|By G. Michael Dobbs|
HOLYOKE - Mayor Michael Sullivan attended the 75th winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. late last month and was hoping to hear discussions about a sensitive subject: funding the federal urban renewal programs.
Sullivan explained to the Chicopee Herald that past urban renewal projecst throughout the country had been the subject of criticism by housing advocates. Past projects have taken entire neighborhoods and displaced people, disrupted communities and had little respect for historic properties.
The concern about urban renewals goes across party lines, Sullivan said.
"There is genuine concern with the phrase 'urban renewal'," he said.
Sullivan would like to see a new approach taken to the concept of urban renewal one that would be more focused on removing blight while preserving other buildings in an area.
Urban renewal is still a line item in the federal budget, which Sullivan said is an advantage. The process to create a new line item for a new program would take "forever," he explained.
"Individual cities need money to abate abandonment and blight," he said. These conditions comprise a "real lingering menace to urban core communities," he added.
Corrections to the laws governing limited liability corporations are also needed to prevent irresponsible investment in buildings and are needed to attack blight, he said.
He noted that Congressmen John Olver and Richard Neal have been very supportive of his efforts, but explained that no immediate changes are in sight. Currently the federal government is halfway through a budget set last year by the Republican majority and a new budget will not take effect until this October.
Sullivan said if the city did receive urban renewal money he would like to see it focused on the area defined by the first level canal from Sergeant Street to Appleton Street and then up to Beech Street.
He said putting funding projects into that area would continue the positive momentum created by the success of the Hope VI housing project. Sullivan envisioned using urban renewal dollars to help redeveloping the Holyoke Library, possibly build a new H.B. Lawrence school and invest in renovate the War Memorial. He added there are about 80 residential buildings, mostly unoccupied, in the area that need to be demolished.
Sullivan has made his views well known on the need for new urban renewal funding. He said that as part of the conference he had meetings with members of the Massachusetts delegation, including Senator Edward Kennedy. Sullivan recalled with a smile that when Kennedy saw him, the senator said, "Yes, I know. You need money to take down buildings."