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City loses another business in battle for downtown

Date: 1/19/2010

Jan. 20, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Another business has been lost in the battle to revitalize downtown.

The Tea Pot Gallery, 22 Elm St., was only open for two years when it was forced to close its doors at the end of December due to waning business in this less-traveled area of the city. Efforts by city officials, business owners and partnerships with Westfield State College (WSC) to revitalize downtown have yet to help fill the plethora of empty storefronts.

City Councilor Gerry Tracy, owner of the Tea Pot Gallery, told Reminder Publications the decision to close his business, which was an eatery and art gallery, was a difficult one. He added the 16-hour days at the location were very hard for him and his wife personally and financially.

"We took two of the hardest business models, restaurants and galleries, and tried to make them work [together]," Tracy said of his efforts, adding the economic downturn did not help is cause. "I watched 20 restaurants close since I've been here [at the Tea Pot Gallery."

Tracy was quick to note that even though the restaurant is closed, he will continue his efforts to promote the arts downtown.

"[Our menu] wasn't enough to get people to come here everyday like they do Subway, Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's," he said. "What we lost was not the arts but the foods. We helped a lot of people get their lives into the music and into the arts [with the gallery space and open mic nights] ... [so] that was very rewarding."

He said he already has offers from other business owners to lease the property and will focus his efforts of bringing more of the arts downtown with his non-profit organization, Westfield Arts on the Green Inc.

Other business owners and city officials are optimistic about the future of downtown Westfield.

Juan Cofield, president of Boston Realty Associates Inc., acquired the property at 27 Washington St. from WSC last year, with plans to renovate and reopen the property for student housing.

"We've seen an opportunity to develop student housing," Cofield explained of the property. "We've moved fairly aggressively with other properties as well as this one."

He said the property on Washington Street will have 90 units or beds for use this fall or next spring. Cofield added there may be plans in the works to develop a 300-unit location as well.

Kenneth Lemanski, vice president of Advancement and Academic Affairs and College Relations at WSC, said the college is still committed to helping the city bring more students and the arts downtown.

He noted the college has an art gallery downtown in the Rinnova Building, 105 Elm St., and is currently looking for a location for the Barnes & Noble campus bookstore.

"We're continuing to look for the appropriate site for the best price we can get," Lemanski said.

He added other projects are still in the works to help the city revitalize downtown with its new mayor, Daniel Knapik, at the helm.

Knapik said he's working with developers and city personnel to continue efforts to revitalize downtown. He noted he's committed to the proposed intermodal transportation center on Elm Street as well as other projects under consideration.