region’s tourism industry.

Mary Kay Wydra says 2019 is shaping up as a very solid year for the region’s tourism industry.

“Our renovations have led to a great number of facility rentals for events that are happening in our theater, our new lobby, and Center Court,” he said, adding that the hall was averaging 175 rentals a year, and will log close to 240 for 2018. “Before, the theater wasn’t a hidden gem, it was just hidden; it was like a junior-high-school auditorium — it was dark, it was gray, it had no life. Now, it’s a great place to have a meeting or presentation like a product launch.”

Phase 2 of the project, which includes a renovation of the third-floor mezzanine, where the Hall of Fame plaques are, and considerable work on the roof of the sphere, will commence “any minute now,” said Doleva, adding that the work should improve visitation numbers, but, even more importantly, revenue and profitability.

The improved numbers for the hall — and the optimism there concerning the year ahead — are a microcosm of the broader tourism sector, said Wydra, adding that a number of collaborating factors point toward what could be a special year — and a solid long-term outlook.

It starts with the All-Star Game. The game itself is on a Monday night, but there is a whole weekend’s worth of activities planned, including the ‘classic skills competition’ the night before.

“Even with the average daily rate going up and occupancy growing, we still have that need period — which is true for all of Massachusetts,” she noted. “When you have an event like the All-Star Game in January, that really helps the hotels and restaurants.”

Additional momentum is expected in May with the arrival of EASTEC, considered to be New England’s premier manufacturing exposition. The three-day event drew more than 13,000 attendees last year, many of whom patronized area restaurants and clubs, said Wydra, adding that MGM Springfield only adds to the list of entertainment and hospitality options for attendees.

The Babe Ruth World Series is another solid addition to the year’s lineup, she noted, adding that the teams coming into the area, and their parents, frequent a number of area attractions catering to families.

Analysts say MGM Springfield has a far-reaching impact on the region’s tourism sector, including higher occupancy rates at area hotels and higher room rates.

Analysts say MGM Springfield has a far-reaching impact on the region’s tourism sector, including higher occupancy rates at area hotels and higher room rates.

Meanwhile, the region continues to attract a diverse portfolio of meetings and conventions, said Alicia Szenda, director of sales for the GSCVB, adding that MGM Springfield provides another attractive selling point for the 413, which can already boast a host of amenities, accessibility, and affordable hotel rates.

In June, the National Assoc. of Watch and Clock Collectors will stage its 75th annual national convention at the Big E, she said, an event that is expected to bring 2,000 people to the region. And later in the summer, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts will bring more than 900 people to downtown Springfield.

Those attending these conventions and the many others slated during the year now have a growing list of things to do in this region, said Wydra, who mentioned MGM, obviously, but also the revamped Hall of Fame; Six Flags, which continues to add new attractions yearly (a Cyborg ride is on tap for 2019); and the Dr. Seuss museum, which is drawing people from across the country and around the world.

“The Seuss factor is huge,” said Wydra. “It’s a big reason why visitation is up in this region. Seuss is a recognizable brand, and the museum delivers on the brand, and they keep reinventing that product.”

Staying Power

This ‘Seuss factor’ is just one of a number of powerful forces coming together to bring the outlook for tourism in this region to perhaps the highest plane it’s seen.

Pieces of the puzzle continue to fall into place, and together, they point to Western Mass. becoming a true destination.

As noted, even the ‘need period’ is looking less needy. The rest of the year? The sky’s the limit.

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

Co-op Power along with a number of local organizations have organized a Sustainability Summit in Springfield, MA on Saturday, December 8, 2018.

Co-op Power’s Annual Sustainability Summit is a great opportunity to share ideas with like-minded people on topics from green business development and community finance to grassroots activism and social justice.

We expect vibrant discussions about our society and our environment centered around our theme, “Energy Democracy”, with two keynote speakers and workshops throughout the day. If you are passionate about the environment and social justice then you have a place at the Summit to add to the excitement and expertise!

Highlights are two keynote presentations: Denise Fairchild, President of Emerald Cities Collaborative, who works to green our cities, build resilient local economies and ensure equity inclusion in both the process and outcomes of a new green and healthy economy. Sandra Steingraber — Biologist, author, and cancer survivor — speaks about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment.

Features include a tour of Wellspring Harvest, a quarter acre hydroponic greenhouse in Indian Orchard growing greens and herbs and information about Wellspring Cooperative a non-profit that is building a network of worker-owned co-ops to provide jobs and wealth building opportunities in Springfield’s underserved communities. Workshops will take place on worker co-ops and how they are key to the solidarity economy, a hands-on workshop on how to talk about our changing climate effectively, and a workshop on how communities can use the concept of “community energy aggregation” to secure energy efficiency and renewable energy generation services for everyone within their town.

The Sustainability Summit is being presented in collaboration with Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Climate Action Now, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Wellspring Cooperative, ARISE for Social Justice, and The Energy Democracy National Tour 2018.

Co-op Power is a decentralized network of Community Energy Co-ops (CEC) organized to to build a multi-class, multi-racial movement for a sustainable and just energy future. It has raised $10M in tax equity to finance solar for non-profits and community solar projects across New York and New England. They have been awarded a competitive bid for 2MW of low-income community solar in NYC and and have an 8 MW pipeline of solar projects under development. In a time of climate crisis and economic disparity, this network of Community Energy Co-ops is making a difference.

Join us at TechSpring, 1350 Main Street, 5th Floor, Springfield, MA on Saturday, December 8, 2018 from 2:30-8:30 pm.

Registration is free. Donations are accepted to offset the cost of the meal.

For more information or to RSVP call 413-772-8898 or toll free 877-266-7543, or email [email protected]

Co-op Power along with a number of local organizations have organized a Sustainability Summit in Springfield, MA on Saturday, December 8, 2018.

Co-op Power’s Annual Sustainability Summit is a great opportunity to share ideas with like-minded people on topics from green business development and community finance to grassroots activism and social justice.

We expect vibrant discussions about our society and our environment centered around our theme, “Energy Democracy”, with two keynote speakers and workshops throughout the day. If you are passionate about the environment and social justice then you have a place at the Summit to add to the excitement and expertise!

Highlights are two keynote presentations: Denise Fairchild, President of Emerald Cities Collaborative, who works to green our cities, build resilient local economies and ensure equity inclusion in both the process and outcomes of a new green and healthy economy. Sandra Steingraber — Biologist, author, and cancer survivor — speaks about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment.

Features include a tour of Wellspring Harvest, a quarter acre hydroponic greenhouse in Indian Orchard growing greens and herbs and information about Wellspring Cooperative a non-profit that is building a network of worker-owned co-ops to provide jobs and wealth building opportunities in Springfield’s underserved communities. Workshops will take place on worker co-ops and how they are key to the solidarity economy, a hands-on workshop on how to talk about our changing climate effectively, and a workshop on how communities can use the concept of “community energy aggregation” to secure energy efficiency and renewable energy generation services for everyone within their town.

The Sustainability Summit is being presented in collaboration with Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Climate Action Now, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Wellspring Cooperative, ARISE for Social Justice, and The Energy Democracy National Tour 2018.

Co-op Power is a decentralized network of Community Energy Co-ops (CEC) organized to to build a multi-class, multi-racial movement for a sustainable and just energy future. It has raised $10M in tax equity to finance solar for non-profits and community solar projects across New York and New England. They have been awarded a competitive bid for 2MW of low-income community solar in NYC and and have an 8 MW pipeline of solar projects under development. In a time of climate crisis and economic disparity, this network of Community Energy Co-ops is making a difference.

Join us at TechSpring, 1350 Main Street, 5th Floor, Springfield, MA on Saturday, December 8, 2018 from 2:30-8:30 pm.

Registration is free. Donations are accepted to offset the cost of the meal.

For more information or to RSVP call 413-772-8898 or toll free 877-266-7543, or email [email protected]

Education

More Than a Head Start

Architects rendering of the $14 million Educare Center now under construction in Springfield.

Architects rendering of the $14 million Educare Center now under construction in Springfield.

The new $14 million Educare Center now under construction in Springfield is focused on education, obviously, but parental involvement and workforce development are key focal points within its broad mission.

Mary Walachy calls it “Head Start on steroids.”

It’s a term she has called upon often, actually, when speaking to individuals and groups about Educare, an innovative model for high-quality early education that’s coming to Springfield next year — only the 24th such center in the country, in fact.

“You have to work with a Head Start partner. That’s a requirement in every Educare site across the country,” said Walachy, executive director of the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, one of the lead partners in the effort to launch the local Educare school. “The base program meets the Head Start national requirements. But then there’s a layer of extensive higher quality. Instead of two adult teachers in the classroom, there needs to be three. Instead of a six-hour day, there needs to be eight or 10. There are higher ratios of family liaisons to families.”

Then there are the elements that Educare centers have really honed in on nationwide: Parental involvement and workforce development — and the many ways those two concepts work together.

“The research is clear — if kids get a good start, if they have a quality preschool, if they arrive at school really ready to be successful and with the skills and language development they need, they can really be quite successful,” Walachy said. “However, at the same time, it’s extremely important they go home to a strong family. One is still good, but both together are a home run.”

The takeaway? Early-education programs must engage parents in their children’s learning, which is a central tenet to Educare. But the second reality is that families often need assistance in other ways — particularly Head Start-eligible families, who tend to be in the lower economic tier.

“We must assist them to begin the trajectory toward financial security,” Walachy said, and Holyoke Chicopee Springfield (HCS) Head Start has long done this by recruiting and training parents, in a collaborative effort with Holyoke Community College, to become classroom assistants, who often move up to become teachers. In fact, some 40% to 50% of teachers in HCS Head Start are former Head Start mothers.

“So they already have a model, but after we get up and running, we want to put that on a bit of a steroid as well,” she noted. That means working with the Federal Reserve’s Working Cities program, in partnership with the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., to steer Head Start and Educare families onto a pathway to better employment opportunities. “It’s getting on a trajectory for employment and then, we hope, financial security and success for themselves and their families.”

“The research is clear — if kids get a good start, if they have a quality preschool, if they arrive at school really ready to be successful and with the skills and language development they need, they can really be quite successful. However, at the same time, it’s extremely important they go home to a strong family. One is still good, but both together are a home run.”

She noted that early education evolved decades ago as a workforce-support program, offering child care so families could go to work or go to school. “We’ve shifted in some ways — people started saying, ‘wait a minute, this isn’t just child care, this is education. We are really putting them on a pathway.’ But now we’ve got to circle back and do both. Head Start was always an anti-poverty program. More recently, it’s really started focusing on employment and financial security for families.”

By making that dual commitment to parent engagement and workforce training, she noted, the organizations supporting the Educare project in Springfield are making a commitment to economic development that lifts families — and, by extension, communities. And that makes this much more than a school.

Alone in Massachusetts

The 24th Educare school in the U.S. will be the only one in Massachusetts, and only the second in New England, when it opens next fall at 100 Hickory St., adjacent to Brookings School, on land provided by Springfield College.

The $14 million project was designed by RDg Planning & Design and is being built by Western Builders, with project management by O’Connell Development Group.

Mary Walachy

Mary Walachy says that while it’s important to educate young children, it’s equally important that they go home to strong families.

Educare started with one school in Chicago and has evolved into a national learning network of schools serving thousands of children across the country. An early-education model designed to help narrow the achievement gap for children living in poverty, Educare Springfield is being funded locally by a variety of local, state, and national sources including the Davis Foundation, the Gage Olmstead Fund and Albert Steiger Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the MassMutual Foundation, Berkshire Bank, MassDevelopment, the MassWorks Infrastructure Program at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Florence Bank, Capital One Commercial Banking, and the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Grant Fund through the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care in collaboration with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corp. and its affiliate, the Children’s Investment Fund. A number of anonymous donors have also contributed significant funding.

Educare Springfield will offer a full-day, full-year program for up to 141 children from birth to age 5, under licensure by the Department of Early Education and Care. The center will also serve as a resource in the early-education community for training and providing professional development for future teachers, social workers, evaluation, and research.

Just from the education perspective, the local need is certainly there. Three years ago, the Springfield Public Schools Kindergarten Reading Assessment scores revealed that preschool children from the Six Corners and Old Hill neighborhoods scored the lowest among city neighborhoods for kindergarten reading readiness, at 1.1% and 3%, respectively. On a broader city scale, the fall 2017 scores showed that only 7% of all city children met all five benchmarks of kindergarten reading readiness.

Research, as Walachy noted, has proven time and again that kids who aren’t kindergarten-ready are at great risk of falling further behind their peers, and these same children, if they’re not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, are significantly less likely to graduate high school, attend college, or find employment that earns them a living wage.

Breaking that cycle means engaging children and their parents — and it’s an effort that could make a multi-generational impact.

Come Together

That potential is certainly gratifying for Walachy and the other partners.

“I think we’re really fortunate that Springfield got this opportunity to bring in this nationally recognized, quality early-childhood program,” she said, adding that the Davis Foundation has been involved from the start. “There has to be a philanthropic lead partner in order to begin to explore Educare because it does require fundraising, and if you don’t have somebody already at the table, it makes it really hard to get anybody else to join the table.”

The board of Educare Springfield, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, will hold Head Start accountable for executing the expanded Educare model. Educare Springfield is also tackling enhanced programs, fundraising, and policy and advocacy work associated with the model. A $7 million endowment is also being developed, to be administered by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, revenue from which will support operating costs.

“We did not want to develop a building that we could then not pay to operate,” Walachy noted, adding that Head Start’s federal dollars will play a significant role as well. “We want to develop a program kids in Springfield deserve. They deserve the best, and we think this is one of the best, and one this community can support.

“No one argues that kids should have a good experience, and that they begin learning at birth,” she went on. “But nothing good is cheap. And I will tell you that Educare isn’t cheap. But it sends a policy message that you’ve got to pay for good programs if you want good outcomes.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story

29th Annual Compilation Celebrates the Depth, Diversity of Business Community

Launched nearly three decades ago, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Super 60 program (originally the Fabulous 50 before it was expanded) has always acted like a giant telescope, bringing the breadth and depth of the region’s business community clearly into focus. And the 2108 lists are no exception. Businesses on the Total Revenue and Revenue Growth categories represent nearly every business sector — from healthcare to financial services, from marketing to dentistry, from construction to retail. There are some who have been hearing their names called at the Super 60 lunch for decades now, and others who will hear it for the first time. Overall, the lists put the region’s many strengths and immense diversity clearly on display. The Super 60 will be celebrated at the annual lunch on Oct. 26 at Chez Josef, starting at 11:30 a.m. The Super 60 awards are presented by Health New England and sponsored by Farmington Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, the Republican, and Zasco Productions.

Total Revenue

1. WHALLEY COMPUTER
ASSOCIATES Inc.
One Whalley Way, Southwick
(413) 569-4200
www.wca.com
John Whalley, president
WCA is a locally owned family business that has evolved from a hardware resale and service group in the ’70s and ’80s into a company that now focuses on lowering the total cost of technology and productivity enhancement for its customers. Boasting nearly 150 employees, Whalley carries name-brand computers as well as low-cost compatibles.

2. MARCOTTE FORD SALES INC.
1025 Main St., Holyoke
(800) 923-9810
www.marcotteford.com
Bryan Marcotte, president
The dealership sells new Ford vehicles as well as pre-owned cars, trucks, and SUVs, and features a full service department. Marcotte has achieved the President’s Award, one of the most prestigious honors given to dealerships by Ford Motor Co., on multiple occasions over the past decade. It also operates the Marcotte Commercial Truck Center.

3. TIGHE & BOND INC. *
53 Southampton Road, Westfield
(413) 562-1600
www.tighebond.com
DAVID PINSKY, PRESIDENT & CEO
Tighe & Bond is a full-service engineering and environmental consulting firm that provides a wide array of services, including building engineering, coastal and waterfront solutions, environmental consulting, GIS and asset management, site planning and design, transportation engineering, and water and wastewater engineering.

A.G. MILLER CO. Inc.
57 Batavia St., Springfield
(413) 732-9297
www.agmiller.com
Rick Miller, president
Early in its history, A.G. Miller made a name in automobile enameling. More than 100 years after its founding in 1914, the company now offers precision metal fabrication; design and engineering; assembly; forming, rolling, and bending; laser cutting; punching; precision saw cutting; welding; powder coating and liquid painting; and more.

BALTAZAR CONTRACTORS
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 583-6160
www.baltazarcontractors.com
Frank Baltazar, president
Baltazar Contractors has been a family-owned and operated construction firm for more than 20 years, specializing in roadway construction and reconstruction in Massachusetts and Connecticut; all aspects of site-development work; sewer, water, storm, and utilities; and streetscape improvements.

CHARTER OAK INSURANCE & FINANCIAL SERVICES CO. *
330 Whitney Ave., Holyoke
(413) 374-5430
www.charteroakfinancial.com
Peter Novak, General Agent
A member of the MassMutual Financial Group, Charter Oak been servicing clients for more than 125 years. The team of professionals serves individuals, families, and businesses with risk-management products, business planning and protection, retirement planning and investment services, and fee-based financial planning.

CITY ENTERPRISE INC.
52-60 Berkshire Ave., Springfield
(413) 726-9549
www.cityenterpriseinc.com
WONDERLYN MURPHY, PRESIDENT & CEO
City Enterprise Inc. is a general contractor with a diverse portfolio of clients, including the Groton Naval submarine base, Westover Air Reserve Base, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and many others.

COMMERCIAL DISTRIBUTING CO. INC.
46 South Broad St., Westfield
(413) 562-9691
www.commercialdist.com
Richard Placek, Chairman
Founded in 1935 by Joseph Placek, Commercial Distributing Co. is a family-owned, family-operated business servicing more than 1,000 bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as more than 400 package and liquor stores. Now in its third generation, the company continues to grow by building brands and offering new products as the market changes.

CON-TEST ANALYTICAL LABORATORY (Filli LLC)
39 Spruce St., East Longmeadow
(413) 525-2332
www.contestlabs.com
TOM VERATTI, FOUNDER, CONSULTANT
Established in 1987 and founded by Thomas and Kathleen Veratti, Con-Test Inc. provides industrial hygiene and analytical services to a broad range of clients. Originally focused on industrial hygiene analysis, the laboratory testing division has expanded its capabilities to include numerous techniches in air analysis, classical (wet) chemistry, metals, and organics.

DAVID R. NORTHUP ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS INC.
73 Bowles Road, Agawam
(413) 786-8930
www.northupelectric.com
DAVID NORTHUP, PRESIDENT
David R. Northup Electrical Contractors Inc. is a family-owned and operated, full-service electrical, HVAC, and plumbing contractor. The company specializes in everything from installation and replacement to preventative maintenance; indoor air-quality work to sheet-metal fabrication.

FREEDOM CREDIT UNION
1976 Main St., Springfield
(800) 831-0160
www.freedom.coop
GLENN WELCH, PRESIDENT & CEO
Freedom is a full-service credit union based in Springfield serving a wide range of business and consumer clients. Freedom has its main office on Main Street, with other offices in Sixteen Acres (Springfield), Feeding Hills, Ludlow, Chicopee, Easthampton, Northampton, Turners Falls, Greenfield, and the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.

THE FUTURES HEALTH GROUP, LLC
136 William St., Springfield
(800) 218-9280
www.discoverfutures.com
Brian Edwards, CEO
Futures provides occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language therapy, special education, nursing, mental health, and other related services to schools and healthcare facilities across the U.S. Founded in 1998, it continues to be managed by expert practitioners in their fields.

GARY ROME HYUNDAI INC. *
150 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke
(877) 830-4792
www.garyromehyundai.com
GARY ROME, President
Gary Rome is the largest Hyundai dealership in the nation after a new, much larger facility opened in 2017. The company’s mission statement is to “provide our customers with a consistent sale and service experience that satisfies each person’s needs and exceeds their expectation in a clean and comfortable environment.”

GOVERNORS AMERICA CORP. – GAC MGMT. Co.
720 Silver St., Agawam
(413) 786-5600
www.governors-america.com
Governors America Corp. is a privately held engine-control company that provides complete design, development, production, and marketing capabilities for electro-mechanical and electronic devices that are used for engine control. The engine-control products are used in a wide range of industries, including generator set, material handling, marine propulsion, mining, locomotive, and off-highway applications. Governors America has developed an advanced line of electronic governing and fuel-control systems with accessories.

HOLYOKE PEDIATRIC ASSOCIATES, LLP
150 Lower Westfield Road, Holyoke
(413) 536-2393
www.holyokepediatrics.com
KATHY TREMBLE, Care Coordinator
Holyoke Pediatric Associates is the largest pediatric practice in Western Mass., serving patients from the Pioneer Valley at offices in Holyoke and South Hadley. The group medical practice comprises board-certified pediatricians, certified nurse practitioners, and more than 75 clinical, nutritional, and clerical support staff, and has served the healthcare needs of infants, children, and adolescents since 1971.

JET INDUSTRIES INC.
307 Silver St., Agawam
(413) 786-2010
www.jet.industries
Michael Turrini, president
Jet Industries Inc. is a leading design-build electrical, mechanical, communications, and fire-sprinkler contractor. What began as a small, family-run oil company founded by Aaron Zeeb in 1977 has grown into one of the nation’s largest companies of its type, with more than 500 employees servicing projects all across the country.

KITTREDGE EQUIPMENT CO. INC.
100 Bowles Road, Agawam
(413) 304-4100
www.kittredgeequipment.com
Wendy Webber, president
Founded in 1921, Kittredge Equipment Co. is one of the nation’s leading food-service equipment and supply businesses. It boasts 70,000 square feet of showroom in three locations. The company also handles design services, and has designed everything from small restaurants to country clubs to in-plant cafeterias.

LANCER TRANSPORTATION & SULCO WAREHOUSING & LOGISTICS *
311 Industry Ave., Springfield
(413) 739-4880
www.sulco-lancer.com
Todd Goodrich, president
In business since 1979, Sulco Warehousing & Logistics specializes in public, contract, and dedicated warehousing. Lancer Transportation & Logistics is a licensed third-party freight-brokerage company that provides full-service transportation-brokerage services throughout North America.

LOUIS & CLARK DRUG INC.
309 East St., Springfield
(413) 737-7456
www.lcdrug.com
Skip Matthews, president
Since 1965, Louis & Clark has been a recognized name in Western Mass., first as a pharmacy and later as a resource for people who need home medical equipment and supplies. Today, the company provides professional pharmacy and compounding services, medical equipment, independent-living services, and healthcare programs.

MAYBURY ASSOCIATES INC.
90 Denslow Road, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-4216
www.maybury.com
John Maybury, president
Since 1976, Maybury Associates Inc. has been designing, supplying, and servicing all types of material-handling equipment throughout New England. Maybury provides customers in a wide range of industries with solutions to move, lift, and store their parts and products.

NOTCH WELDING & MECHanICAL CONTRACTORS INC. *
85 Lemay St., Chicopee
(413) 534-3440
www.notch.com
Steven Neveu, president
A family-owned business since 1972, Notch Mechanical Constructors provides piping installation and repair services to facilities throughout Southern New England. Its team has the capacity to address process and utility piping challenges at any business within 100 miles of its locations in Chicopee and Hudson, Mass.

O’REILLY, TALBOT & OKUN ASSOCIATES INC.
293 Bridge St., Suite 500, Springfield
(413) 788-6222
www.oto-env.com
JIM OKUN, KEVIN O’REILLY, MIKE TALBOT, principals
O’Reilly Talbot & Okun is a specialty geo-environmental engineering firm, specializing in asbestos management, brownfields redevelopment, environmental site assessment, indoor air quality and industrial hygiene, MCP compliance, vapor intrusion, geotechnical engineering, lead inspection, PCB assessment and management, and other services.

P.C. ENTERPRISES INC. d/b/a ENTRE COMPUTER
138 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
(413) 736-2112
www.pc-enterprises.com
Norman Fiedler, CEO
PC Enterprises, d/b/a Entre Computer, assists organizations with procuring, installing, troubleshooting, servicing, and maximizing the value of technology. In business since 1983, it continues to evolve and grow as a lead provider for many businesses, healthcare providers, retailers, and state, local, and education entities.

PARAGUS STRATEGIC IT
112 Russell St., Hadley
(413) 587-2666
www.paragusit.com
Delcie Bean IV, president
While still in high school, Delcie Bean founded Paragus IT in 1999, first under the name Vertical Horizons and then Valley Computer Works. Under the Paragus name, it has grown dramatically as an outsourced IT solution, providing business computer service, computer consulting, information-technology support, and other services to businesses of all sizes. 

REDIKER SOFTWARE INC.
2 Wilbraham Road, Hampden
(800) 213-9860
www.rediker.com
Andrew Anderlonis, president
Rediker software is used by school administrators across the U.S. and in more than 100 countries, and is designed to meet the student-information-management needs of all types of schools and districts. For example, 100,000 teachers use the TeacherPlus web gradebook, and the ParentPlus and StudentPlus web portals boast 2 million users.

SANDERSON MacLEOD INC.
1199 South Main St. Palmer
(413) 283-3481
www.sandersonmacleod.com
MARK BORSARI, PRESIDENT
Launched in 1958 by Ken Sanderson and Bruce MacLeod, Sanderson MacLeod invented the first twisted-wire mascara brush. Today, it is an industry leader in the making of twisted wire brushes for the cosmetics industry, the healthcare sector, the OEM-cleaning brush market, the firearm-cleaning brush market, and many others.

TIGER PRESS (Shafii’s Inc.)
50 Industrial Dr., East Longmeadow
(413) 224-1763
www.tigerpress.com
JENNIFER SHAFII
TigerPress is an award-winning, ISO 9001 & FSC-certified custom printing company featuring the latest digital prepress and printing technology. The company manufactures folding cartons, marketing and educational printed products, fulfillment services, and indoor and outdoor signs.
TROY INDUSTRIES INC.
151 Capital Dr., West Springfield
(413) 788-4288
www.troyind.com
Steve Troy, CEO
Troy Industries was founded on the principle of making reliable, innovative, over-engineered products that function without question when lives are on the line. Troy is a leading U.S. government contractor that designs and manufactures innovative, top-quality small-arms components and accessories and complete weapon upgrades.

UNITED PERSONNEL SERVICES *
1331 Main St., Springfield
(413) 736-0800
www.unitedpersonnel.com
Patricia Canavan, president
United provides a full range of staffing services, including temporary staffing and full-time placement, on-site project management, and strategic recruitment in the Springfield, Hartford, and Northampton areas, specializing in administrative, professional, medical, and light-industrial staff.

WESTSIDE FINISHING CO. INC.
15 Samosett St., Holyoke
(413) 533-4909
www.wsfinish.com
BRIAN BELL, PRESIDENT
Founded in the early 1980s, Westside Finishing is a family-owned business specializing wide array of services, including silk screening, conveyorized powder coating, batch powder coating, pad printing, trucking, sub-assembly, final packaging, and more.

Revenue Growth

1. FIVE STAR TRANSPORTATION INC. *
809 College Highway, Southwick
(413) 789-4789
www.firestarbus.com
Nathan Lecrenski, president
Five Star provides school-bus transportation services to school districts and charter schools throughout Western Mass. From its launch a half-century ago with a single bus route, the company currently services more than 12 school districts and operates a fleet of more than 175 vehicles. 

2. BAYSTATE BLASTING INC.
36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 583-4440
www.baystateblasting.com
Paul Baltazar, president
Baystate Blasting, Inc. is a local family-owned and operated drilling and blasting firm located in Ludlow that began in 2003. Services include site work, heavy highway construction, residential work, quarry, portable crushing, and recycling, and it is an ATF-licensed dealer of explosives as well as rental of individual magazines.

3. IN-LAND CONTRACTING INC.
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 547-0100
Denis Baltazar, Treasurer
In-Land Contracting is a general contractor specializing in garages, exterior work, parking lots, and other types of work.

AMERICAN PEST SOLUTIONS INC.
169 William St., Springfield
(413) 781-0044
www.413pestfree.com
BOB RUSSELL, PRESIDENT
Founded in 1913, American Pest Solutions is a full-service pest-solutions company. With two offices, in Springfield and Hartford, Conn., the company serves residential and commercial customers, offering inspection, treatment, and ongoing protection.

BAYSTATE RESTORATION INC.
69 Gagne St., Chicopee
(413) 532-3473
www.baystaterestorationgroup.com
MARK DAVIAU and DON ROBERT, OWNERS
Baystate Restoration Group is a 24-hour emergency service-restoration company specializing in all areas of restoration and insurance claims due to fire, water, smoke, mold, storm, and water damage to homes and businesses.

BURGESS, SCHULTZ & ROBB, P.C.
200 North Main St., Suite 1, South Building, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-0025
www.bsrcpa.com
ANDREW ROBB, MANAGING PARTNER
Burgess, Shultz & Robb is a full-service accounting firm specializing in accounting, auditing, tax, and business planning for closely held businesses and nonprofit organizations, trusts, and estate services.

CENTER SQUARE GRILL (Fun Dining Inc.)
84 Center Square, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-0055
www.centersquaregrill.com
Michael Sakey, Bill Collins, Proprietors
Center Square Grill serves up eclectic American fare for lunch and dinner, as well as an extensive wine and cocktail selection and a kids’ menu. The facility also has a catering service and hosts events of all kinds.

CHICOPEE INDUSTRIAL CONTRACTORS INC.
107 North Chicopee St., Chicopee
(413) 538-7279
www.chicopeeindustrial.com
Carol Campbell, president
Founded in 1992, Chicopee Industrial Contractors is an industrial contracting firm specializing in all types of rigging, heavy lifting, machinery moving, machine installation, millwrighting, machine repair, heavy hauling, plant relocations, concrete pads, foundations, and structural steel installations.

COURIER EXPRESS INC.
20 Oakdale St., Springfield
(413) 730-6620
www.courierexp.com
Eric Devine, president
Courier Express is committed to providing custom, same-day delivery solutions for any shipment. Its focal point is New England, but its reach is nationwide. The company strives to utilize the latest technologies, on-time delivery, customer service, and attention to detail to separate itself from its competitors.

E.F. CORCORAN PLUMBING & HEATING CO. INC. *
5 Rose Place, Springfield
(413) 732-1462
www.efcorcoran.com
CHARLES EDWARDS and BRIAN TOOMEY, Co-OWNERS
E.F. Corcoran Plumbing and Heating, founded in 1963, is a full-service plumbing and HVAC contractor. Services include 24-hour plumbing service, HVAC system installs, design-build services, energy retrofits, system replacements and modifications, gas piping, boilers, and more.

EOS APPROACH, LLC / Proshred Security international
75 Post Office Park, Wilbraham
(413) 596-5479
www.proshred.com
JOE KELLY, OWNER
Proshred is an industry leader in on-site shredding and hard-drive destruction. The company offers a number of services, including one-time paper shredding, ongoing shredding service, hard-drive destruction, product destruction, document scanning, and drop-off shredding.

EWS PLUMBING & HEATING INC.
339 Main St., Monson
(413) 267-8983
www.ewsplumbingandheating.com
BRANT STAHELSKI, PRESIDENT
EWS Plumbing & Heating Inc. is a family-owned and operated company that designs and installs plumbing and HVAC systems. A full-service mechanical contractor, the company specializes in both residential and commercial applications.

FLETCHER SEWER & DRAIN INC.
824A Perimeter Road, Ludlow
(413) 547-8180
www.fletcherseweranddrain.com
Teri Marinello, president
Since 1985, Fletcher Sewer & Drain has provided service to homeowners as well as municipalities and construction companies for large pipeline jobs. From unblocking kitchen sinks to replacing sewer lines, Fletcher keeps up to date with all the latest technology, from high-pressure sewer jetters to the newest camera-inspection equipment.

GALLAGHER REAL ESTATE *
1763 Northampton St., Holyoke
(413) 536-7232
www.gogallagher.com
PAUL GALLAGHER, OWNER
Gallagher Real Estate is an independent brokerage that operates in Hampshire and Hampden counties in Massachusetts and Hartford County in Connecticut, and specializes in both residential and commercial properties. The company has offices in Holyoke, South Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Springfield.

GLEASON JOHNDROW LANDSCAPING INC.
44 Rose St., Springfield
(413) 727-8820
www.gleasonjohndrowlandscaping.com
Anthony Gleason II, David Johndrow, Owners
Gleason Johndrow Landscape & Snow Management offers a wide range of commercial and residential services, including lawnmowing, snow removal, salting options, fertilization programs, landscape installations, bark-mulch application, creative plantings, seeding options, pruning, irrigation installation, maintenance, and much more.

GMH FENCE CO. inc. *
15 Benton Dr., East Longmeadow
(413) 525-3361
www.gmhfence.com
GLENN HASTIE, OWNER
Serving the Western Mass. area for nearly a quarter century, GMH Fence Co. is one of the largest fence companies in the region. The company offers fence installations from a selection of wood, aluminum, steel, and vinyl fencing for residential and commercial customers.

KNIGHT MACHINE TOOL CO. INC.
11 Industrial Dr., South Hadley
(413) 532-2507
Gary O’Brien, owner
Knight Machine & Tool Co. is a metalworking and welding company that offers blacksmithing, metal roofing, and other services from its 11,000-square-foot facility.

L & L PROPERTY SERVICES, LLC
582 Amostown Road, West Springfield
(413) 732-2739
www.
RICHARD LAPINSKI, OWNER
L&L Property Services LLC is a locally owned company providing an array of property services, including lawn care, snow removal, sanding, excavations, patios and stonewalls, hydroseeding, and more.

MARKET MENTORS, LLC *
1680 Riverdale St., West Springfield
(413) 787-1133
www.marketmentors.com
Michelle Abdow, principal
A full-service marketing firm, Market Mentors handles all forms of marketing, including advertising in all media, media buying, graphic design, public relations, and event planning.

MORAN SHEET METAL INC.
613 Meadow St., Agawam
(413) 363-1548
PAUL MORAN, OWNER
Founded in 1993, Moran Sheet metal is a family-owned company specializing in custom fabrication and installation of HVAC systems for commercial clients across Western Mass. and into Central Mass.

NORTHEAST IT SYSTEMS INC.
170 Lockhouse Road, Westfield
(413) 736-6348
www.northeastit.net
Joel Mollison, president
Northeast is a full-service IT company providing business services, managed IT services, backup and disaster recovery, and cloud services, as well as a full-service repair shop for residential customers, including file recovery, laptop screen replacement, PC setups and tuneups, printer installation, virus protection and removal, and wireless installation.

RAYMOND R. HOULE CONSTRUCTION INC.
5 Miller St., Ludlow
(413) 547-2500
www.rayhoule.com
TIM PELLETIER, PRESIDENT
Raymond R. Houle Construction specializes in commercial and industrial construction. Services include general contracting, construction management, and an integrated construction-assistance program.

RODRIGUES INC.
782 Center St., Ludlow
(413) 547-6443
Antonio Rodrigues, president
Rodrigues Inc. operates Europa Restaurant in Ludlow, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine with an interactive dining experience, presenting meals cooked on volcanic rocks at tableside. Europa also offers full-service catering and banquet space.

SECOND WIND CONSULTANTS
136 West St., #102, Northampton
(413) 584-2581
www.secondwindconsultants.com
AARON TODRIN, PRESIDENT
Second Wind Consultants is a Better Business Bureau-accredited business debt-relief consulting firm that helps companies avoid bankruptcy or litigation through a debt workout.

SKIP’S OUTDOOR ACCENTS INC.
1265 Suffield St., Agawam
(413) 786-0990
www.skipsonline.com
JOHN and SCOTT ANSART, OWNERS
Skip’s Outdoor Accents specializes in a wide range of outdoor products, including sheds and garages, gazebos, swingsets, outdoor furniture, yard and garden products, weathervanes and cupolas, indoor furniture, playhouses, and pet structures.

SUMMIT CAREERS INC.
85 Mill St., Suite B, Springfield
(413) 733-9506
www.summetcareers.inc
DAVID PICARD, OWNER
Summit Careers provides temporary, temp-to-hire, and direct-hire services for clients in a variety of sectors, including light industrial, warehouse, professional trades, administrative, accounting, and executive.

TAPLIN YARD, PUMP & POWER (M. Jags Inc.)
120 Interstate Dr., West Springfield
(413) 781-4352
www.fctaplin.com
Martin Jagodowski, president
Taplin has been servicing the local area since 1892, and is an authorized dealer for parts, equipment, service, and accessories for a wide range of brands. It boasts a large inventory of zero-turn mowers, commercial lawn equipment, lawnmowers, lawn tractors, trimmers, blowers, generators, pressure washers, pole saws, sprayers, chainsaws, and more.

VANGUARD DENTAL, LLC
1730 Boston Road, Springfield
(413) 543-2555
www.vanguarddentistry.com
DR. YOGITA KANORWALLA, PRINCIPAL
Vanguard Dental is a full-service dental practice specializing in same-day crowns, dental implants, root canals, bridges and dentures, Invisalign, and cosmetic dentistry.

WANCZYK EVERGREEN NURSERY INC.
166 Russell St., Hadley
(413) 584-3709
www.wanczynursery.com
MICHAEL WANCZYK, OWNER
Wanczyk Nursery has been a premier plant grower in the Pioneer Valley since 1954. The family-owned business offers many kinds of trees, shrubs, bushes, and flowers.

WEBBER & GRINNELL INSURANCE AGENCY INC.
8 North King. St., #1, Northampton
(413) 586-0111
www.webberandgrinnell.com
BILL GRINNELL, PRESIDENT
Webber & Grinnell’s roots can be traced back to 1849, when A.W. Thayer opened an insurance agency on Pleasant St. in Northampton. The agency offers automotive, homeowners, and business coverage, as well as employee benefits.

Opinion

Editorial

Sept. 17 was a huge day for Springfield and this region. It was, as they say, a ground-breaking moment, both literally and figuratively.

As for the literal part of that equation, ground was broken for the $14 million Educare early education school to be constructed adjacent to the Brookings School, on land provided by Springfield College, and operated by Holyoke, Chicopee Springfield Head Start. This is the 24th Educare School to be built in the United States and the only one in Massachsetts. This was a typical ground-breaking ceremony with a host of local and state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Karen Polito.

As for the figurative part, this development is potentially ground-breaking on a number of levels. Educare represents what is truly cutting edge when it comes to practices in early education, and Educare Springfield represents an enormous opportunity for city residents to help break the cycle of poverty that has existed for decades.

Educare, which represents a national collaboration between the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Ounce of Prevention Fund, and hundreds of other public-private partners across the country, offers an early education model designed to help narrow the achievement gap for children living in poverty. This model, which involves a full-day, full-year program for up to 141 children from birth to age five, incorporates embedded and ongoing professional development of teachers, intensive family engagement, and high-quality teaching practices, and utilizes data to advance outcomes for students in the program.

In other words it focuses on all three of the critical elements involved on the early-education process: Children, their families, and their educators. And all are equally important.

The students? Their participation in this program is obvious. Study after study has shown the importance of early education in setting young children on a course for life-long learning and providing them a far better chance to stay on that course. The year-long, all-day model translates into a more comprehensive — and more impactful — learning experience.

As for families, they are also an integral part of the early education process. Parents must become invested in the process and in their child’s education, and the Educare model ensures that this is the case.

And the educators? They are often the forgotten piece in this equation. Historically underpaid and seemingly underappreciated, early education teachers have a vital role in putting young children on a path to life-long learning. Ongoing professional development is an important component in this process.

Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, a long-time supporter and advocates for early education, played a lead role in making the Educare center a reality. But there were many other supporters as well, including the the Gage Olmstead Fund and Albert Steiger Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; the MassMutual Foundation; Berkshire Bank; MassDevelopment; MassWorks Infrastructure Program at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development; the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Grant Fund through the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care in collaboration with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) and their affiliate, the Children’s Investment Fund; the George Kaiser Family Foundation; Florence Bank; Capital One Commercial Banking; and anonymous donors.

All these businesses and agencies understand the importance of early education, not only to the children and to the families, but to the city of Springfield and the entire region. As we’ve said on many occasions, early education is an education issue, but it is also an economic development issue.

And that’s why this is a ground-breaking development for this area, in all kinds of ways.

MGM Springfield

For Starters…

Alex Dixon, seen here at MGM Springfield’s South End Market

Alex Dixon, seen here at MGM Springfield’s South End Market, says ‘normal’ isn’t something to expect at the facility for some time.

The long-awaited opening of MGM is now being talked about in the past tense. It was, as most everyone predicted it would be, a momentous event in the city’s history. But thanks to some careful planning, it was not the disruptive force that some were anticipating.

Alex Dixon came away with a few observations — and a few questions — after MGM Springfield’s first weekend of operation late last month.

In that latter category … well, he was wondering out loud if that fruity libation ‘Sex on the Beach’ is the official drink of Greater Springfield. It must be, he concluded, because the bars on the premises ran out of some or all of the ingredients needed to make it — vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, and cranberry juice — so some people had to drink something else. And usually did.

But for a while, it was also a challenge to get something involving Coca Cola. “We ran out at one point,” said Dixon, general manager of the facility. “We managed to get some more, but we were out for a while.”

“We ran through so many different scenarios, and none of them came to be; we’re as excited for what happened as we are for what didn’t happen.”

As for observations … he said the company may have to take some steps to help some employees with their feet.

“We’re looking right now into getting some foot care for a lot of our employees,” he said several days after the opening. “People were on their feet more in the past 72 hours than they’ve been in a long time. So we’re looking to store some Epsom salts or some foot care, because people need to take care of their feet.”

OK, those were observations more of the tongue-in-cheek variety. Getting more serious — although he was quite serious about those foot problems — he said the long-awaited opening for MGM, meaning not just not opening day but those first several days, were noteworthy not just for what happened — huge crowds and general excitement for the region’s new, $960 million toy — but also for what didn’t happen.

And with that, Dixon summoned the contrived phrase ‘carmageddon.’ That’s not in the dictionary, but if it were, ‘gridlock’ would be listed as a synonym. Some people were predicting something approaching that, meaning Big E-like traffic jams and parking issues, during the first few days. Anxiety was such that some downtown Springfield-based businesses actually closed their doors or altered their schedules in the wake of some predictions. There were electronic signs on I-91 alerting motorists that MGM was opening on Aug. 24, and therefore they should expect delays.

But, for the most part, none of that happened, and what looked to the untrained eye to be a somewhat slow start for the casino was actually the fruits of some careful planning, said Dixon.

Elaborating, he said MGM officials made arrangements with the Big E for casino patrons to park there for free and be shuttled over. And then, in the countless media interviews that took place leading up to and just after the opening, those same officials kept urging people to park across the river to take advantage of that option.

Long story short, they did, and with positive results for area commuters and businesses downtown and elsewhere.

As for hard numbers on MGM’s opening day and first weekend, Dixon didn’t have any at press time. So he qualified things as best he could.

“It was phenomenal,” he said of the opening and the weekend that followed. “And the big jubilation is that we did it — and by ‘we,’ I mean literally the entire community, meaning the city, the Commonwealth, and all the different agencies we’ve been working with to coordinate things. We ran through so many different scenarios, and none of them came to be; we’re as excited for what happened as we are for what didn’t happen.

“We need to get people rested up because this is a marathon, although we had a sprint initially. People need their rest.”

“We did very well in terms of volume — we’re still tabulating the numbers,” he went on. “But we didn’t have the side effects that can potentially come with too many cars, too many pedestrians, and too many issues.”

Looking ahead, and, more specifically, addressing the question of when something approaching normalcy might descend on MGM Springfield, Dixon said it will be a while before that happens.

Indeed, while the week days after the opening were far less hectic, the Labor Day weekend (with Stevie Wonder appearing at the MassMutual Center on Sept. 1) was fast approaching, with Enshrinement weekend for the Basketball Hall of Fame coming the following week, and the Big E to open on Sept. 14.

“I don’t think we’ll see ‘normal’ for some time yet,” said Dixon with a huge smile on his face, implying that not normal is good, as in really good.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Dixon about MGM’s long-awaited opening and got a behind-the-scenes look (sort of, but not really) at what was happening, and, as he noted, not happening.

General Manager Alex Dixon didn’t have specific numbers

General Manager Alex Dixon didn’t have specific numbers, but he said volume at MGM Springfield those first few days met or exceeded expectations. Getty Images

Crowd Control

In the days leading up to the opening, there were many MGM employees working long days and often long nights as well, said Dixon, who put himself in that category.

So one of the many items on his to-do list as general manager in the days immediately following the opening was to make sure that those who needed to caught up on their rest.

“That Sunday was focused on really looking at people’s days off, to make sure that, if they couldn’t take a full day, they could at least take some hours off,” he explained. “We need to get people rested up because this is a marathon, although we had a sprint initially. People need their rest.”

After that first weekend, most certainly needed some rest, he went on, adding that the facility was at or near full capacity for many stretches, especially Friday and Saturday nights.

For the most part, the hundreds of employees, many wearing their uniforms for the first time, came through it well, despite what were for some 16-, 18-, even 20-hour days for those at the top levels.

As the bartenders, waiters, and waitresses serving up Sex on the Beach drinks — or not, as the case may be — they had some very long nights, but few seemed to be complaining, said Dixon.

“I heard anecdotally that someone said they made more in three hours than she did in three weeks at her last job,” he said. “That’s not only heartwarming, but it gives an indication of the sheer volume we encountered, and our restaurants were far busier than any of us could have imagined.”

Flashing back to opening day, he said that he and his team handled the different waves of visitors smoothly, but made some adjustments on the fly. The first wave comprised of the thousands who assembled on Main Street in advance of the 11 a.m. opening — some were on the street before 6, said Dixon, adding that the first order of business that day (literally and figuratively) was to get those people into the building safely and in an orderly fashion in order to reopen Main Street to traffic.

The first order of business for those at MGM Springfield

The first order of business for those at MGM Springfield was to get the throngs on Main Street who gathered on the morning of opening day into the facility safely and in an orderly fashion.

That all happened according to plan, he went on, adding that the next wave was a mixed group that included large numbers of workers spilling out of the downtown office buildings and walking the few blocks to the casino. Another wave came through that night, again filling the casino to something approaching full capacity.

As for the adjustments, or tweaks, as Dixon called them, they included everything from reconfiguring the ling lines for people looking to sign up for the M Life Rewards program to devising ways to handle all the traffic at the brick-oven pizzeria at the Cal-Mare restaurant.

“The pizza counter was wildly successful, and we needed more space, we needed another point of sale to handle everyone,” he noted. “That brick-oven pizza was just a hit, so we made some adjustments.”

Getting back to that phrase ‘carmageddon,’ Dixon said it didn’t happen on opening weekend, and that shows, by and large, that it’s not likely to happen on a large scale.

When asked if that was a good thing, he said it was — for MGM, the region, and its business community.

“Through this big peak, we’ve shown that there’s not an over-arching impact to the business community in a negative way, such as slowing down commerce to the rest of the city,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re just really proud of the planning we did in advance, with the city, West Springfield, and the Big E; that investment in the shuttles really paid off.”

And the investment grew in size, because the shuttle service, originally to be offered only on opening day (Friday), was extended through the weekend in yet another attempt to control the impact of the casino’s opening on the region and its businesses.

Drinking it In

When pressed, Dixon said he doesn’t know what goes into a Sex on the Beach drink and wouldn’t know how to make one.

“But apparently half of Springfield does, because that’s must have been the most popular drink,” he said with a laugh, adding that besides stocking on up on peach schnapps and whatever else might be needed, he and his team will continue to make tweaks and adjust as necessary, because ‘normal,’ as he noted, isn’t something likely to be seen at MGM for a while.

And as he also noted, this is a marathon, even though it started with a sprint.

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

Cover Story

MGM Opens

MGM Springfield will open for business on August 24, thus ending a seven-year-long effort to bring a resort casino to Springfield’s South End and beginning a new era in the city’s history. In this special section, we’ll look at what brought us to this moment and what MGM’s arrival means to a wide range of constituencies, from those now working for the company to those doing business with it. (Photography provided by Aerial 51 Studios)

• The Moment is Here

Springfield Begins a New and Intriguing Chapter in its History

• From Their Perspective

Area Civic, Business Leaders Weigh in on MGM and its Impact

• An MGM Chronology

• Hitting the Jackpot

Dozens of Area Companies Become Coveted MGM Vendors

• MGM Springfield at a Glance

• In Good Company

Area Residents Find Opportunity Knocks at MGM Springfield

• Who’s Who?

The MGM Springfield Leadership Team

MGM Springfield

The Moment Is Here

groundbreaking ceremonies

Few in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremonies three and half years ago could have imagined how Springfield’s South End would be transformed by MGM Springfield.

Back about 1,300 days or so ago, several hundred business and civic leaders and other dignitaries gathered in bright sunshine in Springfield’s South End to witness the official ground-breaking ceremonies for MGM Springfield.

Analysis

Those in attendance that day would probably struggle now to remember what that area looked like back then. Maybe not. The former Zanetti School and the old correctional facility (known as the ‘alcohol jail’ to many) on Howard Street were considerable landmarks, and it’s not difficult to conjure up remembrances of them and other structures now gone.

More to the point, it was virtually impossible for anyone there that day to stretch their imagination and conceive of the complex that occupies that site now. We had all seen the renderings, but back on that warm spring day, those architect’s drawings were a long, long way from reality.

Indeed, even though the journey began well before that day, those groundbreaking ceremonies marked the official moment, for most of us, anyway, when the $960 million MGM Springfield project became real. And even then, it didn’t actually seem real.

This was (and is) Springfield after all, and in the minds of many, something this big, something this grand, something this potentially life-altering, just wasn’t going to happen here. MGM was going to change its mind. The Legislature was going to screw things up. Something bad was going to happen.

The city hasn’t really seen anything like this probably since George Washington picked that acreage on the hill above downtown as the site of the young nation’s first arsenal — what became the Springfield Armory.

But here we are, 1,300 or so days later. It is real, and is happening, even if for some it seems surreal.

That phrase ‘history-making’ is overused these days, to the point where it doesn’t mean much anymore. The talking heads at ESPN use it almost every night to refer to some relief pitcher, hockey goalie, or field goal kicker achieving some obscure statistical milestone.

But with MGM Springfield, it fits. The city hasn’t really seen anything like this probably since George Washington picked that acreage on the hill above downtown as the site of the young nation’s first arsenal — what became the Springfield Armory. The armory, as most know, changed the course of this city and this region in all kinds of ways.

The innovation and craftsmanship that marked the Armory’s early days — and all its days, for that matter — sparked waves of related businesses and an entire business sector — precision manufacturing. Meanwhile, the solid jobs available at the Armory spurred wealth and the construction of the large, beautiful homes that gave the city its nickname.

What kind of chapter in the city’s history will MGM author?

We really don’t know. No one does.

Back 30 years or so ago, the good people of Atlantic City hailed the gambling palaces being built there then as a renaissance, a rebirth for a city that had fallen on some very hard times. We all know how that turned out.

MGM Springfield is opening at a time when competition for the gambling dollar has never been stiffer, and the pace of competition will only accelerate as states and regions look to cash in on what appears to be a sure thing.

Only … there is no such thing, as anyone who gambles can surely tell you.

And while MGM Springfield is many things to many people, it is, overall, a gamble, and people shouldn’t ever forget that. And when you gamble, you can win, you can lose, and you can break even.

A lot can happen over the next few years or the next few decades, but we choose to believe that the city and this region will see this gamble pay off.

And while MGM Springfield is many things to many people, it is, overall, a gamble, and people shouldn’t ever forget that. And when you gamble, you can win, you can lose, and you can break even.

It will pay off in jobs, in vibrancy, in a trickle-down effect to other businesses in many sectors, and above all, in making this city relevant again, something it really hasn’t been for a long time. Remember, before that ground-breaking ceremony, there hadn’t been a significant private-sector development in downtown Springfield in almost 30 years.

Not every development will be positive; some businesses will definitely be hurt by the arrival of MGM, and there will be more traffic and hassles getting in and out of the city. And there is the very real possibility that many of those coming to visit MGM will get back in their cars, buses, and limos at the end of the stay and get right back on I-91 north or south and leave Springfield behind.

But for city leaders, the state, the Gaming Commission, this region as a whole, and especially MGM, this was a gamble well worth taking. In the end, we don’t believe anyone will regret putting their chips on Springfield and letting it ride.

Those are the kinds of words that can certainly come back to haunt someone, but we don’t believe they will. This is, as they say in this business, a solid bet — for MGM and this region.

BusinessWest invited area business and civic leaders to offer their thoughts on what the arrival of MGM Springfield means for this region. Maybe Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin and a host of other businesses, all of them to compete with MGM in one way or another, said it best: “I am excited about the excitement.”

So are we.

George O’Brien is the editor of BusinessWest.

MGM Springfield

From Their Perspective

Editor’s Note: As the countdown to MGM’s grand opening ticks down to the final hours, we asked a number of area business and civic leaders for their thoughts on what this momentous development means for Springfield and the surrounding region.

Nancy F. Creed

Nancy F. Creed

Nancy F. Creed, president, Springfield Regional Chamber

“MGM is already making a difference in the local economy — from job creation to utilizing local vendors and suppliers to attracting all types of folks to downtown. You see those results every day. Just this past week, I met a couple from Sardinia who were here on leisure travel. The streets are bustling with people; restaurants are filling up; people are lined up to get coffee at cafes. It is an exciting time in Springfield and in the region and I can only imagine what more is to come once they officially open!”

Richard Sullivan, president and CEO, Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

“MGM presents an exciting economic opportunity for Springfield and Western Mass. Certainly the almost $1 billion investment in downtown Springfield, the construction jobs, and now permanent 3,000 new jobs are significant. However, the real opportunity is the yearly $50 million purchase of goods and services from the existing local economy. MGM has worked diligently to fulfill this commitment. All of this investment will stay local and provide our local businesses an opportunity to grow.

MGM also presents an opportunity to grow our travel and tourism economy and our convention business. Western Mass already has a lot to offer with the Hall of Fame, Museums, Yankee Candle, Northampton restaurant scene, the Armory, and Six Flags. Adding the new casino and entertainment options brings the region’s culinary and hospitality offerings to a new level.”

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen, owner, Log Cabin, Delaney House, Delaney’s Market & D. Hotel & Suites:

“I am excited about the excitement. I hope to see some new businesses in downtown soon. I know that MGM will cannibalize some of our businesses, but we should be able to compensate for that with increased tourism and the support of its employees. Increased tax revenue, plus the commitment of funds from MGM to promote tourism should increase visitation to our market. I am hopeful that this rising tide lifts all boats. Welcome MGM!”

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau:

“The primary role of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau is to attract visitors to Western Mass., and MGM Springfield will certainly help us accomplish that. Tourism is the state’s third-largest industry and continuing to grow in our region. We are confident that MGM Springfield’s incredible new development with a variety of entertainment in the heart of downtown will bring more visitors. It’s our job to encourage these folks to see more, do more, and stay longer, because that translates into additional spending. All of this extra revenue enhances businesses, governments, and residents across our region alike.”

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy, chief development officer for the city of Springfield

“MGM and its $1.1 billion investment in Springfield is a game changer for the region. The job-creation, repeat vendor spending, and world-class entertainment will impact us well beyond anything we could have hoped for in the aftermath of the tornado. Trains through Union Station will provide first-class transportation south to Hartford and New York. In 2019 the service will expand as far north as Greenfield. More than 400 new units of market-rate housing have been created in the downtown. The excitement is real and it will hit home when we welcome Stevie Wonder on Sept. 1.”

Robert A. Nakosteen

Robert A. Nakosteen

Robert A. Nakosteen, professor, Isenberg School of Management, UMass Amherst

“Manufacturing activity in Springfield peaked in the 19th century, and though interrupted by two World Wars, has been in decline ever since. Though anchored by Mass Mutual and Baystate Health, employment growth in the city has been tepid or non-existent for a long time. Now, the MGM casino promises to bring renewed vitality and growth to Springfield. After a construction phase that created 2,000 jobs, once the Casino is fully operational it will employ 3000 people, with some of the hiring from long-neglected pools of available labor. To put these numbers in perspective, from 2010 through 2017, as the state economy was in a strong rebound from the “Great Recession,” Springfield added less than 4,000 jobs overall.”

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin, chief talent officer and owner, Manehire

“ManeHire is thrilled that this day has come when we can celebrate the opening of MGM Springfield. This investment will continue to induce development in the city and support both our tourist and surrounding businesses. The economic development and workforce impact MGM Springfield is providing is just what the city needed. Congratulations MGM Springfield and the residents of Springfield. We did it! #TheCityofWinners.”

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins, president, Paul Robbins Associates Strategic Communications

“The term ‘game-changer’ is probably overused, but this may be one instance where it applies. Springfield, under many administrations, has been seeking to reinvent the core city. There have been many great ideas through the years, but each lacked the economic engine required, which MGM supplies, to create real transformational change downtown. It will be fascinating to see if and how that extends through the city center and regionally on things like job growth and housing values.”

Jack Dill

Jack Dill

Jack Dill, president, Colebrook Realty Corp.

“While I wasn’t a proponent of gaming in Springfield, I have been impressed with how MGM made the case and met its obligations through the approval and development process. Much of the impact on existing businesses in the area will depend on MGM’s ability to expand the market by drawing customers from outside the region and from other venues. If they succeed in long-term market expansion, other businesses in the food, lodging, and entertainment sectors should benefit. If they don’t succeed in growing the market, cannibalization would be an obvious outcome. I imagine MGM will make a concerted effort in the first several months to build market share and demonstrate the new casino’s value proposition; that would impact competitors of all types in the short term following the facility’s opening. We are already seeing the employment impacts in regional and local unemployment data; the Casino, CRRC, and an overall expanding regional economy have been good for job growth in segments that weren’t previously experiencing strong employment demand. We have observed wage rates and time to fill open positions reflecting this demand.”

Nate Costa

Nate Costa

Nate Costa, president, Springfield Thunderbirds

“I believe that MGM is going to be a game-changer for downtown Springfield. Everything they have planned is going to be top-notch, and first class — from their events to their facilities. To have a world-renowned brand steps away from the MassMutual Center and other downtown landmarks, I believe it will spur even more economic development and life in our city. They are also our presenting partner, and an organization that has stepped up and supported our vision from day one. We couldn’t be more excited for MGM to open their doors, and to join us in the true renaissance of a great American downtown. It truly will be a first in this city.”

Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition

“The arrival of MGM presents a number of opportunities for this region, especially with regard to tourism, conventions, meetings — bringing a wide array of groups to the Greater Springfield area. The Big E already hosts a wide array of trade shows and events, but the arrival of MGM presents a great opportunity to drive more trade-show business to this region. To say that there is now a world-class resort casino in Springfield will be a great sales tool.”

David Cruise, president and chief executive officer, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County

“The MGM casino is not about table games and entertainment, it’s about economic development and sustainable job-creation. It’s about the continued economic resurgence of the host community and the continued economic expansion of a critical region of the Commonwealth. We’ve always looked upon this as a job-creation initiative. We’ve always felt that our responsibility is to look at the broader region and make sure that the opening of MGM is a catalyst that helps everyone grow.”

John Doleva

John Doleva

John Doleva, president and CEO, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

“The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame formally welcomes our ‘new’ neighbor, MGM, to Springfield with their beautiful new expansive complex just across the highway from the Hall of Fame. MGM has already proven to be an active, energetic and committed community partner and we know that our work together will provide visitors very unique options as they visit the Springfield region. The advent of the MGM property will be a magnet to our community and all attractions and businesses need to be prepared to put our best foot forward to complement the influx of these new and affluent customers.”

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

“Back in 2013, I remember being contacted by MGM with regards to building a casino in Springfield. While they didn’t even have the contract at that time, I must admit I was quite intrigued with the call. Fast forward to the present, and in a few days’ time, our area will have a world-renowned casino right in our back yard. We all know and understand the economic impact it will have primarily for Springfield, the vendors who were able to meander the procurement process, and those who are now employed with a prestigious enterprise. It is, no doubt, a very exciting moment for Western Massachusetts, when we are so often overlooked by major corporations. Having met and worked with several of the MGM teams over the past several years, I was impressed with their accessibility, enthusiasm, and genuine concern for fulfilling their contractual obligations. And, might I add, about wanting their guests to have an exceptionally good time. Whether you are for or against gambling, the opening of MGM will be electrifying, and only time will tell if it is sustainable.”

MGM Springfield

Editor’s Note: MGM’s opening on August 24 will cap a more-than-seven-year-long process of bringing a resort casino to Springfield’s South End. Here is a chronology of the events that brought us to this moment in Springfield’s history.

Original designs called for a 25-story large glass-façade hotel

Original designs called for a 25-story large glass-façade hotel; they were changed in late 2015 to include a five-story hotel along Main Street.

• Nov. 2011: Gov. Deval Patrick signs “An Act Establishing Expanded Gaming in the Commonwealth,” allowing for up to three destination resort casinos located in three geographically diverse regions across the state, as well as one slots-only facility. The act states that the Commonwealth will receive 25% of gross gaming revenues, and also creates an independent body, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to oversee the implementation and licensing process.

• August 2012: MGM formally announces its interest in a resort casino in Springfield. In fact, a total of three proposals for casinos emerge in the City of Homes — MGM, which targets the city’s tornado-damaged South End; Penn National, which proffers a development in the North End; and Ameristar, which hones in on the former Westinghouse site.

• Dec. 2012: Ameristar withdraws its proposal for the Westinghouse site, leaving just two competing projects in Springfield.

• April 2013: Mayor Dominic Sarno selects MGM Springfield as the winning proposal for the city of Springfield, ending Penn National’s bid in the North End.

• July 2013: Springfield voters approve the casino project at a referendum, with 58% of voters in favor. The project is now one of three proposals competing to win the Western Mass. casino license, along with Hard Rock’s proposal in West Springfield, alongside the Big E fairgrounds, and Mohegan Sun’s proposal for Palmer, just off the Mass Pike.

• Sept. 2013: West Springfield voters block the Hard Rock proposal, leaving only MGM and Mohegan Sun in the race for the region’s sole casino license.

• Nov. 2013: Palmer voters follow suit, defeating Mohegan Sun’s project, leaving MGM Springfield as the only Western Mass. proposal standing. Had either Hard Rock or Mohegan Sun won voter approval, the Gaming Commission would have had to make the final decision — but the commission must still give the official go-ahead to MGM.

• Jan. 2014: Michael Mathis, vice president of Global Gaming Development for MGM’s hospitality division, is named president and chief operating officer of the MGM Springfield project. “I’m appreciative and grateful for this opportunity,” he said at the time. “There is much to be done in and around Springfield to bring this exciting project to completion. I look forward to continuing to build a team that will create a world-class urban casino-resort proposal and anchor a renaissance for this important Gateway City and the region around it.”

• June 2014: The Gaming Commission unanimously votes to grant the Western Mass. license to MGM. The commission’s decision comes after an extensive, two-year process of hearings and background investigations culminating in a final week of hearings and deliberations.

• Nov. 2014: The final roadblock for MGM’s development falls when a referendum attempting to ban casinos in the state fails, with more than 59% of voters giving the go-ahead to the Commonwealth’s casino era. The four-year process of opening MGM Springfield begins in earnest, with MGM planning to create about 3,000 permanent jobs to benefit the local job market.

• Jan. 2015: MGM Resorts International names Seth Stratton vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield. Stratton, a Springfield native and Longmeadow resident, is responsible for overseeing legal affairs and government relations at the casino resort.

• March 2015: Brian Packer is named vice president of Development and Construction for MGM Springfield, and a groundbreaking ceremony is held at the site.

• June 2015: Springfield officials announce that Springfield will coordinate the casino project in the South End with the multi-year reconstruction of the Interstate 91 viaduct through the city’s downtown, which will delay the opening until 2018. The original target date was late 2017.

• Sept. 2015: MGM unveils a redesigned site plan for the project, abandoning the planned 25-story glass-facade hotel on State Street, in favor of a five-story hotel to be located on Main Street. The changes also include the reduction of the parking garage by one floor, and market-rate apartments being relocated off-site.

This rendering shows the revised design of MGM Springfield

This rendering shows the revised design of MGM Springfield, with this view capturing the landscape on State Street.

• Feb. 2017: MGM Springfield announces the terms of an agreement with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) and Spectra by Comcast Spectacor to become the exclusive venue manager of the MassMutual Center.

• March 2017: Hundreds of construction workers, city officials, MGM employees, and others gather at the future casino site to watch a crane raise the final steel beam into place in a topping-off ceremony.

• June 2017: Alex Dixon, a third-generation casino worker and former assistant general manager at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, assumes the duties of general manager of MGM Springfield. “A big part of my role is to help facilitate and build a culture,” he told BusinessWest at the time. “And the only way you can do that is by touching people and having an opportunity to not only impart the vision, but listen.”

Alex Dixon was named general manager of MGM Springfield in the spring of 2017.

Alex Dixon was named general manager of MGM Springfield in the spring of 2017.

• Nov. 2017: The MGM Springfield Career Center officially opens for business, with mass hiring events commencing two months later — a period when most of the casino’s 3,000 employees will be hired. Under the host-community agreement, 35% of those employees will be from Springfield, and 90% from a combination of Springfield and the greater region.

• Dec. 2017: The Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, a joint effort between Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College, opens, with classes launching in February.

• May 2018: Passersby finally see signage for the casino and hotel, including the MGM Springfield sign atop the parking garage, highly visible from I-91. Meanwhile, a dome is raised atop the MGM Springfield hotel, just above the hotel’s presidential suite.

• June 2018: MGM Springfield hosts its final pre-opening hiring event, interviewing hundreds of applicants and hiring many of them on the spot.

• August 2018: Plans are announced for MGM Springfield’s Aug. 24 grand opening, which will be preceded by a parade down Main Street at 10:30 a.m. from the corner of State and Main streets, featuring the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. The procession will arrive at MGM Springfield at 11 a.m., at which time the doors to the casino will officially open — never to close.

MGM Springfield

Hitting the Jackpot

For some, the contracts are truly life-changing, providing an opportunity to add employees, not cut back. For others, they amount to solid additions to the portfolio. In every case, though, status as an MGM vendor has brought with it a significant payoff.

Dennis King says that only a few weeks ago, he was thinking about selling off some vehicles and downsizing; a huge contract with MGM has certainly changed the trajectory of his company.

Dennis King says that only a few weeks ago, he was thinking about selling off some vehicles and downsizing; a huge contract with MGM has certainly changed the trajectory of his company.

Dennis King says that, from the day MGM first set its sights on Springfield, he became focused on doing business with the casino giant.

But he didn’t let this pursuit consume him, nor did he allow himself to get too excited, because, from the start, and to borrow a phrase from the gaming industry, King, president of Chicopee-based King Ward Coach Lines, considered himself a long shot. A real long shot.

That’s because Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield is his main competitor, and, outwardly, he thought his rival was, to borrow a phrase from his own industry, more or less in the driver’s seat when it came to winning a coveted contract to provide a variety of services to MGM.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this. I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”

So when he received that initial e-mail a few weeks back indicating that the casino giant would like to do business him, he stayed in his seat, but he was more than a little taken aback.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this,” he told BusinessWest, referring to a contract that will make MGM his biggest account. “I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”

The contract calls for King Ward to provide shuttle service from parking lots at the Big E to the casino the first few days it’s open, and also daily services (line runs) from Worcester, Brattleboro, Vt. (down through Hampshire County), the Berkshires, Holyoke and Chicopee, Hartford, and other Connecticut communities — three buses a day doing six runs.

To say that this contract is huge — the word King used himself a number of times — would be, well, a huge understatement.

Indeed, King, projecting that the opening of MGM Springfield would put a real hurt on the company’s line runs and charter service to the Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and coupling that with not getting the MGM contract (which, again, was his prediction), was preparing to make cutbacks.

“I had intentions of downsizing my company, selling off vehicles and reducing staff, because Mohegan and Foxwoods are big destinations for us,” he told BusinessWest, adding that now, with this contract in hand, he has bought additional vehicles — vans to handle smaller groups travelling to the casino but also other destinations — and projects that he will have to hire a new dispatcher and several more drivers.

Thus, MGM’s contract is a game changer in every sense of that phrase, and King is certainly not alone in seeing his future altered in a profound manner.

Rebeca Merigian can certainly relate, although the future is already here.

“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now. We’ve broken records here.”

BusinessWest first caught up with her in April, when the ink was drying, figuratively but almost literally, on a contract for the fourth-generation dry-cleaning business she now owns to handle essentially every uniform to be worn by an MGM Springfield employee.

Rebeca Merigian

Rebeca Merigian says that a year ago, the focus at Park Cleaners was on survival. A massive contract with MGM Springfield has changed all that, and prompted her to buy new equipment such as the steam tunnel behind her.

At that time, she projected that the contract would double the volume of business at a company that had seen little, if any, growth in years, and add a few bodies to the payroll. When we circled back recently, as work was coming in from the casino in ever-larger amounts, her predictions were coming to pass.

“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now,” she said earlier this month, adding that racks at the company are filled with chef coats, shirts for the table games dealers, suits for limo drivers, and much more. “We’ve broken records here.”

Not every business owner that is now an MGM vendor is going to have the kind of life-altering experience that King and Merigian are enjoying, but for dozens of companies, MGM, which is expected to spend $50 million a year on goods and services from local suppliers, has become a very solid addition to the portfolio, one that will give their products exposure to thousands of people a day and to individuals from across the country and probably around the world.

A partial list of these vendors includes a host of businesses, small and large, from brewers to produce providers; fruit-basket makers to a kitchen-supply outfit; a hand-dryer maker to a mattress manufacturer.

Some of the businesses, like Williams Distributing in Chicopee, have long histories, while others, like White Lion Brewery and the D-13 Group are startups or next-stage ventures.

As the casino prepares to open in a matter of hours, not weeks or even days, BusinessWest takes another look at one of the more important aspects of MGM’s arrival — the boost to be received by a number of area businesses across a host of sectors.

Lion Around

Ray Berry has already enjoyed a good deal of success with his craft beer label White Lion. Indeed, the brand has moved well beyond Western Mass., and is now statewide, having made deep inroads into the lucrative Boston market, with the north and south shores being the next targets.

Ray Berry, right, with partner Bill Collins, shows off King of Hearts Lager, to be sold exclusively at MGM Springfield.

Ray Berry, right, with partner Bill Collins, shows off King of Hearts Lager, to be sold exclusively at MGM Springfield.

But the contract Berry signed to provide MGM with an exclusive label, to be called King of Hearts Lager, is perhaps the most significant development in the brand’s short history because of the exposure it will provide.

“To be in a position to have our brand and lager in front of thousands of people on a daily basis extends our brand and our visibility tremendously,” he told BusinessWest. “And we believe that with the right approach, and the right strategic conversations, we’ll be able to broaden our relationship accordingly.”

“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts. We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”

Berry said MGM and White Lion have been in discussions about doing business together for some time now. After the food and beverage lineup for the casino was finalized, that allowed the parties to take those talks to a higher level, with the focus on being creative, he noted.

The result was King of Hearts Lager.

“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts,” Berry explained. “We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”

Thus, the bottle has two lions on it — the White Lion logo around the middle, and the MGM Lion on the neck. People will only be able to drink this label at MGM, but, as Berry noted earlier, visitors to the casino — and up to 10,000 are expected each day — will be introduced to the brand and, hopefully, compelled to look for it at home.

“When you think about the kinds of people who will be going to MGM — the global connoisseur, the festival goer, families, individuals coming in for events — all of them may encounter the White Lion brand,” he noted. “And when they get back to their respective geographic area, they may go to their local restaurant or package tour and be able to extend that experience.”

Bill Gagnon sounded a somewhat similar tone, only he was talking about a much different kind of experience — the one that takes place at the end of a visit to the men’s or ladies’ room.

Bill Gagnon says MGM Springfield’s order for 96 integrated sink systems will generate some real momentum

Bill Gagnon says MGM Springfield’s order for 96 integrated sink systems will generate some real momentum for D-13 Group, the startup venture he launched last year.

Gagnon is president of Natick-based D-13 Group, suppliers of Integrated Sink Systems, which, as that name implies brings a host of components together in one system, including the XLERATORsync Hand Dryer, produced in East Longmeadow by Excel Dryer, the company started and still led by his father, Denis.

MGM has ordered 96 of the integrated systems for its restaurants, hotel, and meeting facilities, said Bill Gagnon, adding the company and its signature product are still just getting off the ground, and MGM’s contract provides a huge boost.

“It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”

But the MGM corporation is actually a repeat customer, he noted, adding that the first real client for the integrated system was MGM’s National Harbor Casino in Maryland; the units at MGM Springfield are what he described as the “production version.”

“And in between, we’ve done some new jobs,” he said, listing the JFK Library in Boston, Red Rose Pizza in Springfield, and other projects. “It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”

Along for the Ride

The same could certainly be said for King Ward, the company started by King’s father, Robert, and partner Russ Ward. The venture turns 30 this year, and, as its president noted earlier, this wasn’t shaping up to be a great anniversary year.

Indeed, the company had developed a very solid business taking individuals and a wide array of groups to the Connecticut casinos and especially Mohegan Sun — it’s a few miles closer than Foxwoods and, said King, that makes a big difference (Mohegan has been the company’s biggest destination) — and much of that business was generated from the Greater Springfield area.

With the arrival of MGM Springfield, King was projecting that many of those customers would be gambling closer to home, and a decent number wouldn’t need a bus to get there. Couple that with not getting the MGM contract, and things were looking quite glum.

But then, King got that e-mail from a consultant working for MGM who essentially started the dialogue that led to the contract. Things didn’t happen overnight, or even over a few nights, for that matter — there were some serious negotiations over specific routes — but the deal got done, as they say.

And it’s a huge deal for King Ward, which is located just a few hundred yards from the runways at Westover Air Reserve Base and has carved out a nice business dominated by charters to destinations ranging from the Bronx Zoo to Fenway Park.

The contract provides a steady stream of income, said King, and the timing of many line runs — the buses drop off passengers at 9:30 and pick them up at 2:30 p.m. — allows the company to deploy its buses elsewhere during that stretch, perhaps for charters to MGM Springfield.

“This is the biggest thing that will ever happen to our company,” he said.

Rebeca Merigian could likely say the same thing. Park Cleaners has had big customers in the past, including MassMutual, but nothing like this. Each of the 3,000 MGM employees will have three uniforms, and Park will handle all of that. But there is also dry cleaning coming in from employees, and new business opportunities developing, such as work for the meeting facilities at the casino complex.

The volume became so great so quickly — “we’re pushing about 500 pieces a day, and they haven’t opened yet” — the company bought some new equipment, specifically a so-called ‘steam tunnel,’ and has plans to add additional workers. Regular customers are happier because the company is now open Saturdays and Sundays.

Meanwhile, the van the company has long used to make its deliveries is no longer sufficient, said Merigian, adding that among all the other things she’s doing, she’s researching 24-foot box trucks.

All this represents quite a reversal of fortune.

“A year ago, we were talking about survival,” she said. “Now, it’s about managing this incredible surge in volume; it’s amazing.”

Cashing In

While a comparatively small company, King Ward had already made its mark in this region, becoming the transportation provider for a host of area institutions, ranging from Mount Holyoke College to the Springfield Thunderbirds.

There are buses at the company’s terminal wrapped in those clients’ logos and colors, said King, and soon they’ll be joined by a few bearing the MGM lion.

The company won’t be charging MGM for the cost of the wrap jobs, he noted, adding that this perhaps the least he can do for a client — and a contract — that has changed the trajectory of the company in, well, a huge way.

There are a few other area businesses enjoying a similar life-altering experience, and for dozens more, MGM is providing a tremendous lift.

In a few days, visitors to the casino complex can dream about hitting the jackpot; several area businesses already have.

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

MGM Springfield

Editor’s Note: From the beginning, MGM Springfield has touted its $960 million resort casino as, well, much more than a casino, and as the property gets set to open, one can clearly see that this is the case. Here is a quick glimpse at the South End property and all that it will offer visitors:

The Casino

The expansive 125,000-square-foot gaming floor will feature approximately 2,550 slot machines, 120 gaming tables, a poker room and high-limit VIP gaming area for a variety of experiences.

Accomodations

• The boutique-style five-story hotel will feature 250 eclectic guestrooms inspired by the historic significance, iconic architecture and literary legacy of its urban surroundings. Each space is punctuated by details such as quotations from the works of Emily Dickinson and whimsical Merriam-Webster-inspired works of art.

Dining Experiences

MGM Springfield will offer an array of new-to-market food and beverage spots, including:

• Cal Mare: Award-winning celebrity chef Michael Mina will introduce a must-experience restaurant to the New England dining scene with Cal Mare, an Italian concept evoking the vibrant seaside elegance of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. With accolades including James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage” inductee in 2013, Gayot Restaurateur of the Year 2011, Bon Appétit Chef of the Year 2005 and more, Mina continues to dazzle the culinary world with bold dining concepts. For Cal Mare, Mina and MINA Group are collaborating with San Francisco’s Chef of the Year Adam Sobel, for whom the concept has been a passion project for several years. Seafood from the Mediterranean and Pacific Ocean will be essential menu offerings, as well as fresh handmade pastas and brick-oven pizzas. Charcoal grilled fish, crudos and lighter Italian cuisine will inspire the restaurant’s colorful menu, while the beverage program will spotlight coastal Italian wines and an extensive list of Amari including house-made limoncellos and craft cocktails.

• The Chandler Steakhouse: The name and location of The Chandler Steakhouse hold a special place in Springfield history. The restaurant is located in the former Union House Hotel — later renamed the Chandler Hotel — which was preserved as part of the development of MGM Springfield and incorporated into the new resort. Guests will savor the finest seafood and steaks at The Chandler Steakhouse, which will be helmed by Hell’s Kitchen season-14 winner, Meghan Gill. The restaurant will offer cuts of meat made with 100% Midwest Angus beef that has been dry aged in-house for 21 days. Guests will watch their dinner as it is prepared over an open mesquite charcoal broiler through a glass-walled kitchen serving signature dishes such as northwest salmon, whole steamed lobster or a tomahawk ribeye.

• TAP Sports Bar: Building off the success it found at MGM Grand Las Vegas, MGM Grand Detroit and MGM National Harbor, TAP Sports Bar will make its mark on downtown Springfield. TAP will feature a 10-lane bowling alley, arcade, and beer garden, and fans can keep up with live game action on state-of-the-art HD TVs, as well as a massive video wall featuring 32 screens that can operate individually or as one giant image. Hundreds of hand-selected, vintage memorabilia pieces will be displayed prominently in the bar and dining areas, all carefully chosen to represent the surrounding area’s deeply rooted sports history. Adjacent to the sports bar, TAP’s arcade and bowling alley will be energetic and eclectic gathering spots for gaming, drinking and socializing. The space also will house a playful area featuring vintage video games, billiards, shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball. TAP will serve up Springfield-inspired menu items, including TAP’s Hall of Fame Burger, signature wings and Reubens. Beer aficionados will appreciate the vast varietals on tap and draft at TAP’s beer garden, which also will showcase local brewery partners.

• South End Market: Adding a gourmet twist to the classic food hall, the bustling South End Market will feature a variety of quick-casual dining spots. Located off Main Street, the Market will house Wicked Noodles, a pan-Asian restaurant; Jack’s Lobster Shack, offering lobster rolls and New England-style clam chowder; an all-American eatery at Bill’s Diner; and healthy options at the Hearth Grill. Additionally, guests will be able to sit and sip at a Wine & Cheese bar or satisfy their sweet tooth at a Gelato & Espresso counter.

Meeting Facilities

In addition to large-scale convention capabilities at MassMutual Center, MGM Springfield will offer approximately 34,000 square feet of space to accommodate meetings and events ranging from business to social gatherings. The meeting and event center will feature ballrooms, meeting rooms and boardrooms adjacent to a 6,200-square-foot outdoor terrace that will flood pre-function areas with natural light. All meeting spaces will incorporate sister property names highlighting the resort’s connection to other top destinations around the country: The 10,600-square-foot ARIA Ballroom; 5,600-square-foot Bellagio Ballroom; 1,000-square-foot Borgata Meeting Room; and the 1,000-square-foot Beau Rivage Boardroom. For larger groups, the nearby MassMutual Center offers 100,000 square feet of large-scale event space.

Retail

MGM Springfield will offer a retail lineup with a decidedly local flavor, with:

• Indian Motorcycle: The Springfield-born pioneers of the American motorcycle industry, will debut the brand’s first-ever apparel store as an anchor tenant of MGM Springfield. retail collection. The store will offer items from the brand’s casual apparel line, the Indian Motorcycle 1901 Fashion Collection, which includes graphic tees, sweatshirts, hoodies and jackets inspired by Indian Motorcycle’s rich heritage. Indian Motorcycle jewelry and accessories also will be available for purchase. Mirroring the aesthetic of the store’s product lines, the space will feature an industrial-yet-modern vibe with exposed, vaulted ceilings and concrete and wood elements.

•Hannoush Jewelers: Founded in Springfield in 1980, Hannoush Jewelers is a family-owned and operated business. The MGM Springfield location will be a flagship for the expanding brand that boasts more than 50 locations throughout Massachusetts. Guests can expect to find pieces from sought-after designers such as Tacori, Breitling, Alex and Ani, Pandora and more.

• Kringle Candle: Kringle Candle unites heritage and innovation in its signature line of all-white, ultra-fragrant, pure-burning candles. The Springfield boutique will be situated in the First Spiritualist Church space (a historic High Victorian Gothic church that was literally lifted from its foundation and relocated approximately 600 feet to its new permanent home). It will draw inspiration from Kringle Candle’s thriving Bernardston shopping destination, featuring candles, eclectic gifts, keepsakes and chocolates alongside a gourmet café offering sandwiches, salads and pastries for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Entertainment

The 8,000-seat MassMutual Center is MGM Springfield’s official entertainment venue, serving as the home for large-scale conventions and events. MGM Springfield also will partner with other local venues, such as Symphony Hall, for live events;

More Entertainment

Guests can tee up at MGM Springfield’s Topgolf® Swing Suite, a new social gathering spot featuring high-tech immersive golf simulators and a lively lounge with delicious food and beverage offerings. The resort also will feature an eight-screen movie theater complex; 10-lane bowling center; serene spa; and an 8,000-square-foot pool situated within a terraced rooftop garden.

Open Air Plaza

Inspired by the classic New England town common, MGM Springfield will create a lively outdoor plaza and thriving public space, with the iconic 19th century Springfield Armory at its center. The historic United States arsenal will provide the backdrop for the open-air marketplace, which will feature live events, local artisans, farmers markets and seasonal programming including an outdoor ice rink. The plaza will become the anchor for the neighborhood’s pedestrian crowd, encouraging guests to explore the many local businesses and attractions nearby.

Art

Woven through all elements of the resort, a public fine art program inspired by the industrial ethos of Springfield will feature a captivating collection of commissioned and hand-selected pieces by international and local artists from Springfield, the greater Berkshires, New England and beyond. The property also will feature an exclusive exhibit, “Cabinet of Curiosities: Springfield Innovations from the Springfield Museums,” curated in partnership with the Springfield Museums to showcase turn-of-the-century objects throughout the resort, such as a 1925 Edison Western Union Stock Ticker, a 1915 Springfield-made Telegraphone, and an 1895 Edison Home Phonograph.

MGM Springfield

In Good Company

Editor’s Note: From the start, one of the main focal points of the discussion involving MGM Springfield has been the employment opportunities it will bring to the region. Overall, MGM has had to fill roughly 3,000 positions, and it’s filled most of them with residents of the 413. With each job awarded, there is a story. Here are five of them:

Karisma Roach

Karisma Roach

Name: Karisma Roach
Age: 24
Residence: Springfield
Position: Cage Cashier

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I’ve been looking for a better job opportunity for so long and it is finally here. When I came from St. Thomas a couple years ago I never thought I would have the opportunity to build my career at such an amazing company.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This feels just like a dream come true. This is my first full-time and steady job. I remember I cried when I got the position, because I really needed it. I have no words to describe how I feel. But I feel like I’m part of MGM Springfield. I love the management and the staff.”

 

Keishla Morales

Keishla Morales

Name: Keishla Morales
Age: 21
Residence: Springfield
Position: Table Games Dealer

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

First of all, I think that MGM is one of the biggest companies worldwide, but most of all in United States. I am taking advantage of the opportunity of working for the first casino at Springfield. This is my reward for all my hard-work successfully completing the Blackjack and Carnival Games courses at MCCTI.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This opportunity means EVERYTHING to me. I have never gambled before, but now I love dealing cards. I’m thankful for all the instructors that helped me out in the process. I’ve had so many struggles in my short life, but being part of this company makes me feel that I can finally take control and secure my future. It makes me feel that I will be able to raise and provide my daughter everything she needs. I’m very happy to finally be here. I look forward to being in the casino life and meet all my co-workers. This experience makes me feel excited, comfortable, but most of all thankful.”

Miguel Figueroa

Miguel Figueroa

Name: Miguel Figueroa
Age: 43
Residence: Longmeadow
Position: Executive Chef at TAP Sports Bar

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I saw the opportunity to grow and the stability the company provides. It’s exciting to grow a concept like TAP. I’m very lucky to lead an outlet like this. I’ve been to Vegas a few times, and I thought it would be great to have something like that in Springfield. It was a no-brainer when I was asked to join the team.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This means a lot. It solidifies that I have made it far, and my hard work has paid off. Running this operation means the world to me, and gives me a sense of pride. Leading one of the outlets the casino has is the ultimate goal as a chef. It separates the good from the great. I feel like I have arrived.

Timothy Mock

Timothy Mock

Name: Timothy Mock
Age: 40
Residence: Connecticut (Moving to Springfield)
Position: Security Officer

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I wanted to be a part of the SHOW. I am a people person, and I love helping people. I wanted to meet different types of people from all different cultures, and MGM provides that. I wanted to be a part of it all.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

Working here allows me to be me. I’m fun-loving, outgoing, and I love life. This is who I am. I appreciate MGM for giving me this opportunity. It’s dear to my heart. Being chosen to be a part of this family is very special, and I get to embark on this journey of my life.

Jonathan De Arce

Jonathan De Arce

Name: Jonathan De Arce
Age: 32
Residence: Springfield
Position: Executive chef for the South End Market

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

Because I’m from Springfield! I heard about this property since the beginning. I went to Boston for five years, I gained experience, and as soon as I knew that this was real I knew it was my opportunity to come back. I know what MGM Springfield means to the area, I’m aware of where this city has been, and excited about where it is going to be very soon.

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

It means everything! The possibilities are endless. Learning from all the leaders, being able to receive training in Vegas, visiting other properties, meeting all the Executives, this is definitely an eye opener! Sky is the limit!”