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Transportation Center plans will be changed

By Michelle Kealey

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD Plans for the multi-modal transportation center and hotel for downtown Westfield are still in the works, however some small changes to the plans have been made.

James Boardman, director of Community Development in Westfield, explained that the project was originally going to be designed and built as a one building joint development project, but has been changed to be built as two buildings a hotel and a transportation center.

"It is out of the category of joint development," he said, adding that it is now considered an Urban Renewal Project.

He explained that after going through the necessary processes and crunching the numbers, it was determined that it was more financially feasible and made more sense to build the project as two buildings.

Stubbins Associates Inc., the architects designing the project, are currently in the process of designing a new concept plan.

Boardman said that the plans have changed a little, but not dramatically.

According to Boardman, under the category of Urban Renewal, the project will be broken down into three land dispositions.

He explained that land dispositions places the entire project "under one umbrella" and disposes the land piece by piece to each developer.

With the multi-modal transportation and hotel project, the three land dispositions will include: one to Mestek, Inc., the developer of the hotel; the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) for the transportation building; and the city for the parking area.

"It is a better option for the private and public sides here," Boardman said.

He explained that the two buildings the hotel and transportation center will be adjacent to each other rather than connected.

He said that the hotel building will be strictly a hotel with a restaurant and hotel related activities, while the transportation building will contain the areas for transportation, office space and other spaces that will be leased out for various purposes.

The third portion of the project will include the parking spaces, which Boardman hopes will include 150 or more spaces.

According to Boardman, the project is at least five years old and the city has been working all that time to line up key players in the project and keep them involved.

He said that part of the process is keeping the project alive.

"It is very complex, very intricate and crazy," he said, adding that there are many people trying to get to the same place who are coming from different angles.

He said that all of the public and private groups continue to meet about the project as a group and individually.

The project will cost over $25 million to complete.

He added that there is about $10 million secured for the project thus far in state and federal monies.

The project will mostly be funded by state and federal monies and the city will fill in what is not covered, but Boardman said it is unclear what that gap will be.

"We've never seen anything like that invested in downtown Westfield," he said. "It is by far the largest investment in downtown by anyone."

He added that he hopes the project will pave the way for additional investment in the downtown area.

Bringing back the downtown area is something that the Sullivan administration has focused on throughout the mayor's entire tenure, according to Boardman.

Westfield does not have a a hotel as large as the proposed hotel.

Boardman said that the hotel industry is an "inexact science," but there is a theory that "if you build it they will come."

He added that the developer John Reed of Mestek reserves a block of rooms each week in Springfield and "is extremely confident and we share his confidence."

In addition to the hotel, the transportation portion of the project will allow the city to expand on public transportation offered in that area.

Boardman said that there are plans to increase the neighborhood to neighborhood routes of the PVTA, which would require a central location such as the transportation center.

He also said that with the new transportation center, the city would be able to strengthen the relationship between the city and Westfield State College.

The PVTA currently offers service near the college, which may extend out to the downtown area with the completion of the project.

"With the new facility, we will be able to do that without any issues," Boardman said.

The next step in the project will be the approval of the urban renewal plan.

The plan needs to be approved locally by the Redevelopment Authority, the Planning Board and the City Council and then sent to be approved by the state.

Boardman explained that the Redevelopment Authority is working on the plan. He added that a plan has been approved in the past, but needs to be updated an reapproved for the project to move forward.

As part of the older urban renewal plan, some properties have been acquired from Church Street and Arnold Street. Boardman said that a "good chunk" of the properties are owned by the city, but there are some private properties that have been acquired for the project.

He anticipates that the Redevelopment Authority will begin to meet again after Labor Day.

"We are looking to have all of the Urban Renewal plan finalized by local and state entities by Dec. 31," he said.

He added that the land disposition may take place in late 2006 or early 2007, which is when construction can begin.

He said once the plan is approved, business and residents will be relocated, the site will be cleared and handed over to the property owners.

He added that a determination will have to be made of who will begin construction first or whether it will be done simultaneously.

Boardman said that he would guess that the hotel would go first because the developer is "itching" to begin.

Boardman said that although progress has been made, "in our world it is never over until it's over."

He added that the "announcements are great, the groundbreakings are fine," but it is never done until the ribbon is cut.

"There is a ways to go before the ribbon is cut," he said. "A couple thousand things can go wrong."