I feel a bit like Odysseus about to lie down for a nap, or a wide receiver celebrating a touchdown at the 10 yard line, but this does look to be Springfield’s year. Just contemplating it makes me think this will be the year of the zombie apocalypse: Dow, 25,000? Bitcoin, $17,000? Springfield poised to make a great leap? What could go wrong?
In 2018, in this little corner of the world: the first “rolling stock” for the MBTA will roll off a Springfield assembly line; MGM will open its billion dollar* resort casino; the commuter trains will start arriving and departing for Hartford, New Haven, and New York City out of the “no longer an embarrassment” Union Station; the Riverfront Park, Stearn’s Square, Pynchon Plaza, and Da’ Vinci Park will all be the subject of multi million dollar renovations; the Court Square Hotel redevelopment could get underway, at least one new private hotel is set to open; Maple Street (my street) will see at least 4 renovations of historic properties get started; the North End will see its first springtime with a completely new Main Street and literally thousands of new citizens flooding in taking refuge from Hurricane María; new landscaping at the Armory National Park site; and a new plan for Main Street from Central Street to Union Station will be put in place to make walking downtown feel fairer and seem safer.
Enjoying things as they were:
The MGM thing is the raison d’être for at least half of the elements of that list, perhaps everything on the list which comes from the public sector with the exception of the Hartford line rail link. The city paid a very high price in terms of the loss of historic structures and there can be no doubt that a substantial number of eggs are in that one enormous basket. I personally find no reason to believe that industrial “gaming” can even exist, in the long run, without a more healthy broader economy to siphon off, but it would fulfill my wildest fantasies if it were to be so for just long enough to establish some kind of a real trend for people of means to move back to the city. A safe, attractive, engaging, neighborhood with activities ranging from movies, to concerts, sports, business, and the fine arts, with price points both high and low, and dining from “ultra fine” to storefront ethnic, with bars and clubs and housing from historic mansions to subsidized studio apartments seems like it could be attractive.
Even if the economy stays strong that could be a real challenge. Springfield is a tough place to love; not for me apparently, but when I see it through the eyes of others and the rough edges, deficiencies, and flaws are laid bare I realize that even what might seem like a guaranteed success can easily fail. For me, it only needs to be better than it was and I’m impressed, for the outsider it has to be not just better than it was, but better than the multiple independent options for living, working, and playing which exist in the region, in the nation, and in the world.
It’s a high bar.
Atheists talk about the “outsider test for religion”: “If Hinduism included a belief in transubstantiation would it seem reasonable to you?” I get it. Here in the northeast I think I have to ask myself, not if Springfield is in better shape than Bridgeport, Hartford, or Holyoke, but if a reasonable person would choose Springfield over Boston, Northampton, West Hartford, Great Barrington, or Providence?
The answer, by the way, is yes, I think they would; but only for one very problematic reason: because there are so many obvious and enormous gaps which need to be filled at a very low cost of entry. The best example is, again, the fact that “Springfield’s” only craft brewer has not a brewery, a brew pub, nor any tangible existence in the city apart from claiming it is from Springfield. And even if that were to change how would that one brewer compare to a place of comparable size and comparable economic standing? Take Asheville, North Carolina and its 26 breweries. One* seems a smidgen low.
Want to open a(n) (insert concept here)? We probably either don’t have one, or the one we have isn’t that good!
The problem with low cost of entry is that any amount of success will immediately begin to erode our competitive advantage! It reminds me of my favorite scene from the Brady Bunch, as Peter washes Greg’s car:
Greg: “Is all the rust coming off?”
Peter: “Hope not”
Greg “What do you mean?”
Peter: “It’s the only thing holding the car together!”
When price point and dearth of competition begin to fade, and that’s a pretty optimistic scenario, what has been created needs to be good enough, have the right things in the right amounts and the right places that it can compete toe to toe with everyplace else and grab a commensurate share of the spoils.