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Events in 2014 set up progress in 2015

Date: 1/2/2015

SPRINGFIELD – The city saw a series of economic development triumphs in 2014 ranging from the start of the Union Station renovation to the voter’s approval of casino gaming.

Jan. 16, 2014

The silver lining in the cloud created by June 1, 2011 tornado has finally shown itself.

Mayor Domenic Sarno announced on Jan. 13, the city would be using the $25.3 million in monies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund four projects around the city that have been stalled due to lack of funding: the new senior center in Blunt Park; the Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center in Forest Park; the South End Community Center, to be built in Emerson Wight Park; and the former Army Reserve Center at 50 East St., which will be a new police facility.

Sarno credited the efforts of Congressman Richard E. Neal in advocating for the city during the discussions with FEMA.

Chief Administrative and Finance Officer T.J. Plante explained to Reminder Publications the $25.3 came from appealing the initial amount of funding FEMA was going to reimburse the city for the damaged Howard Street Armory building – home to the South End Community Center – and the former Zanetti School. He said that at first FEMA was only going to pay the city $4.5 million for the Armory and not pay anything for the school.

Jan. 24, 2014

According to Anita Wells, the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Springfield’s newly designated cultural district is intended to help the city become “a better place to live and to visit.”

The city has joined 18 other communities across the state that have cultural districts. The only other communities in Western Massachusetts with the designation are Pittsfield and Easthampton.

“You may not think this is a big deal, but this is a big deal,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said at the announcement event at One Financial Place on Jan. 21.

The boundaries of the district follow those of the Springfield Business District (BID), according to the BID’s new Executive Director Chris Russell, although he added the cultural district extends further up State Street than the BID does.

An executive director for the district has been hired and plans are underway to begin implementation of programming and events in the district.

Feb. 7, 2014

Pressure is coming from Mayor Domenic Sarno and City Councilor Timothy Allen for an answer on the status of the reconstruction of Cathedral High School.

The school was destroyed by the June 1, 2011 tornado and the diocese received an insurance settlement in 2013. The school has been in session in rented quarters in Wilbraham.

Sarno sent Bishop Timothy McDonnell a letter last week requesting the diocese explain whether to not there is a commitment to building a new Cathedral High School.

James Leydon, Sarno’s director of Communications confirmed the mayor had not received any response from the bishop as of Jan. 31.

By the year’s end the issue of whether or not the high school will be rebuilt has yet to be settled.

March 21, 2014

Mayor Domenic Sarno announced his choice for police commissioner, current Deputy Chief John Barbieri, a press conference two days before the City Council was to address once more the creation of a police commission.

In addressing a question if his decision was designed to circumvent the council’s actions – which he opposed – Sarno said, “No. I had a timeline and this was the process.”

Unlike the selection of the last two police commissioners and the school superintendent there was no public part of the process. Sarno made his selection after “grilling intensively” behind closed doors the three deputy chiefs Barbieri, Robert McFarlin and William Cochrane along with his Chief of Staff Denise Jordan, Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources William Mahoney and Chief Finance and Administrative Officer T.J. Plante.

Sarno said, “The appointment comes under the strong mayor form of government.” He added, “I feel very comfortable about the process. The buck stops with me.”

April 3, 2014

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) has completed the first step of its new presence in downtown Springfield with the opening of its welcome center for its satellite campus at Tower Square on March 31.

UMass President Robert Caret described the new education initiative as fulfilling the mission of Land Grant College by bringing educational opportunities to the people.

He predicted having the center here as well as the classroom complex now under construction would “transform lives.”

Mayor Domenic Sarno described the new effort, “This is economic development. This is an important catalyst.”

Oct. 23, 2014

Department of Transportation Secretary and CEO Richard Davey called the announcement of a Chinese company approved on Oct. 22 to supply the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) with rail cars from a plant it will build in Springfield “a double bank shot.”

Davey said, “It’s a huge win. It’s good for the west and it’s good for the east,” he added.

CNR MA will have a contract to build 152 new Orange Line cars and 132 Red Line cars. Davey said the current Red Line cars are 1969 vintage. The construction of the 150,000 square foot factory will start in the fall of 2015.

The facility will include a test rack to evaluate each car before they are delivered.

He acknowledged, “In some parts of the state the MBTA is a four-letter swear word,” but in this instance it will mean jobs here.

Oct. 31, 2014

The statewide Faith for Repeal Campaign made its way to Western Massachusetts on Oct. 23, drawing clergy leaders from the area, including Pastor Amanda Sunny of the Bethany Assembly of God in Agawam and Imam Wissam Abdul Baki of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts in West Springfield.

Religious leaders gathered for the Faith for Casino Interfaith Rally at the Greek Cultural Center to encourage people to vote “Yes” on Question 3, which would repeal the 2011 law allowing casinos in the state.

Seven speakers from different religious backgrounds addressed their peers from the area, referring to the “Vote Yes” fight as a “David versus Goliath battle.” The speakers varied in religious beliefs, from Catholicism and Judaism to Islam and Greek Orthodox.

Despite their efforts, voters across the state affirmed casino gaming and plans to build MGM?Springfield are moving forward.

Nov. 25, 2014

The city will be adding more police officers and firefighters and can afford to do so because of the payments that will made to city by MGM Springfield.

Mayor Domenic Sarno, Police Commissioner John Barbieri and Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant made the announcement Nov. 20. Sarno explained that 22 new cadets have just graduated from the academy, six are in training and 30 more will be in the academy. At the conclusion of the training for the cadets, the city will have 409 officers. There will be an addition of 35 firefighters to that department, increasing it to 228 sworn personnel.

The additional police will cost the city $587,380 this fiscal year and the firefighters will cost $576,651. In the next fiscal year, the new public safety personnel will cost $1,865,629 for the police and  $1,747,426 for the firefighters.

Sarno said the additions are based on “good sound fiscal management.”

Dec. 4, 2014

With a silhouette resembling a prehistoric beast, the attachment to a crane was making quick work tearing down the former baggage building of Union Station on Dec. 1.

Mayor Domenic Sarno and Congressman Richard Neal were among the local officials watching the crane operator piling steel beams in one area as he broke through the brick walls.

“There have been many surprises along the way, but we are finally there,” Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief development officer, said.

Demolition is expected to take a month as other work proceeds on the project. 

Despite several setbacks, the Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA) was told and shown that work is proceeding on transforming historic Union Station into a modern transportation facility at its Nov. 25 meeting.

Dec. 4, 2014

Peter Picknelly, one of the owners of The Student Prince and the Fort Restaurant, said his action to save the iconic Springfield eatery was to preserve the kind of dining experience he has had since childhood.

“I know it sounds a little corny, but the whole thing was about family,” Picknelly told Reminder Publications.

The official reopening of the restaurant and bar was conducted on Dec. 3, but the establishment had opened several days earlier.

“I’ve been pleased with the reception of the customers,“ Picknelly said.

Former co-owner Rudi Scherff detailed the physical changes made at the restaurant. The biggest change was the renovation of the bar, removing a wall and opening it up to the function room. The wooden bar has been replaced with one of marble.