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To Boost Downtown, Chicopee Offers Business Financing Program

  A western Massachusetts city has undertaken several initiatives to revitalize its downtown, from improving public safety to attracting new housing.

   Tapping into federal funds that are intended to help people of low and moderate incomes, the city of Chicopee has established a program officials hope will spur private sector investment and job growth in the downtown area known as Chicopee Center.

  In a press release announcing the program, Mayor Richard  Kos said using $225,000 from the federal Community Development Block Grant program to assist new and existing businesses “demonstrates the commitment the city is making to revitalizing downtown.”

     Loans and grants from $10,000 to $150,000 are available to new or existing businesses in the area designated as the West End to finance projects ranging from simple façade improvements to purchasing property for expansion, buying or repairing equipment, and removing architectural barriers, according to Mike Vedovelli, the city’s Director of Community and Economic Development.

  "We are excited to hear some of the proposals from businesses and we anticipate a number of applicants," said Vedovelli.

  There are deferred repayment options for businesses that increase employment within an agreed -upon timeframe.

  "We want to be flexible and work with ( business owners) to expand economic opportunties," said Vedovelli.

   He explained  the new business assistance program complements a recently rolled out tax incentive program to attract new market-rate housing development downtown.

  " One takes care of the other.  You need  people on the street.  You need housing downtown to make the area more vibrant and attractive to business," he said.

  City officials have focused for years on downtown development efforts. 

  There was excitement last summer when New York City-based developer Silverbrick Group informed city officials of plans to purchase the 170-year-old Cabotville Mill  and build 600 market-rate apartments.  But, late last year Silverbrick withdrew its application for a special permit for the project with no explanation.

  A different developer is moving forward with a project to renovate the Lyman Mills building into 110 studio apartments.

  Chicopee was awarded $2.64 million from the state’s MassWorks program in 2015 to pay for improvements to the water, sewer, and electric service infrastructure to help facilitate redevelopment of the old mill buildings.

  Last year, the city council authorized $700,000 for initiatives to improve public safety downtown. Most of the money went to install surveillance cameras at 11 downtown locations.  The Chicopee Police Department opened a substation in a back office of the Chamber of Commerce building downtown.

  Police Chief William Jebb ordered a “zero tolerance approach” to crime downtown.

The city has also sponsored and promoted activities to draw large crowds to downtown including a block party and a Halloween parade.

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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