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Demolition Of 'Zombie Property' Pleases Neighborhood

MCDI buildings being demolished.
Paul Tuthill

A long-blighted former job training complex in an inner-city neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts is being torn down.

For 40 years, the Massachusetts Career Development Institute trained people in the culinary arts, precision manufacturing, welding, and other trades.

Isha Taylor-Harris is a former student with fond memories of the Wilbraham Avenue campus that in recent years would become a neighborhood nuisance. 

"It is so much of an eyesore," said Taylor-Harris. "It is so sad to see something that was good for the community end up being an eyesore."

Facing competition from community colleges and for-profit vocational schools, enrollment at the agency declined and public funding was cut.  It closed in 2013.

An arson fire set by three teenagers in 2016 destroyed the main building on the 3-acre property. The city spent the next four years trying to get the site cleaned up.  It was complicated, officials said, because the property was owned by a nonprofit agency that had been dissolved.

"This was a zombie property," said Mayor Domenic Sarno. " Nobody had ownership of the property. We had to jump through legal hurdles, land use hurdles, Land Court, and finally took the property and now we're moving forward."

Announcing the first phase of what is estimated to be a $3 million demolition project, Sarno thanked the residents of Mason Square for their patience.

"No neighborhood should have to live nextx to this monstrosity," said Sarno.

Democratic State Rep. Bud Williams, who represents the neighborhood, said the state legislature is working to streamline the process for cities to deal with these so-called “zombie properties.”

"The process is so tedious and so entangled and what happens is the citizens end up living with an eyesore year in and year out," said Williams.

Once the remaining buildings are demolished and the lot is cleared, the city expects to entertain redevelopment offers.

Ward 4 City Councilor Malo Brown has high hopes for the future of the property.

"I promised my constituents that this district and our parks would be like Forest Park," said Brown. "We want our communities to look like the other communities and this is a step in the right direction."

There are other major redevelopment efforts underway nearby.   A new public park is being constructed less than a block away at Wilbraham Avenue and King Street.  Plans are moving ahead to build a new neighborhood elementary school.

Another Mason Square neighborhood fixture, the Indian Motocycle building is being converted to housing.

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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