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2013 in review: Area faces changes, challenges

Date: 1/3/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – In 2013, the city decided to stay the course with its mayor earning a second term and saw the opening of a new library, which is hoped to spur economic development along Chestnut Street.

Here are some of the top stories from Holyoke.

Jan. 11, 2013

It’s been an entire calendar year in Holyoke without a homicide and last week Police Chief James Neiswanger and Mayor Alex Morse thanked the men and women of the Holyoke Police Department as well as state and federal law enforcement partners for their help in achieving this goal.

Neiswanger, though, also thanked the public. “We all know the police department can’t do it alone.”

Morse said 2012 was the first year in the past 25 years of maintaining crime statistics that Holyoke has been without a homicide. In 2011, there were four deaths.

The Paper City has been the subject of an “unfair negative perception” about safety, Morse said.

“We need to send the message that our city is safe,” he added.

Morse explained that bolstering community policing, expanding bicycle patrols, which allow for greater interaction with people and the mobile community-policing unit that can be moved to crime “hot spots” have all attributed to greater public safety.

Unfortunately there were 4 homicides in Holyoke in 2013.

Jan. 25, 2013

The Paper City’s on-again, off-again relationship with casino gambling has been determined by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) and Morse is happy with the result.

The MGC denied the request for an extension by Paper City Development LLC on Jan. 17.

In a statement on Jan. 17, Morse said, “I am pleased that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has denied Paper City Development’s request for an extension to file an application, essentially closing the door on a casino in Holyoke. This is great news for Holyoke. I look forward to shifting the conversation towards one that focuses on regional cooperation and regional mitigation, as a casino in Western Massachusetts will affect all of us. Holyoke’s future is bright — and it’s time to put our destiny in our own hands.”

Springfield became the only community in the western part of a state with an active casino development.

Feb. 11, 2013

It’s a few minutes after 8 a.m. and already people are flowing into the new Holyoke Senior Center. Executive Director Kathy Bowler notes with a smile that by noon the center will be full of people participating in activities, having a meal or simply socializing.

The new center opened its doors on Dec. 3, 2012 and will be celebrated its official grand opening on Feb. 23, 2013.

Located in the center of the city at 291 Pine St., there is a big difference from its former long-time home in the basement of the War Memorial on Maple Street. The two-story structure has been carefully designed, Bowler explained, to cater to seniors’ needs and serve as an energy efficient building.

She noted the building uses a geothermal system for heating and cooling, and makes use of natural light through numerous windows and solar cells that carry natural light to hallways, The furnishings were made in America so there was less transportation costs and renewable building materials such as cork and bamboo were used as well as recycled steel and aluminum.

There is actually only one hall way in the building on the second floor and Bowler sais this was a design choice that clusters parts of the center closer together to minimize walking for those seniors who have difficulties.

The new senior center has become a popular destination for the city’s older residents.

March 1, 2013

At the end of the meeting of the Holyoke Historical Commission designed to introduce the area of the city to be designated as a Polish Heritage Historic District, Olivia Mausel, chair of the commission, asked the more than 100 people gathered at Holyoke Heritage State Park for a show of hands of those who approve the idea.

The response at the Feb. 26 meeting was immediate and unanimous.

The proposed district would include Mater Dolorosa Church, the subject of a prolong conflict between the Diocese of Springfield and its parishioners. The church, which was built by Polish immigrants at the turn of the century, was closed in 2011 as part of the diocese-wide reorganization and the parishioners were told to attend a new merged parish, Our Lady of the Cross.

By putting the church in the center of the historic district, the church’s supporters hope to prevent the diocese from demolishing the structure, which the diocese has long asserted had significant structural flaws.

Later in the year, the City Council approved the creation of the district.

April 25, 2013

Marianne Holden, the operations manager of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, said that seeing families of three generations gather in front the of the carousel is not uncommon – grandparents and parents who rode the carved wooden horses at Mountain Park and children who are experiencing that pleasure for the first time at the ride’s home at Heritage State Park.

The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is celebrating its 20th year of operation since it was purchased from the former owners of the long-time amusement park in 1990. Holden explained the carousel welcomed its first guest in its custom-built building on Sept. 19, 1993.

The merry-go-around played a central part on the city’s annual First Night Junior’s celebration.

Aug. 2, 2013

Despite opposition from neighbors, labor unions and now Morse, a spokesman for Walmart said the giant retailer would continue its efforts to build a Supercenter store on Whiting Farms Road.

William Wertz, director of Communications-East of Public Affairs and Government Relations, told Reminder Publications, “Our new Supercenter in Holyoke will mean 300 new jobs and new affordable shopping options for the community. We believe it will have broad community support, and we are hearing from new backers almost every day.”

Walmart pulled out of the project later in the year.

Oct. 25, 2013

Morse believes he has made headway in his three main priorities during his first term as mayor: public safety, improving education and economic development.

“There have really been changes in the perception of Holyoke,” Morse said of Holyoke in an interview with Reminder Publications. “Inside and outside of Holyoke you can feel the energy.”

Morse, who is running for re-election, said that during his term there are more jobs in the city, less crime and civic pride has been boosted.

When it comes to greater economic development Morse said he and his staff have been seeking ways to leverage private and private investments. He noted that new tax incentives have helped the effort.

Nov. 1, 2013

The newly renovated Holyoke Public Library is now open and Morse called the facility “incredible.”

Morse and other public officials toured the library on Oct. 28. Matt Blumenfeld, the director of the campaign to raise the funds for the building, said the $14.5 million construction effort increased the amount of space from 10,000 square feet of useable space (out of 25,000 square feet) in the old building to 40,000 square feet.

The effort to bring a new library to Holyoke began in 2009, he noted, with the creation of feasibility studies. The project has taken 20 months to complete.

Blumenfeld said the library is now going through the process to be LEED Gold certified for its energy efficiency and is the first building in the city to meet that goal.

City officials hope that placing the entrance of the new library on Chestnut Street would help spur the economic redevelopment of vacant properties in the neighborhood.

Nov. 15, 2013

City Councilor Aaron Vega has called for a meeting on Nov. 21 to discuss the fate of the Herbert Farr mansion, but one key player said they have not been told of the meeting or invited: The Greater Holyoke YMCA.

The meeting will be 6:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers in City Hall.

The YMCA is planning to demolish the mansion at 399 Appleton St. in order to build an additional parking lot. The property is now close to the end of a six-month reprieve from demolition issued by the Holyoke Historical Commission, Daphne Board, one of the neighbors trying to save the mansion, explained to Reminder Publications.

When asked about the meeting, Kathy Viens, executive director of the YMCA, said, “We have not been informed.” She said the decision to buy the 19th century home and level it for a parking lot was “made by the board of directors.”

She added, “We have been willing to sit and listen to people,” but added that the YMCA’s involvement in the meeting will also depend on the format of the forum.

According to information on the website designed to call attention to the plight of the mansion (, the YMCA purchased the building for $55,000 from one of its board members Kirk Mackey in December 2011.

As of this writing, the Farr mansion is still standing.