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Ready to Take Off

Aer Lingus

The Aer Lingus flights scheduled to begin at Bradley International Airport in September are expected to attract a mix of business and leisure passengers .

As they talked about the Aer Lingus flights set to begin at Bradley International Airport late next month, Kevin Dillon and Keith Butler used strikingly similar language as they discussed what the service means to their respective organizations.

Indeed, Dillon, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), which manages Bradley, and Butler, chief commercial officer for the Dublin, Ireland-based airline, said the timing for this venture is ideal, that the flight represents a key component of their respective growth strategies, and that it could be a catalyst for more developments of this type.

And they were in agreement on something else, too: that a firm commitment from the region’s business community — with ‘region,’ in this case, meaning what has come to be called the Knowledge Corridor — is necessary for this venture to, well, get off the ground.

“The success of this flight relies heavily on business travel,” said Dillon. “We know that this is going to be an extremely popular route in the summer months — we’ll have a lot of leisure travelers on this flight — but in order to retain a flight, it has to be successful year-round.”

Added Butler, “we’re expecting good volumes of both leisure and business travel, but support from businesses will obviously be a key to success in Hartford.”

Looking ahead, both the airline and the airport believe they will get such a commitment, in large part because their research — and especially the CAA’s — tells them there is considerable demand for such a service (more on that later).

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon

The Aer Lingus flight will depart Bradley just after 6 p.m., local time, and arrive in Dublin at 5:20 the next morning, meaning that someone could be in London (via a connecting flight) for the start of the workday there, said Butler. The return flight will leave Ireland at 2:20 p.m. and arrive in Hartford at 4:20.

“You can essentially do a day’s work in Connecticut, hop on a plane, and immediately the following day do a full day’s work in London — if that’s what you wanted to do,” said Butler.

The flights will be on a Boeing 757, with 12 business-class seats and 165 in economy. Those aren’t big numbers, but the impact of this flight could be enormous, said both Butler and Dillon.

For Aer Lingus, now the fastest-growing airline in the world in terms of trans-Atlantic business, the Hartford flights represent another spoke in the wheel when it comes to a broad growth strategy that has seen the company add flights in several U.S. cities in recent years.

“We’ve nearly doubled our trans-Atlantic capacity over the past five years,” said Butler, while quantifying the growth of Aer Lingus, now part of IAG, which also owns British Airways. “We’ve expanded our business model; we don’t just fly people between the U.S. and Ireland — we’re increasingly flying more people into Europe via Dublin, and we’re looking to continue to grow.”

As for Bradley, the impact could be even bigger, largely because of what Aer Lingus has done in terms of broadening its reach, said Dillon, noting that, while the airport is, indeed, an international airport, that term is narrow in scope and limited to this continent. With the Aer Lingus flight, the definition will become much broader.

Keith Butler

Keith Butler

Indeed, while the service will connect business and leisure travelers alike to the Emerald Isle itself — and there is ample demand for that — it will also bring convenient connections to dozens of other cities across Europe, meaning that travelers can begin their journey to those destinations by driving to Windsor Locks, not Boston, New York, or Newark, which represents a tremendous opportunity for the airport.

“Passengers from Hartford will be able to connect to at least 24 European cities,” Butler explained. “That includes London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Munich, and many cities in Great Britain. Our flights won’t just connect people to Dublin, but all of Europe.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Aer Lingus service out of Bradley, and at what it means for the airport, the airline, and, most importantly, this region.

Soar Subject

When asked for a timeline on the Aer Lingus service and a quick explanation of how it came about, Dillon ventured back to 2012 and the creation of the CAA, which brought what he called a “dedicated focus to aviation in this region.”

As part of this stated mission, the organization undertook extensive outreach to the Hartford-Springfield business community, with the goal of identifying ways to improve service to that vital constituency, said Dillon, adding that, while the results were not exactly surprising, they did provide the CAA with confirmation of what was wanted and needed, and thus a specific direction in which to move.

Actually, several of them, as things turned out. He noted that one of the stated desires within the business community was for non-stop service to the West Coast, a need addressed through a partnership with American Airlines, which in June began service out of Bradley to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).


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“So far, it’s proving to be a very popular service,” said Dillon, adding that the flight not only provides business and leisure travelers with better, easier access to the West Coast, but also to Asia, which has become an increasingly popular destination for both constituencies.

But in many ways, the bigger stated priority was for trans-Atlantic flights, said Dillon, citing some eye-opening numbers gained through the CAA’s outreach.

“We worked with 23 companies representative of those across our catchment area,” he said, meaning the Hartford-Springfield corridor. “What we found is that those 23 companies were spending more than $43 million annually on trans-Atlantic travel. And we said, ‘if we could get just a piece of that, we could have a very successful trans-Atlantic route.”

Bradley has long sought such service as a growth vehicle and means to make it the proverbial airport of choice for people in this region. And it had such service nearly a decade ago, when Northwest Airlines introduced non-stop flights to Amsterdam, but that venture was doomed by poor timing — sky-high fuel prices and then the Great Recession — and the service ceased in September 2008.

Since then, Bradley and the CAA have been relentless in their quest to bring Europe back within its direct reach. But that sentiment hardly makes it unique.

“There are a lot of airports that are very hungry for European connections — the competition is actually quite fierce,” said Butler with a laugh, noting that Aer Lingus, now celebrating 80 years in business, has had many suitors, and many attractive options, as it has weighed proposals for continuing and accelerating its strong pace of growth.

Airports that want to prevail in that competition have to present opportunity in the form of a package of location, attractive conditions, ample opportunities to effectively market the service, and suitable demographics, meaning a mix of both leisure and business travelers looking for something more convenient than the available options.

Hartford presented just such a package, said Butler, adding that it became an attractive addition to the airline’s existing Northeast-corridor service in and out of New York (JFK), Boston, Newark, and Washington (Dulles), for many reasons.

“Hartford came about because it represented an opportunity to strengthen our position in the Northeast,” he explained. “It has strong cultural ties to Ireland, but also business relations. At the same time, we were also looking to try something different, and go into a secondary city.

“Bradley fits, and Hartford fits, into a broader plan we have for expansion,” he went on, adding that the airline has also recently added service to San Francisco, Toronto, and Los Angeles, among other destinations. “We’re growing quite rapidly.”

Indeed, the airline now flies to almost every major city in Europe — with 18 flights daily to London alone — as well as many destinations on this side of the Atlantic.

The timing for such additions is appropriate, he went on, adding that economic conditions globally have improved greatly since the recession, and that is especially true in Ireland, meaning more people are flying out of airports there for destinations on both sides of the Atlantic.

As for the Hartford flights, there will be four per week during the winter months, which Butler defines as October to March, and daily flights (all seven days) the rest of the year to accommodate greater leisure travel.

Dillon told BusinessWest that the initial response has been quite solid, and he expects demand to remain steady, because of the high level of connectivity to European cities that Aer Lingus provides, and also the airline’s ability to provide pre-clearance for its passengers heading back to the U.S., a service that could save them a two-hour trip in the line at customs.

The task at hand is to extensively market and promote the new flights and drive home to the business community the great opportunities that they provide.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time out in the business community educating them about the flight,” he explained, “and trying to put them in touch with Aer Lingus to hopefully provide commitments to the airline for use of the service. Because if that support is not there, it’s going to be very difficult to make this flight work.”

Plane Speaking

As mentioned earlier, while they were talking from much different perspectives, Butler and Dillon used markedly similar language about the service set to start Sept. 28.

They both used the phrase ‘this makes perfect sense’ when talking about the flights, and for good reason. They add another dimension to the growth strategies for both organizations and open the door to new opportunities.

Not only to the airport and the airline — but the region and its diverse business community.

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

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development continues its 2016 listening tours across the state in Hampshire County on Monday, May 9, beginning with a public hearing at 10 a.m. at the UMass Fine Art Center Concert Hall.

This listening tour is part of a statewide series headed by state Sen. Eric Lesser and State Rep. Cory Atkins, committee co-chairs. Legislators from the committee and representatives from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Committee will join community members, artists, and local business owners to discuss the economic impact the arts, culture, and tourism have on Hampshire County.

“We’re very excited to welcome members of the committee to Hampshire County again,” said Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce and director of the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council. The committee visited Hampshire County in April 2014. “This is a great opportunity for our industry members to speak directly to their representatives about the good work they’re doing and thank them for the critical financial support we’ve received from the Legislature.”

Tourism is the third-largest revenue-producing industry in the Commonwealth. In 2014, domestic and international visitors spent $19.5 billion in the state. Statewide, the tourism industry employs 132,000 people. Visitors — defined as people who travel from more than 50 miles away — spent nearly $146 million in Hampshire County alone and support 870 jobs. An additional 3,300 jobs are dependent on tourism spending. More than 60% of these jobs come from independent artists and promoters, agents, performing-arts venues, and museums. The tourism industry has grown 20% in the last decade.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Plane Speaking

Janice Webb

Janice Webb says that the strong dollar, coupled with a desire among Baby Boomers to see the world, is the prevailing force when it comes to travel in 2016.

Janice Webb says three area couples put down their deposit for a trip to Paris for next April on the morning of Nov. 13, just hours before news of the terrorist attacks across the City of Light first broke on CNN.

Webb, owner of Emerald City Travel in Springfield, circled back with the group the next day to see if they had any questions or concerns — or intentions to change their travel plans.

They had some of the former, certainly, but none of the latter, she told BusinessWest, adding that the prevailing attitude was that, while the attacks that killed 130 people were alarming, they were not enough to prompt cancellation of a trip, which would continue with a river cruise to Amsterdam, that those involved have been looking forward to for most of their lives.

“They all e-mailed back and said, ‘let’s do this and hope for the best,’ and that appears to be the common sentiment,” said Webb, a 30-year industry veteran who noted that the various forms of turmoil in Europe are colliding head on with a potent package — a weak euro combined with a powerful desire among retiring Baby Boomers and others to get out and see the world, or at least the homes of their ancestors.

The latter is, by and large, the much stronger force at the moment.

“People want to travel, and they’re not going to let this stop them,” she said, using ‘this’ to describe the sum of the international and domestic turmoil. “They’re going to be more cautious, certainly, but they’re still going to travel.”

Paul O’Meara agreed. He’s the business development manager for the Globus family of travel brands, which includes Avalon Waterways, Cosmos, and Monograms. He told BusinessWest that, since 9/11, and even moreso in recent years, international travelers have adapted to what he called a “new norm.”

Roughly translated, this equates to expectations — for longer lines and tighter security at airports, armed soldiers at many popular tourist destinations in Europe, and, yes, possible incidents involving terrorism.

“People are more experienced now, they know what to expect, and they’re more aware of their safety and more aware of their surroundings,” he said, adding that such travelers would certainly take notice of the recent global travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department (in effect until February), but they would not be intimidated or frozen by it. “This is not 1985 or 1965; travelers are more sophisticated now, and they’ve adjusted to this new norm.”

As for the attacks in France’s capital city and their impact on travel there, he summed things up with a line he would utter more than a few times.

“Paris is Paris — there’s a reason why 30 million people go there every year,” he said, adding that his company books more visits to that city than any other except Rome. “We have about 500,000 people booked on various trips to Paris, and fewer than a dozen have cancelled.”

But an attitude of defiance when it comes to not letting terrorism get in the way of a long-planned, long-dreamed-about trip to Europe also extends to Berlin, London, Venice, Belgium (despite the fact that Brussels was locked down for several days last month), and, to a lesser extent, Istanbul, although some cruise lines and travel companies are changing some itineraries in Turkey.

“The knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Paris or in Brussels is that people aren’t going to travel there,” said O’Meara. “But that’s not what’s happening.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how recent events are spawning concern, but they’re not keeping travelers from reaching their destination — whatever that might be.

Cruise Control

As he talked about travel to Europe and why he doesn’t expect it to be seriously dented by the attacks in Paris and other terrorist actions in that part of the world, O’Meara started his explanation by detailing one of his company’s current offerings.

It’s a package known as ‘Italian Vista,’ and it features eight days with stops in cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, and includes hotel stays, meals, and guided tours. The price this fall was an already-attractive $1,999, and for next year, it’s a jaw-dropping $1,449.

“That’s all due to the weak euro and the attractive exchange rates,” he told BusinessWest, adding that such sticker prices on trips across the continent help explain why bookings for 2016 are running roughly 13% ahead of the pace for last year, despite the attacks in Paris, the bomb that brought down a Russian airliner, the refugee crisis, and other forms of turmoil.

“This is the time to book, and people are doing it,” he said. “The prices are attractive, the dollar is strong … these are great opportunities, and people don’t want to miss out on them.”

the City of Light

The terrorist attacks in Paris were unnerving, but thus far, they do not appear to be a deterrent for those making plans to visit the City of Light.

That’s not to say that the terrorist attacks in Paris are not having an impact in that city or others. Indeed, the general manager of the Palace Hotel Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome and Park Hyatt’s vice president for France recently told The New York Times, “Naturally, occupancy is drastically decreasing in the wake of the attacks … we noticed a lot of cancellations right after the attacks for the following days and weeks, with the decrease more significant on bookings from the leisure traveler segment than the business one.”

But overall, O’Meara says travelers are simply pausing before traveling to Paris and other destinations, and the sentiment within the travel industry is that they won’t be pausing for long, unless there are more incidents.

Webb agreed. She said fall is the time when travel companies put out deals designed to fill cruise ships and hotels for the coming season, and thus far, travelers have not been shy about snapping them up.

“They offer these deals, which include airfare sales, percentage discounts, and past-passenger discounts, to get the product rolling,” she said, adding that these discounts are typical of what’s been offered the past several years. “And I’ve had a lot of people make reservations starting the first week in October; it’s been steady since, and it’s mostly European product.”

She said there are many factors at play when it comes to the ongoing surge in international travel — and travel in general. They include the strong dollar, which is now worth almost as much as a euro, when three years ago the rate was almost 1.4 dollars to the euro.

But there’s more to the equation. Bad winters, especially the one in 2015, have promoted many to conclude that, to endure such punishment, they need to break it up with a week or 10 days someplace warm, usually coinciding with February school vacation.

Adventure-packed destinations are still very much in vogue, which means Costa Rica is still hot, said Webb, adding quickly that many people young and old have already been there and done that, and now, most are just looking for a good deal and a good beach.

Then there are the aging Baby Boomers, many of them with disposable income, and others as well, who want to visit places they’ve heard about or the country their family calls home.

For many in this region, that means Italy or Ireland. “It seems like there’s lots of Irish and Italians in the Springfield area,” said Webb, who is booking lots of trips to both countries.

But there is still another factor in all this, she went on, noting that, overall, events like those that took place in Paris have only a temporary impact on travel — if other conditions are favorable, such as the economy — and usually not a deep impact.

An exception to that rule was 9/11, Webb added quickly, noting that the industry suffered greatly as business was frozen by uncertainty. But even then, there were groups and individuals who were undaunted and determined to seize opportunities.

“People were generally fearful at first,” she said of the days and weeks following 9/11. “But there’s one contingent of people who travel right away because they know the prices are going to be low, and they’re going to book the bargains. And then, a second contingent of people come right behind them, because they’re just tired of not doing what they want to do, and at that point, they perceive the risk to be worth taking to see what they want to see or live the way they want to live.”

Whether this pattern continues in the wake of this tumultuous fall remains to be seen, but all indications are that it will.

But while travelers will be undaunted, for the most part, they will also be more cautious, Webb predicted. She predicted that some may opt to travel with a group rather than visiting a city or region on their own, which is good for cruise-ship lines and tour operators.

Meanwhile, others may seek out destinations deemed to be safe, or at least safer.

“Sometimes a travel warning like this will push people to cruising,” Webb explained, “because if a port is deemed unsafe, the cruise line won’t go there; they’ll just substitute another port, and so people feel confident that, if the cruise lines go there, it’s a safe place to go.”

Not Tripped Up

Even within the confines of that ‘new norm’ O’Meara described, the terrorist attacks in Paris were certainly unsettling — for travelers and the travel industry.

Thus far, though, it appears that the package of attractive fares, a strong dollar, a desire among Boomers to see the world, and ‘Paris being Paris’ is creating opportunities well worth the sum of the risks involved.

Like those three local couples bound for Paris next spring, people are booking, and hoping for the best.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

Walk on the Wild Side

Joan Lupa shows off a baby two-toed sloth

Joan Lupa shows off a baby two-toed sloth, one of many exotic animals that have found a home at Lupa Zoo.

It’s early in the morning at Lupa Zoo.

And while visitors have yet to arrive, the creatures that live there are doing all they can to make their presence known.

Laughing kookaburras have been screeching since 4 a.m. to announce a new day, macaws are squawking loudly, monkeys chatter excitedly as they execute gracious leaps in their cages, and the braying of donkeys echoes throughout the entire 15-acre park.

But the sounds don’t penetrate into the community; although the sanctuary houses more than 300 species that include a giraffe, llamas, two camels, a menagerie of monkeys, a black leopard, a large reindeer, a zebra, arctic foxes, bears, and oddities such as capybaras (large rodents from South America), it’s a hidden treasure that cannot be seen or heard from the front gate on Nash Hill Road in Ludlow.

When visitors pass through the gate, they travel along a long driveway that leads to a spacious parking lot. The roadway is peppered with cages that house strutting ostriches and other animals, and when they leave their vehicles, guests enter an exotic world created by Henry Lupa and his wife Joan, who painstakingly carved out a habitat for animals in the deep woods behind their home with enclosures that mimic what each creature would find in its natural environment.

Joan glows as she talks about their venture into the unknown and its success, and is tearful when her late husband Henry is mentioned.

They were married for 48 years before his passing two years ago, and the zoo was a dream he nurtured for years before they brought it to reality in a way that exceeded their wildest imaginations. “Henry wanted to create a natural habitat for animals that would serve the community,” Joan recalled, as she spoke about her husband’s living legacy, adding that it’s a very good place for children as well as adults, who stroll along the shaded brick walkways and relax on benches as they watch the animals and learn about species from all over the world.

Her pride in and passion for the venture is evident as she talks about the school groups it hosts and the excitement the zoo generates in visitors, how her son brings some of the animals into inner-city schools and nursing homes to educate people and make them happy, and how the family does everything possible to keep entrance fees affordable so the zoo is accessible to everyone.

It’s no easy feat, because the annual operating costs for the privately owned operation are $400,000, which doesn’t include the cost of snowplowing and other services provided by the family’s company, N.L. Construction, which started out as Henry’s landscaping business and morphed into a larger entity, thanks to hard work by him and Joan, who always played a major role in the business.

That same company, which specializes in commercial projects, including schools, fire stations, and other municipal buildings, provided the bulk of the money needed to build the zoo and the funds needed to maintain it.

And although Joan refers to it as a “hobby,” much of the endless labor required to keep the zoo open is donated by family members who don’t earn a salary. They include Joan; the couple’s son Wally, who is a veterinary assistant; his wife Ewa, who does the bookkeeping; and Joan’s two grandsons.

“Our son Stanley is the only family member who gets paid,” Joan said, explaining that he’s in charge of educational programs and oversees personnel, which include a zookeeper and two staff members. “But everything else is accomplished by a great staff of volunteers, an annual fund-raiser, and grants, which have made a significant difference.”

The business community also plays a small role in the upkeep: some companies sponsor an animal, while others send volunteers to do much-needed work.

“Last year, 30 volunteers from Keller Williams Realty painted the cages, benches, tables, and entranceway and did a fabulous job,” said Joan. “And this year, volunteers from Big Y in Ludlow helped us plant flowers in all of our gardens; it was a huge help.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how Henry Lupa’s dream became reality, and how his family continues to keep that dream alive.

Near and Deer

Joan and Henry grew up on small farms in Poland that were self-sustaining. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1964, married a year later, purchased a 32-acre parcel in Ludlow in 1976, then bought their house and an additional three acres when the adjacent parcel became available, then added 13 more adjoining acres in 1991.

They had grown up with animals, and by the ’70s, Henry was raising pheasants and miniature horses.

“They were our pets, and he did it for our family’s enjoyment,” Joan said, noting that, by the ’90s, the neighborhood children and their sons’ friends made a habit of visiting frequently to see their small menagerie.

After Henry emigrated, he started a landscaping company, which he grew into the highly successful N.L. Construction business, in which Joan played an active role. They were very busy with their business, home, and family, so she was shocked one day when he told her he wanted to open a zoo.

Lupa Zoo’s giraffe enjoys some branches fed to him by Joan Lupa

Lupa Zoo’s giraffe enjoys some branches fed to him by Joan Lupa, who stands on a high platform built so guests can enjoy the experience.

“I thought he was off the wall,” Joan recalled. But she agreed to try it, since the initial application was inexpensive, and before they knew it, they were deep into the complex licensing and permitting process. “It was a challenge to put everything together, but we wanted to serve the community, and in 1996 we received a license from the Mass. Wildlife and Fisheries Department and the United States Department of Agriculture, and starting buying exotic animals. The rest is history.”

It’s a storied history well worth recounting, as the couple turned an idea that seemed … well, nearly impossible, at least to Joan, into a reality that grew beyond anything they envisioned. “You start something, and when you come to the point where it is well-received by the community, you just can’t stop and go back. You have keep going,” Joan said. So, although the construction company continued to thrive, after Henry retired due to health issues, he devoted himself entirely to the zoo, and Joan continues to work there year-round.

But talking about the past takes away from the excitement of the zoo, so she jumps up, eager to show off its occupants.

Her first stop is inside one of their two heated barns, which are backed up by generators and used to house many of the animals during the winter. She heads straight for her newest favorites, twin baby two-toed sloths.

“I’m going to take the female out; the male tends to bite,” she said as she reached inside and removed a baby who stuck its head out, then buried it in the towel she held beneath it.

A short distance away, she stopped at a cage containing squirrel monkeys which leapt from bar to bar to get close to her as she called out to them. “They think I’m going to give them a banana,” she laughed, explaining that this is something she does in the evening. “They recognize me, but it’s all about the food.”

Joan told BusinessWest that visitors are allowed to feed the hoof stock with compressed hay and grain they buy on the premises and place in tubes, but no one is allowed to have direct contact with any of the animals. However, an exception is made for their most famous resident — a 20-foot-tall giraffe they’ve owned for 15 years.

A special staircase was created so patrons can climb to see its face and feed it carrots and branches from nearby trees, and it takes his time and chews slowly as Joan offers it a handful of food.

Paws for Effect

After leaving the giraffe’s enclosure, she pointed out other animals, providing details about their personalities.

She knows them all, and even though the zoo houses many endangered species, every creature in it was carefully chosen. “You have to study where it comes from to figure out the kind of environment it will need and the size of its cage; we do whatever we can to make our animals comfortable, and we do it for all the right reasons,” Joan explained, adding that their exhibits mimic the species’ natural environments.

Since the ability to hide is important to the health and well-being of many of the creatures, sometimes visitors have to take time to look closely to discover where they are.

The zoo’s newest additions are a pair of Asian river otters. “We got them this spring, and they’re very, very playful,” Joan said as she stood near their enclosure and watched them roll over and over near a fast-moving water slide.

She told BusinessWest that the upkeep of the zoo and maintenance of the facility is never-ending. But the work the family has done and continues to do is a labor of love and has less to do with meeting government regulations than ensuring that the animals and patrons are happy.

But she admits it’s not easy to comply with the USDA codes required for different animals, and they are closely monitored. “We’re also inspected several times each year by the Board of Health; they keep an eye on all exhibitors,” Joan said. “We’re doing a very good job, but the government wants to be sure that animals are taken care of according to their needs.”

As she walked, she added that the cost of building the zoo was mitigated in part by the fact that the family’s construction company used recycled materials it obtained when it demolished old structures to build it. Joan pointed them out during the tour; they ranged from bricks used to create the walkways to large boulders inside cages, to a railing taken from the grounds of a school in the Berkshires.

“We used all of our resources, and instead of throwing away lumber, we recycled it; most of the fencing comes from job sites, and a lot of it was donated by local contractors,” she noted.

Many of the extras in the zoo are paid for by grants, such as the signs outside each cage that contain the name of the animal inside, a map showing its natural habitat, and printed information about its lifestyle and habits.

“We bought them with a grant we received seven years ago from the Community Foundation,” Joan explained. “They’ve had to be replaced since then, but they are important so children can identify each animal and where it comes from by looking at its name, a picture of it, and the map.”

State grants distributed between the Commonwealth’s three zoos also help; last year Lupa Zoo received $60,000, and this year it was given $46,000.

“We really hope Governor Baker doesn’t cut these funds because they help us keep the admission price low. It’s only $6 for each child in a school group as well as their chaperones, and we do everything in our power to keep it affordable because many of the students who come here are from low-income families,” she noted.

Living Legacy

Joan and her family are happy the zoo has flourished and hope it will serve the community for generations to come. It contains a playground that was added six years ago and is bordered by a beautiful raised garden; an area with fiberglass animals that children can sit on and have their photos taken; and also a concession stand, gift shop, educational center, and two large pavilions with picnic benches where people can relax and enjoy a snack in the shade.

There is also a replica of a blacksmith’s shop because Henry’s father was a blacksmith in Poland, and a small area with a miniature merry-go-round and other pint-sized rides.

But the main attraction is the animals, which is exactly what Henry hoped for, and the entire zoo is a living legacy that continues to grow.

The success of the endeavor has been astonishing, especially to Joan.

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would become such a popular place. The initial permitting process was difficult, but it you are determined to do something and have a good intention, you can get it done,” she said. “Henry’s dream is a reality, and we will do our best to keep it going as the patrons who come here really enjoy it.

“The chores will always be there,” she added, “but we made the right choice, and we hope the zoo will be here for many, many years to come.”

Sections Travel and Tourism
Seuss Museum Expected to Provide Boost for Quadrangle, City

AWDS5Neighborhood-Overview

Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Holly Smith-Bove says that, over the years, the bulk of the phone calls and inquiries from visitors to the Springfield Museums — maybe 80% of them by her estimate — have concerned the “Dr. Seuss Museum,” even though there isn’t one.

There is a sculpture garden featuring Seuss characters, as well as the author himself, on the museum grounds, which helps explain all those inquiries, she said. Still, many assume there is a museum attached to that hugely popular attraction. Meanwhile, there’s also an image of the Cat in the Hat on the museums’ logo, creating additional expectations.

But another huge factor is simply the strong international pull of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the most famous children’s author of all time — an estimated 600 million copies of his various works have been sold in 95 countries around the world — and knowledge of his many connections to Springfield, his birthplace, said Smith-Bove, president of Springfield Museums. And thus it is with a good deal of relief — and anticipation — that such questions will now be given a different answer.

Specifically, that the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum will open its doors in June 2016 in the William Pynchon Memorial Building, which once housed the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

The new facility will be highly interactive and have a strong literacy component, said Kay Simpson, vice president of Springfield Museums, who spearheaded the Seuss museum project.

She told BusinessWest that the first floor of the Seuss museum, some 3,200 square feet of exhibition space, will house “The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss,” a permanent, bilingual exhibit deigned to introduce children and their families to the stories of Geisel, promote joy in reading, and nurture specific literacy skills.

“The exhibit is really focused on Ted Geisel growing up in downtown Springfield, and how the sights that he saw and some of the characters he encountered later appeared in his books,” said Simpson, noting that there are many connections, including Mulberry Street, just a few blocks from the Quadrangle, which was the focus of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

The second floor, meanwhile, which is due to open roughly a year later and is what Simpson called a “work in progress,” will house additional exhibits, including a planned re-creation of Geisel’s studio, an exhibition about the making of the sculpture garden, and other related displays.

“We’re calling it ‘Ted’s Room,’” said Smith-Bove. “It might include his writing desk — setting up his studio as if he just left it.”

The new museum is expected to generate perhaps a 25% boost in overall visitorship to the Quadrangle (currently about 400,000 annually), said Smith-Bove, adding that the attraction has strong potential to bring a number of economic benefits to the City of Homes, especially if the museum concept can be built upon in ways to include other city landmarks.

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson say the new Dr. Seuss museum will bring many benefits, including a boost in sales of Seuss items in the gift shop.

Indeed, museum officials are already pondering such possibilities as Seuss walking or driving tours that could possibly include his childhood home on Fairfield Street (currently on the market), his alma mater, Classical High School, the site of his maternal grandparents’ bakery on Howard Street, and other sites.

They also envision packaging a Seuss experience with other facilities honoring artistic and literary figures, such as the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and others.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at plans for the Seuss museum and talks with those involved about how it might prompt visitors to explore not only the worlds Geisel created, but the city that inspired so much of what he drew.

Rhyme and Reason

Simpson told BusinessWest that discussions concerning a Seuss museum began in 2002, not long after the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened, and it became immediately apparent just how powerful a draw the children’s author and his famous characters were.

“It was a huge attraction the day it opened to the public, and it still is today,” said Simpson, noting that, because people don’t have to purchase admission to visit the garden, it is hard to keep an accurate account of visitorship, but she estimates at least 100,000 people a year.

From a qualitative standpoint, she said the sculpture garden has been a hit with people of all ages, and it has attracted cars bearing the license plates of nearly 50 states.

“When the kids come onto the Quad, the minute they see the sculptures, they immediately run toward them — it’s very meaningful for people,” Simpson noted, adding that, while it is mostly a spring and summer phenomenon, weather doesn’t stop many of the faithful.

“I’ve gone out onto the Quad even during the chilly autumn,” she noted, “and you’ll see someone in the middle of a rainstorm with an umbrella just reading the text from the sculpture that represents Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

And many of those visitors, as Smith-Bove noted, want to know where the Seuss museum is.

While there has long been a desire to create one and meet that recognized need, Simpson explained, many pieces had to fall in place for such a facility to become reality.

Such pieces included physical space, a problem that was solved when the various collections in the Pynchon building were moved to the new Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History in 2009, freeing up that square footage. Another was gaining the blessing of Geisel’s widow, Audrey, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, an organization that zealously promotes and protects the Seuss name and brand, while still another was funding.

In many respects, Simpson said, those challenges were woven together.

“We had a conceptual plan for the first floor of the Pynchon building, which had received approval from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, but they had a condition,” she explained. “And the condition was that we had to raise all the money that we needed to execute that conceptual plan before we started any construction or fabrication.

“It’s been like a patchwork quilt,” added Simpson of the efforts to create the museum, adding that a key stitch came from a $1 million appropriation from the state, which, when added to roughly $600,000 and other donations, including a $150,000 gift from the Institute of Library Services, gave the Museums more than the $1.5 million needed to greenlight the project and begin work.

Following an extensive RFP process that yielded responses from firms across the country, the Springfield Museums contracted with a design group comprised of 42 Design Fab, based in Indian Orchard, and 5 WITS Productions and Boston Productions Inc., both based in Norwood, to create the interactive elements for the first floor.

The new Seuss museum

The new Seuss museum will focus on the many connections between the author and Springfield, including early vehicles produced in the city.

Visitors will enter the exhibition through a large entry hall designed to simulate elements of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In succeeding galleries, they’ll explore a series of environments that replicate scenes from Geisel’s imagination and encounter life-sized, three-dimensional characters and places from the books.

Character Witnesses

Overall, what’s planned for the two floors of the Pynchon Building, a Georgian Colonial Revival style structure, is a celebration of the author, his works, and his many connections to Springfield, said Simpson and Smith-Bove, adding that childhood literacy will be an important component of the facility.

That’s because one of Geisel’s primary motivations for his many children’s books was to get young people excited about reading, said Simpson.

Indeed, starting with The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957, he launched what became known as the I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Book Series, which would also include The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and many others.

“We’re going to be a resource for the community in terms of emphasizing reading and the importance of reading,” she said of the new museum. “And our exhibits will have literacy built into them.

“For example, the interactive displays will teach kids how to rhyme and have really fun rhyming games,” she went on. “They will teach letters of the alphabet, and they provide places where families can read together — little reading nooks. There will be a focus on vocabulary with a ‘word wall.’”

As for Springfield connections, there are many, said Simpson, noting that, while the author never lived in the city following a brief return after doing graduate work at Oxford, his birthplace was always important to him, and many of its landmarks, as well as the inventions and products with which the city is most identified, can be seen in his works.

It’s all explained in a number of informational panels on the author now on display in the history museum.

One cites the stunning resemblance between the towers in the armory building on Howard Street (set to become part of the MGM casino complex) that sat across the street from his maternal grandparents’ German bakery, and a tower in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

Another panel speculates on how the Knox automobiles and Indian motorcycles manufactured in the city early in the 20th century may have influenced vehicles presented in his books, while another cites how his paternal grandfather’s brewery, the Kalmbach & Geisel Brewery, may have inspired some of his drawings. And still another informs readers of how the animals in the Forest Park Zoo — which Geisel’s father served as superintendent after Prohibition torpedoed the family brewery — inspired the many creatures in his books.

“Ted grew up on Fairfield Street, which was not far from Forest Park; he used to go over to the park as a boy, and he always had his sketchbook with him,” said Simpson. “He would go to the zoo, and he would draw all those animals — he would spend hours doing that — and it’s believed that seeing all those animals inspired him to create all those crazy creatures you see in his books.”

These myriad connections help explain why the Seuss family and Dr. Seuss Enterprises determined that, if there was to be a museum devoted to the children’s author, it should be in Springfield, said Smith-Bove, adding that it will be the only facility of its kind dedicated to his life and work in the world.

And while it will be launched in the Pychon building, there are expectations that it may be expanded down the road, said Smith-Bove, adding that, in the meantime, the other facilities in the Springfield Museums could be utilized to provide a broader Seuss experience.

“We have five museums on our campus that can hold thousands of people,” she explained. “It’s up to us to make sure that we program each of the other buildings. In the art museum, we can have Seuss’s artwork; in the history, we can talk about his life; for the science museum, there’s the Lorax … there are many possibilities.”

These extend well beyond the Quadrangle itself, said Simpson, adding that Springfield Museums and city officials should work together to use those connections between Geisel and his hometown to bring more attention — and visitors — to the museums and the city as a whole.

“Ted really knew downtown Springfield — he went to Classical, he used the main branch of the city library [on State Street], and some of his books actually to refer to what was then called the municipal auditorium, Symphony Hall,” she explained. “So we were thinking that we could do a walking tour, which goes to the idea of cultural tourism.

“We’d be making connections between the museums and other sites in downtown Springfield,” she went on, “and would really get tourists walking around the city.”

When asked about the projected impact on the Quadrangle from the new museum, Smith-Bove and Simpson again flashed back to when the sculpture garden opened. The first few years it was open, it was a huge draw, they said, adding that visitorship to the museums grew by roughly 25% over that time.

A similar increase is expected from the new facility, along with a corresponding increase in the museums’ overall economic impact on the city, currently pegged at roughly $28 million.

And for the Springfield Museums themselves, in addition to the surge in visitorship, there is an expected trickle-down to facilities like the gift shop, where sales of Seuss-related items — from books to Cat in the Hat hats to plush toys — account for more than 25% of total revenues.

Chapter and Verse

The health and vitality of both the Seuss name and brand is evidenced by the coverage given the news of the planned Seuss museum, said Matt Longhi, the museums’ director of marketing and public relations, who tracks such things.

He said stories or notes have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and even the South African Art Times and Al Jazeera’s New York bureau.

More significant than the press is the manner in which the Seuss brand continues to grow — in scope and also in terms of revenue, said Simpson, adding that the Seuss name, and the books, have enormous staying power.

“Other book series just seem to fade out over time,” she explained. “But he just keeps getting more popular.”

In addition to staying power, it is expected that the celebrated author will have drawing power — in a figurative sense — which will bode well for the museums at the Quadrangle, the city itself, and all those who want to celebrate the life of Springfield’s most famous resident.


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

Sections Travel and Tourism
Berkshire East Positions Itself as Outdoor Adventure Center

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster opened last October and has earned the distinction of being the longest alpine mountain coaster in North America.

In the fall of 1976, Roy Schaefer drove his family from Michigan to Charlemont to look at Thunder Mountain Ski Resort, which was about to go bankrupt.

Although it was failing, Schaefer was optimistic that he could bring it back to life, and he and a partner purchased it from Greenfield Savings Bank for $1, plus a debt of several hundred thousand dollars.

Schaefer renamed the resort Berkshire East, and although his hard work and dedication paid off, he dedicated only the fall and winter months to the operation.

“My father and his partner operated a ferryboat company in the summer on Mackinaw Island in Michigan, and when the ski area ended, all of their energy shifted there,” said Roy’s son, Jonathan Schafer, who co-owns Berkshire East Mountain Resort with his family.

However, Roy and his partner kept the area alive, and it became a place where generations of families learned to ski. But, because it was a seasonal operation dependent on weather, he battled Mother Nature for decades. However, his commitment and belief that outdoor recreation is a sustainable model for economic growth not only helped area businesses and provided seasonal employment, but was passed on to his four children.

Today, the resort is undergoing a $5 million transformation and is ushering in a bevy of recreational activities designed to transform it into a year-round destination that offers not only alpine skiing, but snow tubing, ziplining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and the opportunity to ride North America’s longest mountain coaster.

The family also added overnight accommodations to the resort last September by purchasing the nearby, 530-acre Warfield House Inn and Farm, a bed and breakfast located just over a mile from Berkshire East that operates as a working farm complete with llamas, cattle, chickens, and gardens.

Jonathan has worked alongside his father for years, and says he and his brothers developed their own vision for expanding the family ski resort into a year-round retreat years ago.

“We were all ski racers who traveled the world, and due to our racing, we got to see a lot of things: bungee jumping in New Zealand, mountain biking, and other amazing activities,” he said. “We knew that we wanted to bring them to Charlemont and also realized that the Berkshires compare to any mountain range anywhere.

“We never had a written master plan, but we knew where we wanted to go with the resort due to our shared experience,” he went on, “and our goal now is to become the number-one family, four-season resort in Southern New England.”

The vision morphed into reality in 2008, when Jonathan’s brother, James, who lives in New York City, bought out his father’s business partner in Michigan.

Change began almost immediately, and in 2009, Berkshire East installed its first new recreational venue, Zipline Canopy Tours, that would change its status from a winter resort into one that offered year-round activities.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at the many changes and additions at Berkshire East, and how the resort is now at the top of its game — in more ways than one.

Reaching New Heights

The expanded venue has been a success, and people can choose three different zipline options that begin with a ride up the mountain on a chair lift that offers panoramic views of the Deerfield Valley. The descent is exciting, moving from platform to platform through mountainous terrain, and Zipline Canopy Tours was named by USA Today as one of the top 10 ziplines in the nation.

“The tours are guided and were built to fit in with the landscape. It’s a great adventure that lasts two to two and a half hours,” Jonathan said.

The Schaefer family has always strived to be in tune with nature, and in 2011 they installed a wind turbine, followed by a 10-acre solar field in 2012.

“We were the first ski area to produce all of our own electricity, and we remain the only ski area in the world to produce renewable energy on site,” Jonathan told BusinessWest.

Berkshire Whitewater

Berkshire Whitewater will begin offering rafting trips in May, with a variety of excursions designed for people of different ages and abilities.

The wind turbine powers the pumps that transform water into snow, and from 2009 to 2013, Berkshire East made dramatic upgrades to its snowmaking operation. “We also added a mountaintop pond, which allowed us to double our snow guns and open earlier each season,” Jonathan said, adding that the resort contains 160 skiable acres. “We opened the last weekend in November, and this year is our longest season ever.”

Another new attraction has increased business and added to the operation’s year-round status. It’s a 5,400-foot, all-season mountain coaster that opened last October on Columbus Day weekend.

“It was built as a diversification against the weather; ski weekends can be wiped out due to cold and snow, so we needed a way to drive business and give people a great experience,” said Jonathan. “The things we have done allow us to be open 365 days a year, and we built a 12,000-square-foot addition onto our lodge last year. It’s beautiful, as it’s made from hand cut timber.”

He noted that the lodge has two floors, two restaurants, and a bar, and has been a tremendous boost to the property. “Many couples book their weddings here, and now their guests will be able to enjoy the activities we offer year-round.”

The mountain coaster is one of them, and it’s a noteworthy attraction. “It is the longest mountain coaster in the nation and the third-longest in the world. It’s powered by our wind turbine and solar panels, and is an inviting way for people to enjoy the outdoors, as there are no fitness or skill requirements,” Jonathan said.

The coaster’s construction proved to be an extraordinary engineering feat, because each section had to be designed to adapt to the contour of the mountain with minimal impact to the landscape. The sections were installed in 10-foot lengths, and each car is towed up the mountain by a stainless-steel cable and strategically released when it reaches the top.

“Each car is independent of the others and has its own braking system, which allows people to slow down or speed up by pulling on the handles,” Jonathan said. “However, if one car gets within 80 feet of another going down the mountain, the brakes automatically stop it.

“The track twists and turns down a mountainside of cliffs and trees, so it’s a wild ride on a dynamic hillside,” he added. “Anticipation builds in riders who are going up, as they can see others coming down because the course crosses uphill four times.”

The new attraction has attracted coaster enthusiasts from across the nation, and groups have already booked trips there this summer.

Growing Venues

Berkshire East enjoyed a cooperative partnership with Moxie Outdoor Adventures for years, and recently acquired its Deerfield River rafting operation. It has been renamed Berkshire Whitewater, and although it kept most of Moxie’s river guides, Berkshire East purchased 10 new rafts designed exclusively for the river, along with other state-of-the art equipment.

“We have 60 spots on the river, plan to open in May, and will continue the rafting trips until it gets too cold to run them in the fall,” said Jonathan. “We can’t add 1,000 vertical feet to the ski area, so we are adding world-class activities to show off what a beautiful spot we have here.”

Trips will be available five days a week and will begin when the hydroelectric Bear Swamp Generating Station releases water, which is done on a regular, scheduled basis. Since it stores approximately 1.7 billion gallons of water almost 800 feet above the river, when it is released, it turns the river into an ideal spot for rafters, kayakers, and downriver canoeists.

A variety of adventures along different sections of the river are planned for different age groups and abilities, but all rafters will receive a 20-minute safety lecture before they leave. A picnic lunch is provided for people who opt for one of the easier excursions, while another, more advanced course ends with a barbecue.

Each trip lasts four or five hours, and there are options to satisfy everyone, including a leisurely, half-day float trip that families with children ages 5 and up can enjoy.

“They float along in a whitewater raft, and there are places for them to get out, splash around, and swim,” Jonathan noted.

In addition, guided kayaking trips will be offered daily, and children ages 5 and up can accompany an adult in a boat on the four-hour adventures.

Since some people have already rafted on the Deerfield River, Jonathan said, Berkshire Whitewater is offering trips on the Millers River, east of Greenfield, and the West River in Jamaica, Vermont. “But they all start here, and people are taken to those sites in vans,” he told BusinessWest.

skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East

Despite the resort’s all-season changes, skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East’s roster of offerings.

The Schaefer family is also building a new mountain-biking park and commissioned a group from Whistler Mountain, whose track record includes building the largest and most dynamic bike trail in the world, to construct 10 miles of trails down the mountain. “We plan to open the park in early July and will have a major focus on beginners, with a learn-to-ride program,” Jonathan said.

Meanwhile, because the Schaefers know that many people want to enjoy their resort for more than a day, the purchase of the mountaintop complex that contains the Warfield House Inn will allow them to offer overnight lodging.

“It was a logical move because there was no housing at the ski area and this was a beautiful facility that needed new life. We thought it would be a great complement to our business,” he said.

The bed and breakfast, which was recently renovated, contains a meeting facility, restaurant, and pavilion with mountaintop views. “It’s a gorgeous place to get married,” Jonathan said, adding that the farm is also known for its maple-sugaring operation, producing about 1,000 gallons of the sweet treat each year.

Endless Possibilities

Over the past few years, Berkshire East also installed a new Sky Trac Quad chair lift, with the help of a helicopter and an army of loyal employees, that can deliver 2,400 people an hour to the top of the mountain to ski, mountain bike, hike, and enjoy other outdoor activities.

“For many years, we were just a ski area, and we have continued to expand the skiing and offer a lot of learn-to-ski programs for children,” Jonathan said. “But it’s a sport that takes skill. There is a learning curve, and it requires equipment, so we wanted to add other year-round activities that would give families the experience of a lifetime.”

He added that his brother Bill, who lives in Iowa, is part-owner of the whitewater-rafting business and has purchased rental properties in the area; his brother Tom, who lives in California, has also purchased rental properties; and he, his brother James, and their father run the day-to-day operation of the resort and remain committed to providing healthy, recreational outdoor activities.

Today, the family is excited about the expansion, and their goal is for Berkshire East to become known as “New England’s Outdoor Adventure Center,” Jonathan said.

“We think it is possible,” he noted, “because we have added attractions that will drive business and give people a great experience here 365 days a year.”

Opinion
Cutting Tourism Dollars Isn’t the Answer

We understand that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has a huge budget deficit to close — more than $750 million, by most estimates — and we don’t intend to overanalyze his efforts to do so, because almost all budgets are unpopular — and debatable.

But his announced intentions to slash funding for both the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism (from $14.2 million to $6.1 million) and the regional tourism councils (from $5 million to $500,000) represent a tack we wouldn’t recommend.

That’s because the tourism sector is becoming an increasingly important contributor to the state’s economic health and well-being, and it will be even more so in the years to come as the casinos currently on the drawing board open their doors to the millions expected to visit those resorts each year. And also because, in this sector, perhaps even more than in some others, you really do have to spend money to make money.

Already, state legislators who understand the importance of tourist dollars to the cities and towns they represen are casting serious doubt about whether the governor’s proposal will fly, and we hope they’re right in their assessments. Dollars spent to promote the state and individual regions like Greater Springfield, the Berkshires, or the Amherst-Northampton corridor are not so much expenditures as they are investments, and the new governor’s administration needs to recognize that and find another way to trim some $12 million from the budget.

In a way, we can understand the administration’s thinking with regard to tourism funding, especially given the dearth of attractive options when it comes to cutting the budget. After all, the Commonwealth’s major attractions and convention facilities are not exactly state secrets, and Internet-savvy site finders have a wealth of information at their disposal.

But as traditional sources of employment and economic vitality (especially manufacturing) have declined in recent years, competition for tourism dollars has become increasingly intense.

And in this environment, visibility is critically important. Even states and cities that have long been popular destinations, spots that one might think wouldn’t need to advertise — Florida, California, Hawaii, New York City, and Las Vegas all come to mind — have invested millions in keeping themselves front and center when it comes to the minds and wallets of tourists.

Such a mindset has created a good amount of momentum locally, especially with regard to conventions and meetings. Greater Springfield is an attractive — and reasonably priced —alternative for convention planners, and these assets have been a big factor in an increase in bookings in recent years.

And now, those pushing this area as a convention or meeting site have something more to sell — the resort casino that will soon be taking shape in Springfield’s South End.

That’s an attractive addition, one that has the potential to make this area a real player in that segment of the tourism industry and one that should open some doors that were previously closed.

But for that door to open all the way, this state and this region have to be able to promote themselves — and now. Indeed, many conventions are booked years in advance, and now is the time to strike.

As we said at the top, closing a $750 million budget gap will be difficult, and it’s easy to say ‘don’t cut here’ or ‘don’t cut there.’ But in the case of funding for the Office of Travel and Tourism and the individual convention and visitors bureaus, cuts now could have some serious consequences later.

Sections Travel and Tourism
Springfield Seeks State Designation for a Cultural District
Kay Simpson

Kay Simpson says creation of a cultural district will help Springfield brand its many attractions, while spurring economic development.

Evan Plotkin equated it to a business hanging out a sign that reads “under new management.”

Though he quickly acknowledged that the analogy isn’t perfect — the city hasn’t actually changed leadership at the top, and won’t for at least a few more years — he went ahead with it anyway, because he considers it an effective way to talk about what the creation of a cultural district in Springfield can and likely will do for the community.

“Business owners put out an ‘under new management’ sign on a restaurant, for example, when they want to change the dynamic,” said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin and a prime mover in ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote the city’s downtown. “They do it because they want people to know that something has changed, something’s different, something’s better — that people should want to come there again.”

Creating a cultural district can do very much the same thing for Springfield, he went on, noting that it will help the city brand itself and its many cultural attractions and, in many ways, give people a reason to give the community a look — or another look.

Kay Simpson agreed. She’s the vice president of Springfield Museums and one of the primary architects of a proposed cultural district that would cover several blocks downtown and include everything from the Armory Museum to the Paramount; from the Community Music School to the five museums in the Quadrangle; from Symphony Hall to the clubs on Worthington Street.

The formal application for creation of the district was sent to the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) on Aug. 15, said Simpson, who literally knocked on some wood as she talked about what she considers decent odds that the city will join Pittsfield, Easthampton, Lowell, Gloucester, and other cities gaining state designation for a cultural district.

“This is a great tool for promoting the arts,” she said, adding that, beyond building awareness of the city’s attractions, creation of a cultural district will also better position the city for funding from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, and also spur economic development. “A district can stimulate business, especially creative-economy businesses.”

Her optimism about the proposal’s chances is based on comments made by MCC officials who have walked the planned district already and provided input on the application and how it should be written, and also on the large volume of attractions and institutions packed into the multi-block area identified in the map to the right.

Springfield Cultural District Map loRes 5“It’s remarkable when you consider how many major cultural institutions are located in the downtown area,” she said. “This is not a huge geographic area, but there is a dense concentration of cultural assets.”

David Starr concurred. The president of the Republican and chair of the city’s Cultural Coordination Committee described the planned district as a “true gem,” and said its creation will provide new and potent opportunities to increase awareness of the city’s cultural amenities and build on that foundation.

“The problem has always been that these institutions never got the outside recognition that they deserved,” he explained, referring to the museums in the Quadrangle, the symphony, and other organizations. “A cultural district will help sell them and help brand them to not just the local area, but people outside this region.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the proposed cultural district and what its architects believe it can do for the city and its ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

 

Mapping Out a Strategy

The MCC’s Cultural Districts Initiative was authorized by an act of the state Legislature in 2010 and launched in 2011.

It was inspired by mounting evidence that thriving creative sectors stimulate economic development, said Simpson, noting that the prevailing theory has been that such districts attract artists, cultural organizations, and entrepreneurs, while helping specific communities create or strengthen a sense of place.

“By having the cultural-district designation, you’re creating an environment where all kinds of businesses can come into an area,” she explained. “These creative-economy businesses include everything from art galleries to graphic-design enterprises to coffee shops and restaurants.

“You’re creating a brand for a community,” she went on, “so that people from outside that community know that, if they go to the cultural district in Springfield, there’s going to be a lot for them to do. They can go to museums, see historic monuments and sites, and have lots to do in terms of both the visual arts and the performing arts.”

There are currently 17 cultural districts across the state, with more being proposed. They have been established in Barnstable, Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Easthampton, Essex, Gloucester (which has two), Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Natick, Orleans, Pittsfield, Rockport, Sandwich, and Shelburne Falls.

Springfield’s proposed cultural district would be bordered by East Columbus Avenue, Bliss Street, Stockbridge Street, High Street, Federal Street, Pearl Street, Dwight Street, Lyman Street, and Frank B. Murray Street, according to a prepared summary.

That section is home to number of cultural attractions and institutions, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the Quadrangle, the historic Mattoon Street area, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, CityStage, the Paramount, and the Community Music School, said Simpson, adding that it also includes several parks, some retail areas, and a number of restaurants, clubs, and hotels.

One of the required traits of a district, as set down by the MCC, is that it be walkable, said Simpson, noting that, while this comparatively large area — which officials originally thought might encompass two districts — constitutes a “good walk,” it meets that stipulation.

Most of the existing cultural districts have names that identify a specific neighborhood, landmark, or street. Easthampton’s, for example, is called the Cottage Street Cultural District, a nod to the many former mills and storefronts on that thoroughfare that have become home to arts-related businesses and agencies. Meanwhile, Lowell’s Canalway District takes its name from an historic section of that former textile-manufacturing center, which has also become a center for the cultural community, and spotlights the city’s most enduring character trait — its canals.

Those leading the drive for Springfield’s district recently ran a contest to name it; submissions are currently being weighed by a panel of judges, and a winner is to be announced soon.

By whatever name the district takes, it is expected to become a point of reference for Springfield, a vehicle for branding the City of Homes, and a source of momentum as the community seeks to build its creative economy and, overall, bring vibrancy to a long-challenged section of the city, said Plotkin.

In a big-picture sense, the broad goal behind the cultural district is to change the conversation about Springfield, he went on, adding that, in recent years, most of the talk has been about financial struggles (the city was run by a control board for several years), crime, poverty, and high dropout rates in the city’s high schools.

“This cultural district will build a sense of community,” he noted. “It will help break down some of those walls that people have about Springfield, including the sense that we’re a broken city with low self-esteem.

“We have to break out of that and build some pride and some community,” he went on. “We have to start doing things that will really change the city, and I believe a cultural district will do that. Doing this can help to start changing the conversation about Springfield and about what we really are culturally and what we have here.”

It can also help make a community more visible — and attractive — to those looking for landing spots for a company or sites for everything from day trips to meetings and conventions, said Simpson, who said creation of a cultural district in Boston’s Fenway area has apparently done all that.

“In the Fenway, they’ve said they have seen an increase in occupancy rates in office buildings and storefronts since the cultural district was created,” she said, noting that the area, home to several museums and other attractions, is in many ways similar to downtown Springfield. “Meanwhile, it has created for them the sense that they’re more recognized in terms of gaining political support.”

 

Sign of the Times

Springfield will probably find out sometime this fall if its proposal for a cultural district has been accepted by the MCC, said Simpson.

If all goes as those behind this initiative believe it will, then the city will soon have a new vehicle for marketing itself and perhaps making some real progress in ongoing efforts to change some of the perceptions about the community.

In other words, the ‘under new management’ sign can go on the door. It will then be up the city to make the most of that development. n

 

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

 

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism
Holyoke’s Happiness Machine Marks a Milestone

CoverBW-0513bThe Holyoke Merry-Go-Round marks 20 years in operation at Heritage Park this December.
Thus, this is a time of reflection and celebration in Holyoke, concerning both the remarkable story of how residents and businesses in the city rallied to keep the attraction within the community, and the success enjoyed since: more than 1 million riders, hundreds of events staged at the facility, restoration of nearly half the ride’s hand-crafted wooden horses, and the creation of untold memories for generations of area residents.
There will be many opportunities to rejoice and look back this year, with the highlight being a huge fund-raising gala at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House on Sept. 19, an event that is expected to severely test the facility’s fire-code capacity.
But for those most closely involved with this landmark, known to them as PTC 80 (the 80th carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co.), this is a time for much more than celebrating — although they will do plenty of that. It’s an occasion to do some strategic planning and take important steps that will ensure there are many more anniversaries to celebrate down the road.
And it’s a time, said Angela Wright, to do some difficult, yet very necessary, succession planning when it comes to management of what those in the city call the ‘happiness machine.’

HolyokeMerryGoRound

Friends of PTC 80, as it’s called, will mark its milestone anniversary with an eye toward ensuring that there are more of these celebrations for decades to come.

Difficult, noted Wright, who was co-chair of the group that raised the money to keep the carousel in Holyoke and has been its volunteer director since it opened, because that’s the only word to describe what it will be like to “let go.”
“We’re reluctant to give up something that is close to all of us, and something that we worked so hard at —  it’s been a labor of love for all of us,” she said, referring to a strong corps of volunteers that has been with this project from the beginning and seen some of their ranks pass away in recent years. “We don’t want to let go of this, but it’s something we know we have to do.”
Elaborating, she said the Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, as this group is called, is engaging in discussions about hiring a full-time executive director for the facility, an individual who will assume many duties currently carried out by those volunteers, from fund-raising to marketing, while also taking on the primary assignment — maintaining the relationships that have enabled this city treasure to survive and thrive, and creating new ones.
Hiring a director is one of many suggestions forwarded during strategic planning sessions staged recently with a consultant, Jeff Hayden, former city development director and current director of the Kittredge Center, said Maureen Costello, administrative manager of PTC 80.
Others include everything from recruiting additional board members to developing and implementing a marketing plan; from multi-faceted efforts to increase visitation to a host of initiatives to increase revenues, especially the scheduling of more birthday parties and other events.
These steps are in various, but mostly early, stages of implementation, said Costello, noting that one important step — a doubling of the price of a ride to $2 after more than 18 years — was undertaken in 2012.
“That was a difficult decision for us, because we had prided ourselves on keeping the ticket price at a dollar since we opened in 1993,” she explaned. “But it’s been very well-received by our visitors; many people said, ‘it’s about time you did this.’”
There will be more difficult and far-reaching steps taken in the months and years to come, said Jim Jackowski, business liaison and customer service and credit manager for Holyoke Gas & Electric and current president of the Friends board. He noted that, while the attraction’s first two decades in operation could be deemed an unqualified success, these are tenuous times for independently operated carousels like this one.
The challenges are many, and include everything from the high cost of insurance (carousels have historically had high mishap rates, although this one hasn’t recorded any) to the escalating competition for the time of young children (the ride’s lifeblood) and their parents.
“There are just a lot more things for kids and families to do today,” said Jackowski. “We have to respond to that by promoting ourselves and doing what we’ve always done — providing a truly unique experience.”
Wright agreed. “Many carousels are closing — hardly a week goes that we don’t hear of one of them shutting down,” she said, noting that she and others read about such casualties in industry publications like the Carousel News & Trader and Merry-Go-Round Roundup. “These things are becoming very expensive … our liability insurance is extremely high. Between insurance, staffing, maintenance, upkeep, promotions, and marketing, they’re becoming simply too expensive for many operators to run.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes a quick look back at how PTC 80 remained a Holyoke institution, but a more comprehensive glance ahead to the challenge of making sure the happiness machine will be there to create memories for future generations of area residents.

Turns for the Better

‘Middle horse #5’

‘Middle horse #5’ is next in line for a complete restoration. To date, nearly half of the horses on the carousel have been refurbished.

It’s known simply as ‘middle horse #5.’ And that says it all — if you know this carousel.
It has three rows of horses (there are 28 in all, both ‘standers’ and ‘jumpers,’ with two chariots), with the largest animals on the outside and the smallest on the inside. This particular specimen is fifth in a sequence known only to those intimately involved with this attraction. And it is showing some definite signs of wear and tear, much of it caused by the buckle on the stirrup, which has knocked off badly faded paint in several areas.
As a result, it is next in line for restoration work that will make it look like the much shinier and newer ‘middle horse #4’ just ahead. This work, to be carried out at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Conn., will cost roughly $5,000, said Costello. To help pay that cost, the merry-go-round is staging a raffle this summer, with the winner gaining the right to give the horse a real name — like ‘Lancelot,’ ‘Flower Power,’ and others that have been assigned to other animals on PTC 80.
Restoring horses, staging raffles, and giving names to the stars of this attraction have been some of the many aspects of that labor of love which Wright described, made possible by the truly inspiring story of how Holyoke came together to keep its carousel a quarter-century ago.
Most in this region are now at least somewhat familiar with the saga, which began with Mountain Park owner Jay Collins’ decision to shut down the popular tourist attraction after the 1987 season ended.
After unsuccessful efforts to sell the park, the 300 acres it sat on, and all the equipment and inventory as one package (asking price: $4 million), Collins opted to start selling off the pieces. He had some attractive offers (up to $2 million, according to some accounts) for PTC 80, which was in extremely good condition. And while he was considering them, John Hickey, then manager of Holyoke’s Water Department, approached him with a plan to keep the carousel in the city.
The two agreed on a price of $875,000, and Collins gave Hickey one year to raise the money.
The rest, is, well, history.
An elaborate ‘save the merry-go-round’ campaign was launched, complete with a request for pledges with rhetorical calls to action that included ‘stop them from riding off with Holyoke’s mane attraction’ and ‘if you care about Holyoke’s future, put some money down on her past.’
In the end, residents, business owners, and schoolchildren heeded those calls, raising enough money to buy the carousel and build it a new home in Heritage State Park. Thus, PTC 80’s second life began in December 1993.
To say that it’s been a smooth ride since then would oversimplify things, said Wright, who noted that there have been many challenges over the first two decades, from getting people to come to downtown Holyoke to attracting revenue-generating events, such as birthday parties and weddings, to overcoming the loss several years ago of the four-day Celebrate Holyoke event that gave the carousel much-needed exposure and ridership.
“The real business challenge for us has been to replace the revenue from the Celebrate Holyoke festival, which was probably 10% to 15% of our annual revenue,” said Jackowski. “We’ve done it largely through the promotion of the birthday parties, the private functions, and the corporate functions, and spreading the word through an extended Pioneer Valley area.”
The attraction has managed to remain in the black throughout and meet its annual budget of roughly $100,000, he noted, largely through perseverance, imagination, and resourcefulness.
But if PTC 80, one of only 100 antique classic wooden merry-rounds still operating in North America, is to keep its Holyoke address, it must continue to act as a small business would, and that means strategic planning and, as Wright and Costello said, succession planning.

Round Numbers
That later assignment is a difficult one for many small businesses to even acknowledge, let alone address, said Wright, adding that it’s the same with the merry-go-round, where this exercise takes a number of forms.
For starters, it means active recruiting of younger professionals within the community to join the board and become involved with the carousel, she said, adding that a new generation of leadership must eventually take the reins — literally and figuratively — from the group that waged the campaign to save PTC 80 a quarter-century ago.
Succession planning also means developing and advancing a plan to hire a full-time executive director, said Costello, adding that the merry-go-round has a part-time operations manager (15 hours per week), and there are others who have held that position in the past.
Hiring a full-time manager would be a big step, one that would dramatically alter the budgetary picture, Wright told BusinessWest, but such a move is necessary given the current challenging climate. But the broad “transition,” as she called it, will nonetheless be difficult for the carousel’s older ‘friends.’
“We’ve all been here 25 years,” she said. “And we’re all somewhat reluctant to let anything happen to this merry-go-round. We all have a personal investment in this, and it’s a sizable investment.”
Succession planning is just part of the discussion when it comes to securing the long-term future of the merry-go-round, said Costello, adding that strategic planning initiatives involving the attraction, like those staged for businesses of all sizes, have focused on that acronym SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Clearly, the 20th-anniversary celebrations fall into that third category, she said, adding that the attraction’s leadership intends to use the many events and special programs on tap this year to introduce (or re-introduce) people to the carousel, with several goals in mind. These include everything from increasing direct ridership to booking more special events involving both children and adults; from recruiting more supporters to simply raising more funds.
“The 20th anniversary is a time to reflect on the many things that we’ve accomplished here and be proud of those accomplishments,” Costello said. “But it’s also an opportunity to re-connect with our supporters and make more friends.
“We recognize that, while our merry-go-round was the crown jewel at Mountain Park, the people who remember the park are older now,” she went on. “We understand that those people are not going to be able to share their memories of Mountain Park, so we need to attract a new generation of riders and supporters, and we’re cognizant of that as we make our plans for the future.”
As it did 25 years ago, the Friends group is reaching out to the community for donations, she said, adding that donors can become members of the merry-go-round’s Ring of Honor, a collection of brass plaques that bear the names of supporters ranging from Holyoke schoolchildren to businesses across all sectors.
Beyond fund-raising, one of the main goals moving forward is to maximize other revenue resources, said Costello, adding that the increase in ticket prices resulted in a roughly 70% increase in total revenue in 2012, “which made a huge difference.”
But long-term, the merry-go-round must be more successful with scheduling events, she continued, because they are both solid revenue generators and vehicles for generating future ridership and more get-togethers.
Overall, the ongoing assignment for the merry-go-round’s leadership team is to make the attraction — and downtown Holyoke in general — more of a true destination for families with children, said Jackowski, adding that there are many developments that are moving the city closer to that designation.
“We hope, by keeping this building as attractive as it is, and this park as attractive as it is, that the future looks bright,” he told BusinessWest. “We have our new neighbor, the computing center, we’re hopeful that the canal walk comes to fruition in the next five years, and there is more development down here that creates optimism. We want to be the focal point of all that.”

The Ride Stuff
John Hickey, who passed away in 2008, once wrote of carousels, “man, and high tech, has not yet devised a better way to illuminate the faces of children and parents with pure joy. The lights, the music, the kids dashing for the right horse, the clang of the starting bell, and the motion … you don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave every time around … and their parent will wave back. It never fails … it never will.”
PTC 80 has lived up to those words for more than eight decades, and especially in its new home in Holyoke’s downtown. Its first two decades there have been an extraordinary ride in every sense of that word.
And that’s why this anniversary will be a time to celebrate, but also a time to make sure that the ride will continue for decades to come.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism
Robert E. Barrett Fishway Offers Learning Experiences on a Grand Scale

Paul Ducheney

Paul Ducheney says the fishway was the culmination of years of study involving fish behavior, as well as considerable trial and error.

Paul Ducheney acknowledged that it’s difficult to look upon the elaborate, cutting-edge Frank E. Barrett Fishway and grasp that it was inspired by a net and a bucket.
But it was. Well, sort of.
As legend has it in Holyoke, in 1955, an Atlantic salmon was trying to make its way north on the Connecticut River, back to its birthplace to spawn, when it hit what was then a roadblock — the Holyoke Dam. The story goes that an engineer with what was then the Holyoke Water Power Co. caught the confused fish with said net, but then didn’t know what to do with it.
“So they said, ‘well, lets put it in a bucket of water and bring it up over the dam and dump it in,’” explained Ducheney, superintendent for Electric Production at the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department (HG&E), which acquired the dam in 2001. “And that was pretty much the start.”
Today’s Robert E. Barrett Fishway is the result of that ongoing story of how, through the use of exponentially more sophisticated means of fish attraction and larger buckets, HG&E has created a fishlift that has become a model for hydropower systems in this country and around the world.
The two-bucket system carries hundreds of thousands of anadromous fish — those born in fresh water (salmon, smelt, shad, striped bass, and sturgeon are common examples), and spend most of their life in the sea, but return to fresh water to spawn — over the dam each year so they continue their migratory journey north.
And while doing so, it provides powerful lessons to visitors, many of them schoolchildren on field trips, about these fish, hydropower, and how they can coexist.
This was the dream of Robert E. Barrett, former president of the Holyoke Water Power Co., whose imagination and perseverance made it reality.
The current fishway, opened in 1955, hosts more than 11,000 visitors a year between April and June, when the fish make their annual treks north, said Kate Sullivan, marketing coordinator for the HG&E, who told BusinessWest that the facility is still far too much of a best-kept secret from a tourism perspective, and that the utility is working to see that it loses that distinction.
“People are always amazed; they can’t believe this is in their own backyard,” said Sullivan. “And this was part of Robert Barrett’s mission, to make this an educational experience for kids, too.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest paid a visit to the fishway for an educational experience on a grand scale — in more ways than one.

Current Events

This illustration shows how the fishway

This illustration shows how the fishway enables migratory shad, Atlantic salmon, and other species to be collected, lifted in buckets over the dam, and released.
Illustration by Robert Oxenhorn

As she gave BusinessWest a tour of the facilities, Sullivan said the creation of such facilities to ferry fish over hydroelectric installations became a federal mandate for those seeking to hold licenses for such facilities decades ago, and there are many such lifts operating today.
But the fishway in Holyoke is somewhat unique because of the breadth and depth of the educational opportunities it provides and the large scale of the operation. Indeed, it is said to be most successful fishlift on the Atlantic coast in terms of the number of fish it ferries.
For visitors, it’s an opportunity to see how nature and modern technology can collaborate and create some powerful images.
Once through the entrance of the power station, visitors are led — on the right, past the giant HG&E turbines that harness the river’s power, and, on the left, past a series of historical pictures of the dam and older fish-assisting devices — out to the large outdoor observation deck. Standing high above the Connecticut River on the deck, they get a southern view of the river and the special canal, which shows the two ways fish enter the gathering area by way of a high-velocity water flow that attracts them to the main collection area just under the deck.
Visitors can then turn their attention to the north and experience the sights and sounds of water coming over a section of the dam, next to the lift structure. On the half-hour, a buzzer rings, signaling the start of the fishlift as its two large buckets begin carrying hundreds of fish and water more than 50 feet up and into an exit flume. This is the point where visitors then move inside to see the fish swim by the public viewing windows, giving them the feeling of being underwater with the fish.
Sullivan told BusinessWest that guided school-group tours take about an hour, which includes time for an activity.
“And this is very unique,” added Ducheney. “If you go to other lifts at other dams, they’re sort of separate from the powerhouse, so it’s pretty neat to see power generation integral with fish passage. It’s Holyoke’s best-kept secret.”
But that secret took some time to materialize.
Kate Sullivan

Kate Sullivan says grassroots efforts have helped increase visitorship at the fishway, which is open only a few months a year.

Dams have been built to harness hydropower for centuries, and attempts to help fish on their migratory journeys have been part and parcel to those efforts, but finding a system that works effectively has often been a frustrating matter of trial and considerable error, said Ducheney, noting that Holyoke’s history serves up some good examples.
Since 1794, several dams have been constructed at South Hadley Falls, where the river drops more than 40 feet, and in October 1849, a large ‘timber crib’ dam was constructed, preventing upstream fish migration.
In 1866, Massachusetts enacted legislation requiring the construction of devices to permit passage of shad and salmon, which resulted in the first wooden fish ladder in 1873 — a system designed to replicate nature — on the South Hadley side of the river. However, the ladder was off the beaten path of the fish’s instinctual travels, said Ducheney, and fish passage didn’t go well; in fact, not one fish used any of the early ladders.
In 1900, the current, much larger dam made from Vermont stone was built, and in 1949, HWP received a license from the Federal Power Commission for the Holyoke Hydroelectric Project. As part of the license, HWP was required to “construct, maintain, and operate fish-protection devices.”
Soon after, the aforementioned lucky Atlantic salmon was saved and lifted over the dam. The stiffer federal mandate had engineers building a different type of fish passage because others hadn’t worked. More research into fish behavior resulted in the reason why: fish needed to sense the sound and current of rushing water on their journey, where a dam now stood. The solution was to create a gathering area by way of a high-velocity water flow that attracts the fish to the main collection area just under the deck, and the first lift, using a bucket in 1955, was built under Robert Barrett’s direction — the first successful fishlift in the country.
“It’s very important for the ecosystem,” Ducheney noted. “From a regulatory basis, today we have a mandate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the dam, and part of the conditions is to provide for safe and effective fish passage.”
Today, fish can continue upstream migration (if they’re not collected for hatcheries), where fishways further upstream at the smaller Turners Falls, Vernon, and Bellows Falls hydroelectric projects also provide a means to enhance passage for migrating species through a simpler elevated step process.

Hook, Line, and Sinker
When HG&E purchased the Holyoke Dam to operate the hydroelectric facilities and the Holyoke Canal System, more improvements were made to the fishlift, Ducheney explained to BusinessWest.
“It’s automated now, so it runs without operator intervention, and it’s tripled in size, so we can accommodate many more fish,” said Ducheney. “In fact, this lift has become a model for others, including the Susquehanna River and in Japan, China, Brazil, and European countries. Holyoke is pretty well-known for fish passage.”
And the fishlift is a first for something else that’s important.
“Literally, every fish is counted,” said Sullivan, noting that the Holyoke Dam is the first that fish encounter as they move north from Long Island Sound, so keeping accurate inventory is critical to tracking what happens to fish before and after they get to the Paper City.
The counters are biology students from Holyoke Community College who click a designated counter for each species of fish in a special viewing room just past the public viewing windows; its another form of educational experience of which Barrett would be proud.
Since the official counts started in 1965, the most prolific years for fish passage were in 1985 and 1992, at more than 1 million fish. In 2012, more than 500,000, mainly shad, were lifted over the dam.
Shad, said Ducheney, is a river herring, and while that may not sound delectable, he noted that shad is actually on the menu at New York’s famous Tavern on the Green restaurant at this time of year.
But restaurants aren’t the only interested parties when it comes to shad. The annual HG&E Shad Derby, one of the region’s largest fishing events, is held on two weekends in May and offers nearly 600 anglers of all ages the opportunity to win cash prizes and write plenty of their own fish stories as they enjoy the recreational benefits of the Connecticut River.
Marketing funds are tight, Sullivan said, so getting the word out about the fishway is a struggle. But thanks to HG&E’s newsletter to 18,000 customers, as well as more comprehensive grassroots efforts over the past couple of years to increase awareness of the facility, visitation has increased.
In just a short window of six weeks, from late April to mid-June, more than 11,000 visitors came through the fishlift last year, 2,000 more than in 2011, said Sullivan, noting that many of them are students from across the region.
The fishlift is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until June 16, due to the spawning season each spring. Also open on Memorial Day, the facility offers visitors of all ages a unique combination of science through tourism, and a chance to tell a real fish story about the ones that got away — or at least further upstream.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at  [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Museums10 Adds New Brush Strokes to Its Work in Hampshire County

Jessica Niccol

Jessica Niccol says Museums10 helps raise the profile of what she calls “an extraordinary set of historical collections.”

Like a particularly striking sculpture, a museum has many intriguing sides.
The Smith College Museum of Art is a good example of that, said Jessica Niccol, its director and chief curator. The institution was established not long after the college opened in 1875 and was conceived as a teaching museum. Unlike many prominent galleries then and since, it did not launch with a gift collection waiting in the wings, but accumulated its first pieces one at a time.
“So the staff, very mindfully, built a collection with an eye toward what was being studied at Smith College,” Niccol said. By 1879, the gallery featured 27 contemporary American paintings, featuring notable lights like Winslow Homer and a number of lesser-known artists, and steadily grew from there, helped immeasurably by local businessman Winthrop Hillyer, who appreciated the growing museum and decided to fund it.
“He loved that it would be as much of a benefit to the community of Northampton as it was to Smith,” Niccol said, noting that the orientation of the current building, opening onto Main Street in front and the campus in back, reflects that dual identity. “He saw that the museum could be a resource to the community and a gateway to the campus, and you see both of those things in the way the museum has developed over the past 140 years.”
But that dual focus on education (Smith boasts a robust program of college classes, tours serving thousands of schoolchildren each year, plus college students trained to be gallery instructors) and community outreach (including family days and monthly free Friday nights, featuring gallery talks and other special events) is not exclusive to Smith, but is a common theme running through many of Hampshire County’s art and history museums.
That’s one of the reasons Museums10 makes so much sense, said Kevin Kennedy, director of Communications for the Five College Consortium, from which Museums10 sprung in 2005.
“Much of the consortium’s efforts,” Kennedy said, “are really spent bringing people from the campuses [Smith College, Hampshire College, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and UMass Amherst] together to share ideas, problems, solutions, things like that.”
Therefore, he continued, “it was natural for the directors of the campus museums to participate in that. It’s been going on informally for decades; it started growing organically, and then they decided to formalize it and actually create an organization.”
Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy says Museums10 acts as a lens to focus the significant energy of its members.

The art museums of the five colleges make up half Museum10’s membership, and they are joined by the Beneski Museum of Natural History, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Historic Deerfield, the Emily Dickinson Museum, and the Yiddish Book Center. The startup money came from the Mass. Cultural Council, with the goal of raising the profile of the Pioneer Valley as a center for cultural tourism.
“Hopefully it has benefited the community by making these rather extraordinary museum resources housed within the Upper Pioneer Valley more visible to people,” Niccol said. “One of the things that awes all of us is what an extraordinary set of historical collections we have here. And, collectively, we’re able to work together to give greater visibility to these resources to try to help visitors — by suggesting multiple museum visits around a special area of interest, for instance.”
To that end, early on, Museums10 launched a series of cross-institution events, starting in 2006 with GoDutch!, which explored the art and literature of Dutch culture, past and present. “All the museums included it as some aspect of their existing collection or brought in a new exhibition,” Kennedy said. “It was a big success.”
The goal was to increase attendance at the participating museums by 5%; instead, it boosted visitation by 15% across the board, and in some venues by as much as 40%.
So, in 2007, Museums10 launched a second system-wide event, this one called BookMarks: A Celebration of the Art of the Book. That was followed in 2010 by Table for 10, with a focus on food. “That was terrific because this is such a food-rich region, and we were able to tie into agriculture, restaurants, organic food creators, wine folks, you name it.”
Eight years into its existence, the goals of Museums10, and the way the individual institutions work together and share resources, are continually evolving. For this issue’s focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes a look at how the organization paints a collective picture of a vibrant cultural scene in Hampshire County.

Drawing on Expertise
Alix Kennedy, executive director of the Carle — which, with only 11 years under its belt, is the youngest of the 10 museums — said Museums10 is about far more than marketing the museums.
“It’s also about how we can leverage resources we have so we can have a greater impact in our own communities,” she told BusinessWest. “The days when organizations try to exist in silos is over. Thankfully, there’s a tremendous amount of professional rapport that everyone gets to benefit from.”
Niccol agreed, noting that, because the museums have small staffs, “there’s an incredible benefit to building this professional network within the five-college area. We’ve really developed strong ties as the curators meet each other, educators meet each other, the marketing staffs meet each other. There’s fantastic communication and support with problem solving.”
Shared resources are critical, she said, such as bringing in educators and workshops for the entire Museums10 system in specific subjects, rather than each of them sending staff members to conferences around the country.
“A lot of things happened,” Alix Kennedy said, “by taking like-minded groups and this variety of different museums, who all share this incredible passion for education, and figuring out ways to give people access to our resources.”
The 30-year-old Yiddish Book Center boasts a wide range of exhibits, lectures, conferences, and educational programs for both college students and adult learners — not to mention big events like Yidstock, an annual summer festival that brings in top names in the klezmer musical tradition and draws visitors from across the country.
“There’s no other place like it,” said Lisa Newman, the center’s director of communications. “Sometimes we refer to ourselves as the first Yiddish museum; there’s no other institution like this, with the breadth of what’s here and all the programs created to promote Yiddish culture. And it’s all rooted in the first mission of the center, which was the rescue of more than a million Yiddish books otherwise destined for the trash.”
Newman added that she has come to appreciate the collective power of Museums10 in supporting that mission.
“I think it’s a really interesting collaboration internally and externally,” she said. “It helps all of us professionally to engage with one another, but in terms of the community, it makes a strong statement that we have these 10 very unique museums — that we have tremendous resources as well as engaging, interesting, and surprising places to visit, and we’re right here in your backyard with a tremendous amount of programming going on.”
As director of marketing for Historic Deerfield, Laurie Nivison said it can be difficult to adequately communicate what such a large, multi-building facility has to offer.
“We say ‘opening doors to the past’ because we have 11 houses and an extensive museum collection for people to explore. We want to make it a destination, not just for people in the local area, but those from outside the area looking for a daycation — just looking to come and explore.”
Museums10, she said, helps get the word out by linking Historic Deerfield’s goals with those of the broader cultural community.
“This is a good group of people,” Nivison said. “As nonprofits, this sort of collective power is helpful, because something one museum might be able to do, another museum might not have the budget to do. Part of Museums10 is leveraging our power, helping us get into those markets we may not otherwise be able to reach.”

Next Phase

Alix Kennedy

Alix Kennedy

“This community is rich in artists,” Alix Kennedy said, noting that the Carle makes an effort to promote and involve the many children’s book artists living in Western Mass. In fact, several museum officials who spoke with BusinessWest brought up the ‘creative economy’ of artists living and working in the Valley.
“We’re really proud of the fact that Museums10 is an important part of the cultural economy,” Niccol said. “Why do people come here? Part of it is the incredible beauty of the landscape, but the other part is the great bookstores, restaurants, concert venues, and museums, and we see ourselves as part of that.”
From those efforts, said Kevin Kennedy, sprung the impetus for what is now known as the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council, launched in 2012 and funded by the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism.
“The cultural profile of Hampshire County shows what a unique area it is, and we showed how people could come together to promote that aspect of this area,” he explained.
“It’s been such a natural transition,” said Alix Kennedy, who chairs the new organization. “I think all of us living in the Valley know this is an incredibly rich community for arts and culture, and yet, we’re not confident that people outside this community know that.”
But Museums10 and the tourism council are working to change that, she continued, by bringing some collective marketing muscle to the passion that already exists among the various institutions. “I see these two efforts working in parallel and, ultimately, working in partnership.”
“To a certain degree, I think it’s taken a little pressure off Museums10 to spend all its collaborative time to promote the region,” Kevin Kennedy said, explaining that the member museums are starting to focus more on smaller collaborations involving just a few of them, instead of the system-wide events of past years. “These joint productions were terrific, but they took a lot of energy, and that didn’t leave a lot for other things.
“We’re really taking a step back,” he added, “looking more at where the natural cohesions are among the museums that could be brought to the attention of the media and the public. If a few museums happen to be doing exhibits on photography, we’ll do a press release on that. It used to be an all-for-one approach, and all 10 museums needed to be involved to make it a Museums10 event. Now, if three or four museums are working together because they have similar exhibits or similar interests, Museums10 supports them in that effort.”
It all comes back to supporting culture in the Valley and cultivating new art and history lovers, Alix Kennedy said, noting that the Carle attracts a wide range of constituents, from families and elementary-school students to graduate-level art-degree programs Simmons College operates on site — not to mention those drawn by nostalgia.
“Those books are such symbols of their childhood, and it’s really exciting and reinvigorating to come in and say, ‘they have Charlotte’s Web drawings! I love that book!’” And, like some of the other Museums10 institutions, the Carle reaches into the community with programs like visits from book illustrators to schools in Springfield and Holyoke, hopefully sparking a passion in a new generation.
“The fact that we’ve got these 10 great institutions in the Valley speaks to our culture and the wealth of history and knowledge in the Valley,” Nivison said.
Kevin Kennedy agreed. “Each museum has so much energy,” he said, “and I think Museums10 can act as a lens to focus all that energy.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Departments Picture This

Send photos with a caption and contact information to:  ‘Picture This’ c/o BusinessWest Magazine, 1441 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01103 or to [email protected]

A Living Treasure

PriorAwardThe annual Dorothy Jordan Pryor Award and Lecture at Springfield Technical Community College honors a “living treasure” such as Pryor, the former English teacher, Affirmative Action officer, and trustee. The 2013 recipient, Setta McCabe, retired director of Public Relations and Publication and current WTCC-FM board member, spoke on the history of the college and the radio station.

Sports Minded

GSCVBThe Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) recently launched the new Western MA Sports Commission, which will purse, attract, and support sporting events and sports-related business opportunities that positively impact the Western Mass. economy. During ceremonies at the MassMutual Center, a new logo was unveiled, and John Heaps, president of Florence Savings Bank, was introduced as chairman of the commission, Other members of the board, seated from left, are: Thomas Burke, Granby High School Coach; Steve McKelvey, associate professor and graduate program director at UMass Amherst; Shannah McArdle, director of sports marketing for the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism; Louise Hines, director of sports and event marketing for the MassMutual Financial Group; John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; Paul Dinn, president of Dinn Brothers Trophy, Inc.; and J. Adam Filson, general counsel of Jiminy Peak Family of Companies. Other commission members not pictured include Kenneth Sinkiewicz, deputy director, of the Mass. Convention Center Authority, and Henry Thomas III, president & CEO of the Urban League of Springfield.

Naming Rights

EDnamedforGrinspoonandTrodermanBaystate Medical Center’s adult emergency department recently benefited from a  $1 million gift from local philanthropic leaders Harold Grinspoon and wife, Diane Troderman. In appreciation, the Level 1 adult trauma facility’s new name will be the Harold Grinspoon & Diane Troderman Adult Emergency Department at the Baystate Medical Center Emergency & Trauma Center. It joins the Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department as the two named elements of the new Emergency & Trauma Center at Baystate, which opened in December 2012. The Emergency & Trauma Center encompasses more than three times the size of the hospital’s former emergency room, with twice the number of private, adult patient-care spaces. Grinspoon established the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in 1993 in Springfield, and Troderman has been his active partner in all of his philanthropic activities. Pictured (from left) during the announcement event are: Mark Tolosky, president and CEO of Baystate Health; James Sadowsky of the Baystate Health Board of Trustees; Grinspoon; Troderman; John Davis of the Baystate Health Board of Trustees; Dr. Benjamin Liptzin, chair of the Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Health; and Dr. Richard Engelman, chief of Cardiac Surgical Research at Baystate Medical Center.

Unlimited Pride

20130411hru011220130411hru010120130411hru0105Human Resources Unlimited recently staged its annual Recognition and Fundraiser event at Springfield Country Club. Employer partners and volunteers were honored and successful program members were recognized. At top, from left, accepting the 2012 Armand Tourangeau Volunteer of the Year award is Jeff Lander, center, founder of Appilistic, flanked by (from left) Susan Smith, senior employment coordinator, Forum House; Renee Kosciusko, daughter of Armand Tourangeau; Carol Tourangeau, wife of Armand Tourangeau; and Susan Beckwith, program manager, Forum House. Middle left, 2012 Rookie Employer Award recipients (from left), Jackie Huntley, Tradewinds program member; Deb Post, HR manager, and Russell Prentiss, general manager, both of the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center; Michael Forest, program manager, Tradewinds; and Winnie Siano, senior employment coordinator, Tradewinds; Bottom, Donald Kozera, President of Human Resources Unlimited (second from right) poses with the winners of the Employer of the Year Award, representing Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Westfield. From left are: Arlie Meade, sales manager; Nathan Byrd, general manager, Ashish Patel, president, and Jacquie Clayton, guest services manager.
Photos by Paul Schnaittacher

Engineering Excellence

Tighe&Bond_MAACECAwardThe American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts (ACEC/MA) presented Westfield-based engineering firm, Tighe & Bond, with a Gold Award during its 2013 Engineering Excellence and Awards Gala in Cambridge. The annual competition recognizes recent engineering achievements that demonstrate the highest degree of merit, ingenuity, complexity, and client satisfaction. This Gold Award recognized innovative upgrades that Tighe & Bond recently completed for the town of Sturbridge’s wastewater treatment facility, which became the first full-scale combined BioMag/CoMag wastewater system in the nation. The implementation of two new cutting edge and effective treatment processes, BioMag and CoMag, have increased wastewater treatment efficiency, improved water quality, as well as reduced costs and overall environmental impact. Sharing a moment after the awards ceremony are, from left, Ko Ishikura ACEC/MA president; Gregory Morse, Sturbridge DPW director; Ian Catlow, Tighe & Bond senior project manager; Mike Becker, Tighe & Bond construction observer; Peter Piattoni, ACEC/MA Awards chair; and Shaun Suhoski, Sturbridge town administrator.

Not Just Business as Usual

DSCF0153DSCF0165The Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) Foundation hosted its fourth annual Not Just Business As Usual event on April 4 at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In celebration of 40 years of excellence in Nursing at STCC, keynote speakers included “The Three Doctors,” Dr. George Jenkins, assistant professor of the Clinical Dentistry Section of Adult Dentistry at Columbia University; Dr. Rameck Hunt, board certified internist at University Medical Center at Princeton and assistant professor of Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and Dr. Sampson Davis, board certified emergency medicine physician at St. Michael’s Medical Center, Raritan Bay Medical Center and Easton Hospital, and assistant medical director of the Emergency Department at Raritan Bay Medical Center. As teenagers surrounded by negative influences with few positive role models growing up on the streets of Newark, N.J., the three friends made a pact to stick together, graduate college, and achieve their dreams of becoming medical doctors. All are now well known for their work in delivering messages of hope and inspiration. Over the past two years, the STCC Foundation event has provided more than $100,000 to support college and student needs. At top (from left) Drs. Davis, Hunt, and Jenkins sign copies of their books, The Pact, We Beat the Street, and The Bond. Bottom, above, Ira Rubenzahl, president of STCC, poses with Frank Colaccino, CEO at Colvest Group (center), and John Heaps, Jr., president of Florence Savings Bank.

Sections Supplements
Tourism Sector Seeks Visitors from Across the Valley — and Across the Big Pond

As the peak summer tourism season approaches, the players in this sector are tempering their expectations against the backdrop of a softened economy and soaring gas prices. They see potential opportunity with regard to two quite different constituencies — those who may stay closer to home due to the current economic conditions, and Europeans who can take advantage of a weak dollar, and can now take a flight directly into Bradley International Airport in order to do so.

Western Mass. Woos International Travelers

Ray Smith, vice president of Marketing and Operations with the Berkshire Tourism Council, said he’s heard one intriguing statistic that speaks to current trends within European tourism in the U.S., regarding the number of new suitcases that are purchased to bring back to home countries.
“Apparently, a lot of Europeans are coming here and making specific trips to buy new bags, leaving the old ones here,” he said.

With a laugh, Smith added that he’s more than happy to capitalize on whatever “keeps them coming back.”

“All the more power to the luggage stores,” he said. “That’s one of the things that is already wonderful about Western Mass. — those shopping areas, from the outlets to the outdoor shopping venues and eclectic galleries. Those are a key part of a region’s entire flavor.”

That flavor is something the Berkshire Tourism Council and other regional tourism councils (RTCs), including the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB), are working diligently to highlight of late, as they are in the midst of a new, stronger focus on attracting international tourists to the state, particularly from European countries.

Mary Kay Wydra, president of the GSCVB, said Europeans already have an understanding and appreciation for the Bay State and New England as a whole, making them a prime audience to target. Now, the various regions of the Commonwealth, from the Cape and Islands to its most westerly borders, are trying concurrently to bring new tourists in, with significant assistance from the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism.

“MOTT has taken international tourism on 100% this year,” said Wydra. “The office has facilitated contacts in various European countries — Germany and the U.K. being the biggest markets for visitors to Massachusetts.”

Just as day and driving trips are gaining popularity among domestic travelers seeking more cost-efficient vacation options in light of soaring gas prices and a weak U.S. dollar, European travelers are taking advantage of this economic downturn in the states as well. For them, there’s never been a better time for a trip across the pond, and MOTT and its member RTCs are hoping they can turn an economic downturn into a traveling boom.

Selling the State

Smith said Massachusetts, and the Berkshires in particular, have already seen some healthy numbers in terms of European and other international travelers, but this is the first time the entire state has worked as one to create a cohesive plan that, after it’s been given time to root itself, could return some significant, measurable results.

“The exciting aspect for the Berkshires and many other regions is that now, we have a significant plan,” he said. “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an international marketing plan that started when Gov. Patrick was elected, and we’re doing quite a bit of outreach.”

Smith added that MOTT secured press contacts abroad and created a number of targeted marketing plans for each country. In addition, the department has planned several ongoing ‘sales missions’ to Europe that involve representatives from all of the RTCs across the Commonwealth.

“We have been challenged, and are in fact required, to talk about the entire Commonwealth and to sell the entire Commonwealth,” he said. “MOTT has created teams covering various countries, and we need to be able to sell our own regions as well as New England. It’s a total team effort.

“It’s exciting to see this occurring in this fashion,” Smith continued. “We’re knocking down borders that international travelers never see anyway. They don’t care where the Berkshires end and Greater Springfield begins.”

Smith added that the collaborative aspect of MOTT’s approach to international tourism does more than offer an opportunity for RTCs to bone up on attractions in the rest of the state. It also makes available precious funding that each region could not otherwise access.

“This goes a long way toward pooling resources,” Smith said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this alone. The state is taking the lead to make it easier for its regions to execute plans, because we don’t have the dollars to put into the initiative solely. That means we’re working with MOTT and partnering with the GSCVB and the Mohawk Trail Assoc., too.”

He went on to note that this collaboration, especially on the local level, is important in calling attention to Western Mass. as a destination.

“Boston and New England in general are already recognized by international travelers, but the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley are not on their radar yet,” he said.

Western Ideas

Still, there are several existing facets of the region that are well-suited for further development in order to attract the international tourism market. The most recent and perhaps notable of these is Bradley Airport’s recently added direct flight from the Hartford/Springfield corridor to Amsterdam.

“It’s not just Amsterdam,” said Wydra. “That airport is a major hub, with connections to 84 different cities.”

That direct access to Western Mass. is a huge benefit for the region, and adds one more option for European travelers, who can already fly into Boston’s Logan Airport. But there are other strengths as well, including that existing general understanding overseas of the diversity of New England.

“Europeans in general love New England,” said Smith. “They know it, and they understand its history. Their sense of discovery is big. By and large, once they come once, they come back.”

Smith noted that, of all U.S. destinations, California, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and New England are the first four attractions Europeans will consider, based in part on name recognition.

“Plus, New York City and Boston are generally the first entry points for Europeans, so geographically, we have an advantage there,” he said.

To keep them coming back to Western Mass. specifically, the GSCVB and the Berkshire Tourism Council have put a number of initiatives in motion, designed to build on existing strengths and take advantage of that one big weakness — the U.S. dollar.

A considerable amount of preparation is necessary; Wydra said the GSCVB has already translated ‘lure pieces’ featuring the Pioneer Valley into Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, and German.

The same information is available in multiple languages on the GSCVB’s Web site, valleyvisitor.com, as are sample itineraries for all types of travelers.

Beyond that, Wydra and Smith agreed that a deeper understanding of international travelers is a large part of the puzzle. To that end, the GSCVB is taking steps to better-prepare members of the convention and visitors bureau for welcoming international travelers, particularly Europeans.

“It’s important for people to know how to greet European travelers,” Wydra said. “We’re talking to various market segments about customs and communication, and offering profiles of travelers from different countries. For instance, Germans tend to be very punctual, so it’s doubly important to ensure that events don’t begin late.”

There are other European habits to understand; most, for instance, use a travel agent or tour operator to help plan their initial visit, whereas Americans are more likely to use Web-based travel-planning tools.

“The leap across the pond necessitates using someone who knows what they’re doing for Europeans,” Smith explained. “Because of that, we see a lot of larger to mid-sized groups of travelers taking their first tour around, and we need to be ready to welcome them as soon as they step off the plane. Often, a first impression sets the tone for the entire trip, so we’re working to ensure that those first lines of hospitality — the concierges, help desks, and maitre d’s — are properly trained.”

Once they’ve arrived, both the GSCVB and the Berkshire Tourism Council have a number of day trips from which travelers can choose, based on their specific interests. These include outdoor activities, fine dining, historic-tourism opportunities, and cultural destinations that define Western Mass., but there’s one major activity that nearly all Europeans seem to be interested in lately.

“Europeans like to get an overall flavor for an area by doing many different things,” Smith said. “But bar none, the main component in these trips is shopping.”

As part of the materials used to woo European travelers to Western Mass., the GSCVB presents a list of popular items and the difference in cost between the U.S. to Europe to really drive that difference home. A pair of Levi’s, for example, is £45 in London and the equivalent of about £20 in Massachusetts. Nike tennis shoes are three times more expensive in Europe in the current economic climate, and Ralph Lauren bath towels are the equivalent of a paltry £5 to £8 here, whereas they’re about £15 in the U.K.

Making Inroads

There are several reasons why international audiences are integral to Western Mass. and the Commonwealth as a whole in terms of travel and tourism. The most basic and yet most important of these is that international travelers tend to stay at their destination longer, and therefore spend more money. The strong Euro is only helping to boost that trend.

That said, it will still be some time before these efforts can be evaluated in terms of economic impact, but Smith said that, in the Berkshires and beyond, this is an important building year in moving Massachusetts to the next level as an international tourist destination.

“The tough part is that we’re just starting, so it’s going to be difficult to really gauge,” said Smith. “It will take about three years to see measurable results. But we’re investing dollars in this initiative, and tracking is going to be extremely important. This year is going to be one of taking the plunge.”

Departments

Former MassMutual Chief Wins Appeal over Firing

SPRINGFIELD — Robert O’Connell, former MassMutual Financial Group chief executive, was unjustly fired last year, according to the ruling of an arbitration panel hearing his claim, and now O’Connell stands to win about $50 million in termination benefits. MassMutual ousted O’Connell last year, accusing him of abusing his authority by improperly manipulating stock accounts and interfering with internal investigations, among other wrongdoing. However, the Sept. 22 ruling by the American Arbitration Assoc., which was kept sealed until Oct. 20, finds that O’Connell has essentially prevailed on most of his claim. “The company did a total character assassination of Mr. O’Connell in order to deprive him of his contractual rights, terminate him, and advance and promote his detractors,” O’Connell’s attorney, Dean Richlin, told The Boston Globe. “This decision is a total vindication of Mr. O’Connell and a total rebuke of the board of directors at MassMutual and its advisers.” The company has filed suit against O’Connell in Suffolk Superior Court, seeking to have the award set aside. In a statement to employees, MassMutual Chairman James Birle and Chief Executive Stuart Reese asserted that “we believed then, as we believe now, that the totality of [O’Connell’s] behavior was, at a minimum, improper, unprofessional, and lacking in the ethical leadership that is required” at MassMutual.

Harvey Industries to Expand in Chicopee River Business Park

CHICOPEE — Harvey Industries Inc. recently announced plans to expand its manufacturing operations by constructing a new facility in the Chicopee River Business Park, according to the Westmass Area Development Corp. (Westmass). The vinyl window and door manufacturer currently leases space on Cottage Street in Springfield, but has grown considerably, creating the need for a new larger facility, according to Tom Russell, senior vice president of manufacturing for the company. The new facility will be on a site of approximately 30 acres, which is in both Chicopee and Springfield. The new building will be approximately 255,000 square feet, an increase of more than 100,000 square feet. More than 230 people are employed at Harvey’s current manufacturing site, and the expansion is expected to add a significant number of quality jobs. A groundbreaking is expected in 2007.

Regional Bureaus Receive Tourism Grants

BOSTON — Several Western Mass. visitor bureaus recently received grants from the Department of Business & Technology (DBT)/Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) to help generate tourism spending in Massachusetts. Tourism is recognized as the state’s third largest industry, generating more than $808 million in state and local taxes and nearly $12.5 billion in travel-related expenditures. The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau received $460,995 in state funds to market the region as a premier destination, while the Mohawk Trail Association received $181,811 in grant funds. Additionally, the Berkshire Visitors Bureau received $507,567 in state funds for marketing purposes.

Most Workers Consider Age Irrelevant at the Office

MENLO PARK, Calif. — They say age is a state of mind, and a new survey suggests this may be particularly true in the office; 84% percent of workers polled said they would be comfortable reporting to a manager who is younger than they are, and 89% said they wouldn’t mind supervising employees older than themselves. For the first time in history, four generations of employees are in the workforce, from the Silent Generation and baby boomers to Generations X and Y, according to Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam. She added that companies recognize the benefits of having diverse, well-rounded teams, and employees may be just as likely to report to a younger supervisor as an older one. In either case, the boss’s management abilities are more of a factor in employee job satisfaction than his or her age. Domeyer said that employees today are recognized more for performance than tenure with a company. The survey was developed by OfficeTeam and includes responses from 567 individuals 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments.

Report Shows Cities Guardedly Optimistic about Fiscal Health

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Like the millions of Americans they represent, U.S. cities were able to pay their bills this year but are concerned about how rising costs will affect their long-term financial stability. In fact, despite a more optimistic view of fiscal conditions, cities have yet to recover fully from the effects of the 2001 recession once changes in city revenues are adjusted for inflationary factors, according to a report recently released by the National League of Cities (NLC). More than two in three city finance directors who responded to the City Fiscal Conditions Survey in 2006 said their cities were better able to meet financial needs during 2006 than in the previous year, yet many city officials cite numerous negative factors that are affecting the solvency of their budgets. An overwhelming majority (92%) of city finance directors cited prices, inflation, and cost of living as factors affecting their city budgets. The survey is a national mail survey of finance officers in U.S. cities. Surveys were mailed to a sample of 1,059 cities, including all cities with populations greater than 50,000 and a randomly generated sample of cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000. The 2006 survey data is drawn from 385 responding city finance officers and allows NLC to generalize about all cities with populations of 10,000 or more. Copies of the report are available at www.nlc.org. The NLC is the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership, and governance.

Performance Food Group Purchases Site

SPRINGFIELD — Performance Food Group Co. has purchased 32 acres in the Memorial Industrial Park II on Roosevelt Avenue to expand its Taylor Street operation. The international food and kitchen supplies distributor paid $1.62 million for the property, which will include a 211,000-square-foot facility. The property is adjacent to Smith & Wesson. Company officials expect to go from 300 full-time employees in 2007 to 532 by 2013.

Bradley Adds Amsterdam Flights

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — Bradley International Airport (BDL), in conjunction with Northwest Airlines, recently announced it will begin offering scheduled daily nonstop international service for the first time in July. While Northwest Airlines has increased frequency of flights at other airports, BDL is the only new service to be announced by Northwest. Nonstop service to and from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands is scheduled to begin July 1. The new daily flight is scheduled to depart BDL at 5:45 p.m. and arrive at Schiphol at 6:45 a.m. The return flight leaves Schiphol at 1:30 p.m. and arrives at BDL at 3:30 p.m. With this new service, travelers will have the ability to connect to 81 cities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India.

Deerfield Properties Sold To N.Y. Firm

DEERFIELD — O’Connell Development Group of Holyoke recently announced the sale of two properties at Yankee Candle for $33.6 million. Both properties on Yankee Candle Way had been leased to the Yankee Candle Co. Deerfield Yankee Candle Acquisition LLC, a company formed by Gumowitz Real Estate in New York City, was the purchaser of the warehouse and three-story office building. O’Connell and its real estate company, Candist LLC, sold the warehouse for $19.6 million, while O’Connell and Candoff LLC sold the office building for $14 million. Both transactions closed on Sept. 27.

Pike Board Considers Ending Tolls West of Route 128

BOSTON — The Mass. Turnpike Authority board recently announced plans to end tolls west of Route 128 effective June 30, a sweeping policy shift that would provide considerable financial relief to thousands of commuters. Under the proposed plan, taxpayers would assume the burden of running and maintaining the Massachusetts Turnpike from Weston to Springfield, and approximately 200 toll collectors would be laid off. At press time, political opponents of Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey decried the timing of the board’s vote, saying it was designed to give Healey a boost among a key bloc of voters. To abolish the western tolls and transfer that portion of the turnpike to MassHighway, the state will have to repay the authority’s remaining $199 million debt on the highway.

Economy Keeps Growing Despite Cooling Trend in Housing

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve’s latest survey of business conditions around the country found the economy expanding, with growth described as “moderate or mixed.” However, the report also found there was a distinct slowdown in housing, with the majority of the Fed’s 12 regions reporting lower asking prices for homes, a softening in sales, and rising inventories of unsold homes. In addition, the Fed noted that financial institutions were finding that mortgage lending activity had tapered off. That decline in lending was being offset slightly by an increase in lending for commercial projects in several districts, according to the Fed. The economy grew by 2.6% in the second quarter, less than half the pace of the first three months of the year, as it was battered by soaring gasoline prices, rising interest rates and the cooling housing market. The Fed also noted that manufacturing activity was holding up well, with eight of the 12 districts reporting an increase in factory output.

Sections Supplements
Northampton Chamber Launches New Web Site

The Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce has a new home, virtually speaking.

Earlier this month, the chamber launched its new Web site, explorenorthampton.com. Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Northampton chamber, said the new site has been in the planning stages for some time, and brings several benefits to the chamber, its members, and the community.

“We’ve been talking about redeveloping the site for two or three years,” said Beck, “because we have been aware for some time how important a tool the Internet is in terms of travel and tourism.”

But because the site is self-funded by the Chamber, Beck said it took some time to raise the necessary capital.

“Last year was when we started getting specific with our plans,” Beck added. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted a major emphasis to be placed on promoting our members and their services, but we needed to start thinking about how we were going to highlight those businesses.”

Some of the features incorporated into the site to do just that include an itinerary function, which, similar to the ‘shopping cart’ aspect many retail sites use to assist shoppers with making purchases, will allow visitors to add exhibits, restaurants, shops, or other points of interest to a list, then view or print out the list in preparation for a trip.

In addition, a revamped online directory has been created, which allows businesses and organizations to update their listing online as needed, ensuring the most current information is viewed by visitors.

Beck explained that the Chamber’s online directory was already averaging about 7,500 hits a month, and the new format will make the service even more relevant for those seeking information about Northampton. Chamber members (membership stands at about 750 members) can also take advantage of on-line registration for events, display company press releases, and utilize exclusive ad space on the site – two ad spaces on every page of the site reserved for use by Chamber members only

“Thousands of referrals stem from the Web,” she said, “and the primary purpose of the site will be to maximize that for our businesses.”

The site will also include a calendar that any community organization can contribute to, by filling out a simple form and posting upcoming events and fundraisers.

Beck said the calendar will also be updated daily.

“This feature is as valuable to people who live here as it is for tourists,” she said. “Plus, any area business can publicize its events on this calendar for free, by submitting the information from any page on the site by clicking on ‘Submit to Calendar.’

As that gets used more, it will have more value,” said Beck, “and the overall site will have more value. It will make events and exhibits more available to people, both visitors and those living in the area.”

Beck explained that the site was developed through the efforts of several local firms and individuals. Three chamber committees spearheaded the process — the membership and tourism committees and an ad hoc Web site committee — and Dot Inc. Solutions of Hadley served as the site developer, while Novak Advertising of Northampton created the site’s page design.

Several area photographers were also tapped to provide art for the site, including members of the Pioneer Valley Photographers Assoc.

“The photographers were very generous with their work,” said Beck, noting that the site features original photographs taken by local photographers on nearly every page, rather than stock photos.

The site has been added to the chamber’s repertoire of services aimed at chamber membership development, tourism in Northampton, and economic development of the region. Some primary objectives of the overall chamber campaigns include promotion of the area as a destination; the development of new travel and tourism markets, and of new infrastructures to support tourism; expansion of the commercial base in Northampton; and the development of the town’s economic development priorities in terms of regional initiatives.

Uncategorized

Last fall, as the MassMutual Center was getting set to open its doors, there were more than a few skeptics who doubted whether the $70 million facility would succeed in drawing events to Springfield and bringing people downtown.

Today, such doubters remain, but they’re considerably harder to find.

Granted, it’s only been a few months, and the success of such a massive public project is measured over a long period of time, but there are many signs that the facility is doing what it was designed to do — breathe some much needed life into downtown.

Two successful concerts, Martina McBride and Motley Crue, drew large crowds, and downtown parking lots have been jammed most weekends with mini vans and SUVs, the vehicles of necessity for audiences drawn to shows ranging from Dora the Explorer to pro wrestling; monster trucks to Disney on Ice.

This early success and the promise for much more — the March schedule was packed with events including auto and flower shows and college basketball championships — should give city officials and Financial Control Board members pause to consider creation of a broad strategy that will seize on the momentum being created by MassMutual Center.

It is clear that one doesn’t exist, because the facility has been left largely on an island, with very little to support it or to ‘extend the stay’ of visitors, as those in the travel and tourism business like to say. Indeed, while there are a few restaurants and attractions close by, there is little to keep those mini vans and SUVs from getting back on the highway after the shows end.

Extending the stay will take a coordinated effort, one that will require steps ranging from a beefed up police presence to finding some way to bring the long-stalled plans for a boutique hotel in Court Square to reality. And there will be a number of challenges, ranging from economics to the deteriorating condition of the Court Square building.

But right now, the MassMutual Center is a vital component of the overall economic development strategy in Springfield, and thus city and state officials must be aggressive in pursuit of ways to extend the building’s influence beyond its four walls and downtown parking concessions.

Put another way, they need to facilitate what should be — if the MassMutual Center continues on its current path — an intriguing exercise in the laws of supply and demand. How? For starters, they could explore options to incentivise national restaurant chains, especially those that cater to families, to look at and eventually invest in downtown Springfield. Meanwhile, they should engage downtown property owners in discussions on ways to bring in new businesses, ones that will complement the MassMutual Center.

City officials and the Control Board must also continue their work — there has been noted progress — to make the downtown cleaner, brighter, and safer.

And there must be a concerted effort to somehow rescue plans for a hotel at the Court Street property or find some other use for the century-old building. At present, the city is moving to foreclose on the property, burdened with more than $1 million in back taxes and a dispute over them between the city and the Picknelly family, which purchased the historic property several years ago.

Control Board officials say they are restricted in what they do in terms of forgiving back taxes and interest, and remain hopeful that there will be interest within the development community for such a venture. We are not as optimistic, and believe that a way should have been found to allow the Picknelly family to move ahead in its endeavor.

Foreclosure will likely serve to only delay this project further, not move it forward.

The MassMutual Center is not going to turn Springfield into Orlando. The city’s downtown isn’t likely to become a real destination any time soon. But the early success of the new facility provides a measure of optimism, a sense that it can bring greater prosperity to that area — if some encouragement is provided.

The city and state invested more than $70 million in the MassMutual. Now it needs to invest some time and energy to make sure it doesn’t remain an island.

Uncategorized

Pat Montgomery says his job is be to the face of the MassMutual Center. By that he means it’s his responsibility to build the relationships and partnerships needed to make the $71 million facility a success, while also doing whatever it takes to provide event organizers and convention planners with a positive experience.

Pat Montgomery says the community of promoters and meeting and convention planners is a small, fairly close-knit group.

“They all know each other and they like to talk and compare notes,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s why you want them saying good things about you.”

Creating such positive talk could be considered a very broad job description for Montgomery, who last summer became general manager of the MassMutual Center, which opened its doors in October.

And that means that he’ll definitely be earning his keep this month.

Indeed, by the time March is over, there will be considerable talk within meeting and convention circles about Springfield and its new, $71 million convention center. Events on tap range from an auto show to a performance by Larry the Cable Guy; the Division II men’s basketball finals to Disney on Ice; the Governor’s Council on Travel and Tourism conference to a Motley Crue concert.

“It’s a big month … we’re going to be really busy,” said Montgomery, adding that the packed schedule brings both challenge and opportunity. The former will come in both the number and diversity of the various events — on a few dates there are big shows going on simultaneously in the arena and the convention floor — while the latter involves the potential for generating large amounts of that favorable talk he referred to.

“It’s all about creating a positive experience, and a lot goes into that,” he explained, adding that his broad assignment is to make Springfield and the region ‘convention-ready.’

To successfully carry out that assignment, Mongtomery said he and his staff must build a number of relationships and partnerships with groups and organizations that range from the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) to the city’s police department; the Spirit of Springfield to area hotel managers.

It is through such partnerships that the MassMutual Center can meet the financial goals set by the Mass. Convention Center Authority, which owns the building, and also make the Pioneer Valley a viable tourist and convention destination, said Montgomery, who added that as GM, he acts as the ‘face’ of the facility.

Elaborating, he said that means he’s very visible — in the building and in the community — and interfacing with a number of constituencies, from audience members to Chamber of Commerce leaders. This is an evolving role, one that Montgomery, who came to Springfield and the MassMutual Center from the Liacouras Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, says he’s growing into.

“This is a great opportunity for me … it’s been wonderful learning experience,” he said, adding that his education will no doubt be enhanced by the crowded March schedule. “Every day, every show, brings something new.”

BusinessWest looks this month at the many aspects of Montgomery’s new assignment, and how he goes about the task of putting his facility, and the region as a whole, on the map.

Pinning Him Down

Like most people, Mongtomery doesn’t exactly understand the attraction of professional wrestling. “I don’t get it personally, but to each his own,” he said, adding quickly that he was there, in the front row, for the December Smackdown put on by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the publicly traded conglomerate headed by Vince McMahon.

He wasn’t exactly taking in the action on the mat, though. Rather, he was doing what he does at every event staged at the facility — watching, listening, and doing everything in his power to make sure organizers leave with smiles on their faces.

“That show was amazing,” Mont-gomery said of the Smackdown, referring not to the wrestling per se, but the scope of the production staged by the WWE. “There were giant screens and this huge metal fist they brought in — it was great a show and a real test for us, one that we passed easily.”

Each show tests Montgomery and his staff of 22 in some way, be it parking, traffic, lighting, logistics, or making sure the carbon dioxide levels are within safe limits at the recent monster truck show. “Each event is different, and each one presents us unique challenges,” he explained. “That’s what makes this work fun and, in many ways, rewarding.”

Montgomery was drawn to the field of arena management as an undergraduate at Temple. He later earned a master’s degree in Sports Administration at the school and started his career as event manager and assistant general manager of the Liacouras Center.

That’s one of 40 arenas (the Mullins Center at UMass is another) managed by Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of ComCast and the world’s second largest management, consulting, and event development company for public assembly facilities. That category includes stadiums, ice rinks, and exposition centers, as well as convention centers in Palm Beach and Miami, Fla., Richmond, Va., Pueblo, Colo., and other cities.

That list grew by one last summer when the Mass. Convention Center Authority chose Global Spectrum to manage the MassMutual Center. Montgomery sought to come from Springfield because the facility here represents a larger, sterner challenge.

“This has both an arena and a convention center,” he explained. “This is a bigger, better facility that will provide me with experience in putting on a wide array of shows and events.”

The center’s first four months in business offer a glimpse of that diversity. In addition to the wrestling and monster truck shows, the facility hosted two performances of Dora the Explorer, a Martina McBride concert (the first sold-out concert in Springfield in more than 15 years), the Harlem Globetrotters, and several other events.

Work staging those shows has helped prep the MassMutual Center staff for its own version of March Madness.

The month started with the Inter-national Auto Showcase, a giant car show staged in the exhibition hall Feb. 28-March 1, as well as shows of Monsters, Inc. Disney on Ice and the March 6 Motley Crue concert. Other events on tap include:

  • The Northeast Campground Asso-ciation’s regional industry trade show and conference;
  • The NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball finals and Elite Eight Division II Men’s Basketball tournament;
  • The annual Mass. Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism;
  • A performance by Larry the Cable Guy, who offers what is called ‘redneck humor’; and
  • The annual conference of MATHWEST, the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in Western Mass.

The March events at the MassMutual Center will complement others in the area during the month, including a conference of the Mass. Municipal Auditors and Accountants at UMass, a gathering of New England District Key Clubs at Springfield’s Marriott and Sheraton Hotels, and a conference of the New England Cheerleading Assoc., expected to bring 3,500 people to Western New England College.

The sum of the various events is expected to generate, by the GSCVB’s estimates, more than 32,000 visitors to the region, nearly 5,000 room nights, and close to $1.2 million in overall economic impact.

“March will give us a great opportunity to introduce some people to Springfield and the region, and let them see that we can put on a good show,” said Montgomery, adding that the generation of positive experiences is a process, one that requires teamwork and cooperation.

Working in Concert …

As he gave BusinessWest a quick tour of the MassMutual Center and its many different facilities, Montgomery, referring to the designers and contractors, said, “they did it right.”

By that, he meant that the facility and its specific parts, from the arena bowl to the smaller meeting rooms, were designed and built to be user-friendly and to solve problems, not create them.

“This facility has all the bells and whistles, starting with the scoreboard — it definitely creates a ‘wow’ factor,” he explained, “but beyond that, it was designed with the users in mind. The designers anticipated virtually every need, from where to put electrical outlets on down the list, and they addressed them; it’s a great asset for the region.”

But the building itself is only part of the equation when it comes to making the MassMutual Center successful and able to meet its stated goals — generating revenue for both the Mass. Convention Center Authority and the region as a whole.

Other components include an aggressive sales strategy that focuses on selling not merely the MassMutual Center or the city of Springfield, but the region itself; continued building of partnerships within the broad tourism and hospitality sector in the region; and working to break through the perception that Springfield is a troubled city.

Competing cities, including Worcester, Lowell, Providence, and Hartford, no doubt help to create that perception, said Montgomery, noting that the business of attracting shows and conventions is like any other — it’s cut-throat. What Springfield must do, he continued, is counter those perceptions by addressing its issues with regard to crime and budget deficits, while also generating solid reviews within the meeting and convention community.

“We have to create a good name for ourselves … that’s how you break through the perception problems we have,” he explained. “And you do that by making sure that when people leave, they have a good taste in their mouths.

“You want to develop a good reputation,” he continued, “you want to have people saying ‘they do a really good job there, they took good care of us.”

Thus far, Montgomery believes he and his staff — and the many other players involved in bringing conventions and events to the region — have created positive talk about Springfield and its facility.

“The wrestling people loved us — they want to come back,” he said, noting that return visits will be one good barometer of how the MassMutual center is meeting or exceeding expectations. Another will be the number of new events that are gained through positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Using concerts as an example, he expects that promoters will look at both the numbers from the Martina McBride show and the smoothness of that concert and conclude that Springfield is ready and able to handle more of such shows.

“We had a lot of positive press from that event, and a lot of E-mails and letters from people who attended saying they had a good time,” he said. “That all helps to create that reputation you’re looking for.”

Closing Number

Montgomery said he attends virtually every event at the MassMutual Center. That includes Martina McBride, the monster trucks, and Dora the Explorer.

“It can wear you out a little, but it’s one of the things that makes the job fun,” he explained, adding that by attending in person he can get the look and feel of an event from a spectator’s perspective.

That’s just one of many aspects of being the ‘face’ of the facility and one of the strategies being employed to create positive experiences and, as Montgomery put it, “getting people to say good things about you.”

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

Cover Story
Springfield Museums display determination
Cover 10/31/05

Cover 10/31/05

Museums everywhere are struggling to reinvent themselves and appeal to wider audience, while simultaneously coping with tight budgets and overtaxed staff. The Springfield Museums are not immune to those challenges, and face them everyday. But museums director Joe Carvalho is optimistic that the institutions have what it takes to not only survive, but thrive in the national marketplace.

“Have you ever seen a Samurai sword?” That was the question Joe Carvalho, director of the Springfield Museums, posed to a family he ran into recently while rushing off to a meeting on the museum grounds. The family had come to the museums specifically to tour an exhibit on black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and, having completed their visit (or so they thought), were about to leave.

But Carvalho had other plans for the family, which included two young children whose eyes widened at the prospect of checking out a massive Japanese sword, like the ones they’d seen in movies and video games. Having successfully steered them away from the parking lot and toward the Asian art exhibit, Carvalho headed off to his meeting.

An hour later, he passed the same family, now with handmade Asian kites in their hands that they’d created at the nearby Art Discovery Center, and with plans to visit the science museum before leaving. “Now that,” Carvalho said, with a slap to his knee that was both emphatic and triumphant, “That’s great. That’s what it’s all about.” It was just a snapshot, he said, of the model the Springfield Museums have been cultivating over the past several years.

“Museums used to be purely visual,” he said. “You came to simply see. But we can’t be that anymore … you have to be able to see, do, touch, interact, learn, and have fun. More and more museums are realizing that’s what you have to do to survive, but I think we’re ahead of the curve. I think that’s our magic.” And one statistic would suggest that Carvalho’s optimism is warranted: Springfield Museums have logged record attendance levels over the past three years, bringing in the highest number of visitors in the facilitie’s history.

That’s in the face of financial challenges and staffing cutbacks, among other concerns, not to mention the museums’ central location in the heart of a struggling city. As part of its focus on the region’s travel and tourism sector, BusinessWest looks this issue at some of the initiatives that are working for the museums, and some of the new frontiers Carvalho and his staff hope to cross in the future, as they work to bring an historic quartet of buildings into the 21st century.

Curating the Ills Carvalho said the Springfield Museums aren’t unique when it comes to many of those ongoing concerns he mentioned. Museums nationwide face a common set of challenges, and it’s how those problems are tackled that determines the ultimate level of success. Museums are charged to continuously shake off the dust, sometimes literally, he said, within their halls and to not only change with the times but also translate those changes to the general public. They must update their collections, while maintaining existing ones.

They must appeal to general audiences, while still upholding high academic standards in the areas of archiving and historical or cultural relevance. They must perpetually seek out new funding sources in the form of grants or corporate support in order to maintain services, and must also make do with sparse staff and resources in the face of budget constraints.

“Keeping good people is an issue that all museums deal with,” Carvalho explained. “There is a major misconception that people who work in museums sit on their hands all day, when in fact, we have a team of professionals here that are increasingly called upon to broaden their skill base. “Staffs are getting smaller all the time in all museums,” he continued, noting that when money is tight, staff cutbacks are common.

But as the demands for new types of technology-based, multi-media exhibits and offerings increase, existing employees are often called upon to add a new line to their list of responsibilities. “The technological and cultural literacy required to work in this environment is staggering, and we’re lucky here to have people who have taken that component of ongoing education very seriously. In some cases, their creativity has translated into innovative, cost-saving ideas for us, and they’re constantly stretching their resources. I couldn’t ask them to do more … although I probably will.”

It’s not just creativity in the exhibit halls that leads to greater foot traffic, however. Increasingly, museums must compete with television, radio, and the Internet when recruiting new audiences, and constantly sell themselves to the public in an effort to explain why it’s better to visit a museum to see a given work of art, scientific marvel, or historical relic, instead of Googling the item from a home office desk. “In 1896, when the museum first opened, they didn’t have to worry about the Internet, the TV, and video games,” Carvalho said.

“Now we’re literally competing for people’s time.” He added that those museums that are not recognizing the need to reinvent themselves are those that are struggling the most. “Museums have to build toward the future as much as they have to preserve the past,” he stressed. “Some haven’t, and they blame their downturns on the attitudes of the public, not on their own internal issues. Museums need to recognize that we have to appeal to everyone, not just people with PhDs, to survive.

We have to be different, we have to be engaging, and we have to show people the value of seeing the actual object. That’s our purpose, and we have to do it well.” But that’s admittedly a tall order, said Carvalho, and one that is complicated by the need to woo local visitors to the museums as much as national visitors. He added that “convincing the community to come back” has been at the top of the Springfield Museums’ to-do list over the past decade, and, gradually, they are returning. A Seuss Boost Undoubtedly, one addition to the museums that gave the organization a needed boost was that of the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in 2002.

Now the crown jewel of Springfield’s Quadrangle, the bronze statues depicting various characters created by Springfield native Theodore Geisel have brought some national attention to the city, as well as the museums’ four buildings and their collections:

• The George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, which houses the collection of its Victorian namesake, including several pieces of Japanese and Chinese decorative arts;

• The Springfield Science Museum with its African Hall, the Seymour Planetarium, an aquarium and live animal center, and Gee Bee airplane;

• The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, which exhibits present decorative objects and domestic artifacts highlighting the history of the Connecticut River Valley, and

• The Museum of Fine Arts, featuring 14 galleries of important American and European oil paintings, as well as fine watercolors and other works on paper, sculpture, furniture, and decorative arts.

Carvalho said the sculpture garden has definitely captured the public’s attention, and drew in a new legion of visitors to all of the museums. But he was also quick to note that the museums will not be leaning too heavily on the memorial in the future. It gave the museums a much-needed shot in the arm, he said, but Horton and his friends can’t do it alone.

“It’s a gem,” Carvalho said. “It gave us the national brand we needed and some new recognition as a destination. But what the memorial also gave us was a way to reintroduce the other national collections we have here, something simple to open that door. Now that the momentum has started, we are going to continue to build on it by constantly rethinking how to draw people in.”

That could mean working with area schools to create programs for students, or capitalizing on the new branding of the Pioneer Valley, jump-started by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, in order to attract more regional visitors to the museums for one and twoday trips. It could also mean revamping existing collections as well as procuring and promoting new galleries and exhibits, as Heather Haskell, director of Art Museums, explained. She said a number of unique art exhibits will be shown throughout the year, ranging from photography to colonial crafts to the realistic, often life-sized sculptures of world-renowned soft sculpture artist Lisa Lichtenfels.

A massive reinstallation of 10 permanent galleries is also currently underway at the museums, which will require months of painstaking work by museum staff. “We’re putting new or different objects in view, and highlighting some recent gifts to the museums,” said Haskell. “The objective is to make the entire museum more accessible to 21st century visitors.” The museums’ next national marketing push will be to promote its expansive collection of Currier & Ives prints, many of which will be unveiled on Nov. 18 in the Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibit will include 175 of the museum’s 790 hand-colored, original lithographs, which represents the third largest collection in the country next to the Library of Congress and the New York City Museum, and the only permanent museum gallery in the world. What’s more, museum staff has taken to referring to exhibits like the Currier and Ives collection as ‘brands,’ underscoring the economic impact the art collections have on the business climate of the museums as well as the city.

“It’s possible that 10 years from now, we could have the largest exhibit of Currier & Ives prints in the entire world,” said Haskell. “The magnitude of this collection already elevates us to a new level as a museum.” Carvalho added that it will be a goal to continually grow the collection, in hopes of taking advantage of the notoriety, much like the museums did following the dedication of the sculpture garden in 2002. “It benefits everyone,” he said.

“The national attention will draw in more visitors who will stay longer, will raise awareness of the area and allow for increased cross-promotion here and across the valley and into Connecticut. And it’s all in keeping with the spirit of moving forward.” And with such a diverse set of collections on the premises, the Springfield Museums do indeed have the resources to cater to a wide spectrum of visitors, including several niche populations.

That diversity also makes for a complex marketing model, said Carvalho, explaining that the museums must strike a balance between their individual identities and their strength as a whole. “The question is, ‘Do we try to show the public that there’s something for everyone, and market all of the museums together,” he said, “Or do we try to target those audiences who are likely to visit specific exhibits?’ “The answer is yes,” he offered.

“There’s no one right way to get the sense across of what we have to offer. So, we do it all. We develop marketing for the masses and we target niche markets as well. Our strength is, regardless of how we got them here, that we do our best to show them once they are here how much we have. “The bottom line is we are not yesterday’s museum,” he continued. “There are three groups we are very serious about here: contemporary audiences, future audiences, and past audiences. We have a responsibility to all of them.”

Asian Wisdom He hopes that, in many cases, visitors to the museums will represent all three in the years to come. That’s why he and his staff are hard at work planning the next round of exhibits, researching grants and corporate sponsorship opportunities, and occasionally stopping a visitor in his tracks to ask ‘Hey … have you ever seen a Samurai sword?’ ?

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Web Site Offers a New Alternative for Intrepid Travelers
GoNomad.com

GoNomad.com

On Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield, there is a small, red-shingled building, in keeping with the area’s quaint, New England architecture.

Inside, though, is a gateway to the rest of the world.

The building is the new home of GoNomad.com, an online travel resource for ëalternative travelers’ — those in search of a thrill, an education, or a one-of-a-kind experience while traveling.

GoNomad.com’s owner, Max Hartshorne, calls the site "a comprehensive resource center," designed to provide alternative travelers with both inspiration and information to plan virtually any trip.

The most prevalent aspect of the site is its editorial content — essentially a Web-based magazine, GoNomad features hundreds of articles describing unique trips that stray from the more common Disneyland, Vegas, or cruise ship vacations.

"Our readers don’t want to read about lounging on the beach," he said. "They want to learn how to hand roll couscous in Morocco. They want to take a cooking class in Croatia, or go on an archeological dig in Jordan. It’s a very interesting niche of people."

And it was a niche that Hartshorne wanted very much to call attention to. He bought GoNomad.com from its founder, Lauryn Axelrod of Vermont, a travel writer and documentary filmmaker, in February, 2002. He already had some editorial and travel industry experience, having served as managing editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine, based in Amherst, for some time, but wanted to take the idea of alternative travel to a new level.

He also wanted to capitalize on the Internet market, and provide an extensive travel ëWeb-zine’ that would do more than just entertain readers.

"Working in the editorial world is my real love," said Hartshorne, who has also worked in sales for Bolduc’s Clothing in Agawam, among other ventures. "I love working with writers and photographers and I’m also an extensive traveler. I knew I wanted to continue the work I had been doing at Transitions Abroad, but I knew utilizing the Internet was the way to go.

"If you look at all media as a triangle, at the end of the day the Internet is at the top," he said, creating a point with his hands and extending his forefinger for emphasis. "I think the best way to create a travel resource like this is to do it on the Web. Everything is right there — the inspiration and also all the links you need to plan a trip from start to finish."

Charting a Course

But early 2002 was a risky time to take over an Internet-based business that centered on alternative travel.

Less than five months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, travel and tourism was at an all-time low, and niche markets like ecotourism, work and study abroad programs, and cultural immersion tours — all examples of alternative travel — were suffering even more so.

"It was a big risk," Hartshorne said. "But the site was already up and running, and had a following. I decided it was a risk I wanted to take."

The venture has paid off for Hartshorne; since assuming control of the site, he has added several features meant to increase both traffic to the site and the convenience with which visitors can plan their own adventures.

GoNomad includes travel guides, links to travel-based companies such as travel agents, airlines, tour companies, and volunteer organizations, and key information for alternative travelers, ranging from unique places to stay to the latest recommended immunizations, and how to find a bathroom — quick — in any country.

Hartshorne said the travel stories are meant to serve as both motivation and guidance for would-be travelers, and the added links are the tools GoNomad visitors can use to plan any trip they can envision — be it a weekend jaunt to Brooklyn, or a trek through Iran, taking daily meals with — what else? — nomads.

He updates the site regularly to reflect the most often viewed articles and resources, and said those updates are proof of the diversity of the site as well as of its core users. Alternative travelers don’t always equal ëextreme travelers,’ he noted, but the common thread that links GoNomad’s typical visitor is they travel to enrich their lives, rather than take a break from it.

On any given day, GoNomad could feature a motorcycle tour of Bulgaria or the top 10 ëbare beaches’ worldwide. It could also extol the benefits of teaching English in Paris, Tokyo, Spain, or Ghana, or of volunteering in the Himalayas.

But the site also offers details on an historical weekend in Richmond, Va., and of an English garden tour.

"All of the articles and resources aren’t meant to be about one person’s trip," Hartshorne explained. "They are meant to be about the reader’s potential trip. It should give people an idea of where to visit, where to stay, or where to eat, and also provide a general feel of the flavor of a place."

Hartshorne has also developed partnerships with a number of businesses, online and otherwise, to augment the services GoNomad offers and to capitalize on the ever-changing virtual marketplace. For one, Hartshorne has joined forces with airportparkingreservations.com, based in Suffield, Conn., allowing GoNomad visitors to secure a parking spot at one of several airports globally at a fixed rate.

"We are getting thousands of inquiries on that," he said. "In urban areas, it’s not easy to find a parking spot. Travelers are really latching on to this and taking advantage of great deals."

Hartshorne also offers free listings for hotels, bed and breakfasts, travel agents, work/study programs, and other businesses, as well as ëpremium’ listings for a fee, and, like thousands of other content-heavy websites, has joined Google’s Ad Sense program, which places contextually relevant ads next to the stories on the Web site.

"This provides a pay-per-click revenue stream," Hartshorne explained. "The ads are extremely targeted, so a feature story on say, Brazil, will have ads for Rio hotels, airfare to Brazil and tours in the Amazon."

Hartshorne also benefits from the sale of travel insurance and travel books and other items in the ëGoNomad Marketplace,’ and this year, he will continue to add to the site, delving into the business of selling airline tickets — his own private-label line of low priced European and Asian flights — in addition to the railpasses, vacations, cruises, domestic and international ticket and hotel sales already offered.

To further increase revenues while remaining true to GoNomad’s original flavor, Hartshorne is creating a ëpod cast’ service — audio versions of travel articles in MP3 format, which visitors can download and listen to in their homes or, he hopes, on the airplane that will deliver them to their chosen destination.

"Our revenue stream is varied," he said of the many business ventures in the works. "But we don’t stray from our mission. We’re not about cruise ships, we’re not about Vegas, and we’re not New York, Paris, and London. We’re about participatory, learning travel. We will continue to grow and offer different services in order to keep that aspect of the site strong."

Plane Speaking

And as the business grows, so does its notoriety. GoNomad has been featured in a number of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and Hartshorne has served as a guest expert on travel and the state of the tourism industry for several media outlets including CNN, on which he appeared twice recently in the wake of the Asian tsunami that hit Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, and the once-booming vacation spot of Phu Ket, Thailand.

Having kick-started his business after the tourism industry, and in many ways the U.S. as a whole, suffered its most devastating blow in September, 2001, Hartshorne is indeed an expert on the fragility of the travel and tourism industry.

"The most important thing people needed to know after 9/11 was that America was still open for business," he said. "The same holds true for South Asia following the tsunami. People are donating millions of dollars to relief efforts, and I gladly donated as well. But the best way we, as Americans, as travelers, can help the countries that were hit by the tsunami is to go there.

"Many people equate those entire countries with the damage caused by the tsunami, but that’s not accurate," he continued. "There are some great, inland areas that are just fine, and accepting tourists. Spending our dollars there will help the entire economy."

He added that GoNomad travelers are the ideal group to lead the way.

"These people want to see the whole world, not select parts," he said. "They want to go to South Asia, or to the Middle East. They want to learn about new cultures. That act of people connecting with people is what is needed most."

Hartshorne is hard at work monitoring those connections from his South Deerfield office each day… constantly welcoming new visitors to the rest of the world.

Fast Facts
Company: GoNomad.com
Address: 14A Sugarloaf St.,
South Deerfield, MA 01373
Phone: (413) 665-5005
Web site:www.GoNomad.com
E-mail:[email protected]

Features
’Mary Kay Wydra calls herself the Valley’s biggest cheerleader. That’s an oversimplification of her duties as President of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, but still, the title fits. And while she works to sell the region to travelers, she’s also recruiting residents to root for the home team.

H For Mary Kay Wydra, the Pioneer Valley is home. But it is also her workplace, her passion — and her product.

She’s been selling that product for more than 15 years as part of the team at the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB), which she now directs.

Wydra has dubbed herself the definitive cheerleader for Western Mass., though that may be an oversimplification of her day-to-day duties. Responsible for promoting the Pioneer Valley as a year-round destination for everyone from large-scale corporate groups seeking convention and meeting spots to tour groups in search of new sites to visit, not to mention the casual day-tripper, Wydra and her staff must constantly find new ways to market the region as fun, exciting, historic, educational, accessible, and affordable, all on a shoe-string budget.

There are many challenges that come with that assignment, some that are relative to the broad tourism industry, such as seasonal slowdowns and intense competition for tourism and convention dollars.

Others, though, are hurdles specific to Greater Springfield. For starters, there’s the perception that the region is primarily an ëideal pit stop’ for refueling, grabbing a quick bite, and moving on. There’s also the perception that the Valley is too far away (from anywhere) and has little to offer.

Those elements, coupled with the present need to triumph over negative headlines regarding crime, poverty, and fiscal duress, would complicate any cheerleader’s job. To overcome those obstacles, Wydra and her staff are composing a multi-faceted strategy for not only selling the region, but building momentum within it.

BusinessWest looks this month at the components in that strategy, which includes recruiting new players and inspiring the home team.

The Laws of Attraction

Wydra, a Westfield native, has worn many hats at the bureau. She started there in 1988 as a secretary after graduating from Springfield College with a degree in business and a minor in psychology. She later left to pursue a job in public affairs with Big Y.

Soon, though, Wydra came to the realization that tourism was her calling.

"I really missed my industry," she said. So, after 15 months away from the convention and visitors bureau, she returned, this time to stay, rising up the ranks to assume her current position in January, 2001.

The date is notable — just eight months later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 brought the nation to a standstill and the travel industry into a prolonged tailspin. Tourist destinations of all kinds suffered, she said, but major metropolitan areas were especially hard hit.

"People were fearful of traveling to large cities for a long time," she said. "Because of that, more people took notice of our major attractions, and they began to realize that we were a varied, interesting, and accessible place to visit."

So in some ways, 9/11 actually created opportunities for the Pioneer Valley, she said, a situation augmented by the addition of several new attractions; the fact that hotel occupancy rates in the Pioneer Valley have exceeded the state-wide numbers for the past several years are proof of that.

Wydra said steady, improving tourism numbers are the result of a set of marketing and community-based initiatives, designed specifically to keep the Pioneer Valley on the map.

Her approach takes into account both those people unfamiliar with the region and those who live and work here, and is heavily weighted toward positive public relations — an important facet of the bureau’s operations and a key component to putting Greater Springfield’s best face forward.

It’s also one of Wydra’s professional strengths. She handled much of the bureau’s marketing efforts prior to accepting the president’s post, and displays many successful print campaigns of years past in her Main Street, Springfield office.

The current campaign uses materials that showcase the Pioneer Valley to outsiders, including businesses and organizations that may want to hold conventions and meetings in the area, tour groups, and individual travelers, all with a family feel and all underscoring the expansive nature of the region, Wydra explained.

Of course, there is a strong emphasis on major attractions — Six Flags in Agawam, Springfield’s new Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Yankee Candle flagship store in South Deerfield among them. The rise in leisure travelers that began in 2002 can also be attributed to the simultaneous addition of four new attractions — the new Hall, the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden at Springfield Quadrangle, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and the Superman — Ride of Steel roller coaster at Six Flags.

"We really pushed the fact that we had four new attractions being added all at the same time, " she said, "and that helped us get the word out about the Pioneer Valley in general."

It also added to the progress being made in the cross-promotion of events and attractions within the three counties that make up the Pioneer Valley, one of the aspects of her job that Wydra finds most gratifying.

Weekend Warriors

"The great progress we’re seeing among people identifying themselves as part of the entire region and not a specific county or town is wonderful," she told BusinessWest. "We are united by a highway and a river, and can offer so many different types of experiences. You can start a trip in a city and experience the urban flavor of the region. Then, you can go a little further west and visit some of the more funky, artsy places like Northampton; go a little further still and you’re in the heart of a beautiful, bucolic area … I think people realize the value of that."

Another phenomenon Wydra has noticed is the evolution of the region’s tourism sector, from what was largely an afterthought in an area dominated by manufacturing, to one of the fastest growing segments of the area’s economy.

She said the tourism industry has created a number of jobs locally, and has spawned the creation or expansion of hospitality management programs at UMass, American International College, and Holyoke Community College.

"Years ago, people found travel and tourism information in the leisure section of the daily newspaper," she said. "That is no longer true. Now, the things we are doing are on the front of the business section. We need to continue to cultivate that to benefit the Valley."

At the same time, area residents need to take a measure of ownership in the region’s tourism sector by becoming part of cheerleading squad, Wydra added. This includes providing recommendations, directions, or travel advice to visitors, while encouraging families and groups exploring convention sites to consider the Pioneer Valley.

In short, Wydra wants to create a greater sense of pride in the region.

She’s doing so through several initiatives, including the Pioneer Valley Pride program, which in part will enlist local individuals to promote Greater Springfield as a possible convention location for regional or national associations they may belong to. Meanwhile, the GSCVB continues to promote the decade-old Howdy Awards, given to residents who work in the hospitality industry annually, to recognize exemplary service.

"These individuals are often overlooked, but they are the people who are giving directions, checking people into hotels, and serving their food," she said.

This year, to augment the program, she has added a wrinkle to the Howdy tradition — ëHowdy U’ — that will take shape in June. The program, designed to give those in the hospitality business a crash course in Pioneer Valley tourism, was developed in part to create career ladder opportunities for people in the service industry, as well as to decrease the high turnover levels that are common to hospitality and tourism-related jobs nationwide.

The two-day course, to be held at Western New England College, will first provide its students with information regarding broad skills such as dealing with angry customers, and later, region-specific information.

"We want people to be knowledgeable about the region — to know about attractions like our museums, live theater, and symphony, and how to direct people to them," she said.

The second day, Howdy U participants will be loaded onto a bus and shuttled around the Pioneer Valley on a guided tour of both visible and hidden gems, in order to develop a working knowledge of their proximity to one another.

"That will allow them to tell people how close different attractions are to one another and help them suggest possible itineraries," she explained.

Howdy U graduates will also be able to illustrate the variety of attractions that exists in the region, which Wydra sees as one of its best assets.

"It’s a big selling point," she said, pointing out that in addition to specific attractions such as the Yankee Candle flagship store or seasonal events like Bright Nights and the Big E, the bureau frequently promotes ëhub and spoke trips’ that allow tourists to stay overnight in one location, but branch out on any number of day trips in surrounding towns and cities.

"We like to point out that there are so many attractions within minutes of each other, that it’s very easy to pick a hotel or a bed and breakfast in one city or town, but experience the entire Valley in a matter of days," she explained. "Overall, we try to pitch the Pioneer Valley as a package. All of these partnerships enhance the work we do, and help us expose what the Valley has to offer."

In addition, Wydra is focusing on attracting new populations to the area, including an increased number of bus tour groups and student travelers, of both high school and college age. The bureau also continues to market heavily to potential convention customers, and is poised to capitalize on the opening of the new MassMutual Convention Center, being built on the Springfield Civic Center site, slated to open in September of this year.

Its very construction is adding to the Pioneer Valley Pride Program, Wydra noted. "People are watching it go up and they’re starting to get excited about what it means for Springfield."

With or without major projects like the new convention center aiding the marketing efforts of the bureau, though, it always maintains a strong concentration on its three major customers — meeting planners, tour operators, and leisure visitors — and has stepped up its collaborative efforts with business partners across the Valley, including some unconventional partners such as area hospitals and banks. The partnerships reflect both the unique and close-knit nature of the region, Wydra said, as well as the growing importance of tourism initiatives to the region’s fiscal picture.

"There needs to be a concerted effort to bring commerce into the region," she said. "It’s important to everyone, and as more people are exposed to what the Valley has to offer, more people will ultimately take advantage of all of our services."

A-list Possibilities

With so many different variables to monitor, Wydra said measuring success has become a detailed process. The occupancy rates at area hotels are constantly monitored, as are the number of bus tours arriving in the Valley and what types of people are aboard. Attendance at major events and attractions is also compared to the previous year’s, down to the last child to pass through the Big E gates, or the last car to exit the Bright Nights tour.

All that data is proof of what Greater Springfield’s improving allure to travelers, Wydra said, thanks to home team hustle.

"The Pioneer Valley has become a destination due to a lot of hard work by a lot of people. My job is to be enthusiastic for the region — which in and of itself is not hard, because I believe in it, I love it, and it is home to me."

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

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