Springfield Mayor Firm On Move

September 23, 2009 : The Republican, by Peter Goonan

SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said Tuesday he is sticking with plans to move the school administration offices to the old federal building on Main Street, rejecting the City Council’s effort to open the process to other sites.

The council, by a 7-2 non-binding vote on Monday night, called for the city to advertise a Request for Proposals to consider other sites for the School Department’s central administration offices. The mayor and the former Springfield Finance Control Board previously authorized the relocation plans from its current site at 195 State St., to the federal building at 1550 Main St.

Thomas T. Walsh, the mayor’s communications director, said the mayor’s answer to the council’s proposal can be summed up in one word: “No.”

Walsh expanded on that answer by referring to previous statements by Sarno that the federal building is the best location because it prevents that building from “going dark” in the heart of downtown Springfield, and is important to economic development. Baystate Health is also moving offices to the federal building, which previously housed the U.S. District Court prior to the court’s move last year to a new building on State Street.

Councilor Timothy J. Rooke, who sponsored the vote to consider other sites, said that a long-term lease at the federal building will be a waste of taxpayer dollars, believing that other sites would be far less expensive.

Soliciting other proposals “seems like a no-brainer,” Rooke said.

The city has a signed lease with the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, which is preparing to purchase the Main Street building from the federal government.

The city in announcing the lease plans in May, said it will pay $10.86 per square foot for Class A office space the first year, lower than market value which was estimated at $13.50 per square foot. The lease is for 10 years with the option for two, five-year extensions.

Rooke, however, said he believes the city actually will pay more than $20 per square foot to lease the space when adding in the physical improvements needed to the property and set to be paid by the city.

Sarno and Stephen P. Lisauskas, the city’s acting chief administrative and finance officer, said the capital improvements, aided by state funds, represents an investment in economic development. The city will spend $2,840,000 toward improvements in addition to $3 million in state funds.

In the 7-2 vote, Councilor Kateri B. Walsh and council President William T. Foley cast the no votes. Walsh said the use of the federal building benefits both the city and the downtown.

Councilor Patrick J. Markey, while voting in favor of Rooke’s resolution, did raise concerns the city could be sued for breach of lease if it backs out of the lease agreement. Rooke said he believes there is a clause that allows the city to withdraw because of a missed deadline for the first-phase work to proceed.

© Copyright 2009 The Republican.