Springfield Tries to Showcase River

March 7, 2010 : The Republican, by Michael McAuliffe

SPRINGFIELD – The city is facing the ongoing task of attempting to deal with man-made obstacles to a potential jewel: the Connecticut River waterfront.

The waterfront was the focus of an event last week at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in which representatives from Lowell, Manchester, N.H., and Providence, R.I., spoke about redevelopment along or near rivers in their cities.

John D. Judge, Springfield’s chief development officer, moderated the event, which drew more than 100 people. The gathering was underwritten by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and put on by the Urban Land Institute Boston.

“The riverfront is one of the keys to move this city forward,” Judge said. And Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said the city is looking to have any development “enhance the National Basketball Hall of Fame” on the banks of the Connecticut River.

However, Interstate 91 and railroad tracks have long divided the riverfront from downtown, greatly hindering full use of the waterway.

“We’re obviously not going to move the highway tomorrow,” Judge said.

The panelists included Adam Baacke, assistant city manager and director of the Division of Planning and Development in Lowell; Thomas Deller, director of the Department of Planning and Development in Providence; Jay Minkarah, economic development director in Manchester; and Richard Henderson, executive vice president of real estate for MassDevelopment.

Minkarah said there was an opportunity south of downtown in Manchester, and the city built an 8,500-seat baseball stadium that is now home to a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate along the Merrimack River. He also said that several years ago a 10,000-seat arena was built downtown “with the idea of stimulating redevelopment.”

Baacke said historic preservation has played a role in Lowell, as well as a focus on minor league sports and the construction of an arena and a baseball stadium. The venues are connected by a river walk, and the baseball stadium along the Merrimack River is home to the Lowell Spinners, who are affiliated with the Boston Red Sox.

The Spinners are a hit in the city.

“They have actually sold out every single seat to every single home game since 2000,” Baacke said.

Baacke also said an arts district was created in the city in 1998.

Providence has had a rebirth, but Deller said that for 350 years after the city was settled Providence was “using, abusing, ignoring and hiding our rivers.” In addition, the railroad divided downtown.

Now roadways and parking lots that were built over portions of rivers have been removed, and nearly all the railroad tracks downtown are underground.

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