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Springfield Officials Present Vision Of A Changed City

A series of construction and redevelopment projects will be accomplished in 2017 that officials in Springfield, Massachusetts believe will allow the city to shed its image as a decaying former industrial city.    Springfield’s chief development officer laid out a vision of the city’s economic future – some of it admittedly speculative -- in a presentation last night to business leaders and civic boosters.

The first resort casino in Massachusetts will open in Springfield in 2017. By that time people will be arriving in downtown Springfield on trains and buses that stop at a new transportation center. There will be hundreds of new hotel rooms and luxury apartments downtown.  A new factory will be built on the city’s outskirts where a Chinese company will establish its North American headquarters for building passenger rail cars.

The presentation by Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy highlighted about a dozen projects.  Some, like the MGM casino and the Union Station redevelopment, have received a lot of attention.  Others, like an innovation café that is being built downtown, have flown under the radar.

"The point of this is you can't stand still," said Kennedy

Kennedy’s presentation to about 300 people also included speculation about projects that at this stage are little more than brainstorming.  Things such as a baseball stadium, which has been discussed on and off for decades.

Kennedy encouraged the audience members to " dream a little bit, don't be afraid to dream."

The program “Springfield Vision 2017: The Right Direction”  was an update to last year’s  “A City on the Rise” presentation, which was intended to create buzz about Springfield’s economy. 

" I am starting to get phone calls now from New York investors. We are attracting attention from outside Springfield, outside Massachusetts," Kennedy said in an interview.

Last year, city development officials tallied $2.4 billion in construction projects either recently completed, under construction, or about to begin.  This year the tally increased roughly 20 percent to $2.8 billion.

" That's excellent. Springfield had many years of either negative or no growth, but that has changed in the last three years and the future looks pretty bright," said Kennedy.

A marketing video was debuted at the presentation depicting a renovated Union Station. Part of the transportation center will have office space for rent.

Kennedy revealed that the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which owns the MassMutual Center, is conducting a study on expanding the facility.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno credited much of the city’s recent economic development success to meticulous planning that took place as the city plotted a recovery from the devastating 2011 tornado.

"We were at a precarious time after June 1, 2011. But we mapped out a strategy, we mapped out a plan and we are executing that plan now," said Sarno.

Sarno said another key to attracting private investments in Springfield is sound public finances. A decade after a state finance control board ceded control of the city government back to elected officials Springfield has the highest bond rating in its history and a $40 million cash reserve.         

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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