Page 13 - BusinessWest May 13, 2024
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 the property was subsequently sold at auction to Peter Picknelly.
By the mid-’90s, Steiger’s was demolished as well. In
its place was built a park dubbed “a little park for a little while.” It’s still there. Meanwhile, at what is now Tower Square, there is very little retail (although Big Y is now a tenant), but two colleges (UMass Amherst and Cambridge College) and the YMCA of Greater Springfield call it home. And at what is now the TD Building, which Dill now co- owns, there is just a single restaurant, but the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, United Way of Pioneer Valley, and the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Coun- cil and its many affiliates are based there.
This quick history lesson helps show the many ways
the landscape has changed over 40 years and continues to change, said Dill, adding that downtown Springfield is not unlike many other downtowns that suffered losses in retail to the malls and, later, internet shopping, and other proper- ties — from the offices of banks that no longer exist to long- closed mills, to most of the Springfield Republican building — given over to new uses ranging from housing to brewer- ies; from cannabis dispensaries to co-working facilities.
And we haven’t even mentioned the new, $1 billion casi- no complex built a few blocks south on Main Street.
“And now, the internet and that kind of distribution model is creating real problems for the large, enclosed malls,” said Dill, citing the ongoing demolition of the East- field Mall, the first such facility in the region, and the start of work to transform it into a mix of retail, housing, and other uses, as an example of how the scene continues to shift and change the landscape in the process.
Evan Plotkin, president of Springfield-based NAI Plot- kin, agreed. He said the landscape has certainly changed from a commercial real-estate perspective, and it continues to evolve due to powerful forces ranging from malls to con- solidation of the financial-services sector to, most recently, the COVID 19 pandemic, which introduced the world to
remote work and hybrid schedules that left many to ponder the fate of office facilities in communities of all sizes.
He has seen, and been part of, movements to create dedicated facilities for healthcare practices (something that was novel four decades ago when such businesses would be next to accountants and lawyers) and to rethink down- town office towers, such as the one he owns, 1350 Main St. in Springfield.
Plotkin said the rise of remote work will certainly impact demand for office space, but he sees a partially off- setting force in east-west rail, which has the potential to put some area communities on the map, drive development in areas near the rail stops, and even prompt some busi- nesses to realize they don’t have to be in Boston anymore.
“It could be transformative; in Springfield, for example, it could drive development in the Union Station area and make that area much more attractive,” he said, adding that he’s already seen more interest in properties there. “If east- west rail is successful, and I think it will be, and it becomes a reliable way to get to Worcester or Boston, it changes things dramatically.”
Space Exploration
Overall, the real-estate sector has seen a number of ups and downs over the past 40 years, from the boom times of the mid-’80s to the bust that came later that decade; from the surge provided by the arrival of the cannabis indus-
try — which impacted most communities, but especially Holyoke — to the most recent turmoil resulting from the pandemic. And there have been headwinds of different strengths, from the tornado in 2011 to the Great Recession of 2008 to Springfield’s being placed in receivership 20 years ago.
Overall, compared to other regions, the scene in Spring- field and surrounding communities has remained rela- tively flat, said those we spoke with. There has been some
“If east-west rail is successful, and I think it will be, and it becomes
a reliable way to get to Worcester or Boston, it changes things dramatically.”
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