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2010 marked by both controversey and development

Date: 12/28/2010

Dec. 29, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — 2010 was a year of controversy in the city with the proposed biomass plant generating protests from not only throughout the city, but the region.

The city was also the focus of a race for district attorney's race that concluded with a upset that suprised — and delighted — many.

The arts community in the city also made news with the opening of the Bing Arts Center and the Business Improvement District starting the Springfield Arts Initiative.

Technical High is selected as location for data center

The state's Second Data Center at the location of the former Technical High School on Elliot Street is expected to bring up to 70 jobs to the city and employ 200 people during its construction, according to Congressman Richard Neal.

The opening for the new center is expected to be May 2012.

Neal was joined by state and local officials at a briefing Thursday [Jan. 7] to announce the details of the long-awaited project that had been the object of a political struggle over its location. Neal thanked Gov. Deval Patrick for his decision to re-use the former high school site and noted he had lobbied the governor on a bi-weekly basis.

Michael L. McKimmey, deputy commissioner of the Office of Planning, Design and Construction, said officials "want to make sure it contributes to the city of Springfield and this historic neighborhood."

The $100 million project joins other investments in the State Street corridor, Neal said. The other projects include the $70 million Federal Courthouse and the $25 million reconstruction of State Street.

The project broke ground later in the year and is currently under construction.

Busy Springfield program notes progress

Erin Weber stood before 27 Denver St. in the city's Pine Point neighborhood and checked off the reasons why she bought a home in Springfield: it's close to her job as teacher at Putnam Vocational and Technical High School; she had a large inventory — 50 homes — from which to choose; the price was right; and she received "invaluable information" through the Buy Springfield Now program.

Weber was the 100th homebuyer to participate in the program and Rosemary Morin, vice president of Hampden Bank, said there are about 120 homeowners who have successfully used the program ... The initiative between the city, local lending institutions, area realtors, non-profit groups and retailers will mark its first anniversary in May, Morin said, and will be noted with an event in June. The program works with first-time homebuyers and provides assistance in education about the home-buying process and financing.

Mason Square Library returns

City Solicitor Edward Pikula updated both a group of city councilors and occasionally hostile advocates for the Mason Square Library on the status of the eminent domain process to remove the Urban League (UL) from the site of the former and future library on Wednesday.

The meeting was often contentious with some residents challenging Pikula on why the process was taking longer than they thought. Former City Councilor Morris Jones claimed the "foot-dragging" could be attributed to Mayor Domenic Sarno, while Ruth Loving said originally Mason Square library supporters had been told the building would be back in the city's hands within 30 days of the City Council approving the taking.

Jones asserted the issues surrounding the library were "cut and dried — even Ray Charles could see that."

Attending the meeting were City Councilors E. Henry Twiggs and James Ferrera, who were the co-chairs, Melvin Edwards and Zaida Luna.

Elizabeth Stevens, a member of the Mason Square Library Advisory Board, charged that UL President Henry Thomas was the one "dragging his feet." She praised city officials for making the process more transparent through meetings such as this one and wondered if Gov. Deval Patrick or Congressman Richard Neal could put pressure on Thomas to move more quickly.

By the end of the year, the Urban League had moved out of the former library which was being prepared for its re-opening.

Former Federal Building creates controversy

In a game of "Chicken," two people try not to be the one who blinks first.

For months, City Councilor Tim Rooke has tried to persuade Mayor Domenic Sarno to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to ascertain if the former Federal Building on Main Street is the most cost-effective location for the School Department.

Last week, Rooke brought a greater pressure onto the issue by refusing to schedule a meeting of the Finance Committee he chairs a meeting in which financial orders must be approved in order for the city to issue payments to vendors and make other transactions, including some involved with the renovations of the former Federal Building.

Rooke's actions put the city in a procedural bind.

The city signed a 20-year lease with MassDevelopment, which bought the building for space for the School Department. The rental cost of the space is more than $500,000. Rooke believes there might be other office space available in the city at a lower cost

Thomas Walsh, Sarno's communications director explained that because the lease arrangement was government to government — MassDevelopment is a semi-public entity — the former Finance Control Board was not required by law to issue an RFP.

The School Department eventually did move into the building, but of this writing the renovations to the front plaza and to the first floor are still underway.

State Street dedicated

Although a contingent of elected officials, business people and residents officially celebrated the $17 million renovation of State Street, both Congressman Richard Neal and Mayor Domenic Sarno said more development in the corridor is on the way.

Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood, Gov. Deval Patrick and Judge Michael Ponsor joined Neal during the speaking program of the ceremony Thursday morning on the steps of the new Federal Building and U.S. District Court after a walk down State Street from Mason Square.

Neal, who was responsible for securing the federal funding — more than $70 million for the new Federal Building and the $17 million for the State Street project — noted that beyond being an important thoroughfare linking most of the city's neighborhoods and being used by some 29,000 vehicles each day, State Street is "more than a transportation route ... it's Springfield's spine."

Bing Arts Center opens first phase of renovation

Merilee Aurora Hale explained to a male member of the filmmaking class for children that wearing make-up for his role on camera is all right.

"I wear make-up every day," Marty Langford, the class's instructor and director of the film the children are making, chimed in with support.

Convinced, the young man accepted a light coating of make-up to take the shine off his face when he is on camera.

The filmmaking class is one of the first activities for the new Bing Arts Center, which will have the official opening of its first phase with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on June 5.

Brian Hale has spearheaded the movement to transform the abandoned neighborhood movie theater into an arts center that intends to draw its audience form the Greater Springfield area.

The Bing has hosted numerous events since its opening this summer.

High speed rail in future

Imagine a high-speed rail system that would connect Montreal, Canada, to station stops in Vermont, along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, through Connecticut and points south to Washington, D.C.

Now, imagine being able to board a train in Greenfield, Northampton or Holyoke instead of having to travel to Springfield.

According to transportation officials speaking at a meeting conducted at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) on June 2, the concept isn't science fiction — it has already started.

Residents and public officials from throughout the region gathered to listen to Timothy Doherty of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and James Redeker of the Connecticut Department of Transportation present a status report on a multi-state partnership that would bring high speed rail through the north-south rail corridor.

Work has begun on the modernization of the tracks bewteen Springfield and the Vermont border for the new high speed Amtrak route.

Downtown Redevelopment continues

What does the creation of a new parking lot and program space have in common with 20 six-foot tall fiberglass sculptures of high-top sneakers?

They are both projects designed for the on-going redevelopment of downtown.

John Judge, the city's chief development officer, told Reminder Publications that work began last week on asbestos remediation of the former Asylum nightclub building at the corner of Main and Worthington streets ...

Judge was also one of the city officials at the kick-off of the Art & Soles project in which 20 giant fiberglass high top sneaker sculptures will be painted and decorated by area artists.

The announcement took place at 1200 Main St., which will act as the studio space for eight of the artists.

The Asylum building has yet to be demolished and the Art & Soles project proved to be a success.

Judge rules against city

Downtown building owners are considering a class action lawsuit against the city after a ruling that struck down an ordinance requiring buildings to install a specific fire alarm system only available from one contractor.

Although no one would speak for attribution at this time, one building manager told Reminder Publications, "We are not surprised by the ruling."

Superior Court Associate Justice Cornelius Moriarty II found in favor of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Western Massachusetts in its case against the Springfield Fire Department and the City of Springfield. The decision was dated July 28 and released last week [week of Aug. 23].

Months later the city is still fighting the judge's ruling.

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