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First phase of South End renovations to begin

Date: 9/22/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- "It's been a long time coming," Leo Florian, the president of the South End Citizen's Council, said.

Florian was referring to the start of a $10 million plan to improve the South End neighborhood. Florian was one of the speakers at press conference Thursday to announce the beginning of the first phase of the project.

The first phase is streetscape improvements to Main Street that include new sidewalks, traffic signals, curbing, paving, the improvement of drainage. According to the city's Chief Development Office John Judge the cost of the first phase is $3.2 million and he said the first phase should be completed by June 2010.

The total plan includes an expansion and improvements to Emerson Wight Park and changes in the Hollywood section of the neighborhood.

"There are many projects under one umbrella," Judge said.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said he expects the state and federal money paying for the renovations will help spur private investment.

He said that in the past a "band aid" approach had been taken to address issues in the South End.

Florian noted that East and West Columbus Boulevard has been the site of much development in the past few years from the renovations of the former Basketball Hall of Fame building to the new Berkshire Bank building.

"It's now time to move [the investments] in one block," he said.

Joan Kagan, president and CEO of Square One, said the improvements would also have a positive impact on public safety.

Judge told Reminder Publications that he wants to move forward with the further clean up of the location of the former Gemini building on Central Street. He said additional demolition should be completed after which the area would be re-loamed and seeded. An irrigation system would be installed as well.

He added that after numerous public meetings with residents, the city has decided not to re-develop the site, but rather maintain it as a green space to help reduce housing density in the neighborhood.

He said that with all of the improvements made in the neighborhood, he didn't want the space to look like "a missing tooth."

While that parcel will not be developed the property on which the press conference was conducted -- at the corner of Main and Morris streets -- will be available for development.