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Former Friendly's seen as solution to parking, traffic problems at adjacent Springfield elementary school

This former Friendly's restaurant on Sumner Avenue in Springfield, Massachusetts closed in 2018.  The city is proposing to buy it to permanently solve a parking squeeze at the adjacent Sumner Avenue School.
Paul Tuthill
/
WAMC
This former Friendly's restaurant on Sumner Avenue in Springfield, Massachusetts closed in 2018. The city is proposing to buy it to permanently solve a parking squeeze at the adjacent Sumner Avenue School.

City offers $1.125 million for the property on Sumner Ave.

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts is looking to acquire a former Friendly’s restaurant to avert a potential traffic nightmare on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

The City Council is weighing whether to approve spending $1.125 million to purchase the former Friendly’s on Sumner Avenue where the parking lot has been used for decades as an accommodation by the adjacent Sumner Avenue School.

Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said the property is needed for continued overflow parking by the school as well as a place for buses to queue up to drop-off and pick up children.

“You have to get cars off the street, you have to get buses off the streets, or you completely block up traffic and now you are on a major thoroughfare doing that,” Warwick said.

Speaking during a hearing Monday conducted jointly by the Council’s Public Safety and Finance Committees, Warwick explained that when a large addition was constructed on the school in the 1990’s, inexplicably, no additional parking was added. Friendly’s allowed the school to use up to 40 parking spaces during school hours at no charge to the city. The restaurant was shuttered in 2018 and the property was purchased in 2020 by a Boston-based realty company which agreed to lease parking to the school.

But Warwick said the worry is if a new tenant takes over the site, the parking lease, which is month-to-month could end.

“If you don’t have that space to get those cars off Sumner Avenue and the buses off, you are going to have such a traffic problem there every day that I think the neighborhood is going to be very frustrated,” Warwick said.

Chief Administration and Finance Officer T.J. Plante said the purchase price offer is roughly halfway between the city’s appraised value of the property and what the owners claim it is worth.

“We met in the middle to avoid a hostile takeover,” Plante said.

City Councilor Trayce Whitfield, chair of the Finance Committee, said the administration’s planned purchase of the property to solve the parking problem at the school is “a no-brainer.”

The public safety concern that would arise if the school lost access to the adjacent parking space is clear said City Councilor Victor Davila, chair of the Public Safety Committee.

“And the last thing any of us would want is for anybody to get hurt, God forbid for a child to get hurt,” he said.

Davila said he has heard mixed reactions to the proposal from residents of the Forest Park neighborhood some of whom are concerned about what will become of the 4,700 square-foot restaurant building if the city acquires it.

Plante said the city’s only interest in the site is to preserve the existing parking. He pledged discussions would take place with the neighborhood civic association about future development of the rest of the space.

“I have no problem sitting down and having the conversation,” Plante said. He added that expectations would have to be “managed” about what redevelopment might happen.

A vote by the full Council on authorizing the purchase of the former Friendly’s could take place as soon as next month.

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.