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MassDevelopment readies Springfield's former Skyplex for new restaurants

February 23, 2017 : MassLive, by Jim Kinney

8-12 Stearns Square in downtown Springfield. (Don Treeger / The Republican)

SPRINGFIELD - MassDevelopment is cleaning out and renovating the former Skyplex nightclub at 8-12 Stearns Square as it continues to look for a business, or businesses, to take over the space.

"Let's get the building's bones in good shape so as we identify tenants we can begin to work with them on modifications for their use," said Zach Greene, senior vice president of asset management at MassDevelopment. "We have had a number of conversations with a lot of prospective tenants."

Greene wouldn't comment specific prospective tenants.

The goal is to lease the space to a restaurant -- or two or three -- that can serve as a centerpiece for the city's new downtown dining and innovation districts. Greene said serving alcohol and hosting entertainment would be OK, but the emphasis should be on food and not the nightclub atmosphere at the former Skyplex that sometimes gave police trouble.

MassDevelopment, Massachusetts' economic development and finance agency, bought the 20,000-square-foot, two-story building in November 2015 for $600,000. Renovations to the building will end up costing $1.2 million, Greene said.

The space can accommodate as many as three business. For now, the work is confined to basic internal improvements that any tenant or tenants would demand. These include some interior and exterior demolition, hazardous materials abatement, a new roof, exterior lighting, interior and exterior painting, masonry restoration, structural reinforcement of the roof and exterior walls, removal of nonfunctional rooftop air handling equipment, and updates to the fire protection sprinkler heads.

"Doing a fair amount of demo as well, to take out some of the older, tired improvements that went with years and years of nightclub use," Greene said. "We have removed a lot of junk that was stored in the basement. As you can guess, when it was a nightclub the mechanical systems of the building often were not a priority."

Workers even uncovered a brightly painted '70s disco floor from one corner of the old club.

R.A.C. Builders of Agawam is the general contractor, MassDevelopment said. The project designer is  Arrowstreet Architects of Boston. Work began in November.

A reborn 8-12 Stearns Square would fit in with lots of new things coming to the neighborhood, said Laura Masulis, MassDevelopment transformative development fellow for Springfield.

Nearby, DevelopSpringfield is building the Springfield Innovation Center at 270 and 276 Bridge St. The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts is moving into 333 Bridge St.

The city of Springfield has $1 million set aside to  rehabilitate Stearns Square Park and Dureya Way. The city is also marketing the neighborhood as a dining district. Restaurants there can access a $1.5 million loan fund that has money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

MassDevelopment is looking for the right tenant or tenants to help build on the momentum.

"We would like this property to be a destination in itself," Masulis said. "Because we really want it to be a catalytic project. MassDevelopment is looking at this whole neighborhood"

Greene drew a parallel to MassDevelopment's work at the former federal courthouse, 1550 Main St. MassDevelopment bought that property in 2009 for $2.5 million after the court moved to State Street. The agency invested approximately $3.6 million in renovations over the next three years, creating offices and art space.

"We make investments a private-sector owner would not make," Greene said. "We expect these properties to turn a profit over time. But in the near term, our focus is on economic development, not on profit."