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Bond Approved To Fund Downtown Park Renovation

Stearns Square Park

   The city council in Springfield, Massachusetts has approved a $1.5 million bond to fix up a small downtown park that is at the center of a larger urban renewal push.

      Stearns Square Park, located in the historic commercial center of Springfield, is a block-long tree-shaded patch of grass and dirt with crumbling stone benches and a non-working water fountain. With funding now approved, work is expected to begin this summer to restore the park with new landscaping, trees, paved walkways, new park furniture and a working fountain.

     Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said the park restoration is part of a plan to “refresh” a several block area of downtown between the new Union Station and the MGM casino that is scheduled to open late next year.

   " You can't have some shining jewels and the rest not be scrubbed," said Kennedy

     He said the work may include new sidewalks, trees and other landscaping.

     Not far from Stearns Square, the state has invested in a $4 million project to transform a vacant building into an “innovation center” for start-up entrepreneurial business. The quasi-public agency MassDevelopment is renovating a building for  lease that overlooks Stearns Square Park.

     By spending public funds, the hope is to attract more private investment, create jobs, and bring new vitality to the core of downtown, according to Mayor Domenic Sarno.

  " We have a vision to bring  empty-nester baby boomers, and young professionals to not only work downtown and stay downtown after work, but to move downtown," said Sarno.

    The focus on downtown development has rankled some city councilors, who have complained that outlying neighborhoods are being neglected.  But Monday’s vote was unanimous to approve the funds so the work can begin this summer on the Stearns Square Park project.

    Earlier this year the city established a dining district development fund to attract restaurateurs to downtown.

    " Restaurants have difficulty at times getting bank financing, so this loan fund will offer somewhere in the 2-3 percent range for loans up to $200,000 with a reasonable repayment schedule  if they open a restaurant in the so-called ' dining district'," said Kennedy.

       He  said the city is planning to widen sidewalks to make space for outdoor dining.

   The scheduled park renovations led to the cancellation of a popular outdoor summer concert series.

   The Springfield Business Improvement District said it chose to cancel the Thursday night concerts for 2017 rather than find a different venue.

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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