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Businesses owners react to Urban Renewal Plan

Date: 3/9/2011

March 9, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — One member of the Mayor's Industrial Development Advisory Committee (MIDAC) cut to the chase with his question about the proposed Urban Renewal Plan being developed for four of the city's neighborhoods.

"Is anything for sure?" he asked at a MIDAC meeting last week conducted at Holyoke Community College after hearing a 20-minute presentation of the plan. "Is anything locked in?"

Groups around the city have had the opportunity of commenting on the proposed plan and it was MIDAC's turn to comment last week. MIDAC's members are business owners in the city.

Jef Fasser of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. the consulting firm developing the plan, explained the goals of the plan for South Holyoke, the Cabot and Chestnut streets area, the Veteran's Park neighborhood and The Flats is to promote private investment and create new jobs; improve housing options, rehabilitate or remove blighting influences; create a sustainable community; improve the quality of life and increase the tax base in the center of the city.

To reach these goals a detailed list of actions have been proposed, which include:

• Reconnect these neighborhoods with improved streets.

• Explore making High and Maple streets two-way.

• Build a new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at the base of Dwight Street.

• Support developer plans to build 50 units of housing on property near Veterans Park.

• Rehabilitate Veterans Park.

• Determine the location of new train station.

• Construct the entire CanalWalk system.

• Take action to support the Victory Theater project such as developing parking.

• Improve the riverfront by rehabilitating the bridge over the third canal to full pedestrian and vehicular access; and build a public road to access the riverfront.

• Support improvements to Lyman Terrace, such as the Hope VI project.

Mayor Elaine Pluta emphasized the plan was designed to take place over the next 20 years.

In response to the question of what has been "locked in," Kathy Anderson, who leads the city's Office of Economic Development, explained that Amtrak is coming to the city and the city will be meeting with staff from Congressman John Olver's office to ensure the city is ready with a station when the trains start coming through Holyoke.

She said what has to be determined with the plan in general is the amount of public investment necessary to attract private investment.

When someone asked if the city is looking to the state to fund the plan, either with one allocation or a series for specific projects, Fasser replied, "There is not a bucket of money."

He predicted it might prove difficult to find funding for each action.

"We're not fooling ourselves. This is an expensive proposition," Fasser added.

Anderson said, "This is a very big plan, one of the biggest in the state."

Another person said that what Holyoke needs is jobs above all else, while another suggested constructing a trolley line, which has proven successful in other cities, to connect neighborhoods.

Another person said that to attract new businesses, the city must upgrade its infrastructure and provide tax incentives.

Pluta responded saying she will begin a series of meetings this week to examine the city's tax structure "to make it more fair" for both residents and businesses.

One person said it was difficult to provide reactions to the plan without knowing its priorities and the cost of those actions.

Fasser said the next step in the planning process is to determine the most needed actions and develop a budget for them.

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