Use this search box to find articles that have run in our newspapers over the last several years.

ULI panel: Housing is key to renewed riverfront

Date: 5/12/2010

May 12, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The best way to develop the riverfront in the city is to create a neighborhood there, according to an Urban Land Institute (ULI) Technical Assistance Panel of architects and urban planners.
This parking lot, at the foot of the Memorial Bridge in Springfield, was the location discussed last week for a 20-story apartment tower. The Urban Land Institute panel examining development plans for the riverfront believed the best way to utilize the area would include creating a neighborhood there.

The ULI group spent half the day last Wednesday listening to residents and other stakeholders about how they would like to see the riverfront developed from the Memorial Bridge to the South End Bridge. They then spent the rest of the day formulating ideas, which they presented at a public meeting in the late afternoon.

Stephanie Wasser, the executive director of the ULI Boston chapter, which organized the panel, explained the ULI can look at a problems "with a fresh pair of eyes."

The panel's co-chairs, Steve Heiken of ICON Architecture and Lynn Carlton of Sasaki Associates, led the presentation.

Heiken said the group heard the strip of land described as "an island" in a negative light and as an "oasis" in the positive by the people they interviewed.

He said to make the area work it must overcome its negative identification issues; develop more attractions than it has currently; bring in programming, such as festival and music; seek a recreation element such as leisure boating; and make it a destination as an "intimate park with social spaces."

The river walk trail and bike path presents a "puzzling problem" in who is responsible for maintaining the bridge and elevator behind LA Fitness that provides handicapped access to the path, Heiken said.

Wasser said the panel came up with some "quick projects" that include improved signage; a public relations campaign about the area; lighting on the Interstate 91 overpass that would guide people from the end of State Street safely to the riverfront; and clearing of vegetation along the riverfront so view of the rivers would be unobstructed.

Heiken explained the group divided the riverfront area into three areas for long-term projects. In the first area, closest to Memorial Bridge and downtown, the group envisioned "a signature tower" of one and two bedroom units of market rate housing. The location for the tower would be the current unpaved parking lot that is owned by the Picknelly family. He said the zoning of the area would allow a tower of 20 stories with 400 units.

Paul Picknelly was present for the presentation but did not offer any comment about the suggestion.

Although people commonly see the area as a park, Heiken explained it really isn't one as the zoning for the area allows for multiple uses.

The next section of the strip would include a park area, a water feature that could be used an outdoor skating rink in winter and the beginning of a series of stacked duplexes facing the river.

Heiken said the duplexes could be built so parking for the owners would be on the first floor and living space with better views of the river would be on the second. Creating a neighborhood there would also encourage retail and restaurant development, he added.

The section closest to the Basketball Hall of Fame could be the location for a secondary commuter train station for the proposed commuter line that would link Springfield to New Haven, Conn., Heiken said. The panel also suggested the development of "sports academies" -- organizations that could certify referees and coaches that would trade on the city's reputation as the birthplace of basketball.

The third area, now the location of a car dealership, could be used for additional housing.

The panel will be writing a formal report on their findings.

The city's Chief Development Officer John Judge told Reminder Publications he appreciated the efforts of the ULI panel.

He said removing vegetation along the river to improve the view has already begun. He is interested in pursuing the overpass lighting idea and using the area as a place where bicycles used by people on the bike path can be stored and racked. He said the redevelopment of Union Station into a regional intermodal center might have a positive effect on the riverfront.

Judge confirmed the city is working with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission on the possible submission of a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant for transportation projects.

He said lowering the train tracks into the ground so bridges can be built over them would solve the access issue to the riverfront.

That project, as well as the development of housing and the sports academies, are long-term ones, he added. Judge said he would like to see the sports academies named after Springfield native Larry O'Brien, who served as the chair of the Democratic Party, as well as Postmaster General and commissioner of the National Basketball Association.