MassDevelopment

State, Springfield Officials See 1550 Main as a Catalyst for Further Growth

October 26, 2009 : Business West, by Joseph Bednar


When Springfield and state officials gathered earlier this month at 1550 Main St., they officially announced the partnership that will keep the building occupied. But Mayor Domenic Sarno said it was more than that.

“This is an investment in downtown, but also in the people of Springfield,” Sarno said. “The most important thing is that it stabilizes downtown and lets us continue to build on our momentum.”

MassDevelopment, the Commonwealth’s finance and real-estate development agency, purchased the building for $2.5 million from the federal General Services Administration (GSA). The multi-million-dollar renovation efforts to follow, Sarno said, will boost surrounding property values and bring hundreds of professional people downtown every day, where they’ll no doubt eat and shop. “Downtown is ready to burst,” he said. “The glass is half-full now.”

The building promises to be much fuller than that. Having previously housed federal court workers who have since moved to the new federal courthouse on State Street, 1550 Main will be occupied by three main tenants: the Springfield school department, which will abandon outdated space on State Street; Baystate Health, which will open its first offices downtown; and the GSA, which will keep several federal agencies in the complex.

Already, those lease commitments comprise 124,000 of the building's 128,000 rentable square feet.

“We did not want to see this building mothballed,” said Robert Culver, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, who characterized his agency’s investment as a show of confidence in the future of downtown Springfield.

“Everything occurring here has been planned and committed to by the mayor, senators, and all the folks downtown,” he said. “This is the new face of Springfield.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who also attended the recent announcement, echoed the idea of long-term planning harvesting fruit. “Now we see the results of a carefully laid-out strategy for locating tenants for this building,” he said.

Curb Appeal

As the courthouse project took shape on State Street, MassDevelopment investigated potential uses for the 1550 Main property, put together a development plan, and worked with the GSA to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement, then negotiated with the city, the GSA, and Baystate Health to line up leases. When buildout is complete, the school department will occupy two floors of the building, GSA will retain most of two floors for several federal agencies, and Baystate Health will occupy another floor.

Last year, Gov. Patrick awarded a $3 million Growth Districts Initiative Grant for public improvements to the building's plaza and atrium to create safer and more attractive indoor and outdoor public spaces and to reopen the pedestrian connection between Main Street and Columbus Center.

Meanwhile, next door, the city plans to undertake major improvements to the former Asylum nightclub building, with the goal of using a portion of the building for a police substation and public offices, while clearing the rear of the site for parking and a farmer's market.

“I have frequently said that successful economic development takes place one block at a time,” Neal said, anticipating the influx of hundreds of professionals and the project's long-term impact on Main, Worthington, and Bridge streets. “It also establishes a presence for Baystate Health in the central business district, which has been a goal of mine for many years.”

To Steve Bradley, Baystate’s vice president of Government & Community Relations and Public Affairs, relocating hospital employees downtown serves a purpose beyond simply establishing a presence there.

“We’re moving up to 150 employees out of hospital space that we can then use for clinical services,” he said, a need that takes on special significance as the facility continues to provide care while undergoing a $239 million expansion and renovation project.

“We are jammed to capacity, and we need the flexibility as the new hospital is built,” Bradley said. “This is a critical opportunity to relieve some of that pressure.”

Mark Tolosky, president and CEO of Baystate Health, added that Baystate's commitment to economic development as a tenant in 1550 Main is linked to its charitable mission, accomplished through strong partnerships in the region. “The economic health of Springfield is closely linked to the health of the community,” he said. “By helping the city, we are helping our patients and their families, and our own employees and their families, who live and work in and around Springfield.”

Gregory Bialecki, the state’s Housing and Economic Development secretary, said the partnership between the GSA, MassDevelopment, and the building’s tenants will be an asset to Springfield’s central business district and key to sustaining momentum for long-term economic development and job opportunities downtown — and is just one of many such efforts his office promotes in Massachusetts.

“Our strategy,” he explained, “is to identify communities and understand what’s necessary for them to compete in a very competitive corporate world to promote economic development — to have a plan and be committed to that plan, to find partners and make investments with them.”

Many Miles to Go

Renovations will take place throughout the fall, with the School Department scheduled to move into its new digs in January.

“This announcement is another piece of the puzzle in helping to rejuvenate our downtown corridor,” Sarno said. “Allowing the lights to go out at 1550 Main would have had a negative domino effect along the Main Street corridor and this is something my administration has been working hard to change.”

Of course, the success of this project means other challenges await, including the potential redevelopment of the former School Department offices on State Street. Sarno said a request for proposals will be issued soon after the school system's move is completed.

“Those at MassDevelopment are real believers in Springfield,” Culver said, summing up the 1550 Main efforts to date. “In fact, Springfield is a place on the move, and we’re making this a place that everyone who lives here and works here can be proud of.”

© Copyright 2009 Business West.