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Funding Approved For Restaurant Development Program

Stearns Square Park

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved $1.5 million for the city of Springfield, Massachusetts to create a restaurant development fund.

Using the federal money, the city will make low-interest loans from $50,000-$200,000 to borrowers who will develop new full-service restaurants in downtown Springfield.

Mayor Domenic Sarno envisions creating a dining district in the historic commercial center of downtown. It would go hand-in-hand with the ongoing creation of an entrepreneurial-driven innovation district along Main, Bridge, and Worthington Streets.

" We have a vision," said Sarno. " We feel we can build on bringing empty-nesters, baby boomers, and young professionals to not only work downtown, stay downtown after work, but to live downtown."

 Chris Russell, executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, is excited about the restaurant development loan fund.

"This is going to get things really going," he said.

The proposal to create the restaurant development loan fund was revealed last summer at the same time officials announced plans to completely renovate Stearns Square Park and a connecting plaza known as Duryea Way that are in the prospective dining district.

Sarno said Stearns Square is seen as a gateway to the rest of downtown for visitors arriving at Union Station. The historic transportation center is undergoing an $88 million restoration that is scheduled to be finished by the end of this year.  The MGM casino, being built several blocks south of Union Station, is projected to attract thousands of people a day to downtown Springfield.

" You have that Union Station anchor in the North End and MGM in the South End and meanwhile we are connecting the dots," explained Sarno.

 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 storefronts. The restoration plan calls for new landscaping, trees, paved walkways, new park furniture, and fixing the water fountain.

The price tag of about $1 million will be paid for with federal and city funds, according to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy.

" I've met with all the business owners in the area and you can expect they will make a contribution by investing in their businesses and doing a little bit of expansion," said Kennedy.  " So, everybody on the team is playing."

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

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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