(LuLu skating on a weekday at MGM…weekends are packed so nobody skates there, it’s too crowded)
The end of the year brings out not only the Year in Review essays but also the Predictions 2019 pieces. I’m not someone who is afraid of being wrong so my reluctance to make an attempt at guessing what’s in store for us in the upcoming year isn’t out of fear of being inaccurate, it’s just that I can’t determine for myself what I really believe. I can make an argument in my head for a particular outcome; let’s say an economic crash on the order of a Great Depression, but I can also see how that, just as reasonably, not only might not happen, but that its opposite, a boom time for the economy, might somehow occur in its stead.
As relatively trivial as it might seem, it’s similar to how almost any great sporting victory could be erased by changing a tiny variable in one sequence of events in one game (Exactly where the thrill of watching comes from!); in the end the outcome was “evitable” whether or not 10,000 experts predicted it.
As far as the year in review goes, 2018 was as big a year for Springfield as I have witnessed in terms of potential game changers:
*The Hartford Line of CT/Rail connecting to, and Peter Pan opening its headquarters in Union Station.
*CRRC beginning production of rolling stock at its Springfield plant including the delivery of the first cars to the MBTA and contracts to build cars for transit systems in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
*The opening of the MGM resort/casino in downtown Springfield.
On a smaller scale new businesses have opened…and stayed open in the downtown, and there were too many sidewalk, park, and bike infrastructure improvements to identify individually in a single, concise blog post.
(A new-ish shop in the Marketplace)
A look ahead? What I see, or perhaps what I don’t see which concerns me is how little immediate follow on from these developments I see coming on-line in the immediate future. There are perhaps a dozen developments proposed in the perfectly nebulous “middle term” to make one downright Pollyannish; that is unless that “one” can think of perhaps 3 score similar plans which not only were never completed but which were in fact never even truly begun! My “Downtown of the Middle Term” has condominiums and golf on the riverfront…along with a new marina, various high rises for businesses and residences, art spaces, pedestrian only streets, movie theaters, grocery stores, restaurants, at least two baseball stadiums (stadia), a “NOT a parking garage” bus station on Main Street and so, so much more.
Right now, located mostly in the penumbra of the middle distance, we’ve got three more hotels, a renovated vaudeville theater, one transformed industrial/apartment building, and 50+ units of market rate housing owned by, managed by, or named for MGM, a new Wahlburgers, some kind of museum themed storefront retail, and a new Main Street commercial development. Opening this spring, on the other hand, we have…nothing. Government is coming through with the completion of two more newly renovated parks, and the addition of two trains a day out of Springfield north to Greenfield passing through Northampton and Holyoke. On the horizon I see government expanding commuter rail both north-south and east-west and, perhaps, a new county courthouse located somewhere around Union Station but those outcomes pertain as well to the middle distance.
The question is, in the midst of this retail apocalypse will local entrepreneurs open up storefront shops across or down the street from MGM? Will restauranteurs see the enormous success of Red Rose, offering good food at reasonable prices just outside the MGM footprint, and copy that model with food offerings not otherwise available downtown: Crazy, exotic, nearly unheard of cuisines like “Mexican”, “Japanese”, “Thai” or even a real diner?
Seriously. 15,000 people a day coming to MGM, many more thousands of employees and residents…and ZERO places to buy a burrito.
“Why don’t you do it, Steve?”
Because, honestly, I’m closing in on a six figure salary doing what I do in a very low risk sitch-a-migation. I think the burrito place will need customers once it opens anyway, and I am prepared to be their #1 customer. Sounds like a great opportunity for an immigrant…perhaps from (¡)Mexico(!) or, as with most “Mexican” places around here, someone from El Salvador or Nicaragua: Shred some chicken, season some beans, throw in some cheese and whatever and…”pum”…burritos.
(My nephew in the ballon parade)
The big things have been done; big things which did a fairly good job of handling the “little things” like improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, better signage, and a generally even more attractive Main Street. There are people: The Thunderbirds are well on track to setting a franchise record for home attendance at 4,500 per game. There are more concerts than we’ve seen in decades, and a new MGM comedy club opening next month. There are already 4 proposals for recreational marijuana shops in the downtown, at least one looks almost ready to open.
There are instances where mega-projects use up all the available oxygen and everything else around them dies: Baystate West was an excellent example of this. For this neighborhood I’ll gladly assert that this is not the case; the people I see at MGM are mostly new blood, many of them first time visitors, and they are leaving the footprint to go at least as far as Red Rose and perhaps to a hockey game. This is the moment, if we locals don’t seize it we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.