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City seeks to metamorphose downtown area

Date: 12/26/2012

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The plans for one city block are designed to jumpstart redevelopment downtown. The city announced the vision at a meeting on Dec. 12 at South Middle School.

Included in the conceptual plans presented by Anik Jhaveri of HDR Inc. are a six-story, 130,000 square foot commercial building; a 1,800 square foot, one-story intermodal Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) shelter; and a 500-space parking garage. The site is the block encompassing Elm Street, Arnold Street, the Summer Street extension and Church Street. The estimated cost for the project is between $30 to $55 million dollars.

The commercial building would be available for retail stores and boutiques on the main floor while subsequent floors would offer office space. The top floor could possibly offer residential space. Daley described it as "the gem of downtown."

The PVTA shelter would be made entirely of glass, providing 360 degrees of visual transparency. It would utilize automated technology including electronic signs, a touch-screen directory, GPS tracking of bus routes and a video-chat customer service assistance.

Consideration for those utilizing the Columbia River Greenway would be incorporated into the PVTA center by providing a bicycle-parking hub so that travelers could take time to enjoy the opportunities the downtown has to offer.

In addition to the structures, design elements would be incorporated to improve the visual aesthetics of the area via streetscaping, landscaping, lighting and furniture additions such as benches.

Jeff Daley, city advancement officer, said, "I believe this [project] is the catalyst to the future of our downtown. This will bring a new generation of storeowners, businesses, boutique shops, possibly some major retailers, restaurants and adequate parking. All of these things play into this project."

Mayor Daniel Knapik noted that the responsibility to revamp the downtown falls to the government because the private sector has failed to step up to the plate. He described the current state of the area as "underutilized, with substandard facilities and polluted land." The mayor hoped that the site could be prepared and ready for redevelopment by 2014.

At this time, there is no developer or tenants already invested in this downtown redevelopment project.

"There's not a shortage of interest in downtown Westfield," Knapik said. "We speak with developers all the time, but the building stock we have available today, for a lot of reasons doesn't meet their specifications."

Daley added, "I care about our downtown. We need to be respectful and mindful of its history and its future. We want to support and help the businesses that are there today. We want to create an economically stable area for years to come."

Jhaveri defined the goal of the conceptual design to create "three pieces that work together to provide a destination and a place for departure to other destinations."

The overall goal of the conceived project is to connect living, working and playing in an "easy to find" and "comfortable" downtown atmosphere.