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Mayor announces York Street Jail demolition underway

Mayor Charles Ryan made the announcement last week the demolition work on the York Street jail has begun. He was joined by City Councilors Kateri Walsh, Budd Williams, Timothy Rooke, City Council candidates Morris Jones, Robert Culver of Mass Development, River's Landing developers Peter Pappas and Dr. Michael Spagnoli and David Panagore of the city's economic development office.Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Mayor Charles Ryan called the announcement for the demolition of the York Street Jail "a long awaited day in the redevelopment and recovery of out city."

And although there were no wrecking balls Wednesday when city officials and business leaders gathered at the 120 year-old jail, the work had already started. David Panagore, the city's chief development officer, explained the removal asbestos was in progress.

Panagore said the asbestos work will take over six to eight weeks and the wrecking ball should begin its work before Thanksgiving. The structure is expected to be cleared by sometime in February.

The demolition will create 3.5 acres of property along the riverfront that can be re-developed. The cost of the demolition is $1.24 million

"There is already keen interest [in the re-development]," Ryan said. "We're already fielding inquiries."

Built over two years and completed in 1887, the jail had been turned over to the city when the new Hampden County House of Corrections was built in 1997. It was used until 2000 when the last tenant, a Department of Youth Services program left the building. The adjoining gym was built in 1987 and had been used most recently as the home of the Warming Place homeless shelter.

During the Albano administration the jail had been seen as having potential for redevelopment. A large banner indicating the structure was for sale hung on the side of the building until it was in tatters. There were ideas floated that included an antique mall and a bio-tech industrial center.

Panagore explained why redevelopment wouldn't work. The cells themselves support the jail's roof. Remove the cells for a new use and one would have to build a new support system for the building.

To make the building usable a developer would have to spend about $500 a square foot, Panagore said. He compared that figure with the $60 a square foot cost associated with renovating the Federal Building on Main Street. An average developer could never have renovated the building, he added.

Panagore said that once the building is down, the city will ask for qualifications and ideas from developers. These will be non-detailed proposals that will be accompanied by the background and previous projects of the applicants. From that pool, the city would then solicit detailed proposals.

Russell Denver, president of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said he wants to see something compatible with the Basketball Hall of Fame, hopefully a mixed use between a retail and a tourism attraction.