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City Council debates cost of Target development

Date: 11/11/2008

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD What came first, the chicken or the egg? Who should start shelling out the dough first, the city or Target Corporation? Would the city's approval of a multimillion-dollar bond order be putting the cart before the horse?

These were all questions discussed at last week's City Council meeting in which city personnel and councilors debated over Westfield's obligation to approve an $8.6 million bond for road improvements associated with the proposed $100 million Target development project. The project would bring a 1.7 million square-foot Target Distribution Center to Falcon Drive by 2012 and requires the city pay for and complete improvements to Falcon Drive, Southampton Road, Arch Street and the Massachusetts Turnpike interchange by opening day.

Due to the downturn in the economy, Target Corporation has chosen to slow their plans, which has made several councilors concerned over whether the project would indeed occur and whether the city could pay for the bond without Target's $725,000 annual tax payment.

"Unfortunately somebody has to jump off the bridge first," Ward 3 City Councilor Peter Miller, also member of the Legislative and Ordinance and Long Range Bonding Committee, said of the need to fund the improvements prior to Target breaking ground.

City Councilor at-large John Liptak, also chair of the Finance Committee, said he wants to "minimize" the city's "exposure" to debt in the event that the project falls through.

City Engineer Mark Cressotti explained that the $8.6 million bond could be broken into four phases but that would raise the cost to $9.5 million. He noted that design costs would total $1.5 million and would take a year and a half to complete.

"As the north side gets built up these improvements must be made to survive up there," Ward 2 City Councilor Daniel Knapik, also chair of the Legislative and Ordinance Committee, said.

Ward 1 City Councilor Christopher Keefe, also a member of the Finance and Long Range Bonding Committees, explained that the improvements stipulated by the Target development agreement would include approximately $5 million for the reconfiguration of roadways and traffic lights along the Falcon Drive and Southampton Road interchange, expansion of the North Road and Southampton Road intersection and expansion of Pride Way to create left and right turn lanes (Phase One).

He noted that other proposed improvements associated with the Target development project are optional, such as $140,000 for expansion of the roadway to create two full turn lanes onto Arch Road (Phase Two), $700,000 for improved drainage on Arch Road (Phase Three) and $2.6 million for a manned tollbooth and slip ramp (Phase Four).

Keefe explained that the city will receive $2.1 million from the State Economic Stimulus Package, $1.2 million from MassHighway, $600,000 from Target Corporation and $100,000 from Robert Bolduc, president of Pride Stations and Stores, to cover some of the roadwork expenses.

Assistant City Solicitor Susan Phillips explained that as per the Target development agreement, the city must begin the road improvements upon Target Corporation's purchase of the 14-acre parcel of land adjacent to the proposed facility.

"It's an important project and brings a lot of jobs to the city," Mayor Michael Boulanger said, adding that the facility would also bring additional tax revenue and economic opportunity to the north end.

The City Council is currently awaiting the $8.6 or $9.5 million bond order request from Boulanger before they may take further action to approve or deny the bonding.