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Plans provide city with 'road map' for development

Date: 2/15/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — With state approval of its new urban renewal plan and a tax incentive program for the creation of market rate housing in the downtown, Holyoke will "have a road map over the next 20 years," Mayor Alex Morse said.

Morse was among those introducing the two plans at a press event conducted Feb. 11 at the Massachusetts Green High- Performance Computing Center.

Morse noted that Holyoke used to be a city of 60,000 people and now has 40,000 residents. He asserted, "Our success depends on our ability to bring people downtown."

The plan, "Connect. Construct. Create." concentrates on downtown, the Flats, South Holyoke and Churchill and the mayor noted that some elements of the plan are already in motion, such as the second phase of the Canal Walk and the design and construction of a train platform for Amtrak.

Accompanying the urban renewal plan is the Center City Housing Incentive Program (CCHIP), which Morse explained would encourage the development of market rate housing units in the downtown area. Approved developers who break ground in the next five years would see a 100 percent exemption on added real estate value for at least 10 years. Those housing projects could see an additional tax exemption from the mayor and the City Council.

Morse called the two programs, "a very ambitious plan."

"Implementation begins immediately on the Urban Renewal Plan starting with the launch of the CCHIP to attract market rate units to the Center City. The CCHIP aims to fulfill a goal of the urban renewal plan, which calls for increased density and a mix of housing options," Marcos Marrero, director of the Office of Planning & Economic Development, said.

With these approved plans come the newly reformed Holyoke Redevelopment Authority (RDA) and its chair, Jacqueline Watson, which will assist in the implementation of the two plans.

Watson said the announcement of state approval was a "capstone moment." She added that she anticipated the City Council would transfer the city's tax title properties to the RDA for redevelopment.

Arthur Jemison, deputy undersecretary of the Commonwealth's Department of Housing and Community Development, explained the state's support of the plans by saying, "Holyoke is one of the communities that has chosen growth."

He added, "When communities do choose growth, we'll be with there with them when they want us to be."