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New England News

Expansion Of Holyoke Canal Walk Begins

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State and local officials led by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today marked the start of construction on a project to expand a pedestrian walkway around an industrial canal in Holyoke.  Officials say the canal walk will be an inviting place for both city residents and visitors.

The second phase of the Holyoke Canal Walk project, which will cost $3.5 million, will create 3,000 feet of pedestrian walkways in an area of downtown where the creative economy is trying to gain a foothold inside old mill buildings.  It is part of a larger plan to build some 9,000 feet of walkways along the canals to eventually connect Heritage State Park to the historic former mill sites and the new high performance computing center.

Governor Patrick said the relatively small project will have a big impact on Holyoke's economy.

" It is about how all of these projects knit together and create an environment for private investment."

Patrick, who is in the final six months of his last term as governor, said the economic development strategy of investing in infrastructure projects -- large and small all across the state -- has paid off. He said the state added more jobs last year than in any single year in the past 14 years.

" It is important for voters to insist that the next governor govern the whole state and not just the neighborhood around Beacon Hill."

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said he was appreciative of Patrick’s support for the canal walk project.  

"This has become the center of the creative economy in the city."

Morse is counting on the creative economy and technology start-ups spurred by the high performance computing center to revive Holyoke which fell on hard times after its paper mills and other heavy industry closed.

Lori Divine, a co-owner of Gateway City Arts, said people have been reluctant to visit downtown Holyoke but she hopes that changes with the construction of the canal walk, and with the arrival of high speed passenger rail to Holyoke by the end of this year. A passenger rail stop will be built just two blocks from her business.

" We need to restore dignity to the city. It is not just about bringing new people here, but realizing the people who are here really need to take more pride in their city and get their dignity back."

The work on the second phase of the canal walk project will include rehabilitation of an unused railroad bridge for pedestrian use along with sidewalk improvements, benches, lookouts over the canal and lighting, according to Marcos Marrero, Director of Planning and Economic Development for the city of Holyoke.

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The railroad bridge crossing the canal will be converted to pedestrian use as part of the $3.5 million phase two construction of the Holyoke Canal Walk

"While the first phase ( of the canal walk) in and of itself  did not change Holyoke, the integration of this second phase along with other projects that are occurring now  has a significant  impact on the art of the possible in downtown."

Eighty percent of the project is paid for by federal funds. Retired Democratic Congressman John Olver, once chairman of the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, also participated in the groundbreaking.

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