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Under plan, Marble Street homes would make way for larger park

Date: 8/4/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD - South End residents attending a redevelopment meeting at the Italian Cultural Center on Thursday night learned the renovations of Emerson Wight Park will come at a price: the plans to increase the size of the park will demand the demolition of nine houses on Marble Street.

Jerry Hayes of Hayes Development facilitated the discussion and said the houses at 47, 51, 55, 61-63, 67, 75, 79, 90-93, 99 and 105-107 would be bought from the owners by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA). One of the properties is already owned by the city. Hayes said the money for the acquisition is already in place and "the vast preference of the SRA is to reach a mutually agreeable price" with the owners.

The taking of the properties through eminent domain would be a "last resort," he said.

The people living in those homes would have 120 days notice to find a new place to live and receive help in finding a new home as well as receiving financial assistance with moving costs, Hayes added. He said the tentative timetable for the project includes the release of relocation notices in early 2010, the acquisitions completed by mid-year and the demolitions occurring later next year.

Residents have identified the expansion and improvement of the park as a priority during a series of meetings over the past two years, Hayes said. The park's problems include its size and limited access, as well as out-dated facilities, security issues and poor drainage.

The proposed addition of the park would increase its size by 1.6 acres to a total of 8.5 acres. Hayes said the homes now separate the park from the neighborhood.

The budget for improving the park is $1.5 million, which Hayes explained is separate from the funding for the purchase of the Marble Street houses.

Hayes said that the final plans for the park would be determined next month. If all goes to plan, the work in the park would be completed by the summer of 2011.

The expansion of the park is just one of the improvements to the neighborhood's only major park and Hayes explained that additional meetings would determine exactly what else would be included in the renovations with the community and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Among the suggested additions to the park have been a softball/baseball field, a small soccer field, bocce courts and a running track.

Business owner Rico Daniele told the group that he would love to see a renovated baseball diamond that would have a reproduction of Fenway Park's Green Monster on the left field and Yankee Stadium on the right field at the park, reflecting the baseball loyalties of the residents of the South End and created an attraction for the park.

Other residents expressed concern about adequate parking for the park and security measures, such as lighting.

The park expansion is part of an over-all effort to improve the South End neighborhood. Scott Hanson of the city's Planning Department said the private investments such as the professional building at Arlington Court, the proposed Hampton Inn and the Berkshire Bank complex on the location of the former St. Joseph's Church have been made along with the public investment of a $3.7 million renovation of the Main Street corridor.

The next meeting of the redevelopment group has yet to be announced.