A zero or even negative interest rate environment, on its face at least, screams out for developers to “build, build, build, build” (“That’s the story”), and according to reports that has happened in lots of major markets, but here in the provinces nearly everything feels stalled once again. I’m not even referring to the dozen or so demo’ed buildings which we were told would become movie theaters, restaurants, art centers, hotels, or apartment buildings; I’m talking about developments which have been announced, some multiple times, as having funding in place to begin, only for actual work never to materialize.
The most significant, and perhaps most bizarre of these is the MGM/Opal/not Opal/Picknelly/Not Picknelly Court Square Building project. MGM has a commitment under the Host Community Agreement to build over 50 units of market rate housing in proximity to its casino. There was talk that these apartments would actually open for residents before gaming would begin on the casino floor; instead we’ve yet to hear if construction on these contractually obligated units will even begin before MGM celebrates its 2nd anniversary. It has been written many times that a finalized plan is only a month or two away. Apparently market rate units to downtown Springfield are what cold fusion is to energy: “It’s the future…and always will be!”
Meanwhile another property which was begun as a commercial to residential conversion by another developer (It stalled, then MGM picked it up as a possible solution to creating market rate housing, and then sold back to the city) is sitting as dormant as can be at the corner of Chestnut and State. Both the original developer and MGM reportedly did some serious site prep which made converting the former insurance and school department building more easily transformable into housing; not enough apparently.
A entire series of building directly across the street from MGM have been announced as becoming hotels, restaurants, and shops, but everything has stalled and so nearly every storefront facing MGM along Main Street is empty. These are some great buildings, which combine architectural beauty and solid urbanism.
One last tornado victim sits next to the new CVS on Main Street. It has been bought, sold back, and auctioned off in the last few years with announcements made about local developers moving local businesses in in short order but, there it sits.
Surprisingly, I haven’t heard anything about the Chicopee Savings building in years. Garbage architecture, as you can see:
Across the street from my house sits the Female Seminary Building. When Springfield announced the beginning of free public schooling for all boys back in the early 1800’s, local citizens were outraged that girls were not included and built this structure so rapidly that it was ready to educate young women by the time the public schools were open for young men. Happily, within a few years it was made obsolete with the inclusion of girls in public schools. From that time until just 15 years ago or so it served many different functions, but then it was left vacant. After some work by the Springfield Preservation Trust it was sold to Develop Springfield to be part of their Lower Maple Business Park. When Develop Springfield’s most active leader departed Springfield, mostly because, as this essay demonstrates, the pace of development in Springfield is measured like the movement of tectonic plates, there was a large press conference announcing funding to convert the seminary into a shared work space. Two years later the most prominent changes have been effected by neighborhood kids using piles of leftover bricks as Legos and wood planks from the back deck as bike ramps!
Further up Maple Street an apartment building and some of the city’s most impressive brownstones have been given CDBG money and have been awarded CPC funding for housing and historic preservation from local property tax dollars, but no obvious work has been done in at least a year.
To finish the list I have to include Mass Development’s empty building on Stearns Square. A half a dozen or so establishments have been attracted to the new dining district around the square, and Worthington Street, Duryea Way, and the square itself have never looked better, but the giant linchpin meant to unite them all sits looking empty and forlorn. The challenge of filling such a huge space when so many much smaller storefronts are available for making much smaller and much safer bets must be enormous, especially with so much of the area’s focus falling to the Trinity Block:
That was because even after it was presented as a fait accompli (a recurring theme) it then nearly dropped stone-cold dead. Resurrecting it left very little oxygen for anything else in the neighborhood.
This is not to say that nothing has been done. After more than a decade of promises both the Civic Tower:
The Zorzi block has a CVS:
The Dave’s Furniture parcel IS becoming a Wahlburgers:
The Underwood Building and the Shean Block haven’t been torn down for parking!
The Willys-Overland building is being transformed into apartments:
Wayfinders is finishing their building on Main Street, Platform C is finally complete at Union Station, and it’s too early to be frustrated by the lack of progress on the Red Lion Inn. I’m sure, given a little time, enough nothing will be done that its developers will meet expectations for frustrating us locals with an immeasurable lack of progress.