Out my front windows I see no fewer than 10 structures being renovated from top to bottom, all of them magnificently historic, with sidewalk and lighting improvements included. The various renovations are for residential, educational, institutional, and commercial use. Out the back windows I can see the sprawling MGM project, Park Street Lofts, the Caring Health Center complex, Raices, and the Milano’s buildings, all completely repaired after the 2011 tornado. 3 local parks and one national park are being given multi-million dollar make-overs.
Is Springfield experiencing the great inversion, a boom of Millenials and empty nesters moving “back to the city”? I don’t think so.
Springfield is experiencing a “Neutron Boom”, lots of building in the urban core, but not attracting new people or even much new real net investment apart from government spending and MGM. Other land holders aren’t moving at all, they’re waiting for a real boom to begin so as to cash in on the underdeveloped land and buildings they’ve been sitting on for decades without one thought of actually doing any development themselves; it’s not enough that the MGM project put their speculative landholding just outside the bullseye of a huge financial windfall, they want to profit without engaging in any of the actual work of doing an honest to goodness project.
Jim Kunstler is fond of saying that America is made up mostly of a series of rackets, starting with finance and health care, and spreading pretty much throughout, the goal is to skim, scrape, and loot as much money as possible from the transactions going on in what passes for a real economy without any thought of doing something to provide an actual good or service. Only the suckers do the real work.
There are plenty of worrying signs that MGM is both being allowed to cut back on its investment, and that there is less than sufficient demand to fill the project’s extremely limited retail space. What was to be “the centerpiece of the entire development”, the old state armory “castle” is now only to be gutted, repaired on the outside and used for, I kid you not (AND NEITHER THE GAMING COMMISSION NOR THE CITY HAS PUSHED BACK) “ummmm, wine and cheese” and waiting for a “strategic partner” to actually build it out. Translation: If someone else is willing to renovate the building then we’ll watch that happen, otherwise it will sit empty most of the time. Add to that the announcement that the community access tv studio at Main and State Street will be staying for the foreseeable future to allow MGM to “study pedestrian flows” and decide what to locate in that storefront and you can already see that the hunkering down has begun.
Again, that MGM is doing it doesn’t surprise me, that the city and the gaming commission aren’t holding them to their commitments is what is shocking. That includes the commitment to create 54 units of MGM branded and managed market rate housing; at this point MGM is reluctant to even give the residents of the NON MGM MANAGED OR BRANDED residences they are claiming will fulfill their obligation under the host community agreement the right to park in their garage! (Thus giving credence to the ridiculous claim that more parking is needed) That’s some pull back from the stance that parking would be open to the public free of charge. I never expected that to happen mind you, it would never have been workable, but the pull back on that should at least be used as leverage to ensure that the workable parts of the agreement are fulfilled.
Great things are happening. Springfield has taken in more students, and probably more people, from the aftermath of Hurricane María than any other city in New England; over four times the number Boston has enrolled in its schools. Potentially hundreds more are on the way. The city will “boom” one way or another I have little doubt. The infrastructure is here, the amazing pre war housing stock is here, the empty lots are here, the ability to live cheaply in a walkable neighborhood is here. Someone is going to take advantage of it. I’ve heard that there are places in Seattle and D.C. where the Starbucks are so numerous that you can occasionally see one while sitting IN one. If the old white guys in the dark suits don’t watch out, in Springfield we may be able to see one Crown Fried Chicken while seated in another; God protect us from halal meats and cheap take out.