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City and UMass sign development agreement

Date: 11/11/2008

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Mayor Domenic Sarno and University of Massachusetts (UMass) Chancellor Robert Holub signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday that hopefully will plant the seeds for long-range change in the city of Springfield.

Paul Kostecki, vice chancellor of research and engagement and chair of the partnership team, explained the agreement is the first formal step in "trying to align the talents [of the University] with the needs of Springfield."

The signing ceremony took place in the Old First Church, now owned by the city but without a designated use since it closed almost a year ago. Kostecki said the initial Greater Springfield-UMass Amherst Partnership activities would be funded with a $150,000 grant from the Department of Commerce and additional funds from the city and the University to total $320,000.

Kostecki said creating "green" jobs as well as helping existing industries go green would be part of the effort as well as encouraging the growth of a "creative economy."

A detailed report with an implementation plan for a green and creative economic initiative is scheduled to be released by Aug. 31, 2009. There will be community forums scheduled throughout the coming months the first one will be early next month to bring input from residents into the formation of a plan.

Part of the initial effort will be study of how the Old First Church should be used. He said UMass officials in the partnership would perform an inventory of urban redevelopment projects undertaken by faculty members and seek existing models to help the city.

"This isn't rocket science," he said.

He also noted that UMass has had partnerships in Springfield for the last 25 years, such as one with BayState Medical Center.

Kostecki said the value of the partnership, which was started under former Mayor Charles Ryan and former Chancellor Thomas Cole, Jr., is significant as it survived the change of administrations at both the city and UMass.

Erik Nakajima, senior policy advisor for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic development, said the Patrick Administration supports the partnership and said that thanks to the governor, the Legislature and the federal government, the city and the university "have a lot of tools" to use the effort. These "tools" include the proposed re-development of Union Station, the State Street Corridor project, the state legislation encouraging green jobs and the further development of the life science industries and precision machining.

"The building blocks are there," he said.

Sarno said the agreement today might not yield immediate results, but could change the city in 15 to 20 years.

Holub praised the city for "influencing the history of the world" from its role in developing manufacturing to presenting "two of the greatest pleasures of life: playing an watching a good game of hoop."

Holub added the university needs a partner in order to "weave it [the research it develops] into the fabric of society."