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Sarno: economy won't slow down development in city

Date: 4/8/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- "I'm not going to let the economy slow us down," Mayor Domenic Sarno said of the various economic development projects around the city.

Sarno conducted a press conference on Friday at which Acting Chief Development Officer Brian Connors presented an update on projects such as the former York Street Jail property, 31 Elm St., Union Station and Chapman Valve.

The mayor's press conference covered the same material that City Councilor Tim Rooke was going to discuss at a meeting scheduled for April 8. Rooke told Reminder Publications he still intends to have the meeting and 40 people have committed to attend. Rooke's intent is to get into the details of the projects. He said he had invited Sarno but at press time had not heard whether or not the mayor would attend.

Sarno said the city's search for a permanent chief development officer has been narrowed down to two finalists and that he is currently checking references. He added that he has developed the funding for the salary of a business retention/green business development officer as well as written a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find economic development planning services.

The economic downturn has taken a toll on the 31 Elm St. project. The preferred developers, Connolly & Partners, have been granted an extension by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority through June to develop a new plan and new financing for the former hotel and office building, according to Connors.

The hotel company that had expressed interest in building there withdrew because of the economy.

Connors added that a representative from the National Development Council is working with Connolly & Partners and the city as a consultant on the new plans.

Sarno said the University of Massachusetts (UMass) is interested in establishing "a footprint in the city of Springfield linked with Court Square." The mayor could not offer specifics about what role UMass would like to play in the city or in downtown specifically.

Connors said the city is sticking to the conclusions of the Urban Land Institute report that stated the city must develop additional housing downtown in order to grow retail and other businesses and that 31 Elm St. would have market rate housing in the new plan.

The reports on other projects included:

The city will release RFPs for re-development of the former York Street Jail property and the current Visitors Information Center building. The information center will be moved inside the Basketball Hall of Fame complex later this year. The RFPs will go out about April 21. The approved uses for the York Street Jail property include restaurants, retail, hotels and office space.

Sarno mentioned again he would like to see the York Street Jail property be developed into an equivalent to the "Field of Dreams" in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is in negotiations with the Springfield Redevelopment Authority for the final development agreement of the redevelopment of Union Station.

MassDevelopment is in final negotiations to buy the former Federal Building. Sarno said there is a corporate tenant interested in office space there and the city is actively considering moving the School Department into the space.

The city is seeking a joint development arrangement for the Indian Motorcycle building and the former Mason Square Fire Station.

Connors said Packard Development is "ready to go" on redeveloping the former Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard as a shopping area, but the decision of the lead tenant to pull away from the project has put it on hold until another tenant can be sought.

The Indian Orchard Business Park on the location of the former Chapman Valve is waiting for an Environmental Protection Agency grant for the demolition of the Pinevale section and for site testing.

The Reconstruction of Main Street in the South End will begin this summer. It is the first phase of a redevelopment plan for that neighborhood.