MassDevelopment partners: Downtown Springfield needs more coffee shops, bicycle lanes and family-friendly places

December 17, 2015 : The Republican, by Jim Kinney

SPRINGFIELD - What Downtown Springfield has is too many empty storefronts and too many parking lots.

What Downtown Springfield needs is more cafes and coffee shops, fun places to take families, bicycle lanes and - according to one brainstorming group at the Transformational Development Springfield Stakeholder Meeting Thursday - a monorail to Forest Park.

MassDevelopment, a statewide public-private economic development agency, hosted the meeting Thursday at UMass Springfield in Tower Square.

The idea of "transformational development" is part of a six-month-old statewide push to focus economic development on relatively small pieces of geography in urban cores around the state. The hope is that by focusing efforts, the state and its local partners can have a bigger impact over the three-year life of the program, said Laura Masulis, a MassDevelopment Transformative Development fellow assigned to Springfield.

In Springfield, the Transformative Development Program is focusing on about three blocks of Main Street from Union Station to Tower Square. It stretches from Columbus Avenue in the west to Chestnut Street in the east and encompass an area boosters call the city's Innovation District. A rundown is available online at

"One of the reasons we are here, in tower Square, is because we can see all of it," Masulis said.

She's working with local partners including:

Participants, more than 100 people drawn from the the city's civic and business communities, were asked to come up with things the district needs and signs that the effort will be a success.

And most of the ideas, perhaps minus the monorail, are realistic.

The population of office workers who populate downtown every day has $12.5 million a year in buying power, said Kevin Hively of Ninigret Partners did a demographic study for MassDevelopment. There are 16,000 workers within a half mile of the district and 8,000 of them are within a quarter-mile which is considered a comfortable walking distance.

The resident population is low income, he said, but if you draw circle of about a 30-minute drive, the demographic becomes as wealthy as the population of Northampton, he said.

Masulis said the Transformative Development program has already seen some success.

It played a role in the Downtown Holiday Market and the UMass Amherst landscape architecture students who used art to draw people to Market Place pedestrian walk in Springfield.

MassDevelopment bought the the Skyplex bar building on Stearns Square for $600,000 and is working with the Springfield Business Improvement District to redevelop the property into an enterprise that will bring customers downtown.

Masulis said a coffee shop plans to move into the Main Street retail space at the Silverbrick Lofts project and a chocolatier might follow suit.

© Copyright 2015 The Republican.