In the same spirit as my last post I’d like to change the focus from local individuals to local corporations. There are two in particular I’ll be focusing on, but the treatment the city gets is more or less the same from all of its corporate citizens.
When the tornado ripped through my neighborhood in 2011 it devastated, and then over zealous municipal officials destroyed, a series of 19th century buildings impeccably restored by architect Peter Zorzi in the South End. I took a picture just a week or two before the tornado hit because the sidewalks, signage, and plantings had just been reconstructed and I wanted my bride to be to see just how lovely her new community was.
A few days later it looked like this:
My belief is that Davenport, a Boston real estate concern which has partnered with MGM in putting together its new resort, has been holding on to this empty block so as to provide MGM with a get out of jail free card if their negotiations with economic development officials and a local developer don’t bear fruit regarding their commitment to market rate apartment construction. My guess is that the parties concerned are finalizing those plans and so Davenport is now free to market the block for retail.
Block plans for the Zorzi property have been published:
And there is a depiction of what future structure might occupy the lot hanging on the fence which surrounds the lot.
Any resident will tell you, any charrette will determine, and every master plan will attest that what this section of the city needs more than anything else is some kind of grocery store. Luckily for us, one of New England’s largest grocery store chains has its headquarters right here in Springfield AND they’ve recently announced plans for a huge expansion of their warehouse space in the city demonstrating their intent to grow way beyond their current 77 stores. They’ve also shown a willingness to experiment with new modalities like smaller convenience style shops, smaller yet more upscale markets, and even gas stations!
So this is a match made in heaven: a pressing need; right across the street from the region’s newest resort attraction; marketing your products to people from the same geographical area where your stores are located; a hop, skip, and a jump from corporate HQ!!
Yeah, not happening. You can guarantee it’s going to be a Walgreen’s or a CVS. With a grocery aisle!!!! Ummm, I can taste the Dinty Moore Beef Stew now. And there was much rejoicing.
Another enormous gap in our downtown is a diner. Springfield has never been replete with diners because, well, the region’s diner chain was, and is, headquartered here and so Friendly’s has always eaten up that space. When I was a kid there were 5 Friendly’s within a 5 minute drive of my house, there were two downtown as well. Deciding to eat at Friendly’s was easier than deciding at which Friendly’s to eat.
Springfield is down to one Friendly’s now, located on a stroad just at the very edge of the city just inches beyond which the corporate headquarters are located. Friendly’s, somehow, still has 250 some odd locations all over the northeast, but just the one in the town where it all began, and that one as far as possible from the city’s core.
Many of the original drawings of the MGM property had a Friendly’s within the footprint. I can imagine that MGM’s rents were a bit pricey for a restaurant chain struggling to find a niche in today’s world but, being honest, there are a dozen buildings and lots located all around the casino and its facilities that could easily house a Friendly’s, perhaps a nod-to-the-original “Soda Shop Friendly’s” that could really make a killing when I look at the make up of the families that always seem to be wandering around the MGM property.
Just as with the difficulties in getting well to do locals to live downtown, it seems impossible to get any local corporation apart from the Peter Pan Bus Lines to put their money into the downtown. Mass Mutual has retreated up State Street, Baystate Medical into the North End, except for STCC, which has no on campus housing, the colleges are too far removed to enliven the downtown, and so it seems development is up to the same pool of local entrepreneurs who, in 2018, are unable to open even ONE local brewery when there are dozens and dozens popping up all over the region in every town imaginable…except in the most populous city in all of western New England!
That leaves us with the out of town corporations once again. It reminds me of the scene from Jurassic Park where John Hammond realizes the only one on his side is the blood sucking lawyer! Well, at least that turned out ok.