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City asks citizens, 'What's next for Armory?'

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD The Springfield Armory has been credited as the entity that spurred the economic development of the city as a manufacturing and technology center in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Now city development officials would like residents of Springfield to help them answer the question, "What will be the next Armory?"

On Oct. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Central High School, residents will be asked to discuss how they would like to see the city develop over the next 20 years with representatives of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis and MassINC as well as members of the city's economic development team.

"We want the residents to take the long view," Edward Lambert Jr., the director of the Urban Initiative at UMass Dartmouth, said during a press conference announcing a new 18-month effort to develop a plan to help the city to take steps towards the transition to a new economy.

"We want the public to think broadly," he continued. "Sometimes it's the process that helps the city see where it needs to be."

John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC, said he hopes to hear opinions about schools, neighborhoods, jobs and the downtown area.

"We want to hear from people about other cities they really like," he added.

Lambert said the group wants to "aggressively include individuals and groups that think they are out of the mainstream" in the discussions.

David Panagore, the city's chief development officer, explained the Urban Land Institute (ULI) report, which analyzed the city's real estate and made recommendations for development, was a five-year plan. This effort was to create a roadmap for implementation over the next 20 years.

"What's the next Armory?" Panagore asked. "What will drive economic develop-ment?"

Russell Denver, president of the Affiliated Chamber of the Commerce of Greater Springfield, said there has been "discernable progress" made on the recommendations of the Urban Land Institute report.

The York Street jail has been razed, the former Chapman Valve has been made ready for development, the former hotel at 31 Elm St. in undergoing a development plan and zoning issues have been addressed, Denver said.

Denver explained the issue facing the city is finding the business successors to the city's top three economic drivers: healthcare, financial services and private colleges. He believes that as the Baby Boom generation ages and reduces in size, new industries will be needed.

Schneider said that despite the current economic news, "this is the perfect time to do this work." He explained the ULI process "established energy" and "taught the community how to come together for short term change."

Schneider explained the process for this report would include analyses of cities similar in size to Springfield to see the city's strengths and weakness and to see what programs are working for other communities.

A steering committee comprised of community leaders will also be organized as part of the process, Lambert said.

The result of the analysis and community input will be included a report scheduled to be issued late in 2009, Schneider said.