Economic Outlook Sections

The Suspense Is Building

The Planning of 2014 Will Give Way to Construction in 2015

By JEFFREY S. CIUFFREDA

The year now drawing to a close might best be known for all of the planning that went into several projects, and therefore 2015 will likely become known as the year of construction, because many, if not all, of these planned projects entered into the construction phase.

Jeffrey S. Ciuffreda

Jeffrey S. Ciuffreda

Indeed, 2014 saw a fair amount of construction, and some of what took place was rebuilding from the 2011 tornado that ripped through Springfield and the surrounding area. Several schools in Springfield were either repaired or rebuilt, bringing construction volume to more than $100 million. While the construction trades had suffered double-digit unemployment for a few years, these public projects helped keep some of those workers employed.

Some long-time institutions spent considerable money in 2014 to upgrade their facilities, and in some cases add jobs. Mercy Medical Center completed a $20 million addition to its campus, and National Public Radio renovated a downtown building at the cost of $3 million, adding to the rebirth of the downtown that brought some jobs down from their Amherst location. Caring Health Center completed its renovations in the South End, spending $15 million to do so.

Looking ahead to 2015, there is more construction to come, but this time complete with new jobs.

This past year saw an up-and-down planning process with expanded gaming in Massachusetts, culminating in a final vote by the citizens of the Commonwealth to move forward with this concept. That gave the green light to MGM to commence its $800 million project in Springfield’s South End. It is expected that a general contractor will be named, and it will choose its subcontractors by spring, and construction will begin. Roughly 2,000 construction jobs are expected on site once the project is fully underway. The 3,000 permanent jobs this development promises will not be seen until 2017, but the planning for those jobs, including job training, will commence in 2015.

Another project that was in planning during 2014 and will begin construction in 2015 promises to bring 150 jobs to start. Changchun Railway Co., a Chinese firm, won the state’s bid to construct rail cars for the MBTA and chose to do so right here in Springfield. This company is a worldwide entity, yet, until this decision, it had no presence in North America. It hopes to make Springfield its North American headquarters and grow those original jobs to 300 within one to two years. These are good-paying machinist positions as well as countless other support jobs, all of which will greatly add to the economic well-being of our region’s major city and its people.

Adding to the region’s inventory of hotel rooms and, therefore, boosting the tourism sector of our economy is the new $ 5 million Hampton Inn on East Columbus Avenue in Springfield, which will open in 2015. The Silverbrick Co.’s rehabilitation of the old Morgan Square in downtown Springfield will remake those buildings into market-rate housing, and many of those units will be on the market for 2015. While these private-sector jobs are essential to economic development, there are several public-sector projects that will also be underway in 2015, many, again, related in some way to the devastating storms suffered over the past three years.

A new, $8 million South End Community Center, a $12 million senior center, and an $8 million police station will all add up to better facilities and better services. The year ahead will also be marked by the start of the largest infrastructure project the area has seen in a decade — the complete rehabilitation of the elevated section of I-91 that runs through Springfield from the I-291 intersection to just south of State Street.

This $235 million project will begin in late spring of 2015 and continue on for three years. While no project of this magnitude can be done without some inconvenience, it will guarantee the region a safe roadway, which is the crucial economic link to our Western Mass. region.

Meanwhile, the $82 million rehabilitation of Union Station into a transportation hub, complete with amenities and available office space, will be mostly completed in 2015, creating a true anchor for the North End of Springfield.

If 2014 was the planning year, and 2015 the construction year, 2016 will be filled with ribbon cuttings and new jobs, both construction and permanent. The outlook has not been this positive for our region’s major city in quite some time.

Jeffrey S. Ciuffreda is president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

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