A major urban renewal project is moving forward in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Springfield City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a special permit for the restoration and redevelopment of the former Court Square Hotel – a six-story building in the heart of the city’s downtown that has sat vacant for decades.
A development group made up of the WinnCompanies of Boston and Opal Real Estate of Springfield are planning a $51 million project to create 74 rental apartments along with retail space.
At a public hearing on the special permit request in June, Peter Picknelly, the president of Opal, recalled how several attempts to redevelop the historic building had fallen through.
"My family actually has been trying to renovate this property for 25 years now starting with my dad," said Picknelly. "We are now on the one-yard line to get this done."
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said Monday that construction work on the building’s interior was underway.
" It is another project people said would 'never never happen' in the city of Springfield, and I am proud it has happened under my administration with our team." said Sarno.
The timeline for the work is 18-24 months.
Funding for the project is coming from nine public and private sources including the city of Springfield which has committed $4 million. MGM Springfield is putting in $16 million. The investment will satisfy a requirement to develop housing downtown along with the casino that opened two years ago.
Also given unanimous approval by the City Council Monday was a $95 million borrowing authorization to construct a new consolidated elementary school in the city’s Mason Square neighborhood. It will replace two schools – Homer Street, which was built in 1898 and lacks both a gym and cafeteria and the Deberry school which was built in 1951.
City Councilor Orlando Ramos said he has toured both schools and agrees they must be replaced.
He said the new school will be a "state-of-the-art facility for these kids that need it desperately."
The project is eligible for financial assistance from the state, with the city’s share of the cost estimated at $42 million. The new school is expected to open in 2023.
The City Council also unanimously approved upping the fine for possession of fireworks to $300.
This ordinance was introduced by Ward 6 City Councilor Victor Davila in June when nightly complaints about fireworks were swamping the city’s 911 system with hundreds of calls – an issue that was reported by other Northeast cities.
"It is a real issue, a safety issue, a nuisance," said Davila who vowed to not let "nuckleheads ruin our quality of life."
Councilors held for further review a request from Mayor Sarno to ask the state legislature for authorization to link unpaid fines for fireworks to excise tax bills and license renewals.