Archive for the 'Urban design' Category

Springfield City Council Minutes, 5/27/08

Posted on Friday, May 30 2008 by Heather Brandon

Springfield City Hall. Photo by H BrandonMEETING OF THE SPRINGFIELD CITY COUNCIL
MAY 27, 2008

Hearings

Special Permits

1. 67 Wilbraham Road

Used Car Sales as an Accessory Use. Owner: City of Springfield. By: Patrick S. Burns, Acting City Treasurer. Petitioner: Acme Auto & Radiator Repair, Inc. By: Orlando Alban, President

Hearing held, and the special permit was granted by the following roll call vote; Yes, Nine, (9) Councilors Rooke, Mazza-Moriarty, Tosado, Ferrera, Stebbins, Walsh, Markey, Foley, Williams; No, Zero (0).

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City Roundup: Budget, Bikes and Burnout

Posted on Wednesday, May 28 2008 by Heather Brandon

The Hartford City Council apparently approved the next fiscal year’s $547 million budget yesterday, according to an article in today’s Courant. The budget does not appear to be available online yet, however, and no meeting records of the City Council’s deliberations have officially been made available to the public electronically. From the piece, by Daniel Goren:

The budget still includes extra money for the school system, 30 new recruits for the police department and continued debt service payments for the construction of schools, libraries and a new public safety complex. The city still anticipates some cost savings from last year by hiring 50 new firefighters, more than offsetting that cost by a projected reduction in overtime for the department.

Also in Hartford, the Advocate has a piece in this week’s paper about reporter Adam Bulger’s experiences going car-free, and opting to bike to work. He notes the bad habit he developed of commuting to work by car on I-84 and I-91, within the city, which he gave up after totaling his car in an accident and then guiltily borrowing his girlfriend’s for a short time, which he had to stop doing. He comes to grips with his other bad habits, too. From the piece:

By the time I got to work, my face was the color of a grape. On the bright side, I found $3 lying in the sidewalk on Wethersfield Avenue in the south of Hartford. On the dark side, my ride home entailed going up a lot more hills. Also, I did something so epic in its stupidity that it boggles my mind even now—I rode the bike to buy cigarettes at a gas station. When I got back, sweaty and panting, the last thing in the world I wanted was a cigarette. Not that I didn’t smoke it eventually.

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Springfield’s Riverfront Path Gets a Close Citizen Inspection

Posted on Wednesday, May 14 2008 by Heather Brandon

A group of Springfield citizens are taking a close look at the city’s riverfront bike path this morning, in part as a result of comments emerging from an interview with local real estate professional Evan Plotkin, published here on April 30. In the piece, Plotkin identified the bike path as a potential draw for downtown business owners who value a healthy lifestyle or alternate means of transportation. He also perceived it to be relatively underused and not well presented when he contacted the visitor’s information center located along the path.

The residents taking the tour, who live in various parts of the city, will be making multiple visits to the riverfront path starting today, taking some notes, documenting what they see with video and photos, and hopefully sharing the results of their work. (more…)

Planning Staff, Citizens Explain Changes to City Zoning Ordinance

Posted on Wednesday, May 7 2008 by Heather Brandon

In an inaugural, 16-minute Urban Compass video (below), exclusive footage features staff of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development, alongside four members of the zoning ordinance revision citizen advisory committee, discussing the nuances of the result of two years’ work leading to the proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance.

Last night, at a public meeting at the city’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the draft revision was unveiled, and a 45-day public comment period began. Officials hope to present a final document to the mayor and city council toward the end of the summer. For more about the details in the document, which can be accessed here, read my post drawing out a few highlights.

Springfield’s Zoning Ordinance Revision: A Preview

Posted on Tuesday, May 6 2008 by Heather Brandon

Springfield zoning map. Photo by H BrandonAt a press briefing late yesterday afternoon, four staff members of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development were available, along with four members of the city’s 13-member citizen advisory committee that has worked for two years on a zoning ordinance update.

City staff had prepared large signs on easels to illustrate the timeline leading to the zoning amendments, bullet points showing the six major categories of changes involved, a list of all the committee members, and reasons why the zoning changes are so desperately needed. But at the start of the briefing, I was the only media member present in a room of several chairs awaiting occupants.

The city’s Chief Development Officer David Panagore, who is comfortable before a crowd, and likes to use humor to break tension, cracked a joke about how troubling it can be to see so many more people offering a presentation than there are people to hear it. He continued the joke by suggesting I simply ask what I don’t already know about the zoning changes rather than have them go on with a presentation. I demurred, actually having hoped to be at the back of a crowded room, with local media thrilled to learn the latest details about how Springfield is on track to make long-lasting and meaningful improvements to its urban fabric.

Topics like zoning simply don’t tend to attract as much attention as, say, the latest shooting. All the same, this was a chance to learn in a quiet, small setting some details about this major project just before its public unveiling later today at 5:30 pm at the Hall of Fame. It is likely that reporters or editors are choosing to wait until the public meeting to try to cover details, what with slimmed-down staff numbers these days. (more…)

Springfield Zoning Ordinance Revision Ready to Debut

Posted on Friday, May 2 2008 by Heather Brandon

Sample result of zoning modernizationSpringfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development will host a public unveiling of its zoning ordinance revision project on Tuesday, May 6, 5:30 pm at the Basketball Hall of Fame in the South End. The ordinance has not been revised in well over 30 years.

Chris Kluchman of Eaton PlanningTwo years ago, the process was initiated at an April 25, 2006 public meeting at the same location, led by Chris Kluchman (pictured) of Lexingon-based Eaton Planning. A PowerPoint slide show presented at that time is still available (PPT) on the city’s Web site.

In the ensuing period of time, a Citizen Advisory Committee has been holding regular meetings to hash out aspects of the zoning ordinance revision. The committee is composed of neighborhood council representatives, members of the business community, and members of the city’s Planning Board.

Following the public unveiling of the long-awaited results of this work, the city will open the plans to public comment for 45 days.

Interview with Evan Plotkin, Part 1

Posted on Wednesday, April 30 2008 by Heather Brandon

Evan Plotkin in his office building. Photo by H BrandonA few months ago I sat down with Evan Plotkin (pictured) of Samuel D. Plotkin and Associates, Inc., based at 41 Taylor Street in downtown Springfield, to discuss some of his ideas about what the city needs to become revitalized.

In Plotkin’s view, the arts are an essential component to bringing life back into the central business district. For about five months, he maintained a blog on MassLive.com called Metro Musings where he shared some of his thinking.

Plotkin, who lives in Somers, Connecticut, has been working on a project to secure a location for some of his plans to take root. In the last several months he launched a Web site, Creative Capital Springfield, to help foster some of those ideas, along with his colleagues Ann Black and Linda McInerney.

The site mentions the former Paramount Theater, known also as the Hippodrome, as a potential location for both a performing arts venue as well as living space for artists upstairs. Plotkin said the location is one of many possibilities in Springfield, but he sees much potential in the surrounding neighborhood and the city in general.

In this first portion of our interview, we discussed some of the history and role of his real estate company in Springfield, some aspects of the conditions downtown, and an example of challenges faced by real estate professionals looking to attract workers to the central business district.

Model of first Duryea automobile. Photo by H BrandonEvan Plotkin: The automobile, basically the first gas engine, was built in this building [on Taylor Street]. They called it the horseless carriage in 1895. The ironic thing is the car is what really [caused] the decline of the city. My grandfather, who started here in the 1920s, talked about this in speeches he gave in the 1940s—the decentralization of urban cities—and he started to see what was going on in the suburbs, that development was going outside because we had automobiles.

Heather Brandon: Was he excited or worried about that?
He was worried about it. [Shows framed maps] These are the real estate maps my grandfather made of the downtown central cities. I have one of Springfield. He coined the term “100 percent location.” He used to stand on street corners with a number counter, and count how many people walked by at 12 noon.

Did you grow up here?
For the most part. I was born in Chicago, and lived there for five years before I moved here. My father came here and joined my grandfather, who made the real estate atlases, and whose building is right over there. In fact, from my office, I can see where my grandfather started. So that was like, 1961, and my father sort of came to work for my grandfather, helping him to lease his office buildings, and manage his properties, and eventually Plotkin Associates Company formed from that. He started to develop relationships with a lot of doctors, quite frankly, and the idea was born of building medical office buildings. (more…)

Art, Dirt, Air, Water and Roads

Posted on Friday, April 11 2008 by Heather Brandon

Furniture-turned-boat in Beyond GreenAn innovative combination of art, design, and concepts behind the sustainable living movement is captured in a traveling art exhibit on display now through June 10 called, “Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art,” at the Joseloff Gallery at the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford. The exhibit features the work of 13 artists and groups (two pictured here), and attempts to address questions about what sustainable living means and why it matters. Download a catalog of the exhibit here (PDF). From the exhibit description:

These artists create portable, human-scaled works that emphasize the ways environmental concerns are linked to other social relationships. Some adopt proven principles of “green” design; others propose small-scale alternative modes of living. Still others highlight the problems and contradictions in the very nature of sustainability.

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One City, Two Conferences

Posted on Wednesday, April 2 2008 by Heather Brandon

Main and Harrison Streets in downtown Springfield. From city Web siteTwo major events are happening back-to-back in Springfield this week, including the city’s free conference for developers on Thursday, April 3, followed by its not-free Green City Forum on Friday, April 4.

With both events happening one day after the other, I wondered if they would be billed together in any way—they don’t appear to be—or if some attendees might try to attend both. It’s an opportunity to drum up a little extra attention for the city in the downtown area, connecting the riverfront and the downtown, especially in the wake of the NCAA men’s Division II basketball tournament last week at the MassMutual Center.

Registrants for the developers’ conference are being granted a free day-pass to the Basketball Hall of Fame, where the conference is also taking place. But there’s no mention on the Web site of the next day’s forum at CityStage just a few blocks away, which apparently is intended to draw a different kind of audience. The two events may as well be happening in separate cities. (more…)

Nightmare on Memory Lane

Posted on Tuesday, April 1 2008 by Heather Brandon

The Springfield Historical Commission may discuss at its April 3 meeting this week plans for an 1872 brick duplex home at 25-27 Elliott Street, which suffered damage from a devastating fire on a very cold January 4. City officials told the Republican the fire was caused by an electrical wiring problem in the basement. Until it was sold recently, the building was a possible candidate for demolition; the SHC previously expected to hear this week a detailed plan for rehabilitation costs that would ostensibly justify demolition.

In comments on his local history blog, city resident and historical commissioner Ralph Slate wrote that about a month ago, then-owner, Wellesley-based Marjorie Fallon petitioned the SHC asking to demolish the property, claiming that $760,000 in insurance payments would not cover the cost of repair, and that the building is now a public safety hazard. The Springfield Preservation Trust and the Classical High Condominium Association both formally opposed a possible demolition of the property at a March SHC meeting.

The SHC then requested the detailed breakdown of those costs, Slate wrote, and apparently before that could be delivered, the owner sold the building for $5,000 to someone who claimed to want to rehabilitate it. (more…)

Too Much City Hall

Posted on Thursday, March 27 2008 by Heather Brandon

Upstairs in Hartford City Hall. Photo by H BrandonI spent the morning at Hartford City Hall (pictured) today for a public meeting, and then zipped north for an afternoon at Springfield City Hall for another public meeting.

The morning event featured Nancy Stoner of the National Resources Defense Council, presenting on green infrastructure best practices in various cities around the US. Mary Rickel Pelletier, the director of the Park River Watershed Revitalization Initiative, seemed pleased to have successfully pulled together a number of interesting people from different professional fields in the audience.

Pelletier and Deutsch. Photo by H BrandonCity Councilman Larry Deutsch was there (pictured, with Pelletier) and asked pressing questions about how the city can manage to foster an environment where we maintain pleasant urban parks rather than unkempt, blighted vacant lots. He lamented the tendency to create an abundance of surface parking in the city. What policy approaches can alleviate that, he wondered.

Stoner’s primary answer to that challenge is to charge fees for degrees of imperviousness rather than charging for access to water and sewer use. If a land owner wants to demolish and pave and create another parking lot, there will be an incentive to do otherwise, or at least use a permeable paving method that will help absorb water. She said land owners can be encouraged to retrofit their spaces to capture rain water on site. (more…)

Random Roundup

Posted on Wednesday, March 26 2008 by Heather Brandon

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody WilliamsJody Williams Visit: Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams (pictured) will speak on Friday, April 4, at Springfield’s Symphony Hall, at a free event starting at 7:00 pm. The tenth woman to win the Peace Prize in all of its 110-year history, Williams, reputed to be a very inspiring speaker, was recognized for her role as the founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She continues to work for justice on the international stage, currently as a spokesperson for ICBL. Most recently, she served as UN High Commissioner on a mission to Darfur.

Immanuel Congregational Church in HartfordRally for a Library Branch: Asylum Hill and West End residents in Hartford are invited to come to a community meeting tonight, March 26, at Immanuel Congregational Church (pictured), 10 Woodland Street, starting at 6:30 pm, to discuss the potential for establishing a site for a new library branch. The current branch serving the two neighborhoods, known as the Mark Twain Branch Library, at 256 Farmington Avenue, “has long outgrown its current location,” according to meeting sponsors Asylum Hill Problem Solving and Revitalization Association, Farmington Avenue Alliance, and West End Civic Association. “The City has acquired two of three necessary parcels for a beautiful location on Farmington Avenue for the Mark Twain Branch Library,” a meeting notice asserts. “But the City must act within days to commit to buy the third parcel needed for the branch development, or it will be sold for another use. Come make sure your voice is heard!” (more…)

Putting Water to Work in the City

Posted on Tuesday, March 25 2008 by Heather Brandon

Reducing runoff with green stuffA presentation this week at Hartford City Hall will take a close look at ways the city can make good use of its abundant rain water, and the flow of its water downhill to the river.

On Thursday, March 27 from 9:00 to 10:00 am in City Council chambers, Nancy Stoner of the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Washington, DC, will speak about her experiences working with the Environmental Protection Agency on the evolution of policy and strategy to prevent water pollution and also maximize potential benefits of the Clean Water Act. She will offer current examples of “green infrastructure” projects and updates on recent shifts in federal policy. The EPA also offers a handbook on developing watershed plans.

The event is called, “Green infrastructure solutions for urban stormwater run-off pollution: How urban rainwater run-off can revitalize city landscapes and urban rivers.”

Stoner’s presence is sponsored by the city’s Park River Watershed Revitalization Initiative, which is an ad hoc group of citizen activists, engineers, design professionals, government and non-profit advisors, a project under the umbrella of the Simsbury-based, non-profit Farmington River Watershed Association. (more…)

Mayor Sarno Weighs Decision on Longhill Redevelopment Proposal

Posted on Wednesday, March 19 2008 by Heather Brandon

WinnCompanies redevelopment planLetters have apparently been arriving in Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office recently, either arguing the merits of or raising issues against a redevelopment plan (pictured) for Longhill Gardens Condominiums (unit interior pictured) proposed by Boston-based WinnCompanies. The site, currently boarded and vacant, has a troubled history.

Inside a Longhill Gardens condo unit. Photo by H BrandonYesterday, the new non-profit group Springfield Forward held a press conference on the steps of City Hall, just prior to delivering a bundle of 300 letters opposing the plan. Earlier this month, representatives of the group made their opposition known during a public comment portion of a Springfield Finance Control Board meeting.

In a brief news item on the subject this week, 22News called the issue one of “stirring emotions” in the city.

George Pappas of Springfield ForwardMayor Sarno is depicted in the news piece greeting Springfield Forward representatives at the front desk of his office and telling them he hasn’t yet made any decision about whether to approve the WinnCompanies plan. The proposal entails applying for state funding, which requires a mayoral green light and a letter to prove it. The deadline for application is March 20.

Republican reporter Peter Goonan quoted George Pappas (pictured) of Springfield Forward, in a piece on MassLive.com referencing the press conference, as saying, “We are not against redeveloping Longhill Gardens. What we oppose is the rush to accept the first offer put on the table. We believe Springfield can do better.”

Sarno denied any such rush to judgment. If anything, there has been a prolonged delay to judgment. (more…)

On Getting Around: When Common Sense Isn’t So Common

Posted on Friday, March 14 2008 by Heather Brandon

Just prior to last Friday’s seminar at Hartford’s Trinity College, the second in a series hosted by the Center for Urban and Global Studies, West Hartford resident Lyle Wray (pictured) had a lot of trouble finding a parking place.

Lyle Wray. Photo by H BrandonThis was no small matter: in his capacity as the executive director of the Capital Region Council of Governments, he was a panelist for the seminar, titled, “It Takes a City-Region: Economic Development and Political Governance in Greater Hartford.”

Some of Wray’s presentation, once he was able to park and get inside Mather Hall, focused on the lack of a regional-scale planning strategy, adding that the built environment ought to be retrofitted as pedestrian-friendly.

He cited Trinity College’s parking situation as a prime example of pedestrian hostility—a dense urban location where safe crosswalks are sparse or entirely absent, and where it’s hard to know where to park. The length of Summit Street on campus is at the top of a city hill that drops off precipitously on one side, just beyond a long, narrow strip where a bulk of the school’s heavily-regulated parking is located.

Heidi Green. Photo by H BrandonCrosswalks there are nearly impossible to find, and there is poor lighting and no sidewalk close to the parking areas.

When he arrived for the seminar, a bit late, Wray turned to fellow panelist and 1000 Friends of Connecticut president Heidi Green (pictured), and said, “Did you have trouble parking?”

“I went to school here,” Green gave as her answer, as though to say, this was just par for the course. (more…)

Cities Vie to Be the Greenest

Posted on Wednesday, March 12 2008 by Heather Brandon

NRC's National Recycling PartnershipDuring Monday night’s Hartford City Council meeting, a resolution from Mayor Eddie Perez passed that will allow the city to participate in a $200,000 Model Cities grant funded by the National Recycling Coalition, under its National Recycling Partnership, which seeks to “reinvigorate recycling among consumers.” It also aims to demonstrate best practices—managerial, technical, and educational—for ways recycling rates can be improved.

Popular Science magazineLiving on Earth host Steve CurwoodMeanwhile, Popular Science magazine recently ranked Boston the third greenest (100,000+) city in the country, calling it the greenest city on the eastern seaboard.

Determining factors were electricity, transportation, green living, and recycling and “green perspective,” or how important environmental issues are to residents.

On the Charles RiverSteve Curwood (pictured right), host of Public Radio International’s Living on Earth, recently interviewed the city’s chief of Environmental and Energy Services, Jim Hunt, to discuss the ranking.

In response to Curwood’s question about how Boston got on this list, beating out Seattle and Berkeley, Hunt replied, “I think because of our dense development here in the city and our efficient use of energy and materials, as well as the new strategies that we’ve been implementing, from renewable energy, energy efficiency, recycling, and innovative programs like our composting to biogas generator.” (more…)

Mayor Perez Offers State of the City Speech Tonight, Spotlighting Hartford Neighborhood Development Fund

Posted on Monday, March 10 2008 by Heather Brandon

Hartford's Municipal Building. Photo by H BrandonA release from Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez’s office announced that he will outline four priorities for his term at tonight’s State of the City address at City Hall. He hopes to improve public safety and education, the mayor plans to convey in the speech, as well as work to increase jobs and homeownership in Hartford.

The speech will be delivered at 6:00 pm tonight on the second floor of City Hall, in the City Council chambers at 550 Main Street downtown. It will be broadcast live on Channel 21 as well as at hartford.gov.

The mayor will highlight what he views as accomplishments since taking office, including what he claims to be reducing crime to a historic low, offering more educational options to city parents and students, creating jobs (including “millions in wages for city residents as part of the school construction project”), and welcoming “112 new and expanding businesses” to Hartford.

Perez will also call attention to his accomplishments with regard to “blight reduction, development, and homeownership,” feats that he will pronounce are lending energy to what he calls momentum: a first installment of the Hartford Neighborhood Development Fund, “Worker Housing,” and a new effort to help Hartford families refinance subprime loans.

The blog Scary Bunnies recently summed up Mayor Perez’s March 2 interview with WFSB’s Dennis House, with emphasis on blight remediation and turning some of the city’s underused or abandoned property back into active, productive sites. (more…)

Was the Cost of Taking 100 State Street a Fair Price?

Posted on Monday, March 10 2008 by Heather Brandon

100 State Street in Springfield. Photo by H BrandonFollowing a post here last week about development proposals for Springfield’s downtown 31 Elm Street site, questions arose in the comments about how the Springfield Redevelopment Authority may have arrived at nearly $160,000 as a fair recompense to Monarch Enterprises, LLC for the purchase of 100 State Street, currently functioning as a portion of a parking lot (pictured, where the cars are located).

The site was an eminent domain taking in the last several months in order for the city to “square off the parcel” and pursue development proposals for the site.

Architect Paul Sheehan wrote, “Isn’t this just the small, vacant lot used for parking and access to the rear of 31 Elm right now? This transaction, either by accident or design, was more of a benefit to the previous owner than to the SRA, since the value of this small piece to the larger aggregate parcel is extremely limited. In 1993 it was purchased for $50,000 (after depreciating under [Tony] Ravosa from $70,000), and now it’s worth $157,500? And note that with an official lot size of 2737 [square feet, it was purchased at] $57/SF. From this it appears SRA did not make a good financial decision.” (more…)

Four Firms to Pitch 31 Elm Street Development Proposals

Posted on Tuesday, March 4 2008 by Heather Brandon

Seven proposals. Photo by H BrandonA selection committee tasked with reducing a list of seven developers (proposals pictured) for downtown Springfield’s 31 Elm Street to no more than four firms announced its decision this morning.

The next task is what the city is calling “phase two” of its careful efforts to redevelop the vacant parcel, formerly offices, retail and hotel space, into a lively mixed use location. Phase one was a request for qualifications process, now completed.

31 Elm Street in Springfield. Photo by H BrandonThe four firms invited to pitch redevelopment plans for the vital downtown site are: Connolly and Partners of Boston; CSM & Companies of New Haven; Lexington Partners of Hartford; and Trinity Financial of Boston. The companies are now invited to submit final proposals (details below), with an initial deadline of April 11, now extended to April 25. A selection of a developer was initially anticipated by May 6, but with the extension it could conceivably be later in the spring.

The three companies eliminated from further consideration are: Alliance Group & River’s Landing, LLC; Federal Development, Inc.; and OPAL Development & HAP, Inc. Federal Development is based in Washington, DC and the other two teams requesting a chance to bid are based in the Pioneer Valley. (more…)

Springfield Forward Opposes Longhill Gardens Proposal

Posted on Tuesday, March 4 2008 by Heather Brandon

Longhill Gardens. Photo by H BrandonAt yesterday’s Springfield Finance Control Board meeting, two Forest Park residents—both members of a brand-new non-profit organization, Springfield Forward—participated in a public comment period to voice their opposition to WinnCompaniesproposal for redevelopment at vacant Longhill Gardens Condominiums (pictured).

George Pappas. Photo by H Brandon“Our community has made the commitment to reach out to all of you,” George Pappas (pictured), of 44 Westernview Street in Forest Park, said to the board, “to express our concern with a current proposal that has been rubber-stamped by the Forest Park Civic Association board of directors, and I’ll repeat that phrase, rubber-stamped—because we, as citizens, and as residents, had no clue until ten days ago that this very issue was even before the civic association, but now we do.”
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Details on Main Street

Posted on Monday, March 3 2008 by Heather Brandon

Two bloggers in the area recently walked their cities’ Main Streets for the purposes of taking pictures. Each found details they might not have noticed otherwise.

In Springfield, Tony Mateus of In the Valley documented just how many storefronts, and of which variety, really exist on the stretch of Main from the railroad overpass to State Street—with a little foray into the South End as well. Kerri Provost of Real Hartford also paced her city’s Main Street, shooting images of architectural details, and found a tiny espresso bar she had never seen before when she usually drives by. (more…)

Parking Plan for Longhill Gardens

Posted on Monday, March 3 2008 by Heather Brandon

From Gilbert Winn, below is WinnCompanies‘ parking plan for Longhill Gardens Condominiums redevelopment after partial demolition, provided the company can acquire the vacant building complex. (more…)

WinnCompanies Offers Site Tours, Strives for Support

Posted on Thursday, February 28 2008 by Heather Brandon

Entrance to building at Longhill Gardens. Photo by H BrandonFollowing up on its presentation last week at an annual meeting of the Forest Park Civic Association in Springfield, Boston-based WinnCompanies is offering open house tours of three of its sites this week and next, hoping to sell its proposal for a redevelopment at the site of vacant Longhill Gardens Condominiums.

The first open house will take place late today, from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. The second open house opportunity will be Saturday, March 8, from 10:00 am to noon.

The three sites available for touring are Northern Heights at Main and Central Streets in Springfield’s South End, offering 148 units; Museum Park apartments at 70 Chestnut Street downtown, offering 114 units; at Eastbrook Apartments at 259 Fernbank Road in Springfield, offering 160 units.

WinnCompanies notes that property managers will be available to show visitors around the common areas and to see a few of the units. (more…)

Liberty Mutual to Locate Office in Downtown Springfield

Posted on Thursday, February 28 2008 by Heather Brandon

Liberty Mutual GroupMassachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was in Springfield this morning to make the announcement, during an 11:00 press conference at the gated Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College, that Liberty Mutual Group is establishing an office there.

Initially, the company said, according to a release (full text below) and an Associated Press article at the Boston Globe, the office will include 60 employees for a customer service call center, planned to open in July. By December, Liberty Mutual plans to employ 150 people there, with a long-term goal of 300. (more…)

When Everyone Drives, How Can Density Succeed?

Posted on Thursday, February 28 2008 by Heather Brandon

Walking is encouraged within Blue Back Square. Photo by H BrandonYesterday’s Hartford Courant included an article by reporter Daniel Jones about how tough it is for businesses and officials figuring out how to make traffic and parking at West Hartford’s upscale infill development, Blue Back Square, perform with potential customers’ and nearby residents’ best interests in mind.

The “problem,” it appears, is the town center’s success, according to West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka. With public parking at a bit of a premium—on-street spots can be difficult to obtain depending on the day and time, and are metered in most approved locations; a new parking garage charges as much as $7 per day—the people having the most difficulty for the time being are the employees of the many businesses located there. (more…)

City Events Roundup: Sustainability Theme

Posted on Wednesday, February 27 2008 by Heather Brandon

Following is a roundup describing a handful of events in Hartford and Springfield today and into the next few weeks. Please add more in the comments.

Groundwork USAGroundwork Springfield: Today at 10:30 am, Groundwork USA announces Groundwork Springfield, in an event at Springfield Technical Community College, regarding the organization’s pilot program based in the city. An article by Peter Goonan in today’s Republican mentions the Spanish-American Union as the head of the group of local organizers, who make up a 14-member steering panel and an advisory board, and cites Patricia Moss as the project director. Initial project details are being released today at the event. “The goals include educating the community about environmental issues in urban settings, promoting civic engagement among low-income residents, and providing training and paid internship opportunities,” Goonan wrote, adding that “the first public informational session is scheduled from 11 am to 2 pm on [Saturday] March 8 at the central public library on State Street.” The library calendar confirms this, adding, “Groundwork Springfield is an urban environmental ecological education and employment program dedicated to change, revitalization, transformation and contributions that will result in a cleaner, safer, more beautiful community. Not a library sponsored event. For additional information please contact Patricia Moss, Project Manager, at (413) 734-7381.”

SocaplastEuro Recycling Co. Locates in the City: Also today, at 2:15 pm, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, as well as officials from the Office of Planning and Economic Development and the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, along with chief officers of a yet-to-be-named Socaplast, a European company “with an established reputation in the international recycling market,” will host a press conference to announce the company’s new US headquarters in Springfield. The event will take place in Mayor Sarno’s office.

Philip ManganoRegional Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness Release: On Friday, February 29, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and US Interagency Council on Homelessness director Philip Mangano (pictured) will join other municipal officials and business leaders in the area to announce the release of a regional ten-year plan to end homelessness. The event will take place at Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Center, in the People’s Bank Room.

One of the kids in Living the Green Dream Performance: On Friday, February 29, at 4:00 pm, a group of children from a homeschooling family in the city will offer a 45-minute skit, “Living the Green Dream,” at the Hartford Public Library main branch downtown. This group of children (one of them pictured) is also associated with a new sustainability-focused cooperative group in the city, founded by owners of the Alchemy Juice Bar and Café close to Trinity College and just down the street from the Koeppel Community Sports Center (with indoor ice rink) on New Britain Avenue. Later on Friday evening, starting at 7:30 pm, Alchemy will host a Hope Out Loud open mike and coffeehouse in its lounge, including an upcoming book excerpt reading related to environmental stewardship. (more…)

Setting a Course for Hartford’s Parks

Posted on Monday, February 25 2008 by Heather Brandon

The Trust for Public LandRenewing a Historic Legacy: Hartford's parksOn Thusday, February 28, the Trust for Public Land will present a study (PDF, 4MB) of the Hartford parks system, “Renewing A Historic Legacy,” at special public meeting of the city’s Public Works, Parks, and Environment Committee. The event will begin at 6:00 pm at the Metzner Recreation Center, 680 Franklin Avenue, and will include refreshments.

Not just focused on grass and trees, this report points out how stewardship of the natural environment can be such a challenging endeavor in a “struggling city” situated in such a wealthy region, as one graphic puts it.

Parks & rec spending in Hartford“There is great corporate wealth in Hartford but most workers live in the suburbs,” the report notes, “and the city itself is poor compared to its region and the state of Connecticut.”

Two staff members from the Trust will be present on Thursday, David Queeley and Melissa Spear, who worked on the report. It was released last October, and reports on the current status of the parks in the city. It includes a number of recommendations for future improvements to the parks system.

In general, the report found that the city’s parks system is “an impressive resource of natural significance.” However, it needs more funding, marketing and “connectivity” to play a role in any economic recovery in the city. (more…)

Longhill Gardens Site Edges Toward a New Beginning

Posted on Thursday, February 21 2008 by Heather Brandon

Longhill Gardens building that will likely be partly demolished. Photo by H BrandonAt an annual meeting of the Forest Park Civic Association in Springfield on Sunday, February 24, starting at 4:00 pm at the Sumner Avenue Elementary School, representatives of Boston-based WinnCompanies will present a proposal for a possible redevelopment of the troubled Longhill Gardens condominiums site in the Forest Park neighborhood, bordering on the city’s South End, with sweeping views toward downtown.

View of downtown Springfield from Longhill Gardens. Photo by H BrandonThe five partly-deteriorated buildings, constructed in the 1950s as a single-owner apartment complex, are currently vacant and boarded up, following a protracted eviction period last year on the heels of partial condemnation of dozens of individually-owned units. The complex was turned into condominiums in the late 1980s, apparently hobbling its management capacity for the decades to come.

The site changed hands a few times and became notorious as well as documented as a spot for heinous crime and illicit activity. Many in the area are hopeful that WinnCompanies can help to overhaul the perception as well as the reality for the better. (more…)

Mayor Perez Seeks Input on New Arena Feasibility Study

Posted on Wednesday, February 20 2008 by Heather Brandon

Hartford Mayor Eddie PerezA press release from Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez‘s office invites “corporate, business, sport, and government leaders” to come to a midday roundtable discussion tomorrow focused on a recently-released and, likely, heavily-biased HOK Sport arena feasibility study (PDF) commissioned by the city.

The roundtable will take place Thursday, February 21, at noon; the location is not specified in the release. “Business owners” who would like to attend may find out where the event is taking place, and RSVP, by contacting Mac Perkins at mperkins [at] ofalaw.com, the release states.

HOK report's arena renderingPerez is attempting to “gauge support and economic impact” of potential arena plans on the city, region and state, including the effect of HOK’s recommended new construction as well as how small businesses may be impacted.

New York City-based architect Paul Sheehan, commenting on a previous post regarding the feasibility study, said, “The current civic center is fairly large, on an adequately large parcel, and if the proper parties were determined enough, an upgrade could be made to satisfy most needs.” (more…)

Fellow Nerd-Blogger Attains Prestige

Posted on Tuesday, February 19 2008 by Heather Brandon

DiMaio's feature in the CourantFarmington, Connecticut-based Nicholas DiMaio, 22, was featured in the Hartford Courant yesterday for his excellent regional dead-strip-mall-geek blog, The Caldor Rainbow (“tracking the retail rainbows of everyday discount stores”). From the piece, by Daniela Artimali:

“It’s just a hobby of mine,” DiMaio says. “Caldor was the store my mom dragged me to as a kid. It reminds me of my childhood.” For his family, and millions of others scattered across 11 states, Caldor was “the everyday discount store,” the place you went for a Fisher Price toy, a cheesy paperback, a Corning Ware casserole dish or a new pair of Dickies.

DiMaio routinely makes pilgrimages to the sites of these former discounters, trusty digital camera always in hand. Like a birder hot on the trail of the long-lost ivory-billed woodpecker, he’s always on the hunt, tracking down the last remaining Bradlees that hasn’t been demolished or converted into something else (it’s in Foxborough, Mass., in case you were wondering), and checking out a friend’s report of a vintage Caldor tractor-trailer parked on Queen Street in Southington.

DiMaio and other devotees have even been known to comb the lots behind the shuttered buildings in hopes of finding a scrap of evidence — part of a sign, perhaps, or a battered shopping cart — to prove that these hollow shells were once thriving marketplaces.

“They are such neat artifacts,” DiMaio says of his assorted retail cast-offs. He admits that his friends think his collection is a little, well … weird.

DiMaio noted that several photos and video were shot for the piece—what he called his “album covers”—outside the signature vacant former Caldor in the Elmwood section of West Hartford, a location the West Hartford Blog once called the “worst blight in West Hartford.” One commenter there agreed, noting, “There are two big problems with the old Caldor Plaza. The first is the perception that the other side of the tracks is part of Hartford. And the second is that Hartford is unsafe and undesirable.”

In addition to his blog, DiMaio also maintains a flickr photostream, with sets documenting certain malls in the region and featuring mammoth retail locations such as Toys R Us, Kmart, Dunkin Donuts and Bradlees.