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Funding Deal Said To Be Near For Elusive Court Square Redevelopment Project

The six story building in Springfield's Court Square known as 31 Elm Street

A complex and expensive urban renewal project that has confounded developers for decades in the largest city in western Massachusetts may be close to becoming reality.

A complicated agreement on funding the restoration and redevelopment of the former Court Square Hotel building into 74 residential apartments with ground floor space for retail is expected to be finalized by early March, according to several city of Springfield officials.

The six-story building that takes up one-half of a downtown city block at 13-31 Elm Street is an historic gem, but it has been derelict for 30 years and several prior redevelopment attempts fizzled.

This most recent effort comes with a price tag in the neighborhood of $50 million with the funding coming from nine public and private entities, according to Michael O’Brien of WinnCompanies – the Boston-based developer that partnered five years ago with Opal Real Estate of Springfield to try to pull off the project.

"I would say without hesitation that it will be a reality," said O'Brien.

Although all the funding sources have not been publicly disclosed, it is known that MGM Springfield will put in $16 million -- $5 million more than the casino company pledged to the project a year ago.  The city of Springfield will also contribute funding.

The current timetable for the long-anticipated projected, outlined by O’Brien, calls for a groundbreaking near the end of this year and a construction period of 18-24 months.

"So we do expect that by 2022 from June to the end of the year, the project will be ribbon-cut," said O'Brien.

Built in 1892, the building went through several transformations and interior renovations. After the hotel closed in the 1950s, it was used as an office building.

Because of its location – across Main Street from the MassMutual Center, a block from the new casino complex in one direction and Symphony Hall in the other – the importance of the redevelopment project can’t be overstated, according to Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s chief economic development official.

"It has a huge impact," said Sheehan, who called it a "gateway project" for the casino and MassMutual Center.  "We are pretty focused on growing our convention and meeting business here in Springfield and this a great impact for that."

As a condition of its Massachusetts state casino license and its host community agreement with Springfield, MGM is required to develop at least 54 market-rate apartments within one-half mile of the downtown casino.

Springfield City Councilor Mike Fenton, who chairs the Casino Oversight Committee, said the council will be asked to approve a change in the agreement with MGM to allow it to satisfy the housing obligation with its investment in the Court Square project.

" Optimism is in the air," said Fenton. " This project which has been the golden goose that has evaded city economic development for the last 30 years is something everybody can look forward to starting in ernest in 2020."

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will also need to approve the change.

Additionally, MGM plans to return to the city the former school department headquarters building on State Street that it bought in 2014 as a possible site for housing.  Sheehan said a developer is interested in turning that building into residential condominiums.

The Court Square developers say they plan to negotiate a project labor agreement – essentially collective bargaining with local building trade unions that occurs before a general contractor is hired.

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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