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Projects Planned To Support Development Of Downtown Dining District

Stearns Square Park

Springfield officials have announced plans to redevelop a downtown park to make it the center of a proposed dining district. The plan was announced during a visit this week by Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Mayor Domenic Sarno unveiled plans to completely renovate Stearns Square Park and a connecting plaza known as Duryea Way in the historic commercial center of downtown. He also announced the city will establish a $1.5 million low-interest loan fund to attract full-service restaurants to the area.

"We have a vision," declared Sarno.  " We feel we can build on bringing empty-nesters, Baby Boomers, and young professionals to not only work downtown and stay downtown after work, but to move downtown."

The plan to spend public funds is an effort to attract more private economic development to an area of the city located between Union Station and the planned MGM casino.

" We are connecting the dots," said Sarno.

Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy sees Stearns Square as a gateway to the rest of downtown for visitors arriving at Union Station.  The historic transportation center is undergoing an $88 million restoration and is scheduled to open at the end of this year.  The MGM casino is scheduled to open in 2018.

" Right in the middle of town we will have anchors on each end and something thriving right here in the middle. From a practical point of view I think it should work," explained Kennedy, who added he had talked with all the business owners in the area about upgrading their property.

" I think everybody on the team is playing," he said.

Stearns Square Park is a block-long tree-shaded patch of grass and dirt with crumbling stone benches and a non-working water fountain.  It is surrounded by commercial buildings with many vacant store fronts.  The restoration plan calls for new landscaping, trees, paved walkways, new park furniture, and fixing the fountain.  City officials estimate it will cost more than $1 million.

Additionally, the city plans to spend $300,000 to widen sidewalks to make space for outdoor dining.

The plan needs approval from the Springfield Park Commission and the city council.  Kennedy said the project will be paid for with federal and city funds.

Polito praised the plans announced by city officials.

" Springfield is definitely on the move," she said.

Not far from Stearns Square, the state has invested in a $4 million project to transform a vacant building into a center for start-up entrepreneurial businesses.  MassDevelopment is renovating a building for lease that overlooks Stearns Square Park.

Chris Russell, executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, predicted there will be several applicants for loans from the new restaurant development fund.

" This is going to get things really going. We've actually met with people over the past couple of weeks, knowing this announcement was coming, and they are very very excited about it," he said.

The restaurant development fund will be set up through a program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The fund is expected to be in place by Sept. 1st, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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