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State Street project: 'If you build it, they will come'

State Street project: 'If you build it, they will come' ray-lahood.jpg
Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood spoke at the ceremony Thursday noting the completion of the $17 million renovation of State Street.
Reminder Publications photo by Tom Relihan
June 7, 2010. By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor SPRINGFIELD -- Although a contingent of elected officials, business people and residents officially celebrated the $17 million renovation of State Street, both Congressman Richard Neal and Mayor Domenic Sarno said more development in the corridor is on the way. Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood, Gov. Deval Patrick and Judge Michael Ponsor joined Neal during the speaking program of the ceremony Thursday morning on the steps of the new Federal Building and U.S. District Court after a walk down State Street from Mason Square. Neal, who was responsible for securing the federal funding -- more than $70 million for the new Federal Building and the $17 million for the State Street project -- noted that beyond being an important thoroughfare linking most of the city's neighborhoods and being used by some 29,000 vehicles each day, State Street is "more than a transportation route . . . it's Springfield's spine."

Richard Neal
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
He observed that George Washington traveled on State Street, as did John Adams and Paul Revere. State Street was the site for Shays' Rebellion, the pivotal event that launched the Constitutional Convention and the modern federal government and was the street on which the first game of basketball was played. The project renovated 3.5 miles of State Street from Interstate 91 to Berkshire Avenue and included roadway resurfacing, traffic signal upgrades and coordination, pedestrian sidewalks and crosswalks, and lighting and streetscape improvements. The project also covered 19 intersections along with transit accommodations including bus stops, bus bays and the implementation of a bus priority system. Part of the work still continues with the $2 million rehabilitation of the State Street bridge over Roosevelt Avenue. Work on the bridge began last June and is scheduled for completion in May 2011. "[The renovation] positions Springfield for future growth," Neal said. LaHood echoed the idea the renovation will result in additional private investments. "If you build it, they will come," he said. "State Street is the economic engine for this community." LaHood said the public-private collaboration that has worked for the renovation of the street "will be used as a model in other communities."

Deval Patrick
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
When asked if the city will work with developers to find new uses for vacant buildings along State Street, such as the former Kavanaugh's Furniture Store, Sarno said he would be announcing several development initiatives in the near future. One of those will be a storefront improvement district, he said. He added there has been interest by developers in the building currently used by the School Department and there is an effort to create market-rate housing as well as housing for students in the corridor. Sarno noted a resident is starting a restaurant not far from the Federal Building and that TD Bank recently made investments at its retail plaza near American International College (AIC). AIC is now in the 135-day period as the preferred developer to secure funding and to finalize its plans for the Indian Motocycle Buildings and the Mason Square Fire Station. "We're looking to make things happen in the city of Springfield," Sarno said. He added a note of caution: "It's not going to happen overnight." Neal said the renovation of State Street "was part of the promise we met and kept here." He said the Federal Building was a project that took 10 years to complete and the State Street improvements took seven years. Around the corner from the Federal Building, work has started on converting the long-closed Technical High School -- from which Neal graduated -- into the state's backup record center. Neal had advocated for the selection of the former high school for the state project and, during his remarks, thanked Patrick for choosing the site. When adding up the Federal Building, the State Street renovation -- which Neal said totaled closer to $25 million when private infrastructure are added -- the state-financed MassMutual Center and the state record center, the area has seen close to $200 million in state and federal investment.