Archive for the 'Urban Land Institute' Category

ULI Report: Jeff Kaplan on the “Soul of the City”

Posted on Friday, October 13 2006 by Heather Brandon

kaplan.JPGAt last month’s ULI panel presentation, Jeff Kaplan, an associate with Wulfe & Co. in Houston, Texas, addressed the matter of Springfield’s image and potential for reinvention—with focus on its culture, its economy, and its government. He began by sharing the panel’s observation that there seems to have been a lack of a vision. “The city used to be the City of Homes,” he said, “and today it’s the City of Question Mark.”

“The consensus of our panel,” Kaplan continued, “is that the city should be known as the cultural urban center of the region.”

A lot of American cities, Kaplan pointed out, are creating “faux downtowns, faux urban centers that don’t compare at all to what you have already in your current downtown. Our belief is that you should really focus on branding yourself as the center of the Pioneer Valley region.”

Kaplan called out aspects of downtown as “the soul of the city,” like Main Street, the theaters, and Symphony Hall, saying that they “should reflect the culture of what the city is about.”

What is the city about, then? “If you look at the demographics of your city, things are changing,” Kaplan explained. “Things have changed a lot in the recent past. Almost a quarter of your city is under the age of 25, so you have a very vibrant youth market. The culture, the soul of your city, particularly downtown, need to reflect what’s happened in the city in the last several years.”

Kaplan turned next to the city’s economic prospects, which he conceded were justifiably clouded by some negativism. “At the same time,” he said, “there’s a good base with MassMutual and Baystate. Baystate is the 16th largest employer in the Commonwealth. There’s a burgeoning minority class of entrepreneurs opening businesses. And there’s a real opportunity to collateralize what’s already here, to stimulate further growth downtown.”

As a case in point, Kaplan cited the need to collaborate strategically with universities, as has been successfully accomplished in other cities: “In Chicago, Roosevelt [University] came into a dead department store, in the downtown, and moved all their classroom facilities—it’s a commuter school, not dissimilar from Springfield [Technical] Community College—and it was a real catalyst.”

Listen to Kaplan’s four-minute presentation on Springfield’s reinvention (mp4, 1.9 MB)

A change in perspective can also benefit how we perceive of subsidized housing, with a focus on artists and students. “Although both of these forms of housing are subsidized housing,” Kaplan said, “the market does not perceive that form of housing to be subsidized. The perception is that if you get students or artists on the street, things are cleaning up. There’s plenty of affordable housing today, and the panel’s consensus is that there needs to be a focus on market-rate housing, and particularly on artists’ and student housing. And it’s certainly doable. There’s an incredible building stock to focus on downtown today.”

Kaplan noted that with the economy stagnating, and because resources are limited, the panel underlined that it’s critical for the city to focus its energy on the “right projects.” These include clustering retail to start, creating nodes, for example on Main Street, or in places along the emerging State Street corridor.

“You can plan broadly,” Kaplan said, “but focus the energy, and get two or three of the right catalytic retailers, or universities, to come in, because little deals will lead to a lot if they’re marketed and branded the right way.”

“The message here is that everyone needs to buy into this vision, and push it forward,” he added.

Lastly, on the subject of reinventing government, Kaplan noted the “real need for leadership. There are a lot of opportunities with this young class of people that are coming up. You have an incredible youth market. Those people must be brought into the system.”

“It’s time to get over the past. There’s a lot of bad blood in the city,” Kaplan said. “A lot of people are still living in the past. It’s time to put it aside, and look forward, and focus on that new vision.”

ULI Report: Ray Kuniansky on Neighborhood Strategies

Posted on Friday, October 13 2006 by Heather Brandon

kuniansky.jpgAt the ULI panel’s presentation last month, Ray Kuniansky, Chief Operating Officer for the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, spoke about how to “strengthen the present” and “plan for the future.” He began by praising Springfield’s assets: it’s a compact city with abundant major institutions, beautiful buildings, and many open spaces with greenery and water—making “a beautiful city.”

“You guys have everything,” Kuniansky said. “You’ve got parks, you’ve got water features, you’ve got all these neighborhoods that are within a 15-minute drive of your downtown central area. You’ve got an incredibly diverse and wonderful housing stock. You’ve got architecturally significant buildings. It’s a very compact city here; you can walk just about anywhere in the downtown area.”

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Kuniansky went on to describe Springfield neighborhood strategies: conservation, transition, and intervention.

“What’s a conservation area mean? You’ve got high homeownership, with good retail and good services. The strategies would be to enhance them with capital improvements and beautification. We think you’re going to have to work on housing renovation. Don’t lose the stock of beautiful homes that you have here. There’s a reason you were once known as the City of Homes.”

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The second strategy Kuniansky outlined is for neighborhoods in transition. “These are areas that are on the edge,” Kuniansky said. “They can go up; they can go down. What do you need to do about that? You’ve got to provide investments in projects that will stabilize these areas. Focus on crime prevention, and retain existing services, while trying to attract new ones.”

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Next Kunianksy turned to neighborhoods that are in need of the equivalent of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, calling for an intervention strategy. “These are areas that typically have low homeownership rates, high crime rates, and that overall creates a lowering valuation environment,” Kuniansky said.

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“What do you do in these areas? They need major investment. They need catalytic projects. They need extra attention from code enforcement, and additional police patrols. All of these things will help you to begin to stabilize these areas, and give them the opportunity to move up as well.”

Listen to Kuniansky’s three-minute presentation on neighborhood strategies (mp4, 1.3 MB)

Kuniansky turned last to the urban core, which he defined as “the center of employment, culture, government, and unique living spaces.” He continued, “A vital urban core is critical to the long-term health and stability of both the city, including all of the neighborhoods, as well as the region. The downtown here is compact, it’s walkable, it’s accessible—it’s amazing how accessible this downtown is—and it has an incredible sense of history. Capitalize on all of these things. Don’t lose by ignoring what you have.”

ULI Report: Alvin McNeal on “Making a Visible Difference”

Posted on Friday, October 13 2006 by Heather Brandon

mcneal.JPGAt last month’s ULI panel presentation, Alvin McNeal, Senior VP for Planning and Development at Fraser Forbes Company in McLean, Virginia, spoke about adopting new development strategies in Springfield.

“In reviewing the most successful cities,” McNeal began, “one of the lessons, or recurring themes, all of us have been able to identify is that they began thinking like a master developer, [enabling cities] to create more of a market-driven master plan for taking actions and making things happen.”

“There are certain preconditions, or focal points, that are important,” McNeal continued. “You must identify what your strengths are, and leverage those strengths. …Ultimately, what we’re talking about is polishing your image. Preserving historic buildings, celebrating those existing buisnesses that can make a contribution, not only in the downtown area, but also in your commercial corridors.”

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“We want to work consistently with both the private sector as well as our institutional partners,” McNeal said. In mentioning the second action item in the slide above, inventory and classification of vacant properties, McNeal added, “The city has quite an inventory of vacant parcels as well as structures. The panel suggests, in the report, some very specific criteria for evaluating those parcels, in both a short-range as well as a long-range development potential.”

Lastly, the panel recommended securing “a development partner who has the ability, and the willingness, and indeed the capital, to proceed forward with some of the redevelopment that we see in the downtown area, and in your commercial corridors.”

McNeal underlined the need for a visible difference. “That visible difference,” he said, “will be made depending on the choices you make with respect to your priorities.”

Listen to McNeal’s entire seven-minute presentation on development strategies (mp4, 3.4 MB)

McNeal went on to list a few important “preconditions,” as he called them: reduce crime, increase homeownership, and become more business-friendly.

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“You must address the issue of crime, and the perception of crime, and I would even go so far as to say the sphere of crime. Some very, very aggressive actions are underway now. We had an opportunity to interview the police commissioner, and he’s very aggressively approaching this issue. We think more can be done, and indeed, he’s doing more. One of the things that has been recommended is that he seek to link with some of the exisiting organizations that can provide additional eyes on the street; for example, the downtown BID, and some of the neighborhood groups, could become a little bit more active in perhaps a watch type program.”

“There are so many vacant properties, under the control of the city or the private sector, that they offer… an unusual opportunity, if you will, to do a variety of things in terms of infill developments in some of the communities that we visited,” McNeal said. “But also in terms of creating a tone within some of the corridors; I think one of our colleagues referred to creating nodes along the commercial corridors. In many instances you’ll have vacant parcels, and vacant structures of sufficient size, to make a difference within those corridors.”

Continuing on the issue of vacancy, McNeal said, “We’ve suggested that you think in terms of bundling some of the vacant lots and to sell them to qualified developers. That expands not only the number of interested parties, but it also has the ability for you to begin to define a certain image by the mere collection of those different parcels in making this visible difference in certain areas.”

(Of note, such bundling was mentioned as a future action item in an article in today’s Springfield Republican. Finance Control Board Executive Director Philip Puccia was quoted by Azell Murphy Cavaan saying, “We’re looking to bundle something such as 20 properties at a time.” No mention was made in the article of the ULI panel’s recommendations on bundling, so we’re left to guess on whether this is a follow-through on suggestions.)

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McNeal defined becoming business-friendly as forming partnerships with major employers, “which you’ve done to a certain extent. We’re suggesting that you go the next step, and perhaps create some type of merchants’ association in your downtown area, and perhaps a similar kind of organization along some of the commercial corridors.”

Attention must also be given, for business-friendliness, to “the various permitting processes; your zoning, and your planning process. And we do make very, very specific recommendations in connection with those tools,” McNeal added. “In fact, we are also suggesting the addition of another tool that has been very useful in other cities, that is referred to as a public services program.” The purpose of such a program, McNeal said, is to “start netting together your captial improvements program with your operating budget. It becomes, we believe, a very effective tool for managing development in the city.”

ULI Report: Patrick Fox on Clear Goals, Accountability and Scarce Resources

Posted on Friday, October 13 2006 by Heather Brandon

fox.jpgAt the ULI panel’s presentation last month, Patrick Fox, president of Saint Consulting Group in Hingham, Massachusetts, offered the shortest segment about establishing accountability in Springfield.

Offering a single visual element—a slide listing eight critieria for the use of scarce resources, including both land and finances—Fox described a “struggle over the allocation of resources. …There has to be clear accountability, inclusivity, and consistent and reliable decision-making on the part of the city government.”

Fox continued, “The city needs to regain the trust of the business and residential community, and establish consistent guidelines for decision-making.”

The first question to ask in gauging where to allocate precious resources, Fox said, is does the proposed project strengthen the downtown? “We heard from a lot of people, when we did the interviews, that there was too much concentration on the downtown,” Fox said. “The downtown is the key part of the city,” he continued, “and the whole city cannot be healthy unless the downtown is healthy.”

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Will the new project provide skilled labor jobs or pay livable wages? Does it leverage private investment? On that note, Fox said, “We’re suggesting three to four dollars private for one dollar, public, spent. It’s important to pick projects that are going to best leverage private investment.”

“Will [a proposed project] improve the quality of life in Springfield, in the neighborhoods, and in the downtown, for its residents?” Fox asked. “Will it increase homeownership? Does it positively impact real estate values? Because as real estate values go up, lots of problems get solved.”

Listen to Fox’s two-minute presentation on establishing accountability (mp4, 1 MB)

“Is it a catalyst for future development? Does it increase local tax revenues?” Fox continued. “Using these criteria, the city should be able to prioritize projects, and ensure that tax dollar impacts are maximized for economic development and the future of Springfield.”

ULI Report: Elizabeth Davison on Plans to Reality

Posted on Tuesday, October 3 2006 by Heather Brandon

davison.JPGAt last Friday’s Urban Land Institute panel presentation in Springfield, Elizabeth Davison, director of Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs, capped off the formalities in a portion of the final report about implementing plans.The first item Davison addressed was the need for more effective communication from the city to its residents, as well as a means by which residents can more effectively provide feedback to the city, for instance via the city’s own Web site. Fostering “active participation from the community, allowing comment” is the panel’s hearty recommendation. Part of the task the panel laid before the city entails the creation of an overall communications plan, so that it might, in a targeted way, publicize its many achievements to date, and take in comments and questions on those and ongoing projects. “Make sure things are in the news, and that people know that things are happening,” Davison said.

Davison continued by providing a list of “tools and techniques” for accomplishing the projects the ULI recommended, in both the downtown as well as across the neighborhoods.

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“When we interviewed some of the neighborhood residents,” Davison said, “there was sort of a sense of being under siege: sometimes with crime, sometimes with illegal uses of housing around them.”

Davison praised the city’s effort to get some of these illegal problems under control, but took it a few steps further. “We heard about some new strategies, upgraded technology, a more organized system. I think that needs to be communicated to the residents, but I also think that it can be upgraded. There are more things that can be done by engaging the civic and neighborhood associations, and having creative partnerships with other departments, and also being proactive working with neighborhood groups. Let’s have a neighborhood cleanup day. Send out a letter that has a check list of all the things that a homeowner, or a resident, can do. Look around your yard: is there some junk out there? Does the grass need cutting? Maybe the porch could use a little paint? Things like that, if done by many people, can really upgrade a neighborhood.”

“We also heard a lot about people buying up houses, renting them out, perhaps not to the best tenants, and also perhaps not maintaining them properly,” Davison continued. “We would suggest you look at licensing rental units. It gives you a good tool, gives you an inventory of owners, it gives you something you can yank away if they’re abusing that right.”

Listen to Davison’s entire 12-minute presentation on implementing plans (mp4, 5.4 MB)

Davison went on to put a spotlight on the Planning and Economic Development Department, which is currently orchestrating a long-unchanged zoning revision (PDF) process. “We found that there were processes in place that were perhaps not the most predictable, or the most orderly,” Davison offered. “We think that the planning [department] staff and the Planning Board need to play a major role in looking at issues like special permits. We think the idea of site plan review is a good one as well. We also feel that the master planning process must be done throughout the city.”

“While you have a few planning staff,” Davison continued, “you have some vacancies; I know you’re recruiting; we do feel it’s very important that you fill all those jobs with qualified people. We also feel that neighborhood planning is a gap here.” She went on to say that the planning department should engage more with neighborhood groups on an individual basis. “[It] will become clear which neighborhood is right for which strategy, once you take a detailed look,” Davison said, indicating that the department would refer to the three categories the panel laid out for strategy earlier in the presentation (conservation, transition, and intervention).

As for where to begin the following Monday morning, Davison told city officials to focus on the old federal building, creating some activity there; generate multiple-department coordination and creative thinking for the former Gemini site to improve the Hollywood area, preparing it for infill housing; revisit 31 Elm Street and consider other options besides a hotel, perhaps mixed-income housing, or office use; and proceed with plans to raze the old York Street jail.

After that, “you need to focus. Pare it down,” Davison said. “The Main Street, State Street corridors, and Court Street, are the [mid-term projects] that need to be done. We know there are some plans in place; keep going on those, improve on them, expand on them.”

“[The panel] also talked a lot about upper-income or middle-income housing,” Davison added. “We think that the Springfield Carriage Company area is particularly important in expansion of those ideas. Lastly, we feel that the civic center parking deck—we know that it’s not in the best condition—when something is done with that, we feel like it needs to be enhanced visually, so it looks like part of the fabric of downtown.”

Davison turned last to financial issues: “We feel very strongly that the state support to the communities around …Massachusetts needs to be equitable, and right now [it's] not. You’re not getting your fair share. You need to work on that. That is a priority project.”

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“We know the city, although in a much better position, is still fragile on a financial basis,” Davison continued. “You need to look at some new sources of revenue. A couple that we’ve suggested as options would be rental property licensing fees, that could help support some of your code enforcement and neighborhood programs. The sale of some of your vacant land could raise some funds. As we just mentioned, [there is also a need for] additional state financing.”

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Davison also conveyed the panel’s recommendation for a focused use of federal funds on projects that will deliver. “We feel that you need to focus those [HOME and CDBG] funds on some catalytic priority projects. We heard about the new infill housing going in many neighborhoods, but given the high construction cost, and low market values, you have to put a huge subsidy in for one house. We feel a better use of the funds would be to get some of the bigger projects that are more catalytic. Use your money for that.”

ULI Report: Barry Elbasani on Downtown Springfield

Posted on Sunday, October 1 2006 by Heather Brandon

elbasani.jpgThe entire Urban Land Institute presentation about Springfield merits close study and discussion. Of pressing interest is Barry Elbasani’s section on downtown, in which the short- and mid-term recommended projects were unveiled, along with what might be termed guiding philosophical approaches to physical design and strategy. Elbasani, of ELS Architecture and Urban Design in Berkeley, CA, began his piece last Friday by asking, “What is a successful downtown?”

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He highlighted a successful downtown’s accessibility, ease of parking, and nature as a place where you can “work, live, and play.” It’s walkable, has great architecture, and has a “great story to tell about how it was born, how it grew up, and what it is today. Sounds familiar; it sounds like Springfield to me. And I’ll prove that to you.” He went on to list downtown Springfield’s strengths.

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“When you get [to downtown Springfield], you can park,” Elbasani continued. “There’s a lot of parking here… The problem with parking here is that, like in many cities, it’s kind of hard to know where it is. And so, in most places, that’s easily improved by way-finding. When you’re finally in the city, you realize, well, what is there in the city? …What there is, first of all, is a real heart.”

The heart Elbasani refers to is Court Square, the municipal center of downtown, which includes Symphony Hall, City Hall, a historic church, and a convention center. It also has 31 Elm Street (PDF), currently vacant, and one of the sites the ULI targeted as a short-term project.

“This is a place where a lot of things happen that don’t typically happen in most cities. …You’ve got a couple of great historic buildings… that have a possibility of making this the traditional hub that historic America is all about,” Elbasani said.

downtown_districts.pngHe went on to lay out a plan to conceive of downtown in terms of districts. They include an arts district—which Elbasani described as CityStage, Symphony Hall, and the Quadrangle—as well as a hotel district (characterized by two major hotels in one place). He highlighted the emerging Springfield Carriage district, calling it “a great old historic building” being transformed into market-rate rental housing. He called Mattoon Street—a “drop-dead street, we all know that,” for its charm and beauty—another residential district of its own. Then he mentioned two more spots: the former Gemini site in the South End, a textile manufacturing facility that shut down 20 some years ago and then suffered a horrific fire in December 2003; and the entertainment district (distinctly different from “the arts,” presumably).

Next Elbasani attempted to prove how walkable downtown Springfield is, by comparing it to Eastfield Mall in the Sixteen Acres neighborhood. The key to his proof: overlays of tracing paper showing the mall’s layout right over that of downtown.

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“If you go to Eastfield Mall, you park in a lot, you walk into the mall, with the department stores and the theater. You walk about 1200 feet, from one end to the other and back. …Everybody does that trip all the time when they go to a mall. When you walk downtown, that’s what you’ll have done,” Elbasani explained. “From Court Square, you’ll have walked to Mattoon Street, you’ll have walked to the arts district, you’ll have walked to the waterfront, you’ll have walked to the hotels, you’ll have walked to the theaters, you’ll have done all of that. That’s an everyday experience in a mall. And there’s nothing in a mall except department stores. There aren’t the districts that you have here.”

“What is it that you don’t have?” Elbasani asked. “You don’t have linkages. I get lost here. I’m supposed to get lost here, I guess, because I don’t live here. But I shouldn’t have to get lost here. When I get out of my hotel, as a visitor, I should not have to go to this map all the time to find out where I am and where I’m going. The streets should tell me that. There should be a hierarchy of streets. The streets are all the same. Even though the buildings are unique, the streets are all the same.”

“You have three streets that can solve the whole problem,” Elbasani continued. “Main Street, State Street, and Court Street. If you look at those three streets, they connect everything. The issue is how to reinforce those streets in a hierarchy that says, for example—it’s called Main Street: make it look like Main Street.”

How do you make Main Street look like Main Street? “Sidewalks, trees, lights, banners, way-finding, more plaques that talk about the history of this place. Make it what it really is,” Elbasani said.

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The ULI panel’s presentation provided a visual (above) for the linkages it recommended along those three corridors; the concept appears to draw together the districts Elbasani roughly circumscribed.

Listen to Elbasani’s entire 14-minute presentation on downtown (mp4, 6.5 MB)

To connect the Quadrangle portion of the arts district to Court Square, and then to State Street, and then potentially to the waterfront, Elbasani shared the panel’s offering that Pynchon Plaza be transformed into a possible winter garden, including escalators, to make the hill more navigable and pleasant. A roof overhead, a sense of enclosure, even with a permanent restaurant, could bring new life into that currently dead space, and connect it to a downtown current. With what Elbasani called a “little bit of dollars, a little bit of investment,” State Street’s appealing, even museum-like connection to the waterfront—via a sculpture garden in an underpass—could seal the deal. “Every underpass in Europe is a museum,” he said.

downtown_threshold.pngThe culmination of Elbasani’s presentation was a description of the sites identified as “threshold” or short-term by the ULI panel: 31 Elm Street on Court Square, the old federal building, the former Gemini site, and the York Street jail. Elbasani said these sites boil down to three principles: reinforcing existing assets, preserving or defending potential assets, and cleaning up liabilities. Click the thumbnail at left to view the locations of the first three sites (shaded in hatching).

The panel seemed to feel strongly about 31 Elm Street as an important piece of history that ought to be mixed-use, and that any potential parking issues with the site can be resolved. Similarly, the old federal building, which will soon be vacated, ought not to be left to “go dark.” The talk about universities entering the building was encouraged by the panel—stating that even the mere announcement that a school would move in would help, if not the readiness of an institution to take up the space immediately. (A September update [PDF] on these projects is available from the city.)

The former Gemini site was described as a possible area for a meaningful residential district, including off-street parking, “pocket parks,” and a rental/ownership, mixed-income project. “That project being revitalized will allow you to think about the commercial buildings, as part of this community, being revitalized as well,” Elbasani said.

downtown_future.pngHe then went on to describe “future projects of interest,” which include reinforcing residential districts, like Mattoon Street and Apremont Triangle, along with an associated possible increase in retail in those areas as well. Elbasani described this as a ring of residential development around downtown, encouraging more “eyes on the street; it’s all about creating life in downtown, with people living 24/7 downtown, using their downtown.”

I like the panel’s emphasis on the physical space, with tangents into housing and retail concerns. It’s true that Springfield hasn’t had a coherent plan for its visuals and tangibles, one that would draw on its considerable assets and minimize its flaws.

Same Blog, Different Channel

Posted on Friday, September 29 2006 by Heather Brandon

This is a fitting week on which to end this iteration of Urban Compass, which has attempted to capture, among other things, aspects of the laborious re-birth of our city. Finding our collective direction, making tough choices—from the schoolyard to City Hall—and navigating the complex fabric of urban life are all endless, compelling topics for documentation and reflection.The culminating ULI visit was an intense experience for many people in Springfield and the region. This blog, in the burst of the week’s energy, became a kind of love letter to the city, expressing hope for change, and trying to give it due respect with a surge of attention and focus, and more audio files than a person can rightly listen to in one sitting.

But now it will take a brief hiatus, and will re-emerge in a new but familiar form, as this writer changes hands from MassLive.com to valleyadvocate.com. Keep an eye out for a new version within three to four weeks.

Many thanks to the talented staff at MassLive.com for a wonderful working opportunity, and a chance to begin to give voice to so many important issues. May more urban bloggers emerge from this great city.

For the forthcoming link to keep up with this story of Springfield at its new home, check in at my personal blog. And thanks for reading.

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day Five: Report on Findings

Posted on Friday, September 29 2006 by Heather Brandon


The ULI panel presented its findings on Friday, September 29, at Citystage downtown. Photo by Heather Brandon

The visiting ULI panel made a final presentation this morning at Springfield’s downtown CityStage theater. The setting was dramatic: a sunken stage, stark lighting, all-black floor and curtains surrounding the panelists.

The findings themselves, however, were not as dramatic. No new projects were proposed; no major overhauls were suggested. Instead the panel told the listening audience some of what it already knew—for, after all, many of these findings were just waiting for the opportunity to be found, but the answers have been here all along. We’ve lacked the coherence for those answers, until now.


The ULI panel definitely heard the city speak. Photo by Heather Brandon

The city needs to be more business-friendly, the panel said, and it needs more aggressive marketing—to businesses already here as well as prospective ones, and to residents, as well. The city has a lot going for it—parks, ponds, homes, trees, churches, major institutions, and its compact size (17 neighborhoods within 15 minutes of downtown). But it also has weaknesses aplenty. Looking at just the planning and zoning, for example, the recommendations were to make processes more predictable; develop and adopt master plans; hire full and qualified staff; revise and implement a special permit process by the Planning Board; and neighborhoods are advised to update and adopt their own plans for growth and development.

Some big questions from the city focused on major development projects. Which are worthy of our time and resources? The panel replied, downtown. Chief development officer David Panagore later called this “the big duh”—it makes tremendous sense for us to focus on our downtown, to boost the city, and to boost the region. If it’s not thriving, what will, in the greater metropolitan area? Our downtown is walkable, it has a lot of employers, museums and civic amenities; it has a sense of history and is very easily accessible. What it lacks, for starters, is more residents, the panel told us. Bringing more people in, who need retail at all hours of the day besides just lunch hour, will help jump-start the potential for more retail. The first potential residents to target would be students and artists.


ULI panelist Barry Elbasani presents about the panel’s recommedations for Springfield’s downtown. Photo by Heather Brandon

The panel had three recommendations in going forward looking at our downtown, and this applies to city-wide efforts as well; it’s called thinking “like a master developer”: a) identify strengths and leverage them; b) inventory and classify vacant structures; and c) secure strategic partners.

Four “threshold” projects were recommended for our focus, and a few were highlighted as worthy “future points of interest.” Attention was given to the lack of “linkages” in the downtown region, making it clear for people walking around where they are supposed to go—in other words, our streets don’t physically tell us anything about where people are in the downtown area, or where the businesses can be found. We have ample parking, but not enough clear signage. These are tangibles that can be addressed, strategically, as a medium-term phase after the most pressing projects (pictured below) are undertaken immediately.


The ULI panel’s recommended short-term projects—designed for relatively fast turnover—include just four sites of interest. Photo by Heather Brandon


Recommended mid-term projects add four more to the list, touching on the concept of “linkages,” and bringing small businesses into the mix. Emphasis on the Civic Center parking garage related to, of all things, its appearance. Photo by Heather Brandon

The neighborhoods need attention, too. The panel had recommendations for approaching efforts in three veins, or means of categorizing neighborhoods and sections of neighborhoods. These are a) conservation areas, characterized by a high level of homeownership and good public amenities; b) transition areas, characterized by signs of promise and decline tumbled together; and c) intervention areas, characterized by a low level of homeownership, high crime, and low property values.

In the latter type of neighborhood—for example, the South End—the strategy the panel recommends is “major, catalytic projects” combined with a strong push by law enforcement. In the transition neighborhoods—for example, Hungry Hill, or McKnight—the panel recommends “key projects to act as stabilizers, key capital improvements, focus on crime prevention,” and that we support retail and services. In the conservation neighborhoods—for example, Sixteen Acres, or Forest Park—the panel recommends enhancement with capital improvements, and beautification.

Generally the recommendation is to get civic associations more on board with lots of these ideas for the neighborhoods, not because they haven’t already been doing important work, but because the focused effort can accomplish more tangible results. It’s about having a shared vision, and that means the city and the neighborhoods working together more deliberately than they may have in the past—and today’s challenges are different from yesterday’s.


Part of the ULI panel’s presentation included a reference to state assistance. This slide compared Springfield to Boston, Cambridge and Worcester in terms of levels of assistance per capita. Photo by Heather Brandon

The panel portrayed our city not as a city of homes, or a city of firsts, but as a city of culture. They recommend our marketing be driven by the assets we have in diversity, and our excellent geographic location.


Doesn’t this one say it all? Photo by Heather Brandon

Perhaps the most radical concept proposed by the panel was the idea that Springfield establish “guiding principles.” They include the following:

• Commitment to excellence
• Adhering to the highest ethical standards
• Ensuring high value for tax dollars
• Insisting on customer satisfaction
• Being open, accessible and responsive
• Appreciating diversity
• Striving for continuous improvement
• Being accountable


There’s also the matter of communicating with the public—an important aspect of the city’s success going forward. Photo by Heather Brandon

Much more can be said about this report, which is forthcoming on the city’s Web site. What else can the public do to follow up? Email me if you have ideas. I’ll continue to follow the issues on my personal blog, as Urban Compass comes to a temporary close on this day. I’ll offer up more photos, plenty of audio associated with each section of the ULI’s presentation, and a link to the final report. Time to roll up the sleeves and dive in.

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day Four: Time for Reflection

Posted on Thursday, September 28 2006 by Heather Brandon

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Springfield’s chief development officer David Panagore, alongside Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council President Allan Blair, spoke about the issues of the day around the ULI vist.

After an introduction by Panagore, summing up the accomplishments of the week, and what can be expected through Friday, Blair stepped to the podium and described his outlook on the Tuesday interviews, the Monday city tour, the ULI panelists themselves, and what sorts of attitudes and approaches are needed in moving forward with any economic development plans.

“The two people interviewing us were retail and real estate finance experts,” Blair said, “and were asking a lot of good questions about the city’s competitive posture with other communities in the region, the perception of the business community of doing business in the city, questions about housing and interest by professionals in moving into the city. They were really honing in on some very specific questions, and some specific answers. It was clear to me that they had this sort of experience elsewhere, and knew what they were digging for.”

Blair went on to praise the panel as being very focused and disciplined in their research. “I’m really impressed with how they’re gathering data in order to synthesize and make recommendations,” he said.

Listen to more of Allan Blair’s comments (mp4)


Chief development officer David Panagore, left, and Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council President and CEO Allan Blair, right, enjoy the glow of angels smiling upon City Hall this week as they deliver a press conference on Wednesday, September 27. Photo by Heather Brandon

Panagore and Blair also shared their thinking about the potential for neighborhood retail development across the city, having highlighted a few of the more promising locations during the Monday tour.

Walnut Street came up, as it has a few times during the week among ULI panelists. Maureen McAvey, for instance, noted how beautiful it looks, freshly spruced-up; but also, it has been acknowledged that many buildings along the street are vacant. Panagore noted that several are now in tax-title. But the neighborhood level of retail, on a fairly small scale, is where some of the sustainable growth can begin, and hold.

“We talked to [the panel] about concentrating resources in dedicated areas,” Panagore said yesterday. “Essentially one of the questions was, how do we get the biggest bang for our buck? Which things should we be doing next, so they can spur more things, so they can act as a catalyst? We put things forward like Walnut Street as a question. Is this a place, given the neighborhoods, that we should be focusing our attention? Or are there other areas in the city?”

Regarding panelist Jeff Kaplan of Houston, an urban retail specialist, Blair commented, “He was particularly looking for storefront retail in the neighborhoods, looking for signs of strength and robustness in certain areas. He seemed to be really focused on the boutique, sole proprietor kind of retail, that serves the immediate residential and worker interests in a given neighborhood.”

Listen to comments from Panagore and Blair on neighborhood retail (mp4)

The process of the ULI panel’s visit is a learning experience in itself, and this was reflected upon by both Panagore and Blair with regard to the potential of the ULI panel’s recommendations, the efforts to date of the local planning committee, as well as the process of gathering a list of interviewees.

“[The ULI has] said that in every community they work in, there is always some time after the plan for it to be digested,” Panagore said. “The good thing about this is that it’s fresh eyes, they’re volunteers, and they’re going to give us what they really think. And sometimes that means saying stuff that is surprising, and sometimes it means reinforcing what you’re already doing. It probably will take a period of time for folks to read it, digest it, and understand it. We hope to begin work the next week—start sitting down with our partners, and start being able to prioritize items, start working through what these mean, and begin to form committees with the residents, with the community, to help implement the plan.”

Blair added, “[Follow-up] will require partnerships between the business community and the city, in ways that maybe we haven’t done before, in order to have some sustainable effort over time to achieve these things. My guess is that there will be some short-term, low-hanging fruit in the plan, and some medium-term projects that require three to five years of sustained effort to get done. We’ll have to put in place the types of organizational structures that can sustain that effort over the required timeline, in order to be successful.”

Listen to comments from Panagore and Blair on the learning process (mp4)

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day Four: Time for Tomorrow

Posted on Thursday, September 28 2006 by Heather Brandon


A handsome sign welcomes the public to a ULI presentation on Friday, September 29, at 9:00 am, at CityStage theater in downtown Springfield. Photo by Heather Brandon

The public is invited to a presentation by the ULI panel that is going to rock our world. But don’t take my word for it. Come see for yourself.

Listen to David Panagore’s invitation to to the public meeting (mp4)

At a press briefing yesterday morning, David Panagore summarized what the ULI panel has been doing for the week, and what can be expected at tomorrow’s main event.

Listen to David Panagore’s Wednesday morning update (mp4)

ULI Day Four: More on the Panelists

Posted on Thursday, September 28 2006 by Heather Brandon

Seeing as how the visiting ULI panel is behind closed doors for a while, it’s a good time to give further thought to the backgrounds and skills they bring to the table, as well as the enthusiasm and anticipation expressed at Monday night’s reception.

Mayor Charles Ryan opened the brief talks that evening with a fitting welcome, followed by words from Robert Culver, President and CEO of MassDevelopment, followed by Allan Blair, President and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council.

Listen to Mayor Ryan’s welcome (mp4)

Listen to Robert Culver’s talk (mp4)

Listen to Allan Blair’s talk (mp4)


ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey, at the podium, addresses Monday night’s reception crowd with an explanation about the ULI process and then an introduction of the panel members. Photo by Heather Brandon

Next, ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey took the stage, summing up the ULI panel advisory services process and the day so far, and then introducing the panel members themselves.

Listen to Maureen McAvey’s talk (mp4)

Each panel member then took a few moments to speak, summing up work history or area of focus. The panel was fresh from a city tour. Here are abbreviated biographies, along with an audio snippet, of each panelist.

Barry Elbasani, President, ELS Architecture and Urban Design, in Berkeley, CA, has extensive experience in renovation and urban design. His retail and mixed use experience is broad, and includes several renovations and the design and planning of open air, enclosed, and festival retail centers. Elbasani is committed to design solutions that respect their environmental and cultural context, achieve architectural and technical excellence, and create places that celebrate and enhance the experience of urban life. He received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cooper Union School in 1964 and a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University in 1965.

Listen to Barry Elbasani’s introduction (mp4)

Elizabeth Davison, Director, Montgomery County Department of Housing & Community Affairs, in Rockville, Maryland, is an urban economist who has spent her more than 30-year career in both the private sector as a real estate and land use consultant and in the public sector, as a planner and manager of a range of housing and community development programs. She has been the Director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs for Montgomery County, Maryland since 1996. She directs the Department of over 110 staff and a combined budget of over $33 million per year, in the arenas of community development, consumer affairs, commercial revitalization, affordable housing programs, and land use policy in Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. with a population of over 870,000. In her 15-year consulting career, Davison conducted market studies and financial feasibility studies for real estate development projects specializing in mixed-use developments. She also prepared commercial revitalization studies, growth management studies and infrastructure needs studies for local and state governments. Davison’s academic training was at George Washington University as an undergraduate in economics, and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for graduate study in economics and urban studies.

Listen to Elizabeth Davison’s introduction (mp4)

Patrick Fox, President, Saint Consulting Group, in Hingham, Massachusetts, has concentrated on developing strategies that utilize state of the art grassroots political techniques to build political support for or against real estate development projects in the United States, Great Britain and Canada. Clients include supermarkets, power plants, oil refineries, malls, residential developments, golf courses, casinos, national retailers and department stores, aggregate quarries, hospitals, mixed use developments, colleges and universities, prisons, resorts and labor unions. Fox designed the Saint Index©, the annual measure of the politics of land use, an international survey that studies, quantifies and tracks opposition to development in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He has an MBA from Northeastern University.

Listen to Patrick Fox’s introduction (mp4)

Lewis Bolan, Principal, Bolan Smart Associates, Inc., in Washington, DC, is a real estate economist and development consultant with more than 30 years professional experience. His specialties include real estate market analysis and development planning for major corporations, government agencies, financial institutions and real estate developers. He holds degrees from Columbia University and the University of Illinois.

Listen to Lewis Bolan’s introduction (mp4)

Alvin McNeal, Director of Planning and Real Estate Development, Fraser Forbes Company in McLean, Virginia, is an urban planner and has been involved in all aspects of real estate development, municipal and community planning. Prior to that Fraser Forbes Mr. McNeal directed Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) unique and highly successful public/private development program until October 2003. During Mr. McNeal’s tenure, WMATA’s public/private development program became a model “transit-oriented development program,” encompassing 60 transit-oriented development projects, valued at over $3 billion. The projects have demonstrated that more compact developments at Metrorail stations can offer housing choices, diverse living areas and create financial returns for transit agencies, developers and the public. McNeal has a Bachelor’s Degree from North Carolina Central University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Cincinnati.

Listen to Alvin McNeal’s introduction (mp4)

Jeff Kaplan, Associate, WulfeUrban, in Houston, Texas, is a founding member of a consulting division of the Wulfe & Company, one of Houston’s most respected commercial real estate firms. WulfeUrban works with retailers, developers and urban brokers seeking to take advantage of emerging markets for urban regeneration in American. Kaplan’s work includes both large metropolitan downwtowns and older established communities, smaller towns and communities. He is currently chairing Urban Marketplace, an educational outreach program for ULI that will promote investment opportunities in Houston’s urban areas.

Listen to Jeff Kaplan’s introduction (mp4)

Ellen McLean, strategic and financial consultant, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, served as chief financial officer for the City of Pittsburgh from 1999 to 2005 and previously led the City’s Office of Management and Budget. As CFO, she initiated and implemented a data-driven performance measurement program—Citistat Pittsburgh—resulting in the adoption of a strategic, data-driven approach to problem solving across city operations. McLean was a key player in the City’s strategic filing for distressed status under Pennsylvania state law as a means to force tax reform and cost containment. During her tenure the City won an historic change in its tax structure resulting in a more equitable distribution of the tax burden among businesses and nonresidents as well as the implementation of a comprehensive five-year financial recovery plan under which Pittsburgh is operating today. Currently, McLean provides strategic and financial consulting services to local government entities and nonprofit organizations. She has a Masters Degree in Public Management, Financial Management from Carnegie Mellon University as well as a MA and BA in English from Duquesne University.

Listen to Ellen McLean’s introduction (mp4)

Raymond Kuniansky, Chief Operating Officer, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, in Atlanta, Georgia, spent ten years as a Commercial Real Estate Lending Officer for three Atlanta Banks. Prior to banking he spent 2 years in the Insurance business and 5 years as a teacher for Atlanta Public Schools. Kuniansky has direct oversight of ANDP’s various programs that include grant-making, technical assistance, training, lending, equity investments, development, accounting, and other daily activities. He earned a Bachelor degree in Business Administration-Finance from Georgia State University.

Listen to Raymond Kuniansky’s introduction (mp4)

ULI Day Three: Turning Data Into Information

Posted on Wednesday, September 27 2006 by Heather Brandon


Boland Way in downtown Springfield, the bustling spot where Springfield stakeholders came and went to sit for 50 minutes at a time with members of the ULI panel. Photo by Heather Brandon

The visiting ULI panel spent yesterday doing interviews—131 of them, according to today’s news brief in the Republican—at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. Today, the panel will sequester itself into some other windowless room(s) and begin to parse all the data, both quantitative and qualitative, it collected in a period of days and hours.


Gerri Tennyson, left, ULI support staff, and Katie Stebbins, right, of the Springfield planning and economic development department, greet interviewees as they arrive on the third floor of Springfield’s downtown Sheraton Hotel. Photo by Heather Brandon


The Sheraton features a rather stunning skywell, but my thoughts upon seeing it centered on two things: a) is anyone on suicide watch? and b) in midtown Manhattan, all this empty space would be used more efficiently. Note the fake plants. Photo by Heather Brandon

Personally, I really enjoyed my interview. It was an opportunity to speak honestly about some things on my mind about Springfield, which is really quite a long list. The hardest part was knowing what was of value to share, and what might be merely a repeat of others’ comments. Did I bring anything unique to the table? I can only hope that what spilled out made sense, and that the interviewers’ skill at extracting the valuable data will work in our favor.

It occurred to me upon leaving that the process itself is like group therapy, or marital counseling of sorts. It includes business leaders, city politicians, neighborhood associations, municipal employees, the heads of educational institutions, and so on. Few people interviewed yesterday were simply labeled “resident,” as I was. (I counted three, in all, on the list.) Many more were labeled “president” instead. (More to come on the list of interviewees.)

These are the folks who have been in the trenches of Springfield work for years upon years, some for decades; many have been doing their part to offer the best of their ability without much recognition, whether it be keeping a business running in a declining part of the city, or rallying neighborhood activists to drive drug dealers out of a derelict building. If their acts of heroism were fully documented, an encyclopedia of invisible heroic Springfield acts could be written.

Thus I came to realize that the ULI panel is like the X-Men, using their laser beam skills—each one possessing a different power—to diagnose our ills and provide some sort of prescription. While I walked around near the Sheraton I reflected on what ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey said on Monday after her tour of the city: Springfield has the “teenage girl syndrome,” where we think we’re ugly and blemished, but really we’re blossoming and beautiful.

Originally published at MassLive.com

PVPC Analysis of Springfield

Posted on Wednesday, September 27 2006 by Heather Brandon

Springfield City Hall has made available the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission‘s September 2006 136-page document, prepared in anticipation of the ULI panel’s visit, a Demographic and Economic Analysis of Springfield (PDF). Just like the pictures? Download the slideshow version (PDF).

If that’s not enough reading for you, check out the ULI’s September 2006 publication, This is Smart Growth (PDF), in partnership with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Smart Growth Network, which “describes how, when done well, development can help create more economic opportunities, build great places where people want to live and visit, preserve the qualities people love about their communities, and protect environmental resources. Many people want to know what smart growth looks like; This Is Smart Growth illustrates and explains smart growth concepts and outcomes. The booklet features 40 places around the country, from cities to suburbs to small towns to rural communities, where good development and growth policies have improved residents—quality of life.”

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day Three: Interviewee List

Posted on Wednesday, September 27 2006 by Heather Brandon

Who exactly was interviewed yesterday by the visiting ULI panel, you ask? Here is the complete list; 131 of these showed up for the in-person interviews, and several more will hopefully be reached by phone to follow up. Today Springfield’s chief development officer David Panagore said that it will likely be about 140 people interviewed in all.

Kim Alston, Owner, Daryl’s Place
Bill Arnold, Community Music School
Paul Astuto, Pazzo Restaurant
Jim Aubin, Pine Point Neighborhood Council
Paul Bacon, Cornerstone Realty, MassMutual
Lisa Baker, Attorney, Baker Family Law
James Balise, President, Balise Motor Sales Co.
Carol Baribeau, Regional Director, Verizon
Allan Blair, Executive Director, Western Mass. Economic Development Council
Robert Bonsall, Disability Management Services, Inc.
Steve Bradley, Community Relations, Baystate Medical
Heather Brandon, Resident
Tim Brennan, Executive Director, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Kathy Brown, President, East Springfield Civic Association
Charles Brush, Indian Orchard Mills
Thomas Burton, President/CEO, Hampden Bank
Juan Campbell, Sales Director, Health New England
Etta Caputo, Owner, Red Rose Restaurant
Fran Cataldo, Partner, C&W Realty Co.
Leon Charkoudian, 122 Chestnut Apartments
Al Chwalek, Director, Springfield Department of Public Works
Jose Claudio, New North Citizens’ Council
Steve Clay, Director, YMCA
Richard Collins, President, United Bank
Clodo Concepcion, President, Sixteen Acres Civic Association
Charlie Contant, Director, Step Up Springfield
Ron Copes, VP Community Resources, MassMutual
Jasmine Cortez, Liberty Life Action Team
Sue Craven, President, Indian Orchard Civic Association
Tom Creed, Senior VP, Sovereign Bank of New England
Tim Crimmons, President, Bank of Western Mass.
Patricia Crutchfield, Director, Cambridge College
Bill Cunningham, Jr., VP, Astro Chemical
John Cutter, President/CEO, Friendly Ice Cream Co.
Bob Dashevsky, Forest Park Civic Association/Jewish Comm.
John Davis, Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation
Gloria Defilipo, Pine Point Neighborhood Council
Ken Delude, President, WestMass Development
Tom Dennis, Dennis Engineering Group
Michael Denny, Director, New North Citizens’ Council
Kerry Diets, Chairperson, Springfield Planning Board
Jack Dill, President, Colebrook Co.
Steve Dinoia, President, Easter Advertising
Mike Dobbs, Editor, Reminder Publications
Paul Doherty, Esq., Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy
John Doleva, President, Basketball Hall of Fame
Glenn Edwards, Chart Organization LLC
Janet Edwards, Owner, Edwards’ Books
Armando Feliciano, Chairman, Springfield Redevelopment Authority
Gary Fialky, Attorney, Bacon & Wilson, P.C.
Herbie Flores, President, Brightwood Development Co.
Leo Florian, President, South End Community Council
Barbara Footit, Springfield Planning Board
Joe Frigo, Owner, Frigo’s Gourmet
Nick Fyntrilakis, Director, Community Resources, MassMutual
Peter Gagliardi, Director, HAP, Inc.
Jason Garand, Organizer, N.E. Regional Council of Carpenters
Robert Gelinas, Attorney
Katherine Gibson, Head of School, MacDuffie School
Dan Glaville, Esq., Director of Gov’t Affairs, Comcast
Perman Glenn, Attorney
Gumercindo Gomez, Veteran’s Affairs
Carlos Gonzalez, Director, Latino Chamber
Pedro Gonzalez, Owner, New World Travel
Walter Gould, President, Outer Belt Civic Association
Samuel Hamner, President, Field, Eddy & Bulkley, Inc.
Jane Hetzel, Forest Park Civic Association
Dan Higgins, Blue Moon Coffee Roasters
Ernestine Johnson, President, Bay Citizens Council
Mary Johnson, YWCA
Omega Johnson, President, Old Hill Citizens Council
Linda Langevin, Six Corners Council
Jim Langone, Chairman, Riverfront Commission
Jessie Lanier, Kentucky Fried Chicken
Patrick Leary, Moriarty and Primack
Kathleen Lingenberg, Director, Housing and Neighborhood Services
Bill Lochenmeyer, Human Resources, Smith & Wesson
Doug Macmillan, Broker, Macmillan & Sons, Inc.
Vincent Maniaci, President, American International College
Patrick Markey, Robinson & Donovan
Robert McCarroll, Chairman, Historic Commission
Vince McCorkle, President/CEO, Sisters of Providence Health
Sheila McElwaine, Forest Park Civic Association/Community Activist
Ricardo Miranda, Owner, Miranda Auto Body
James Morton, Massachusetts Career Development Institute
Aimee Munnings, Director, N.E. Black Chamber of Commerce
Paula Newcomb, CPD Representative, US Dept. HUD
Hai Nguyen, Owner, Pho Saigon
Juliette Nguyen
Khanh Nguyen, Director, Boat People S.O.S.
Paul Peter Nicolai, Attorney, Nicolai Law Group P.C.
Belle Rita Novak, Forest Park Farmer’s Market
Adrienne Osborn, President, Upper Hill Council
Paul Picknelly, President, Monarch Enterprises
Karen Powell, Resident
Rodney Powell, President, Western Mass. Electric Co.
Arlene Putnam, VP, Eastfield Mall
Michael Quijano, Superintendent, NPS Armory
Liam Reynolds, Samuel D. Plotkin & Associates, Inc.
Steve Roberts, President, F.L. Roberts & Co., Inc.
Tim Rooke, VP, Chase, Clarke, Stuart & Fontana, Inc.
Marco Rosario, Owner, Mardam Signs
Ira Rubenzahl, President, STCC
Janice Santos, Director, Head Start
Elaine Sarsynski, VP, MassMutual
Jeff Scavron, MD, Brightwood Health Center
Robert Schwartz, Peter Pan Bus Line
Salvatore Scibelli, Salvatore’s Restaurant
Ken Sinkiewicz, Deputy Director, Mass. Convention Center
Larry Slezak, Director Fine Arts, STCC
Elliott Stratton, Council of Churches of Greater Springfield
Patrick Sullivan, Director, Springfield Parks and Facilities Mgmt.
Joe Superneau, Director, Springfield Water and Sewer Commisssion
Ben Swan, Jr., President, McKnight Council
Henry Thomas, Director, Urban League
Mark Tolosky, President/CEO, Baystate Health
Arthur Tonini, Deputy Director, US Dept. HUD
Henry Twiggs, Resident
Mary Tzambazakis, CFO, City of Springfield
Nancy Urbschat, TSM Design
Erica Walch, President, Armoury-Quadrangle Civic Association
Bill Ward, Director, Regional Employment Board
Lee Weissman, Owner, Gus & Paul’s
Keith Wepler, Owner, Theodore’s
Bud Williams, City Council
Donald Williams, President/CEO, Westfield Bank
Kathryn Wilson, Behavioral Health Network
Victor Woolridge, Managing Director, Babson Capital Management
Mary Kay Wydra, Director, Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
Hang Yan, Executive Director, Vietnamese-American Civic Association
Roger Zepke, Real Estate Developer

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day Two: Interviews, and Schmooze Hangovers

Posted on Tuesday, September 26 2006 by Heather Brandon


The view of Springfield’s Court Square through the MassMutual Center windows along Main Street. Maybe our city really is beautiful. Photo by Heather Brandon

The ULI panel visiting Springfield this week is immersed in interviews all day long at the downtown Sheraton Hotel. My turn is up at 3:00. What to wear?


Photo by Heather Brandon


Photo by Heather Brandon


Photo by Heather Brandon

Last night’s affair at the MassMutual Center was pretty formal. The crowd was serenaded by a string ensemble, regaled with catered hors d’oeuvres, watered by a cash bar, and obligated to do plenty of who’s-who-ing.

Two city residents who showed up, Judy Yeh and Anna Brandenburg, shared with me their perspective on life in Springfield. Both are young single females who live and work downtown—and neither of them owns a car. There must be something about living downtown without a car that propels a person to see room for improvement in Springfield city life.

Listen to Yeh’s comments (m4a)

Listen to Brandenburg’s comments (m4a)


Downtown Springfield resident Judy Yeh, an assistant editor for Merriam-Webster, at the MassMutual Center ULI reception, Monday, September 25. Photo by Heather Brandon

What impressions will the panel take away in only 50 minutes of time together with the interviewees, a motley crew of 150 Springfield residents, the cross-section of the city the panel hopes to examine? Will they speak with people like Yeh and Brandenburg?


Springfield Police Commissioner Edward Flynn has a word with ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey at last night’s reception. Photo by Heather Brandon


ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey addresses those gathered at the reception last night, summing up the day-long tour and introducing the panel members themselves. Photo by Heather Brandon

Lots of already-connected folks showed up at the reception, some working the crowd more than others. In any case it was a chance for a sort of pep rally for the ULI visit, which in some respects must be marketed to the city itself, to help us become convinced that we will want this. That it won’t just result in more paperwork and meaningless plans.

More to come from this event, including audio of panelists’ comments, and brief speeches from a few others.


Pioneer Valley Planning Commission regional transit planner Tim Doherty, right, speaks with ULI panelists Richard Fox, left, and Alvin McNeal, middle. Photo by Heather Brandon


ULI panelist Ellen M. McLean addresses the crowd, flanked by panelist Jeff Kaplan, left, and Raymond L. Kuniansky, Jr., right. Photo by Heather Brandon

When the panelists got on stage to take the microphone one at a time, the first comment from Barry Elbasani, an architect from Berkeley, California, was, “Beautiful city.”


Springfield City Hall on Monday, September 25. Photo by Heather Brandon

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day One: Post-Tour Press Conference

Posted on Monday, September 25 2006 by Heather Brandon


Springfield City Hall’s ornate room 220, which at 4:00 pm on Monday, September 25, was filled with slanting beams of sunlight and floating dust motes. Photo by Heather Brandon

ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey offered a 4:00 pm press conference at Springfield City Hall to follow up on the panel’s day-long tour of the city. Her comments and answers to questions from press took about 15 minutes. McAvey is extremely well-spoken and practiced at this sort of thing, and she was wisely circumspect about details, while also clearly trying to answer questions in a satisfactory way. As she put it, the panel now has a lot of data, but it has yet to become actual information: processing is needed.


ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey speaks at Monday’s late-afternoon press conference. Photos by Heather Brandon

Listen to McAvey’s comments and answers to questions during the conference:
McAvey Part 1 (m4a)
McAvey Part 2 (m4a)

Listen to David Panagore and Russell Denver’s introductory comments:
Panagore/Denver welcome and intro (m4a)


Springfield’s chief economic development officer Daivd Panagore, left, and Chambers of Commerce president Russell Denver, right, introduce Maureen McAvey at Monday’s press conference. Photo by Heather Brandon

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day One: Questions for the Panel

Posted on Monday, September 25 2006 by Heather Brandon

The visiting ULI panel has been charged with a number of rather challenging questions to consider during their week-long stay.


Photo by Heather Brandon

1. Identify Springfield’s development assets and opportunities. What are the specific measures that will capitalize on the city’s assets to take advantage of emerging opportunities and address existing liabilities? Is Springfield well-positioned for the development we want, or are there interim steps? How then should the city prioritize its short-term, mid-term and long-term planning and development efforts?

2. What is the most appropriate brand for Springfield? What steps should be taken to enhance its destination potential? What role (and markets) is it best positioned to serve at a regional, state and national level?

3. How do we incorporate our economic development needs into a neighborhood revitalization strategy? What measures would improve community, economic and physical linkages within the downtown, between the downtown, the riverfront and neighborhoods?

4. Which public projects have the greatest potential for short-term economic return, and which investments, if not undertaken, will significantly retard economic growth? Which public projects will restore civic pride and confidence?

5. What measures should the community implement to encourage workforce development, job growth and the expansion of the existing industry clusters, such as health, precision machining, financial services, education and tourism/arts? Identify economic development efforts that will retain, attract and grow businesses in these clusters.

6. What are the most effective organizational structures and processes to carry out the strategies identified by ULI, and the appropriate roles for each level of government, community entities and businesses to play? How should the city best leverage available resources to encourage economic development? What is the most effective and appropriate delivery system for addressing the economic development needs of businesses?

7. Identify changes in Springfield’s current economic and community development programs, process and approach to spur more private investment, increase home ownership, reduce crime and improve the overall quality of life.

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Day One: Mid-Tour Luncheon at Emma’s House

Posted on Monday, September 25 2006 by Heather Brandon


Emma’s House on the water, city-owned property, on September 25. Photo by Heather Brandon

The ULI has landed, and they were hungry, arriving 20 to 30 minutes later than expected at Parker Street’s Emma’s House—a lovely city spot you can rent for $650 a day. A few tables and beverages set up inside awaited the panelists, who attended a two-hour briefing early this morning, and then set off to see the sights in a new PVTA bus. Their stop at the Camp Wilder site was a good mid-way point in the tour, and a lovely location besides.


Emma’s House interior, ready for the ULI panel luncheon, on September 25. Photo by Heather Brandon


ULI panelists toured Springfield aboard this PVTA bus on September 25. Photo by Heather Brandon

A small group of journalists had a moment to talk with ULI senior fellow and panel chair Maureen McAvey, keeping her from her lunch, but gleaning information about how the visit is going so far. (Tune in to CBS3, WWLP or WFCR later for sound bites.)


Springfield’s chief development officer David Panagore escorts ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey to the small gaggle of reporters eager to hear news of the day’s tour. Photo by Heather Brandon

McAvey’s general impression is that the city is beautiful. As current and former residents know, it has some really fantastic housing stock. The group must be seeing our good bones.


WFCR’s Tina Antolini interviews David Panagore on September 25 while the ULI panelists were treated to a luncheon at Emma’s House. Photo by Heather Brandon

WFCR’s Tina Antolini, interviewing McAvey, commented that it’s not something you usually hear about Springfield—that word, beautiful. McAvey responded that maybe it takes someone from outside to see the city that way.

I asked McAvey to tell me about the panelists, being particularly curious about the Pittsburgher in the bunch, Ellen M. McLean. She’s a former city finance and budget director who revolutionized the way municipal bonds are handled, finding a way to sell them online, directly—rescuing the city from utter ruin in the process. McAvey gave a nod to that effort and shared a bit more about some of the other panelists, as well.


A CBS3 reporter spoke with ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey at the midway point along the day’s tour. Photo by Heather Brandon

McAvey spoke to my question about how Springfield might attract more mixed-income housing, given that a huge portion of its population is low-income. She responded that the city would do well to find ways to retain its college graduates, with appropriate jobs and housing for them, and that balanced mixed-income housing is a key to success for the city.

Listen to more of McAvey’s comments (m4a audio file).

“As people who might have fallen on hard times get back on their feet, as they move up the income ladder,” McAvey added, if there is moderate-income housing available, “they have a place to live. You want to balance the community always. …What we look at is the type of balance, in all communities, so that it’s not just one neighborhood that has the high-income housing, and one neighborhood has the low-income housing. It works best, and it’s been shown all across the country, if there’s a real distribution of income in virtually all communities.”

More to come; stay tuned.

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Connects the Dots: Site Visit List

Posted on Friday, September 22 2006 by Heather Brandon

On Monday, a visiting panel representing the Urban Land Institute will tour Springfield, disembarking from the downtown Sheraton Hotel shortly after 9:00 am, and returning to City Hall in mid-afternoon. Here is a list of where they will go.

Memorial Square

1. Main and Carew Streets
2. Main Street

Brightwood

3. Wason Avenue and Main Street
4. Connecticut River Walkway
5. Chestnut Accelerated Middle School/Library Branch
6. Bassett Boat
7. Avocado Street

Liberty Heights

8. Mercy Medical Center
9. Former Chestnut Street High School (vacant)
10. Baystate Medical Center
11. Van Horn Park
12. Springfield Plaza

Metro Center

13. Federal, Worthington and Summit Streets
14. Springfield Technical Community College
15. National Armory

McKnight

16. Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park
17. Gunn block
18. McKnight Historic District (PDF)
19. Mason Square Commercial District and fire station

Six Corners

20. Walnut Street
21. Mill River (also in Forest Park)

Old Hill

22. Former Springfield Armory, Watershops Pond

Upper Hill

23. Springfield College
24. Massachusetts Career Development Institute
25. American International College

Pine Point

26. State Street Corridor
27. MassMutual Financial Group headquarters

Bay

28. Blunt Park
29. Municipal Operations Center

East Springfield

30. Former Westinghouse Site
31. Big Y headquarters
32. Smith & Wesson
33. Memorial Industrial Park II
34. Astro Chemicals, former brownfield site
35. Cottage Street Landfill

Indian Orchard

36. Solutia
37. U.S. Postal Service – Bulk Mail Center
38. Indian Orchard Mills
39. Chicopee River
40. Crane/Chapman Valve Site
41. Indian Orchard Main Street

Boston Road

42. Boston Road Commercial Corridor

Sixteen Acres

43. Western New England College
44. Veteran’s Memorial Golf Course
45. Allen/Cooley Streets

Forest Park

46. Bing Theater
47. The X
48. Forest Park
49. Forest Park Heights Historic District
50. Longhill Gardens condominiums
51. Exit 4 Gateway

South End

52. East Columbus Ave.
53. William C. Sullivan Visitor Information Center
54. Former Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
55. Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
56. Former York Street Jail
57. Hollywood District
58. Central Street and Gemini Site
59. Main Street
60. Stockbridge Court

Metro Center

61. MassMutual Center
62. Central Business District/Hotels
63. Steiger’s Park
64. Federal Building
65. Union Station
66. Lyman Street
67. Entertainment District
68. Former Technical High School
69. Federal Courthouse
70. Quadrangle Museums
71. Apremont Triangle
72. Mattoon Street
73. Pynchon Plaza
74. 31 Elm Street
75. Municipal Group/Court Square

Originally published at MassLive.com

ULI Anticipation Builds

Posted on Thursday, September 21 2006 by Heather Brandon

Economic development anticipation is building this week while city and planning officials prepare for a week-long visit with a volunteer panel from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute. Panel members arrive late Sunday, September 24, and will deliver the results of their study of Springfield at a 9:00 am public meeting at CityStage on Friday, September 29. A question-and-answer session will follow at about 10:30 am, and word is that local public television station WGBY may film the proceedings.


The hallway entrance to the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department. Photo by Heather Brandon

The ULI panel’s itinerary kicks off Monday morning, September 25, at 8:00 am, with a day-long bus tour of the city, stopping in all of its neighborhoods, and breaking in Sixteen Acres for a waterside lunch not far from the up-for-bid Camp Wilder property. The group will proceed back to the central business district for a detailed tour of downtown and the South End.

ULI panel chairwoman and senior fellow Maureen McAvey, who was formerly an economic development director in St. Louis, will deliver a press conference following the bus tour. The tour itself is being kept private, so panelists can assess neighborhoods and city life without also being observed and/or filmed themselves, assuring residents with opportunities for honesty and confidentiality.


The ULI panel’s neighborhood tour traverses all over the city, starting at Memorial Square (Main and Carew Streets), and ending at Court Square, with 51 stops. Photo by Heather Brandon


The ULI panel’s downtown and South End tour includes 24 stops. Photo by Heather Brandon

A reception is slated for Monday night at the MassMutual Center, when ULI panelists can meet and greet many members of the public, who themselves can get an up-close and personal sense of what the week-long process will entail. David Panagore, the city’s chief development officer, said about 350 people have been invited to the reception.

Tuesday is set aside for the ULI panelists to interview between 120 and 150 people, in groups of four, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The list of interviewees—which Springfield Chamber of Commerce executive director Russell Denver emphasized represent a very wide cross-section of the public—as well as the questions to be asked are said to be available to the press possibly early next week. Panelists are encouraging frankness and openness in the interviews.

The following two days, panelists will digest all the information, and create an economic development blueprint for Springfield and the region. Within three to four months after the week-long visit, a final written report will emerge, representing findings identical to those slated to be presented orally on Friday, September 29.

To prepare the ULI panel for their intense scrutiny of Springfield, staff of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission‘s Regional Information Center—Paul N. Foster, Stefanie M. Santaniello, Justine Calcina, Delania Barbee, and Kinshasa Fowlkes—drafted a demographic and economic analysis of the city, tasked specifically with examining its “current reality” through data, and looking at the labor, employment and real estate markets.


Paul N. Foster, left, of the PVPC’s Regional Information Center, delivers a summary of a report on Springfield, with PVPC Executive Director Timothy Brennan, right, on Wednesday, September 20. Photo by Heather Brandon

The analysis compares Springfield to seven peer cities similar in population size as well as their nature as a central city to their metro areas. These cities are Dayton, Ohio; Eugene, Oregon; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; Syracuse, New York; Tallahassee, Florida; and Worcester. Hartford was also thrown in for comparison, even though it is smaller in size, just because we love Hartford so much. (Okay, officially, the PVPC report notes that Hartford is a “sister city.” She’s family.)

The analysis is truly fascinating to any data-head, and I highly recommend that everyone run out and get a copy.


Eric Nakajima, left, prepares to share a Donahue Institute document summarizing Springfield’s conditions, while Paul N. Foster bundles ULI preparation materials for the press. Photo by Heather Brandon

Eric Nakajima, who is senior research manager at UMass’s Donahue Institute, worked for about a month to prepare a 12-page executive summary of the ULI briefing book materials. This is a “short” document for ULI panelists to read closely while they are en route to Springfield, immersing themselves in the data and trying to get a sense for the city’s identity and well-being—without having to read hundreds of pages of information. Nakajima’s document covers recent government history; local, regional and state economic conditions; a summary of the downtown and neighborhoods; demographics; and development opportunities (listing about 20 major current development projects, which the ULI will hopefully prioritize).


Photo by Heather Brandon


Photo by Heather Brandon

And who are these panelists who will descend upon our city, examining it with a microscope, magnifying glass and telescope all at the same time, you ask? The esteemed visitors:

Chair
Maureen McAvey
Executive Vice-President, Initiatives Group (Washington, D.C.)
Panelists
Lewis Bolan
Principal, Bolan Smart Associates, Inc. (Washington, D.C.)
Elizabeth B. Davison
Director, Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (Rockville, MD)
Barry Elbasani, FAIA
President, ELS Architecture and Urban Design (Berkeley, CA)
Patrick Fox
President, Saint Consulting Group (Hingham, MA)
Jeff Kaplan
Associate, Wulfe & Company (Houston, TX)
Raymond L. Kuniansky, Jr.
Chief Operating Officer, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (Atlanta, GA)
Ellen M. McLean
Former city Director of Finance and Budget (Pittsburgh, PA)
Alvin R. McNeal
Senior VP for Planning and Development, Fraser Forbes Company, LLC (McLean, VA)

Let the games begin.

Up next: a list of places the ULI will visit on Monday, as well as more information about those Tuesday interviews.

Originally published at MassLive.com

Some September Events

Posted on Friday, September 8 2006 by Heather Brandon

Some interesting events are rolling out in Springfield this month, starting with a couple of overlapping things to check out as soon as tomorrow. Many of these are free.

Bike Springfield Garden Tour, September 9, 9:30 am to 1:00 pm. This seven-mile tour will stop at seven different city gardens. Download an information form (Word doc), a sponsor sheet (Word doc), and a registration form (Word doc). Last chance to get in on this great tour.

Mattoon Street Arts Festival, September 9 and 10, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm each day. Take a peek at the list of exhibitors. Includes some very special events both days.

Digital photography presentation of the work of Rhode Island-based Ligia Dovale-Kiamco, courtesy of the Springfield Photographic Society, Wednesday September 13, 7:30 pm, at Scibelli Hall theater (Building #2) on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. The presentation will focus on nature photography, including images taken in Alaska, Namibia, and Newfoundland. This event is free.

Springfield Public Forum talk by Gwen Ifill, Thursday September 21, 7:30 pm, at Symphony Hall. This event is free.

Dinner and presentation of Rain in a Dry Land, a documentary directed by Anne Makepeace, about Somali refugees adapting to life in Atlanta and Springfield. Wednesday, September 27, Elms College campus; 4:30 pm traditional Somali dinner ($7.25) at the dining hall, followed by 7:00 pm screening, Berchmans Hall, Veritas Auditorium. The film is allegedly airing on PBS in 2007.

Presentation of the results of the week-long study conducted by a visiting Urban Land Institute panel, Friday, September 29, 9:00 am, at the CityStage theater downtown.

Originally published at MassLive.com