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Holyoke meeting focuses on Open Square

By Nate Luscombe

Staff Writer

HOLYOKE Last week's Holyoke Downtown Revitalization meeting was a flurry of information on upcoming events in the city and updates on various projects.

The meeting was hosted at the Black Sheep Caf in Open Square, and John Aubin of Open Square gave an update on the Open Square projects.

Aubin said Open Square is looking to become a mixed-use facility, with restaurants, shops, office space and condos. He said a hotel is also planned for the facility.

Aubin said the development of Open Square would tie in with the development of the Canalwalk.

"What few people realize is that Holyoke was designed for 200,000 people," Aubin said. "Sort of a Northampton on a grander scale."

Mayor Michael Sullivan said the adaptive re-use of the old mill building is excellent for the city. He said Aubin uses the waterpower of the neighboring canal to create electricity for the complex.

"It's a great way to stay in tune with the technology of our history, as well as bringing in new [technologies]," Sullivan said, referring to the wireless internet access that runs through the Black Sheep Caf.

Two of the newest Open Square tenants attended the meeting; The Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, run by Rose Marie and Charles Flachs, and Nest, a design house of modern children's furnishings, run by Will Wear.

Charles Flachs said he and his wife moved their studio from South Hadley to Open Square because of the space's redesign from the former mill.

"If you go to New York City, this is what all the dance studios are like," he said.

Flachs told Sullivan that he has parents who don't want to come into Holyoke at night. Flachs added that he's discovered the area of Open Square to be quite safe, but "it's important to point out that some preconceived notions are false."

"We're willing to work hard to make sure people know that," Flachs said.

Sullivan said there isn't a merchant in the downtown area that hasn't fought those same prejudices, but the opinions seem to be limited to about a 20-minute drive from downtown.

Jeff Hayden of the Planning Department said the public hearing regarding the Canalwalk last month went very well,

"I think the state got the message that the citizens of Holyoke want to see the Canalwalk," Hayden said

He said the city is still looking to obtain some permanent easements for the construction of the walk.

The city is sponsoring their annual On The March food drive again this year from March 13-27. Sullivan said the program "fills the shelves" of the area food pantries in a time just after the Christmas holiday when demand for food is up again.

Canned goods can be picked up during weekly trash pick-up, as long as the canned goods are marked. They can also be dropped off at any fire station, police station, and City Hall.