Archive for the 'Press conferences' Category

Springfield School Buses to Reduce Diesel Emissions

Posted on Thursday, August 30 2007 by Heather Brandon

EPA's Clean School Bus initiativeSpringfield has been awarded a $50,000 grant to retrofit city school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts (DOCs).

The grant, offered in May from the Environmental Protection Agency via the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives as part of its Northeast Clean School Bus Initiative, will allow the city to cut down on particulate matter and harmful gases emitting from the buses’ diesel engines, breaking down the pollutants in the diesel exhaust into less detrimental components.

A sample diesel oxidation catalystSuch filtering will hopefully diminish other problematic environmental effects from diesel exhaust, such as acid rain and the formation of ozone and haze.

At a press conference this morning, at 10:00 am at First Student, 600 Berkshire Avenue in Springfield, officials will make the announcement in tandem with a photo opportunity: the first installation of a DOC on a city school bus. The buses will reportedly be serviced by Cummins Northeast.

The devices apparently use a chemical process to break down pollutants. The honeycomb-like structure inside is made of porous ceramic coated with a catalyzing substance. Pollution is reduced by the resulting chemical reaction. (more…)

Historic Preservation vs. New Fire Station

Posted on Thursday, August 23 2007 by Heather Brandon

WWLP's news coverage of the announcementLate last week, the Springfield Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Department announced a selected site for a newly-constructed fire station to serve multiple neighborhoods.

Standing on the triangular lot where Vermont Street meets White Street, not far from Sumner Avenue, officials including the fire commissioner proclaimed that the location was best suited, out of all the possibilities surveyed, to reach all the neighborhoods in need at the fastest pace. Other considerations included cost of construction.

The old fire station at Oakland and Dickinson Streets, a personal neighborhood familiar for me and a stabilizing presence at the intersection, will be emptied out, and has an uncertain future. But that’s not yet a matter of public concern regarding preservation issues. Rather, what’s emerged as a community concern is what’s already on the lot selected for a new station. (more…)

Growing Positive Community

Posted on Monday, August 13 2007 by Heather Brandon

Reverend Cornell Lewis speaks to reporters, many arriving late for the press confThe Knight Citizen News Network provides “Twelve Tips for Growing Positive Community Online” that could apply just as well to government—including elected and appointed officials—civic groups, police departments, quasi-public entities, private business, and all varieties of media as it does to independent bloggers or large mainstream media corporations trying to foster along public discussion forums and journalist-blogs. Among the tips:

Are you right for this job?
Are you the kind of person who tends to react quickly when you encounter rudeness or hostility? Have you [said things] that you later regret or retract? Do you have trouble maintaining your sense of humor under stress? Have people told you that you’re thin-skinned? Do you tend to take remarks personally? Are you highly shy or conflict-averse? (more…)

The City Giveth and the City Taketh Away

Posted on Friday, August 10 2007 by Heather Brandon

Concept of how Springfield's Main Street will look laterA number of press releases from the Springfield mayor’s office crossed the wires late yesterday, covering the matters of the city’s trash collection, the facelift reconstruction about to take place on Main Street downtown, and the demolition of a vacant and sorry-looking building at Apremont Triangle. More on those below.

The city’s License Commission met yesterday evening with a full agenda. One item on the agenda is a violation at the VFW, erroneously reported earlier here as going before the commission a couple of weeks ago.

Another item last night addressed Bear Auto, Inc.’s “illegal expansion of [a] used car lot without a special permit,” failure to “install landscaping, bumpers and/or berms” and failure to “address glare from lighting.” The item was continued from an April 26 hearing date.

Bear Auto was granted a special permit by the Springfield City Council at the end of May, per an analysis (PDF) by the Office of Planning and Economic Development recommending approval, provided that several conditions were met. The owner, James Pace of Springfield, had already expanded his lot from 510 Main Street to 544-548 Main Street onto a vacant property where he had demolished a building. The expansion was done without a special permit, so Pace was advised to petition for an amendment to his existing special permit. (more…)

Mason Square Library Access at AIC

Posted on Wednesday, August 1 2007 by Heather Brandon

This little item appears in today’s Republican:

AIC to offer library access
SPRINGFIELD – American International College has scheduled a press conference on Friday to announce plans to offer library access to the neighborhood, pending the opening of a new library branch in the Mason Square area. The details will be announced at 10:30 am at the college’s Shea Library on State Street.

Mayor Charles V. Ryan is considering sites for a neighborhood library and plans to make a decision by the fall.

The Mason Square library site search steering committee released its final report, dated July 24, summarizing its recommendations for a new library location. The late-entry winner was 727 State Street, also known as Muhammad ‘s Mosque #13. “The committee vote was 6 to 1 favoring the Mosque,” the report states, “with the old Mason Square fire station as a stated ‘strong’ second choice.”

In the City’s Sights: Springfield’s North End

Posted on Thursday, May 31 2007 by Heather Brandon

Following up on intensive work in the Old Hill neighborhood, Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan announced yesterday that the next area of the city to receive utmost attention in eliminating blight and repairing infrastructure will be the North End (also known as the Memorial Square and Brightwood neighborhoods).

Juan Gerena, Mayor Ryan and Cheryl Coakley-RiveraThe first task is to assess what work needs to be done, Ryan told the press, with officials by his side, at an event yesterday morning (pictured at left; photo by mayoral aide Rafael Nazario).

The location for the event at Grosvenor and Dwight Streets featured the active demolition of a vacant former garage, just north of the city’s central business district, and also near where the fabric of the city’s streets was sheared in two by the construction of Interstate 291. Challenges for the North End of the city relate significantly to the boundaries created by that elevated interstate, as well as that of Interstate 91 along the Connecticut River. (more…)

River’s Landing Groundbreaking Set for May 29

Posted on Friday, May 25 2007 by Heather Brandon

Rendering of the new River's LandingA media advisory crept across the wires from the Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development announcing a groundbreaking at River’s Landing—the site of the former Basketball Hall of Fame along the city’s riverfront—for Tuesday, May 29, at 11:00 am. Come one, come all. Read on below for the full advisory.


The “Renaissance” Board

Posted on Wednesday, May 23 2007 by Heather Brandon

On Saturday, May 19, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick came to Springfield City Hall to offer a press conference announcing three new appointees to the city’s Finance Control Board. Below is a transcript of the proceedings.

Springfield Mayor Charles RyanMayor Charles Ryan: Good afternoon, everybody. This is a great day for the city of Springfield, and I’m delighted to see you all here. We’re going to be focusing on some very important decisions that will affect our community not only in the next couple of years, but for a long time to come. Before we start, I really would like to acknowledge the presence of some of the people who are here. I’d like to start with Leslie Kirwan, who is the Secretary of Administration and Finance, probably the governor’s number one advisor, and the person upon whom he primarily relies. In all our relationships with the secretary, they’ve been beneficial. I told her she’s the best listener I’ve ever met. (more…)

Finance Control Board Redux

Posted on Monday, May 21 2007 by Heather Brandon

Late last Friday, I received word via email that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would be at Springfield City Hall on Saturday afternoon. A couple of hours later, the breaking news blog on confirmed this, adding that Patrick would hold a press conference at 3:15 pm for the purposes of announcing his three new appointees to the Finance Control Board. (more…)

Springfield Youth Olympics

Posted on Monday, May 14 2007 by Heather Brandon

A press release from Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan‘s office today announces the collaboration between the city and Springfield College resulting in the first annual Springfield Youth Olympics. An announcement tomorrow at the college will reveal more details. From the release:

Springfield Mayor Charles V. Ryan and Springfield College President Dr. Richard Flynn will announce plans for the first annual Springfield Youth Olympics during a press conference on Tuesday, May 15 at 1:30 p.m. at Springfield College, 263 Alden St.

The press conference will take place on the track field.

The Springfield Youth Olympics will be the first event of its kind for the city’s youth and will include two days of competition, marked by opening and closing ceremonies. Hundreds of medals will be awarded (including some for adult competitions). Most importantly, the event will support health and wellness initiatives and help foster a sense of community.

The City and Springfield College have partnered to make this event possible. Ryan and Flynn are honorary co-chairmen.

Old Hill Work Underway

Posted on Wednesday, May 9 2007 by Heather Brandon

Two weeks ago, on Monday, April 23, Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan delivered a press conference standing in bright, sunny Barrows Park in the city’s Old Hill neighborhood.

Mayor Ryan at Barrows Park

The park, which was given a makeover with the installation of a swing set and new water spray playground completed last year, is located at the intersection of Walnut, Oak and and Tyler Streets, at the nexus of a huge thrust of work on behalf of the city, the Old Hill Neighborhood Council and others to improve the surrounding built and natural environments, impacting the quality of life of residents and visitors alike.

A follow-up article in the Springfield Republican captured the essence of the mayor’s remarks; that is, the city is considering the Old Hill work to be a model for how work may proceed in other neighborhoods to restore infrastructure and remediate blight.

“We have reached a significant point in the restoration of the Old Hill neighborhood,” Mayor Ryan said. “We thought it was high time to make that fact public.” (more…)

Sarno Confirms Candidacy

Posted on Wednesday, May 2 2007 by Heather Brandon

Last night at The Cedars on Island Pond Road, City Councilor Domenic Sarno confirmed his candidacy for mayor, having taken out nomination papers earlier in the day.

In contrast to Mayor Charles Ryan‘s announcement at the same location a couple weeks earlier, Sarno had half (not the whole) the room reserved, with bowls of pretzels, potato chips and Chex Mix at each table (rather than veggies and dip at a central buffet). The room felt stiflingly warm, bright and crowded, and was much more boisterous and talkative than the Ryan crowd had been, with a great deal of beer flowing. (more…)

ULI-Boston Surveys South End, Public Invited 5/2

Posted on Friday, April 27 2007 by Heather Brandon

Led by co-chairman Fred Kramer of ADD Inc., seven members of an eleven-member panel assigned by the ULI-Boston District Council visited Springfield on April 17 for a day-long informal fact-gathering endeavor focusing on the city’s South End.

The group is assessing the area as part of a ULI Technical Assistance Panel initiative, which enables Springfield to gain the fruits of ULI expertise at no additional cost; panel members had to sign documents attesting to their volunteer involvement and lack of current or near-future investment in the area.

The entire panel includes co-chair and architect Wayne Mueller, finance expert Derek Cavenaugh of Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, Joe Fahey of Amesbury’s economic development department, community development professional Evelyn Friedman of Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation, economic development expert Victor Karen of RF Walsh Company, Kathryn Madden of Sasaki Associates Inc., market analyst William Shapiro of Legget McCall, land use and zoning specialist Kishore Varanasi of CBT Architects, housing development expert Sandi Wolchansky of JPI, and Mossik Hacobian of Boston’s Urban Edge.

Chief Development Officer David Panagore said the seven panelists here last week took a site tour of the South End, and met with him for about half an hour. The visitors also met with Juan Gerena, Kathleen Lingenberg, Deputy Police Chief William Cochrane, the Parks and Recreation Department‘s Deryk Roach (discussing Emerson Wight Park), HAP, Inc.‘s Peter Gagliardi, Mayor Charles Ryan, and City Councilor Domenic Sarno.

They also met with various commercial and residential property owners, including that of Frigo’s Gourmet Foods (pictured above, from the company’s Web site)—owner Joseph Frigo of Agawam, Paul Oldenburg, who owns and manages a large swath of housing in the Hollywood district, and Angie and Leo Florian of the civic association. In all, Panagore estimated, the panel met with about 15 to 20 people as part of their fact-finding mission.

The former Gemini site in Springfield’s South End, awaiting development

“Team members did hear consistent themes,” Panagore said of the panel surveying the South End. “They were complex, and difficult, yet consistent.”

The geographic area of focus is the east side of Main Street, from Winthrop Street south to Marble Street, including Emerson Wight park just to the south of Marble. (For a closer look, download this nearly 3 MB high-resolution version of the aerial imagery above.) The former Gemini site is on the northern edge of this area, and the Hollywood district, its own kind of cul-de-sac, is to the south (also pictured below). Part of the challenge for the Hollywood area is to try to open up its circulatory flow and knit it back to the fabric of the city, in part a public safety issue.

Last week’s visit was the first session for the panel to get the lay of the land, Panagore said, with the idea being to move fast and be comprehensive. The aim is to “figure out what’s missing, who didn’t they talk to” yet, with a remaining concern being the “silent majority” of residents in the Hollywood district.

The Hollywood district in Springfield’s South End; photos from OP&ED

The Hollywood area of the city is said to need urgent redevelopment

Spanish- and English-language flyers are going up in the Hollywood area today, inviting the public to a meeting next week where the panel will follow up, sharing findings and hearing public comment.

That meeting will take place starting at 5:00 pm at the Zanetti School, 59 Howard Street, next Wednesday, May 2. An invitation flyer is available in both English (Word doc) and Spanish (Word doc) for sharing with others.

The panel will make its presentation after a full day Wednesday of intensive working sessions, following an evening of private mingling at Pazzo’s (closed to the public) on Tuesday, where panelists plan to catch up with Police Commissioner Edward Flynn for input as well. Following the presentation Wednesday evening, public comment is sought at the meeting, and there will be a press availability at 7:30.

The whole process, Panagore said, is a new approach being developed by ULI, where a local district council becomes the “drill-down” resource after a national panel visit. The panel includes a staff writer, so presumably the output of results will also be faster and on-the-fly, part of the new approach. The written document produced by this panel will likewise generate a fresh supply of guidelines, resources and expert advice for the city to consider as it prepares its own detailed plans for the South End.

A similar strategy will be employed in looking at the downtown region, Panagore continued, with close involvement from the Springfield Business Improvement District as well as the regional Chambers of Commerce. The pattern: one day with stakeholders, a return visit for a working session and public comment, and then the production of a written document.

ReStoring the City’s Image

Posted on Thursday, April 19 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan at ReStore yesterday: “Our city values green spaces”

At a press event at ReStore on Albany Street yesterday, a whole new marketing initiative for Springfield was launched: the environmentally-conscious, green, tree-filled, recycling (and therefore business-savvy) city. Following is a transcript of the proceedings.

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan: We are in Sibiliaville: birthplace of many great ideas. I’m delighted to see everybody here for this press conference, to see the press so well-represented. We’ve got a series of exciting things to talk about, and as you can see, there’s a significant relationship, one with the other.

First of all, we want to celebrate the great mention that the city of Springfield received from the Country Home magazine, where it not only rated us the fourth greenest community in the United States, but among large cities, it rated us number one. And by large cities, [Community Relations Director] Azell [Cavaan] has checked this out; it’s supposed to be metropolitan areas of at least 500,000. So while our city is 150-odd thousand, we certainly have a metropolitan area of that size.

Ivette Cruz stands next to a poster showing Country Home‘s rankings of green cities

So it’s a great honor, and an unexpected honor. We’re delighted about it because, just coincidentally, the honor came at the same time that we were deciding on a series of initiatives which will really enhance this title, rather than detract from it.

In this next year’s budget, which is only some eight or nine weeks away, we will have over $1 million for what I am referring to as urban forestry. Because what it does is it builds upon this past year, when we spent about $1.2 million cutting down 1,500 dead trees. But we really focused just on that.

And this year we want to take about the same amount of money and spend it not only on taking down more dead trees—because there was a big backlog that was allowed to create itself—but also to eliminate stumps, and to plant approximately 1,300 to 1,400 new trees. I can’t remember when there’s been any significant tree-planting program in the city of Springfield. So we’re looking forward to doing that. I find that as you set the stage, and begin a multi-year program, it’s always easier to go back the second, and the third, and the fourth year, and to build upon that success, because you’ve now created an expectation that this will happen.

This is something that from Indian Orchard to the South End we want to build upon: this whole image, an impression of our city as a city that values green spaces, that puts its money where its mouth is. I think it’s going to be a very exciting situation for all of our residents, and all of our visitors. David Panagore is going to speak a little bit later about the economic development impact of such a program.

I also want to announce that recently, at the initiative of Mark Hambley, who is here, and former US ambassador to the Kyoto meetings on environment, that I have signed the pledge of the US Conference of Mayors climate protection agreement. Hopefully, Azell has copies of that for the press, and it’s a far-reaching document that Mark certainly is in a position to speak on much more authoritatively than I can. Mark, I’m proud to say, is a fellow citizen of all of us here in Springfield, and this has been a big part of his life, and we’re fortunate to have him here—his experience, and his vision. This is something, as days and months go by, that so many intelligent people around the world are focusing on: some very serious and difficult problems we have in front of us, as inhabitants of this planet, if we don’t collectively get together and act a lot more wisely.

I want to announce that Springfield has been named the Tree City by the National Arbor Day Foundation. I’m not sure where all of this is coming from at the same time. But that announcement has been made, and so we revel in that.

And lastly, through the lobbying work of Azell Cavaan, we’ve taken whatever power that reposes in the strong mayor under Plan A, and I’ve announced that the official city color, from now on, will be green. Green it is, I hope you’ve got that down. And what color is more appropriate for Springfield today? We have, as its official color, green.

And now, I’d like to have John Majercak, the director of ReStore, come forward and talk about his company, its mission, its accomplishments to date, and the part that it sees itself playing here in the resurgence of the city of Springfield.

ReStore Director John Majercak: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, and welcome, everyone, to the ReStore. We’re very excited today, for a lot of reasons; these exciting announcements, and also for the part that we played in the Country Home fourth-greenest city rating. The editors chose the ReStore to single out as an example, a great example, of green activity in the city. So we’re excited about that.

ReStore’s John Majercak: “We’re bursting at the seams”

We’re also excited because, with all of this recognition and growing public awareness about the environment, people are really beginning to see the connection between things that are green, and what’s good for our community, and what’s good for our economy. The ReStore, I think, is a good example of those connections.

We’re an innovative non-profit organization. We accept donations of used materials like you see here—doors, windows, cabinets—and we sell them, at low cost, to help people fix up their homes. We provide jobs in Springfield and do job training with a variety of partner agencies. Over the last five years, we’ve become an engine for environmentally-responsible economic development in the city.

We’ve helped over 20,000 homeowners—these are low- to moderate-income do-it-yourselfers—save over $1 million on home improvement goods. They’ve used their sweat equity and creativity to fix up their homes at low cost. While doing that, we’ve helped the environment by keeping many hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of building materials out of the landfill.

One of the very innovative ways that we’re doing that, that we just started recently, is called deconstruction, which is creating more jobs. We’re actually doing demolition by hand, and using small equipment, to recover whole houses, or parts of houses, before remodeling. This lumber that you see here came from a 6,000 square foot house that we recently took down. There were truckloads and truckloads, 30 tons in all, of material that came back to the store. Just as quickly as it came in, it was going out, and helping people fix up their homes.

The demand for what we’re doing is great. We started out in one small building five years ago. We added this second structure, which is twice the space. And we’ve moved across the street. We even have a tent that we put up in the summer. We’re really bursting at the seams because there’s a lot of people around here that know that something that’s good shouldn’t be thrown away, and they want to give it to us. There’s just as many people who need those materials to fix up their home.

When they fix up their home, we know that’s helping that family, and everyone can think about the pride they have in their own home, and the comfort and the safety that the home provides. But when you fix up that home, that also helps the street, and when that street gets fixed up, that helps the neighborhood, and then that helps the city, and as we know, when we help the city, that helps the whole region.

We’re playing one very small part, but we’re very excited to be a part of it, and to be partners with all of you, and we look forward to working with you for very many years to come. Thank you.

Mayor Ryan: Before I call Ivette Cruz forward, I would like to have Mark Hambley come forward, and Mark, just spend a couple of minutes with these folks, to speak further on the initiative that you brought to my attention.

Former US Ambassador Mark Hambley: Thanks much, Mr. Mayor, thanks for bringing this opportunity to congratulate you, and the city of Springfield, on your move to join the US Mayors climate action program. As you know, the Kyoto process is a process under the international community to try to combat the problem of global warming. I think, more accurately, it was climate change. In 2005, because the US is not a party to this protocol, US mayors decided that perhaps there might be a way in which we could, as a country, move ahead.

Mark Hambley: “Springfield is well on track”

In March 2005, under the leadership of Mayor Greg Nickels of the city of Seattle, they formed a compact under which there are three basic points. The first point is that cities or municipalities which sign up to this compact are obligated to strive to meet the objective of the Kyoto protocol, which is, for the United States, was set at seven percent reduction of greenhouse gases emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2012. This is something which cities can do through energy efficiency programs, through urban reforestation, through recycling efforts; all those sorts of efforts, which will reduce the emissions profile of a given community.

I must say that the city of Springfield, I think, as acknowledged by the recent award it received, is probably well on track to meet that objective.

The second aspect of this climate action plan is to encourage cities to approach their state governments, to have them encourage the federal government to take action, and join the Kyoto protocol, or a like-minded international agreement, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I think, certainly, our local legislature will be doing that in Boston, and I think our mayor, of course, is already on board on that, in that he has joined the northeast compact on climate change, which puts the state of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in a partnership with other states in the region.

The third aspect is to urge the Congress to come up with a bipartisan effort to try and find a way to have a national emissions trading program, which would allow us to have emissions reduction throughout the country. So that’s the three basic aspects of this climate action plan.

I think Springfield now joins several cities in the eastern part of the state—Boston and Worcester among them—and Pittsfield in the western part of the state, as well as Hartford, and other communities. In all, there are 453 US cities now part of this organization, and that comes to about 62 million US citizens. So I think Springfield certainly is taking a leadership role under our distinguished mayor, and I must say, I think it’s something which all of us as citizens can do our part in trying to make sure our color green is something which all of us represent in our daily lives. So, thank you very much.

Mayor Ryan: One other note I would give you is that I read in the paper several days ago that Mayor Menino in Boston was announcing with some sense of satisfaction that they were putting money in the budget to plant 450 trees in this coming year. I think that when you put that alongside the 1,300 to 1,400 that really now, there’s no question about it, it will be funded in this budget, it gives you some idea, some sense of perspective, as to what we’re going to do. I would hope that for years to come, this would happen. It’s such a treasure. And to realize, that for some reason, the city lost its focus, and not only didn’t plant any new trees, but then allowed all of the dead trees to just stay there, until it finally falls down and hits somebody’s car, or somebody’s house, just indicates that we’ve got a long ways to go.

Ivette Cruz is here, and I’m going to ask Ivette to come forward. Ivette is the director of the Keep Springfield [Beautiful] program. She’s got an enormous sense of energy. She’s done a magnificent job in pulling together the many, many people and organizations over the last several months. And as I’m sure you know, in ten days, or 12 days from now, we’re going to have this massive effort here in Springfield. Who better to describe it, and inform you totally about it, than the director of our program, Ivette Cruz?

Ivette Cruz: Thank you all, thank you Mr. Mayor. I was at the mayor’s office this past Friday, and the mayor was coming from a site in which work was being done in one of our neighborhoods. He stated that seeing that kind of progress warmed his heart. His smile was priceless, and I am here, Mr. Mayor, to tell you that we will have another number one for you, and that’s going to be with the Keep Springfield Beautiful project.

Ivette Cruz: “We will be number one”

The 21st of April, we will be certified as an affiliate to Keep America Beautiful—that’s the nation’s largest community improvement organization, with 600 affiliates—and on the 28th, we will have the biggest cleanup in the history of the national organization, since 1958, when this organization was founded.

We are competing at a national level with another 600 affiliates. We’re going to compete in the areas of tons of trash taken out of the city, beautification projects, square footage of graffiti removed, and other areas, including public service announcements that we’re going to do locally. And we will be number one.

We are expecting 3,000 volunteers to come out to work with us the 28th, and we are expecting to take out 170 tons of trash that day. A grassroots organization, Citizens for a Clean Springfield, now becomes Keep Springfield Beautiful, and along with businesses, government, non-profit organizations, and citizens, [all] are committed to Keep Springfield Beautiful.

Our certification ceremony is going to be at AIC this coming Saturday, from 9:30 to 12.

Our project on the 28th will begin at 8:30 in the morning, to 3:00 pm. Waste management will bring a total of 34 dumpsters to the city that day, and will take it out of the city that day. Joseph Freedman is going to give us ten dumpsters to pick up tires and metal along the whole city. Everyone is invited, and thank you, Mr. Mayor, for giving us this opportunity.

Mayor Ryan: You know, as days go by, or weeks go by, I think we’re seeing something very, very dramatic. And that is the increasing and now extraordinary number of people who really are buying in to what is happening here in Springfield. I’ve said many times that a city is the sum of its parts, and then I don’t like that, because we’re not parts, we’re people.

Now we have a program where we’re actually talking in terms of thousands of people, joining together, a common vision, to clean up our city, to join together, take strength one from the other—that’s a huge manifestation of pride in our community and a determination to do better.

I also want to recognize Charlie Contant, who’s in the back of the room. Charlie and Barbara Footit and so many others really kind of lit this torch a year or a year and a half ago, and it was kind of a lonely mission for some time. But what they did, and the view they had, really has caught fire, and caught acceptance. We were lucky enough to have Ivette come to work for the city, and the YMCA, and others, to really buy in, so it’s now—there’s an awful lot of people on this train. Charlie Contant, clearly, if there’s a charter member anywhere, it’s Charlie.

David Panagore, the city’s wordsmith, director of economic development, bon vivant, philosopher, and everything else, is now going to come forward, and tie all of this in, to what is one of his jobs, economic development. David?

David Panagore: As I stood there, philosophizing in my head, I do think this is about leadership today, these announcements. This is about the good work that’s been happening inside City Hall. This is about the good work that’s happening in the city, and this is about the good work in the region. And it’s all about Springfield’s leadership in that.

CDO David Panagore: “Springfield is a leader in the Valley on green”

I start with the final point: when we think of the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, we think green. When we think of the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, we think this is the place where people care about the environment. Sure, they care about it in Concord. Sure, they care about it on Cape Cod. But when you think about it, it’s Western Mass. It’s an excellent reflection of the work we’ve been doing in Springfield, that Springfield is showing to be a leader in the Valley, a leader on green. It’s a reflection, then, as well, of what we’ve been doing inside City Hall, proving that being green is good business sense, because when you think about the criteria they used in making this announcement, they used criteria of power usage. This was good business sense, under the mayor and the control board’s leadership to enter into an ESCO contract.

What we’re seeing here is the combination of business and green proponents showing that there’s money to be made, there’s cost savings to be had, this is the future of business. As the governor has said in his comments, Massachusetts must take the lead on alternative energy. When you look at what we’re doing here in the Valley, when you look at what we’re doing here in Springfield, when you look at this building that we’re in right here, ReStore—and I’m a client as well, as is my family; my family will come from eastern Mass just to come here for this store—it shows that Springfield is moving forward. It shows that we care about our quality of life.

I’ll tell you, from my point of view, the quality of life in Springfield is one of its most immense selling points. A simple thing, like a tree program, of 1,400 trees: that’s amazing. That’s a reflection of our commitment to our neighborhoods, our open spaces, and maintaining the quality of life that we have here, so that Springfield stays something special. When I think about all of the announcements made today, I do think this is about leadership, it’s about good business sense, it’s about quality, and it’s about the region.

So I really think this is where Springfield is headed, and we welcome working with anyone who is interested in working on these issues, because we do think this is where economic development is headed in this city. Thank you.

Mayor Ryan: In many respects, what we’re doing here and talking about today falls under many headings. One of them, I think is social responsibility. I would like to call the landlord of this building to the microphone. This is a man who, really, dwelled on this 15 years ago, when a lot of people weren’t even thinking about it. The force of his personality, and his example, and his generosity, has encouraged so much of what is meaningful here in Springfield today.

I look upon him as one of the very, very significant leaders in this community going forward, because very, very few people get within the orbit of Joe Sibilia without deciding that they want to stay within that orbit, and they are affected by him, and they are inspired by him. If there’s anybody in the city of Springfield that deserves the official new color of green, it’s our next speaker, Joe Sibilia.

Joe Sibilia: Thank you very much, Charlie; that was beautiful, and David, nice to see you; it’s the first time we’ve had an opportunity to meet. What we have here at the ReStore is a manifestation of triple-bottom-line business: economic development that includes a financial return, a social return, and an environmental return. And we believe that Springfield can become a world-class city, being a mecca for socially responsible and green companies from all over the world. This is a perfect example of what these guys are doing, and what we can really do, to manifest that reality.

Joe Sibilia: “Springfield can be a mecca for socially responsible, green companies”

Thank you so much for coming, and as a footnote: we produced, in this room, an invention that was bought by the Pepsi-Cola company to distribute and use in their restaurants worldwide—fruit beverages and bag-in-a-box—in this room, from Springfield. So if you go to any restaurant that Pepsi owns, anywhere in the world, and you press the button and you get a juice, it came from Springfield. Thank you very much.

Mayor Ryan: John, I understand you have a presentation to make? Okay, great. And then we’ll end the program with the presentation.

John Majercak: This will be very brief. Mr. Mayor, in celebration of the city’s new color of green, and its environmental commitment, I want to present to you this ReStore glass, which is actually a reused wine bottle, where the top was cut off, and it was polished. Congratulations, and thank you very much.

–end transcript

The city invites you to share how you are going green.

The US Conference of Mayors climate protection agreement has numerous aspects, but the key nuggets are the following:

Strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing global warming pollution by taking actions in our own operations and communities such as:

1. Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the community, set reduction targets and create an action plan.
2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve open space, and create compact, walkable urban communities.
3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle trails, commute trip reduction programs, incentives for car pooling and public transit.
4. Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, for example, investing in “green tags,” advocating for the development of renewable energy resources, recovering landfill methane for energy production, and supporting the use of waste to energy technology.
5. Make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient lighting and urging employees to conserve energy and save money.
6. Purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances for City use.
7. Practice and promote sustainable building practices using the US Green Building Council’s LEED program or a similar system.
8. Increase the average fuel efficiency of municipal fleet vehicles; reduce the number of vehicles; launch an employee education program including anti-idling messages; convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel.
9. Evaluate opportunities to increase pump efficiency in water and wastewater systems; recover wastewater treatment methane for energy production.
10. Increase recycling rates in City operations and in the community.
11. Maintain healthy urban forests; promote tree planting to increase shading and to absorb CO2.
12. Help educate the public, schools, other jurisdictions, professional associations, business and industry about reducing global warming pollution.

Mayor Ryan Announces Candidacy

Posted on Friday, April 13 2007 by Heather Brandon

Mayor Charles Ryan announces candidacy. Photo by H Brandon

At last night’s event at The Cedars on Island Pond Road, Mayor Charles Ryan announced his candidacy for mayor before an audience of a few hundred people. Some children in attendance gathered at the foot of the podium, just in front of the cluster of media professionals eager to document the mayor’s decision, which up until the speech had been kept quite secret.

“Supposedly, no one but Charlie knows what he is going to say tonight,” said Sheriff Michael Ashe, who served as master of ceremonies. “There’s more secrecy involving the content of this event than any event in Springfield since I took over the Armory. I can’t say that I welcome you to a campaign kick-off or announcement event, because none of us are supposed to know if it is gonna be that.”

“On a serious note,” Ashe continued, “we know that we can begin by calling it a celebration of a fantastic statistic, and fantastic reality—violent crime has gone down in this city 24 percent. Let’s applaud that.”

Ashe went on to laud Ryan: “Charlie Ryan is a man who has dedicated much of his life, and a good deal of his abundant capabilities, to public service. Charlie Ryan is a man who, at two widely-spaced junctures of his life, answered the call of his fellow citizens to lead his beloved city. At a time of great peril, when the ethical and fiscal survival of Springfield was at stake, the people wanted Charlie Ryan’s fiber and substance to lead them out of the shadows and back to the light.”

“And the results are in,” Ashe said. “Charlie Ryan has righted the course of this city, and steered her strong and straight. At a time when we’ve heard the term ‘family values’ so much in political discourse, Charlie Ryan has been a real-life role model of family values, not only by leading a principled public and private life, but also by having a sustained and active involvement in the public life of our community.”

Ashe concluded, “The hope and vision that I have, that you have, that we all have for the city of Springfield, is that its leadership is honest, competent, wise, principled, able and infused with the spirit of public service. It is because Charlie Ryan is all of these things that you and I wholeheartedly urge and endorse him to once again bestow his abundant abilities and character on us as our mayor.”

Then Ryan took to the podium. Below is a transcript of his speech.

Mayor Charles Ryan: Thank you very much, Mike. I would invite you to pull in a little bit closer. I tried to cut a corner and rent the hall without bothering to have the electricity on for the speaker, though it’s come back to bite me.

I’m just so grateful for you all being here tonight. I do feel bad, Rico, that you put Caleb Rice in third place [in the top five mayors of Springfield award, see bottom of post]. He was a very good friend of mine. [Laughter] He went on to become the first president of MassMutual in 1852. [More laughter] And he really loved this city.

I want to thank Mike Ashe for being the master of ceremonies. I’ve known Mike a long, long time, and I can tell you that one of the great satisfactions that I have as mayor is to not only work with Mike, but so many of his people and what they do for this county, and for the mostly young men and women of this county who have found their way into problems with the law. Usually, a sheriff is thought of as somebody who just kind of runs a place where people stay until their term is up. But I think we all know by now that Mike and his associates and his team are really writing the book of compassionate care and rehabilitation of these people, and I see so many of them really taking that second chance, and putting it to great use.

Pastor Wesley and familyPastor [Howard-John] Wesley [pictured, with family], I’m so grateful that you’re here tonight. I so admire you, my wife admires you; you have come to this community eight or nine years ago; you play such a strong part in the spiritual leadership of Springfield. And I can tell you that it’s a profound religious experience for Joan and I to go and sit at Symphony Hall on Easter Sunday and hear this message. And while he’s a great orator, it’s really the substance of the message, and he’d be the first to admit it. But he’s preaching somebody else’s word, and I’m so grateful for Pastor Wesley and the tremendous influence for good that he has in this community.

My colleagues in government that are here tonight, I’m grateful to you for our partnership and our relationship. We try and make it as constructive as we possibly can, but we also know that we’re in a field where you have opinions, and sometimes the opinions clash one with the other, but it doesn’t mean that we have to lose respect for each other and their point of view.

When I ran first in 1961, one of the points that the opposition made was that I was too young to be mayor. [Laughter] And that really bothered me. And I said, someday I’ll come back, and I’ll show them that I’m not too young to be mayor. [More laughter] I’m beginning to hear the whispers that maybe there’s another end to the pendulum that might be affecting me. As a matter of fact, I was at the dentist about a month ago, the semi-annual cleaning and checkup, and I said to him, doctor, I’ve been noticing that as I get older, that my teeth are getting a little yellow. What should I do? He looked at me; he said, “Wear a brown tie.” [Laughter] So I followed that advice.

On July 1 of 2003, not even four years ago, I embarked on the most rewarding experience of my professional life. At the age of 75, I announced that I would run for the office of mayor of our city. A lot of thought went into it. I asked many who were close to me, especially in my family—it clearly was a split decision, as some thought it might work, and others were a little bit apprehensive, and I was too, because I was not sure that I could do it. But with Joan’s support, and an abundance of faith, we set sail. I might also point out that none of my decisions have ever been made, since December 24, 1949, without Joan. [Applause] And in a couple of months, we will celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary. [Applause]

When I made the decision almost four years ago, at that time, the city was broke. It had just fired, in February, 500 city workers. It had reneged on a whole host of union contracts. The government had come to a halt, and they had even turned off many of the streetlights. There had been no infrastructure expenditures or repairs of buildings, or highways, or parks. A grand jury was indicting one official after another, 35 in all.

Forty years earlier, I had presided over, and left, office. I took some satisfaction in the fact that we had a safe and sound and prosperous city with solid neighborhoods and strong schools. And so, in the spring of 2003, I, like many others, was sick at heart at what had happened to our city. I took a deep breath, and began a journey that no one else dared to make.

Within a few months of taking office, the full extent of our city’s collapse became apparent, because we were $41 million on a deficit basis, we had been reduced to junk bond status—the only community in Massachusetts with that stigma—we had a free cash account, which is really the city savings bank, of minus $27 million. I think it’s the first time in history that had ever happened, to have a bank account with minus money in it. Unpaid taxes of over $50 million, with one illegal tax agreement after another. And the fakers and the crooks and the fixers had feasted on our bones.

Some city officials knew it was a mess, and they didn’t care, or they didn’t know how to fix it. And then the control board was created by the legislature.

We are not the first control board city. They happen every now and then, when a city loses its way. I follow these matters fairly closely, and I see, time and time again, when that happens, that the control board is sent in to do a job, and those that are left in the city government decide to fight with them. I knew that was an expensive luxury that would be absolutely foolhardy to indulge in, because if all we were going to do is have acrimony, and chaos, and finger-pointing, between the five people who were supposed, under the legislative act, to straighten out the city, we would have had paralysis.

I knew that we had one chance, and one chance only, to get out of the pit, and that was really by acting together. That road, while it’s easier now—certainly, the first couple of years were tough—because of the fact that we had many, many hard decisions to make; almost every one of them was controversial, and in all too many instances, loud and public criticism was coming, in many cases, from the same people who had been responsible, at least in part, for the mess that had been created. So far, and it’s almost to our third anniversary, we have been enormously successful.

Mayor Charles Ryan announces candidacy. Photo by H Brandon

Our bond ratings have been restored, with significant praise. We are dealing now in the area of balanced budgets; $25 million in back taxes have been collected, and are helping us mightily to do some of the things that we’re doing. We’re actually back in business, repairing our schools, and trying to restore the devastating conditions. So far as roads, which to me, is some sort of a measure of whether a city is capable of doing what communities are supposed to do, in the four years previous to taking the office of mayor, the city did 50 streets in four years. By the end of November of this year, we will have done 300. [Applause] In those four years, they did 17 miles; by the end of November, we will have done 72 miles. In sidewalks—and I look at Jack Maloney, who is a partner with us in this—in the previous four years to our administration, one mile of sidewalk was built in Springfield. By November, we will do 19 miles. [Applause]

By the end of this year, we will have taken down, in the last two years, almost 2,000 dangerous and dead trees. By the end of this year, we will have planted—and this is the first time in anyone’s memory—1,300 to 1,400 new trees to begin that long road back, of one of our crowning glories, which was the shade trees along our public ways. [Applause] Derelict after derelict building has either been torn down, or will be torn down, because of the fact that they are a cancer in whatever street, whatever neighborhood they’re in.

It’s hard to ask homeowners to try and improve their place, and fix it up, and take care of it, if they’re looking continually at a broken-down building that burned down ten or 15 years ago, but still sits there as a stigma, and an emblem, of a city’s collapse.

For the first time in the history of this city, every citizen of Springfield, young and old, will get free admission to our world-class museums. [Applause] The history of our civilization, and the high points in our civilization, are in those museums and in our libraries. I feel we have a solemn duty, especially to the young people who are coming after us, that they will have a chance to begin to understand and appreciate and live and cherish the great heritage that we have. And last, but not least, the library, and the branches, have been saved from decimation. [Applause]

Now you might ask, how come we’re able to spend all this money on streets, and fixing schools, and libraries, and planting trees, and taking down dead trees, when it didn’t happen before?

I want to just make this as crystal clear as I possibly can, because this is what it’s all about. If you buy stock in a good corporation, and that corporation is well-run, and honorably-run, it will pay dividends. You will get a dividend every year! And the better it does, the higher your dividend. We’ve been living in a city where there’s been no dividends, because of the fact that it wasn’t run properly, and it wasn’t returning a dividend! These streets, and these sidewalks, and these new trees, and the tearing-down of derelict buildings, are the dividend that we’re getting for clean, effective, and honorable government. [Applause]

So much has been done, and yet there is so much left to do.

Economic development. Public safety. Quality of life. Financial policies. Our school system. The list goes on, and on, and on. The job is not over. I wish it were. But I know that we need more years to strengthen and to stabilize the city. The easy way, perhaps, the sensible way, perhaps the sane way, would be to call it a day, wish our city good fortune, and begin, with Joan, to finally, seriously enjoy the time that we have left together in good health. It’s tempting. And yet, yet there is hard work ahead, but a job has to be done. Experience is a critical ingredient. Courage is necessary, and integrity is the bedrock. I’ve long believed, and, I think, many in this room believe, that if you want to achieve something important, there is no shortcut. There is no free lunch in life. And that doesn’t mean it’s bad or harsh; those are just facts. You get what you give. And if you don’t give anything, you’re not going to get anything.

And so because I believe in this city, and because I love the people of this city, there can be only one decision. I am yours, if you want me, for two more years. [Applause] We will continue, for two more years, a government of integrity where those who would plunder our city will have no access to the decisions of our government. [Applause] We will continue, for two more years, cleaning, planting, and building, in every neighborhood of Springfield. [Applause] We will continue, for two more years, hiring people on the basis of competency rather than cronyism. [Applause] And we will continue, for two more years, to do everything we possibly can to strengthen our schools and to lead our children into a better tomorrow. [Applause]

Let me just explain one thing. There are different forms of local government. There’s a strong mayor-council system. There is a city manager-council system. And in a few places, which have gone astray, you end up with a control board system. And in that control board, there’s two local officials, the mayor ex-officio, and the president of the city council ex-officio, and three people from someplace else, who supposedly are, in most instances, immune from local pressures, and they have the deciding vote. And so, it’s a unique form of government. I feel it’s similar to really being on a trip—you’re on a trip, and this city is on a trip, in a different, and a strange and unusual environment. And we’ve been in that environment now for some three years. My expectation is that within this third term, if I am given that privilege, that sometime in that term, probably in the latter part of it, we will return, as a community, to our old environment of mayor-city council government.

Let me tell you that this return trip will be complex and delicate. I led the movement to our present Plan A government 48 years ago, and since that time, I’ve been elected five times as the mayor of this city for a total of ten years. I believe I know the perils, and the challenges, and the difficulties of getting from where we are today back to our old form of government, and making it work. I was on the control board when this journey started. I’ve been at the wheel for three years. I know all of the sensitive and intelligent moves that I believe have to occur if we are to be successful. And I believe that with that kind of experience, I am uniquely qualified to bring our ship to safe harbor sometime in the latter part of 2009. [Applause] And wouldn’t it be a shame to spend the last three years, and struggle further, and then mess it up, and not have that safe landing, not have that intelligent landing? Not realize what the pitfalls are, for those that come after us in city government, and have got to make sure that this city never falls and fails again?

Mayor Charles Ryan announces candidacy. Photo by H Brandon

This is not some sort of a blithe trip where it makes for a lot of good jokes and a lot of newspaper headlines! This is serious business! We’re running a city of 150,000 people! And I am struck by the men and women all over Western Massachusetts who come to me with a heavy face, and say, “Do you realize the impact that you’re going to have on this Western Massachusetts area if Springfield fails?” We are the job engine, certainly of the Valley, with 65,000 jobs a day, 30,000 of them in the surrounding communities; those people come in, and we are the first or second employer of every single city and town, and there are seven of them that border Springfield. So there’s an awful lot of eggs in this basket, and I don’t know how long the business community can be patient with a city, if it shows that it just can’t get its act together. So this is serious, and extremely difficult prospects that we face.

Let me say this in closing: this has been a sublime adventure for Joan, and for me, because I am really a part of a partnership. It’s not that Joan sits in on cabinet meetings, like some people who are running for president say they’re going to do, but I can tell you there is no way I could do this, there is no way I could succeed; there is no way I’d do much of anything except sit on a park bench, if I didn’t have her trust, and her companionship, and her bright smile. [Applause] You, and so many others, have given me your trust, and indeed, your hearts.

I’m strengthened and uplifted daily, many times a day, as a matter of fact, by kind words, kind gestures, thoughtful things being said, several people today told me, in several different meetings, I pray for you every day. I can’t believe it, but it happens. And so, for a man who’s been around for a long time, as I have, and who cares about our form of government, and the fact that it’s gotta work, with really a passion, and who has always kept the faith as to the preciousness of democracy, your support, your consistent support, is a dream come true.

We, my friends of Springfield, are no longer sailing on the Titanic. The good ship Springfield is now headed for a bright horizon. Our mission together is to lift up this vulnerable city, with its vulnerable, beautiful people, in this Valley of ours, and redeem it, for a new period, and a long period, of success, stability, and honor.

It will take every single one of us, and ten times more than every single one of us, working together. I’m ready. I know you are. Let’s get to work. God bless you all.

–end transcript

Before the speech, Pastor Wesley had offered a prayer, and Rico Daniele of Mom & Rico‘s offered up a plaque emblazoned with the “top five mayors of Springfield” award. “We’ve had 52 mayors since 1852,” Daniele said. “In fifth place: Robert Markel, Mary Hurley and Richard Neal tied for fifth place,” Daniele announced, to some laughter from the audience. “Fourth place: Daniel Brunton, 1946 to 1957. In third place, he was our first mayor of Springfield, 1852 to 1853, Caleb Rice. He was our first mayor.”

Daniele pronounced Rice’s first name as in the first part of the word “celebrity.” There were titters of laughter in the audience, and then a few people called out the name, “Caleb!” Daniele then corrected himself, spelled out the name, “C-E-L-E-B,” then begged forgiveness: “I’m a salami slicer.” (Perhaps the name is misspelled on the plaque?)

He continued, “Second place: one of my idols, also, Emerson Wight, 1875 to 1878. I grew up at Emerson Wight playground.”

“And our first mayor, of all time, in the city of Springfield, started in 1962: Charles V. Ryan, to ’68, to 2004, to 2007 and beyond—we’ll know tonight, I don’t know—so the best mayor of all time in the city of Springfield is Charles V. Ryan.” There was applause.

“Thank you all for making Springfield a better place to live,” Daniele quoted from the plaque, “Donated by Mom & Rico’s,, and there’s a movie coming out,” and here the audience laughed some more, “called ‘Bocce Bella.’ Stay tuned. I could use some extras. Thank you very much.”

Effective Government Payday: Street Resurfacing

Posted on Wednesday, April 11 2007 by Heather Brandon

Mayor Charles Ryan, right, talks with Republican reporter Peter Goonan

If you happened to pass through the intersection of Oakland and Dickinson Streets in Forest Park early this afternoon, you would have seen a curious sight: standing on the littered western corner across from Family Pizza, up against a tired-looking brick wall emblazoned with a little remediated graffiti was a tight cluster of bulky TV cameras and reporters, thrusting microphones at the ends of their arms, surrounding Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan and Director of the Department of Public Works Al Chwalek.

The press conference was called in order to announce the start of a milestone street resurfacing season, which began noticeably at the start of this week on Oakland Street. Oakland is in a state of occasional complete upheaval at its intersection at Dickinson, what with the active fire station there, the road torn up, a lot of construction vehicles parked in various spots, and the sidewalk curbs temporarily out of commission. In the midst of this, Chwalek and Mayor Ryan spoke to the media. A transcript is below. To get a sense of the commotion, listen to the seven-minute exchange (m4a).

Mayor Charles Ryan: This really is the largest street resurfacing program that the city has ever had in one year. What I’m happy about is it builds upon some very ambitious programs we had in ’04, ’05, and ’06. We’re working hard to come back with the things that are so important to the community—streets, sidewalks, tree plantings, tearing down derelict buildings. But this is a major part of it. This program started April 3; I don’t think anybody else started ahead of us. Oakland Street, like so many of these arterial highways, our main highways, service thousands and thousands of cars a day. They were broken up, they were bad; they really were a sad reflection upon the city’s commitment to our neighborhoods. This is a very, very exciting program. I have Al Chwalek here, who’s been the head of this department for many years. I’d like, Al, if you could tell them how many years, and if you could try and contrast this program with anything you’ve been identified with in the past.

DPW Director Al Chwalek: I’ve been with the department for a little over 30 years. In my experience, this is, by far, the largest road and sidewalk construction program the city has ever undertaken in one year. I think it’s very important that without the mayor, and the work of the control board, and getting that bond money passed, we would never be able to do some 85 streets and 15 miles—

Ryan: Twenty-five miles.

Chwalek: Excuse me, 25 miles. I mean, that’s unheard of, that’s incredible. Major arterials, some 50, 60 residential streets; it’s just a huge program, and again, without the hard work of the mayor and the control board getting that money passed, we’d only be able to do a handful of streets. This is wonderful. This is exactly what the people want, and I’m happy to say that it’s all going to get done this year.

Q: About when do you think the entire project will be completed?

Chwalek: We’re anticipating the middle of November. We’re off to, as the mayor said, a tremendous start. The first week of April, and that’s never happened before. We were able to get some very good prices from our contractors. And we’re able to get started right away, and we’ll get it all cleaned up, and buttoned up, hopefully by Thanksgiving.

Q: How do you think this 25 miles of work will affect driving around the city this summer, with so much construction going on?

Chwalek: Well, clearly there’s going to be times where the motorists are going to have to take some alternate routes. We’ll have all the information available on our Web site. And as always some—the streets are going to be open, we just ask patience. This is important work, so if you’re five minutes late, just please bear with us. This is very, very important work.

Q: Is it multiple companies that are doing this work?

Chwalek: Actually, Palmer Paving won both low bids. So, one company, not the same crew—there’s a number of crews—but it is the same company that’s doing all the paving work.

Ryan: With the exception of Main Street; that bid has not been awarded yet.

Chwalek: That’s correct.

Ryan: The other thing that we should indicate is this: that in these 85 streets, there’s 25 streets on private ways. And the private ways of this city have not been resurfaced in 40 years, until last year, we did about 23 streets. I want to follow that along with 25 this year. Hopefuly, this will become a steady diet. We have well over 100 miles of private ways, where people pay taxes, and they’ve been living with the same broken-up, crumpled tar that was laid 40 and 45 years ago. So this is a huge investment in their neighborhoods, in their streets, to advance the value of their homes, and just the livability in a city. So, as I say, 25 of these streets, and you have the list of them, are identified, and they’re all private ways. If we could do 25 private ways a year for several years, we’re gonna break the back of what was really a disgraceful problem.

DPW Director Al Chwalek, left, talks with Mayor Ryan after the press conference

Q: Is that the plan, to do 25 [a year]?

Ryan: That’s my hope, I’m not going to be here for that long. [Reporter Peter Goonan laughs] I can assure you of that, Mr. Goonan. But that’s my hope, that we’re setting some ground rules now, we’re setting some policies now, that hopefully, the people that run this city in years to come, will live by them. It’s not that hard! I mean, for crying out loud, if you can save some money here, you can spend it over here. The problem is they weren’t saving money. And so, what this is, really, is a payday on effective government. We’re now able to do these kinds of things which are long overdue, and which are, I think, going to contribute to the resurgence of Springfield.

Q: So I understand the money comes from a capital bond?

Ryan: On the private ways, it comes out of our available cash funds, because we can’t use the bond money for private ways. We spent $500,000 last year on the 23 streets. We have $500,000 of the same kind of money in there this year. So it’s a little bit harder to come up with; you can’t spend Chapter 90 money there. But I feel very strongly about the necessity of that kind of a program.

Q: The capital bond is from the state?

Ryan: No, no; the bond is—we floated the bond. We sold the bonds in January of this year: the total of $38 million in the bond; $4 million of it is for highways. And so, of the overall $8 million that we’re spending this year, $4 million is the bond issue, a couple of million is from Chapter 90, and the other couple of million is from the city’s coffers, plus some help from a CDAG grant in the downtown area. It all comes together. I would hope, next year, that we’d be talking at least $3 to $4 million—if we can sustain $3 to $4 million next year, this year is the real shot in the arm, and then in the space of several years, you’re going to have a great infrastructure here.

Q: How does this compare with, say, last year’s funding?

Ryan: Last year, we did about 60—we’ve done 60 streets for each of the last two years, and probably 50 in my first year—as contrasted with the couple of years before me; they were doing three. I mean, this is the comparison. We’re talking three and four streets a year, and we’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re doing it over a prolonged period of time, which really, then, means that in every neighborhood of the city, you can see the consequences of this.

–end transcript

The major arteries undergoing resurfacing this season:

Allen Street
from Harkness Avenue to Bradley Road: 3,980 feet @ $226,020
Allen Street
from Bicentennial Highway to Cooley Street: 3,056 feet @ $169,243
Berkshire Avenue
from Holly Street to RR overpass: 7,000 feet @ $879,525
Oak Street
from State to Walnut Streets: 1,350 feet @ $450,811
Oakland Street
from Belmont Avenue to Allen Street: 3,414 feet @ $300,295
Page Blvd
from Observer Street to Pasco Road: 7,570 feet @ $600,247
Roosevelt Avenue
from Strathmore to Bay Streets: 10,592 feet @ $931,969
Wilbraham Road
from Bradley Road to Parker Street: 7,011 feet @ $471,041

Want to know if your street will be resurfaced this year? Check the residential list. Mine is, I was surprised to learn, and it has the stretch marks to prove it. (The DPW’s version, that is.)

Control Board and IRS Reach Agreement on Retiree Health Insurance Premium Error

Posted on Monday, March 19 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, alongside Congressman Richard Neal, Finance Control Board Executive Director Philip Puccia, and City Councilor Bud Williams, announced today that the control board—on behalf of the city—reached an agreement with the Commissioner of Internal Revenue regarding Springfield’s elective payments of health insurance premiums on behalf of its retired employees. (Perhaps the meeting on the subject, scheduled for this afternoon, will instead be a collective sigh of relief?)
For those employees who retired between January 1, 1993 and January 1, 2006, the city did not report the elective payments as taxable amounts (in box 2a of Form 1099-R). The city did not withhold federal income tax regarding these payments, and retirees may not have treated the payments as taxable income prior to 2006.

The city has voluntarily disclosed its errors to the commissioner and (as of last Friday) paid $250,000, which Puccia said is coming from the city’s general fund, thanks in part, he said, to conservative budgeting that allows for unanticipated payments like this one.

The city will report all elective payments as income of retirees as of calendar year 2006 and thereafter “except to the extent otherwise provided by law,” the agreement notes, “such as under Code section 402(l),” which appears to apply to public safety officers.

In return, the IRS is not going to penalize the city or seek to “recover taxes, interest or penalties under sections 6651(a) of the Code” with regard to the elective payments. The retirees are free and clear for 2004 and 2005 on this specific matter; Puccia estimates this agreement saves individual city retirees somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 to $1,000 each depending on their personal financial circumstances.

Following is a transcript of the press conference where this announcement was made.

Mayor Charles Ryan: The subject of today’s press conference is to announce an excellent settlement with the Internal Revenue Service on the issue of whether or not there’s any liability on our retirees for the payment of health insurance in previous years, without the retirees being burdened with additional taxes. This has been a complex matter and I’m delighted to say it’s been settled, and in a very happy way, thanks to the significant interest and activity on the part of Congressman Neal, Phil Puccia, and Chairman [Alan] LeBovidge of the control board. We’re indebted to each and every one of those individuals for what they’ve done. The long and the short of it is that the city has paid, as of last Friday, $250,000 of city funds to the IRS. And as a result of that, we have a signed contract, which provides that any liability of the retirees on this issue has been forgiven. Now, with respect to 2006, the reporting is going to be done properly, and of course that’s a separate issue for all retirees. But there will be no retroactive activity or penalty or interest owed by any of these retirees for a mistake that clearly was made by the city in 1993, and was carried forward all those years since that time. I would like to ask Congressman Neal to come forward, because he and his office played a very significant role in reaching this desired result. Congressman?

Congressman Richard Neal: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Thanks to the mayor, and the control board, and I think it was the impetus that the mayor brought along with the control board to the issue of trying to provide some relief for almost 2200 retirees, and in fact, I think that the announcement that the mayor offered a couple of moments ago indicates that the city will save up to a million dollars, or a burden that would have been surely shared with the employees and the city. So this agreement with the IRS, and let me thank them as well; they are professional every single day—and not only will this provide relief for them, but I also think it removes the burden from many of our senior citizens who are concerned about an additional tax bill from the IRS. So the credit really goes here to the mayor and the control board and the professionalism of the IRS. My office was glad to assist, and I think in this instance, here, all’s well that ends well.

CR: I’d like to ask Phil Puccia to come forward. Phil was the primary negotiator of this entire transaction. We appreciate the great work he did. Phil?

FCB Executive Director Philip Puccia: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Congressman Neal. I’d like to say a particular thanks to Kevin Kennedy from Congressman Neal’s office—

RN: Oh, don’t thank the staff.


PP: I find it best to thank the staff! And my deputy, Steve Lisauskas, for the economic analysis that we think helped convince the IRS of our case. The biggest challenge that we face on a regular basis at City Hall is to uncover these things and to make sure that they don’t happen again. We hope this is the last sort of thing related to employee payroll and benefits that we will uncover, but it’s something we continue to work at every day. As the gentlemen said before me, there will be no liability for the retirees on those years, and this should be a closed matter after this. Thank you.

CR: This would have been an enormously disruptive and painful situation for these retirees. It would have meant going through and trying to amend complicated tax returns, let alone coming up with money. I think the feeling that we had from the beginning, that this was something that was done by error, by the city, in 1993, it was the city’s fault, we should not really look to these innocent retirees to have to bear the burden. And again, Phil has said it, but I’d like to underscore the excellent attitude of the IRS in coming forward and allowing us to have this kind of agreement. It’s wonderful to see the government acting in a way that is responsive to citizens and really helping us to get through what was a very, very difficult problem. So it’s one of these nice announcements where everybody did what they should have done, we get a great result, and we go on from here. And questions from any of the participants?

Q: What percentage of the $250,000 is the total tax liability? In other words, how much did the IRS end up forgiving here?

PP: I’ll do my best to answer that question. There’s a range, depending on the equation that the IRS would use. It represents anywhere from, you know, 33 percent, to something like 20, depending on the range of the tax that they figured, would have been paid by the retirees. So I don’t have an exact answer for you. And that was one of the things going into the discussion of the settlement, would have been the difficulty in assessing the actual dollars in the settlement.

Q: Where does the funding come from, the $250,000?

PP: It came from the city’s operating funds.

Q: General fund?

PP: Yes.

Q: How was it made available, was it just sort of reserve funds or something?

PP: I don’t have a specific account, Pete, but, you know, part of the way we manage the budget, the mayor and I, is to budget conservatively, which allows us to deal with rainy days like this, to be able to have some money held in reserve for these types of events, whether it’s this, or funding the fire station at Massreco Street, or other things. It’s sort of our budget approach that allows us to have the resources available.

Q: Congressman Neal, why did the IRS do this? Could you speak about it?

RN: I’d like to suggest it’s their good nature, but we know that not to be the case. I think, in this instance, here, that what is pretty clear is that the people that were involved in this were really innocent victims. I think the mayor outlined that very clearly. And they were as surprised as I think the city was to discover all of a sudden that this liability was in front of them. And, maybe, behind them, as well. So I think that the IRS, since about 1994, 1995, through a series of initiatives undertaken by the Congress—including the burden of proof, which has shifted—they’ve attempted, now, to be much more cooperative with the citizenry. And I have found them, during the 19 years that I’ve been in the House of Representatives, to try very hard to work with the citizenry on individual cases. Just to share an interesting statistic with you, that I think is terribly important: America enjoys a voluntary tax compliance that is better than 90 percent. That means that 90 percent of American taxpayers voluntarily and on time pay their taxes. And much of that has to do, I think, with the idea that the IRS is out there, and we should be mindful of it. But there’s no nation on earth that comes close to the voluntary tax compliance ratio that we have here in America. And through the use of what is known now as a taxpayer advocate—there is an opportunity to have an advocate actually inside of the IRS, and it’s worked quite well for all of us. And, lastly, if you demonstrate good will—I think Phil would acknowledge that—if you demonstrate good will, and the mayor would note, if you’re really desirous of finding a solution, I think the IRS will go out of its way to be cooperative. One of the great problems that the consumer faces, or that the individual taxpayer faces, in dealing with the IRS, it’s the interest in penalties. And they quickly begin to accrue, and it becomes very difficult for average people, I think, to get out from under them, once that clocks starts ticking, so this is really a significant achievement today. Most importantly, it saves the city, as the mayor indicated, and Phil indicated a few moments ago, probably at least a million dollars.

Q: What about an idea of what it saves an average retiree. I know they retired at different times, it might be hard to say—

PP: It’s hard to say, but probably around $750 to $1,000, depending, again, on the person and their income. One of the reasons I think that the IRS was accepting of our analysis is that we could demonstrate that most city retirees have a pension income of less than $15,000. And that was an important part of the discussion.

CR: Thank you very much.

Update: Mayor Ryan additionally released a statement on the city’s Web site today regarding this announcement. It reads:

Statement of Mayor Charles V. Ryan, March 19, 2007

I am pleased to announce today that I along with the Finance Control Board have reached an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service that guarantees city retirees will not be held personally liable for amended tax returns for 2004 and 2005.

The agreement relieves retirees of that liability as it relates specifically to matters of the City’s elective payments of health insurance premiums.

I, along with the Control Board, uncovered the problem several months ago when we learned that the City had not reported elective payments of health insurance premiums since 1993.

Nor did the City withhold federal income tax for those payments.

We also learned that the elective payments may not have been treated as taxable income by retirees before 2006.

Those troubles from city leadership of the past threatened to now impact retirees, conceivably forcing them to personally make up the difference, which in many cases would have equaled thousands of dollars.

Thanks to the hard work of Control Board Chairman Alan Lebovidge, its Executive Director Phil Puccia, and Congressman Richard Neal, the City was able to reach an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to resolve a fair agreement for what we all understood was potentially an unfair burden for retirees.

The closing agreement underscores the fact that retirees are not at fault and that they are resolved of all issues including taxation, interest and penalties as it relates to the elective payments.

ULI Report: Conclusions First, Details Later

Posted on Thursday, March 15 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan holds the ULI report at a press conference yesterday

There is talk that the Urban Land Institute written report released to the public yesterday will be made available online from the city, or that the Republican newspaper may even print the thing in its entirety. Those would be nice options.

Either way, the ULI itself has already made the publication available online (PDF) for download.

I like to leaf through items such as magazines and academic papers starting with the conclusion. It’s interesting to see how the ULI summed up Springfield’s challenges and opportunities in two neat paragraphs.

Russell Denver tells the press he’s devoting himself full time to ULI recommendations

Denver flanked by city councilors Jose Tosado, Domenic Sarno, and Tim Rooke

“The panel offers this report not as a panacea but as a series of suggestions that may assist the city in meeting its current challenges,” the report’s final words begin. “Although the Springfield Finance Control Board should remain in place for another term, the emergence and development of leadership from all sectors of the community will be a critical step for Springfield’s future. In the spirit of this new phase, Springfield should embrace and celebrate its diversity and identify ways to include a representative cross section of the community in its decision making.” (My emphases.)

Vacant street-level storefront property ready and waiting for use yesterday on Court Square

CDO David Panagore says finding a qualified developer for vacant 31 Elm is key

“As the urban cultural center of the Pioneer Valley, with an architecturally diverse and historic core, Springfield’s downtown should be a destination to live, work, and play,” the conclusion continues. “The rapid implementation of the panel’s recommended priority projects—such as redevelopment of vacant property on Court Square and adaptive reuse of the old Federal Building [pictured]—will be a strong step forward in this direction. An additional focus on the South End neighborhood, with an emphasis on the Gemini-Hollywood area, can be a catalyst for this neighborhood’s revitalization. Finally, efforts to conserve the character and integrity of Springfield’s neighborhoods, and harnessing the power of the city’s many neighborhood associations, will be a great boost to Springfield’s other communities.”

Chestnut School Tour Today; State of the News

Posted on Thursday, March 15 2007 by Heather Brandon

Interested in seeing what the interior of former Chestnut Junior High School looks like these days, prior to its pending redevelopment?

A press release from the city reveals the details: Miramar Real Estate Management “will introduce its preliminary plans for the redevelopment of 495 Chestnut Street” today starting at 1:30 pm at the building.

Mayor Charles Ryan and Miramar representatives will offer comments and a briefing. A tour of the building will follow.

After the tour, a slideshow presentation about the redevelopment will take place at the Springfield Sheraton Hotel. If you read Tuesday’s piece here, you’re already an expert.

People sometimes are understandably frustrated that they can’t find out about events like this enough in advance to be able to attend. In the case of this event, the press release included the information, “Embargoed until 3/15/07,” presumably because the city was attempting to avoid upstaging itself by releasing simultaneously both the news of the ULI report release (have you downloaded the report [PDF] yet?) as well as the news about Miramar representatives being in town to talk about Chestnut Estate. Any development news is also upstaged by crime news such as this week’s shooting.

The fact that the news releases were timed in this way shows two things: one, the city has a skilled, experienced journalist handling releases now in the person of Azell Murphy Cavaan, new community relations director as of late February.

Two, the current condition of reporting and journalism in the city is estimated such that we are perhaps unable to grasp more than one or two big local stories at a time, because they gobble up news resources like precious air time minutes and column inches.

My blog has its own version of that, one I’ve been asking to have fixed among many other fixes, which is the limited number of recent posts that show in the right-hand column. It ties my hands and causes me to post less frequently. Other than that, I’ll post as many big stories as I can fit into this space, as my time allows, but it’s probably true that only a handful can easily be remembered. Most people simply have more important things to do than track news like some of us news-junkies. You know—they have actual lives.

Whether multiple important stories emerging can be “grasped” at once is another question. I think we’re capable of grasping more than what the media tends to feed us.

All that said, I, too find it frustrating when big events are planned and we don’t get much notice, especially when it happens to relate to a pet project or interest. Later, if the event barely gets any play in the news, one feels as though the media cannot even be relied upon to cover such things in detail. Resources are stretched too thin. People who care deeply about the matter at hand might then rightly raise questions because of the thin coverage of an issue—sometimes questions that could have been answered earlier if the initial coverage had been fuller and fleshed out. Thus we eat our own tail, at worst creating a community dialogue founded on not knowing the facts, evolving even into anger and outrage because residents feel so disconnected from the events and happenings right in their own community.

On the other hand, it’s also true sometimes that events are simply scheduled at the last minute, when the right elements pull together, and it’s the best we can manage. Maybe the hope is that the members of the media will drop everything and show up. Sometimes they do, but it’s a judgment call on their part, and they’ll cover it to the degree they think it will matter to their audience—or their advertisers.

City developments are best covered ably and completely, not to tell people what to think but to keep us informed so we can continue to think for ourselves, and save our community a lot of trouble and heartache down the road. We feel more included in the whole process from the beginning when facts are made available, images and context included. This is just one reason why responsible journalism, embracing a genuine civic spirit, matters so much to the health of a community.

Big Day for the City: ULI Report Release

Posted on Wednesday, March 14 2007 by Heather Brandon

A 47-page written report (PDF) about development in Springfield from the Urban Land Institute is being released today at a 2:00 pm press event, tentatively scheduled to be held outside 13-31 Elm Street at Court Square.

Rain is possible, but perhaps the gods will smile down on the city this afternoon for a few shining moments and keep clouds at bay. Do the gods remember Springfield? Have we frittered away all of their benevolence, or might there be a new supply for our city under siege from… itself?

Leading up to the press event today, Chief Development Officer David Panagore and Chambers of Commerce President Russell Denver have a busy schedule. They are meeting with each some of the Springfield city councilors one on one to present the report and review it privately, as a courtesy to the councilors prior to the public release.

The fact that officials are giving such diligent attention to individual city councilors would appear to underline their commitment to giving the ULI report their utmost attention, translating into action and not just lip service.

What will councilors take away from the private meetings? Each of them is likely at a different point along the continuum of attitudes toward what the city needs, and what steps to take to get there. The goal may well be to try to bring each councilor into a single frame of reference without actually using brainwashing techniques. One-on-one meetings can foster meaningful exchange, patient opportunities for questions and answers, minimal grand-standing or empty persuasive tactics, actual learning, and greater familiarity on all sides of the matters and viewpoints at hand.
Officials told the Republican, in a debriefing of sorts by Peter Goonan published today, that they “have pledged to aggressively implement” the ULI plan. (As a side note,’s updated format for news articles appears to have been unveiled today as well.)

One of the top items on the list is the redevelopment of vacant 13-31 Elm Street itself. We’ve known that item for months now; what the report will hopefully reveal is the thinking behind that strategy, and related supporting information about the significance of Springfield’s urban core. Court Square is the very heart of that core. It’s been too long since people could look out on its charm from inside the historic Elm Street building’s windows.

Update: The city councilors who met with David Panagore and Russell Denver earlier today were Bud Williams, Tim Rooke, James Ferrera, Bruce Stebbins and Domenic Sarno. Jose Tosado, Rooke, Stebbins and Sarno all showed up to support the press event this afternoon as well.

Panagore announced that the ULI report will be available online perhaps as early as by the end of this week.

Earlier in the week, Panagore and Denver met with Congressman Richard Neal (Monday) as well as with Lt. Governor Tim Murray (Tuesday) to share the report. Also on Tuesday, a legislative briefing of some kind was given in Boston.

Other plans for the week: Panagore and Allan Blair will appear before the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council board tomorrow morning for a presentation.

Later tomorrow, Panagore, Denver and Blair will go to WGBY for a taping of “The State We’re In,” presumably to air Friday evening and Sunday morning.

Next week, there will be a private funders’ luncheon at the MassMutual Center, and the week following, a thank-you event at the Quadrangle for people who participated in the ULI process one way or another.

At the end of that week – on March 30 – Panagore and ULI panel chair Maureen McAvey will appear on a panel together at WNEC for a one-day economic development conference. Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Former lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Andrea Silbert is the lunchtime keynote.

Museums and City Reach Landmark Partnership

Posted on Tuesday, February 27 2007 by Heather Brandon

Big news broke today about a series of milestone agreements reached between the city and the Springfield Library and Museums Association. A total of four contracts were signed in front of the press during a mid-day announcement in the Museum of Fine Arts gallery upstairs currently exhibiting quilts.

Both Mayor Charles Ryan and SLMA president Joseph Carvalho spoke; I’ll have their words for you a bit later.

The signed documents include a memorandum of understanding, a museum services agreement, a branch library lease, and a central library lease. Thankfully the city provided those present with a cheat sheet to understand what these all essentially mean, but I also got a hold of copies of each of the contracts, with special thanks to Barbara Garvey.

Memorandum of Understanding

Mason Square branch library. In 2003, the SLMA sold the branch to the Urban League for $700,000. Of that amount, $600,000 is being returned to the Annie Curran Endowment Fund, and $100,000 went to the SLMA’s Plant Fund. The document lays out the agreement between the parties: the city dismissed its lawsuit contesting the SLMA’s right to sell the branch, and the SLMA is contributing one-third of the cost of construction or rehab for a new one, or $333,334. (A steering committee is currently engaged in working on this issue.)

Library endowment and trust funds. Certain endowment and trust funds are acknowledged as belonging to the Springfield Library Foundation, formed in 2005. The Curran Fund is one of these, total value at the end of 2006 being $4,617,494. An additional $360,526 in endowments, and $3,395,735 in trusts, is included in this category, for a grand total of $8,373,755. Two smaller endowments are agreed upon as belonging to the SLMA, a total of $33,942. Another two million dollars’ worth of endowments and trusts are still in “friendly dispute.”

Museum services. The museums will provide free admission to Springfield residents as of May 1, except for special exhibits. A “museum access card” will be available for those offering proof of residency. The city will pay $1.3 million annually—a “museum services fee”—to the SLMA for 25 years, although for fiscal year 2007, that amount will be $1.1 million as it has been since 2003. The museum services fee will also provide for the potential transfer to the city of the SLMA’s branch libraries and their contents, as well as the furnishings, fixtures and circulating book collections in the central library. The 25-year agreement goes forward, as I understand it, as Special Act Legislation, which means it must be approved by the City Council and then goes to the state legislature for approval. A minimum three-year agreement was signed prior to the 25-year agreement gaining approval.

Rental of four library branches. For one dollar a year, the city will lease from the SLMA the East Springfield branch library, the Forest Park branch library, the Indian Orchard branch library, and the Liberty branch library, for a period of three years initially. A lease was signed today. The city will be responsible for maintenance, repair and utilities.

Central library. For one dollar a year, the city will lease from the SLMA the central library for 25 years or until the library is no longer located in the building, whichever comes first. The SLMA’s telephone system and equipment access on the upper first floor are excluded from the lease. In 2032 there will be options to renew the lease in five-year terms. The SLMA will provide heat and the city will reimburse the SLMA for its share, as well as for exterior repair. The city will pay for interior repair and maintenance. Interior alterations will have to be agreed upon by both the SLMA and the Library Commission. As with the branch library lease agreement, this one is for three years, rolling over until Special Act Legislation is passed.

Rare books. Certain books have been claimed by the SLMA as its property, including art and historical collections (I have a list if anyone wants specifics). These will not be sold. Proceeds from other rare books for sale by the SLMA, for example at a 2005 Christie’s auction and a 2006 Knotty Pine auction, as well as sales that have been contracted for with Knotty Pine but have not been held yet, will be shared equally between the city and the SLMA. The SLMA will also “provide the city with periodic accountings of each sale of rare books.”

SLMA Board of Directors. The SLMA agrees that at least a quarter of its board and executive committee will be comprised of Springfield residents. The mayor can nominate two people, as well as two alternates, to serve a three-year term or until the mayor’s own term ends. Such people “shall be neither a city of Springfield nor SLMA employee.” The SLMA reserves the right to reject two such nominees. The chosen nominees will be elected to the board at the SLMA’s annual September meeting.

This is a lot to take in, but it looks like very good news to me.

River’s Landing: It’s On, With Muscle

Posted on Thursday, February 1 2007 by Heather Brandon

Republican photog Mike Gordon snaps a shot of Peter Pappas and Michael Spagnoli at the Hall of Fame yesterday.

At an announcement yesterday morning at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, developers Peter Pappas and Michael Spagnoli rolled out their plan for River’s Landing. The plan is to build “an integrated sports, health and restaurant complex” seated at the former Hall of Fame site to the north and west of the new one, nestled between train tracks, I-91, and a huge parking lot. The mission: rescue this spot from the urban version of gangrene, and bring it back to life.

The main occupant of the new complex, taking up three floors of a bright orange addition and over 60,000 square feet in both the addition and the existing building, will be LA Fitness, based in Irvine, California. The company already has 190 locations across the country, including several in Connecticut, but none yet in Massachusetts. (At left: level one; below, left: level two; below, right: level three.)

The fitness center will feature a full basketball court for individual or league play, studios for group exercise and various forms of wellness and training, “luxurious spa-style” locker rooms, child care, and an indoor, four-lane, full-size, heated lap pool with spa.

Pappas noted that there will be a nice view of the river from LA Fitness, which appears to be designed to be parallel with the river rather than I-91, a smart move on the part of Amherst-based architects Kuhn Riddle to accommodate the squeezed space, while also giving a nod to the body of water we have tended to shun rather than welcome in our design practice of recent decades.

The northern end of the building will be home to a health facility, Trillium Sports Medicine. Oozing California-style appeal, the facility will have a “synergistic relationship” with LA Fitness, offering strengthening, therapeutic and training programs together, as well as the range of services you might associate more with a doctor or chiropractor. But Trillim adds a few flourishes into the mix, like dermatology (Botox, laser therapy) and plastic surgery. (There’s so much more to “fitness” than we’ve yet to realize in greater Springfield!)

The southern end of the existing building, which faces the new Hoop Hall and will connect to a long-planned “walk of fame,” will feature a 12,000 square foot restaurant, spanning three stories, called the Hollywood Barn.

The River’s Landing Web site provides some explanation for the name, and the interesting history behind it: a blend of Chicopee’s Red Barn and Springfield South End’s Hollywood Café, both family establishments with a charming direct link to the developers.

The restaurant will include a private function room with in-house event planning staff, as well as a bar and lounge area and a two-story waterfall and “wine wall.” A large video screen will be up behind the bar along with with a “catwalk stage for entertainment.” It’s not clear to me yet whether this is a family friendly establishment given that it sounds like the dining room will be dominated by the giant video screen. What will be playing on the screen? Football games, CNN, Dora the Explorer?
No ordinary sports bar, the Hollywood Barn will also serve customers at a sushi and raw bar and will offer up smoothies and cappuccinos. Promotional material says that these will be “the perfect way to invigorate and refresh after exercising at the adjacent LA Fitness health club.”

Standing around looking at the pictures prior to the public talks, I overheard one of the men involved in the project explaining to a small group that River’s Landing is going to be a huge success. He talked about how the fitness center, at all times of day, will attract different segments of the population: in the early morning, it will be the office workers coming in; in mid-morning, the “housewives,” with some possibly quiet moments in the afternoon when people are at a trickle based on their working hours. Evening would pick up a lot with younger people, he said, with the hours between nine and midnight being more of a big social scene. (At left, Spignoli talks to a reporter.)

Certainly the vision for this is not necessarily to integrate immediately with the downtown area, or even with the much closer South End business district for that matter, because the built environment simply doesn’t allow for that to happen easily right now. (Maybe it can later, but several elements would likely have to contribute to that change.) It is better, in my opinion, to design a complex that can be fairly self-sufficient in terms of services and which kinds of activities flow naturally into others. This is a project like that, and it’s oriented toward the highway. Passers-by will not mistake the bright orange building for anything blending in with its surroundings of brown, grey and green, especially during the winter months.
City-dweller doubt about the project is understandable at this stage, but what was evident at the announcement was the outright positivity of the developers in trying something new here. Both Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan and Chief Development Officer David Panagore endorsed it with emphasis, and not in ways that simply gave lip service. They’re behind this in no small part because it does not require any public funding. The developers and investors alone are taking the risk with the project, and they seem pumped up about it in more ways than one.

To keep pace with the project, interested folks can join an email list.

Ending Homelessness Plan Unveiled

Posted on Thursday, January 11 2007 by Heather Brandon

Following is a transcript of a presentation Wednesday, January 10 at Springfield City Hall unveiling a ten-year plan to end homelessness.

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan: I’m delighted to see so many people here. This is an important day for our city, and for the people of our city. In some respects, it’s the end of the beginning, because I think we’re coming here together today to celebrate the work that has been done by a special committee in creating a ten-year plan on the issue of homelessness.

I think you’ll find that it’s a thoughtful, extremely well-crafted plan. It represents the collective effort of many, many people. And so this is not necessarily just a press conference; this really is a presentation, to you, and the people of Springfield.

The press, we’re just delighted they’re here, because they are in so many aspects our primary means of communicating to the people of this Valley what’s going on in this city, whether it’s bad or whether it’s good. So it’s in that spirit that I would like to move forward and look a little bit at the history.

We’ve been here about three years now. Overall, we’re making significant progress on a whole series of fronts, which are essential. And they’re varied fronts, whether it’s financial on the one hand, or infrastructure, or educational.

Certainly there’s another issue that is a part of our community, and that we have to deal constructively with, and that is the whole issue of homelessness, its cause, its effects, and the impact it has, not only on the people who find themselves homeless, but on the rest of the community also.

You may remember that, if you go back to just about three years ago this time, in the month of January 2004, when we learned of the tragic news one morning that a man, Larry Dunham, had frozen to death next door, on the steps of Symphony Hall.

I don’t know if there could be a more dramatic presentation of a problem than the death of that very, very unfortunate man. You may remember, as the summer went on, we then had a prolonged period of time where we had a tent city, which was created by homeless people themselves. First it was on the lawn of St. Michael’s Cathedral, and then it moved across the street to the property of the Open Pantry. I don’t think it was until October that that finally ended.

We then went forward realizing that this was a complex problem, and one that didn’t have any easy solutions. If you just sat and talked to two or three people, you might get two or three different offerings as to what might be done, and in some cases, that nothing should be done. This is not an issue on which there is necessarily good feeling all around.

There are some people that are very impatient, and indeed indignant, that we have to share the city with the homeless people. I’ve heard that said publicly and privately, and I’m sure you have too, rather than understanding that we are what we are.

We are a community of 150,000 people, some well-off, and some very, very poverty-stricken. Some healthy in mind and body, and some not healthy in mind and body. We do have, and always have had, and always will have, a continuing responsibility, one to the other, regardless of their station in life.

And so, we did create a committee to deal with the overall situation of homelessness. One of the great thrills I have is that more often than not, when I ask people to be of assistance to a need of the city, that the response is inevitably generous. The response is inevitably yes. The response is inevitably that I want to do what I can, if you think I can be of some assistance, I will do the very best I can. And you can’t ask for more generosity than that.

When I spoke with Russ Denver, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Helen Caulton-Harris, the head of our Health and Human Services Department, and asked them to co-chair this committee, I was met with a very, very warm and receptive, affirmative answer, and then they went forward.

I would like to ask them to come forward—Helen first, and then Russ—and talk with you about different aspects of this planning process. Because, at the end of the day, at the end of this meeting, we are going to be holding up the ten-year plan, that’s a comprehensive, almost an exhaustive approach, to this issue. And really, it is their leadership, and this committee, that brought this about.

They had a lot of help, and they’ll spell that out for you, because many of you in this room were members of that committee also. But I do want to now turn this over first to Helen, and when she gets through her part of this presentation, I would appreciate if she would introduce her co-chairman, Russ Denver. Helen, would you come forward?

Helen Caulton-Harris: This is really a very important day, because we bring to fruition some very important work. But it could not have been done without the leadership of Charles V. Ryan. And I say that to you very sincerely today, because in January, when Mr. Dunham died, the mayor called the community together.

Many of you in this room will remember that Mayor Ryan met with us on a weekly basis, or every other week, during January, and February, and March of 2004, to strategize how we could move forward collectively, and solve what was a common issue of homelessness. We need to applaud the mayor for his really diligent efforts. It was the first time in my career in city government that I’ve seen an individual come forward with such enthusiasm and caring as far as this issue of homelessness is concerned. So I’m very pleased to acknowledge the fine work of our mayor.

Secondly, the mayor appointed in May or June the task force which I had the opportunity to work on with Russ Denver. There were 35 organizations and individuals who came around the table together to start to work towards a common solution.

It was not an easy process. As you might know, there were varying opinions and individuals around the table who had input, but it was met with this fact that we all needed to collectively work together. And so the diversity of this group was really important. It was providers, it was individuals; everyone was embraced at the table.

We then broke up into subcommittees. The housing subcommittee was capably chaired by Kathleen Lingenberg of the city’s housing department. Economic development was chaired by James Morton, who at that time was at MCDI. And mental health and substance abuse was chaired by Jerry Ray.

Those three committees went forward, and had numerous focus groups, numerous meetings, to come back with some suggestions to us on what we should put into our ten-year plan. There was a draft plan that was put together and was initiated I believe in 2005, early 2006.

Many of us reviewed that plan a couple of times, but there was something missing. The glue was not there to hold the plan together in terms of our ability to read it, and synthesize it, and internalize it.

And that glue, that piece that was missing, the mayor had the foresight to appoint in Gerry McCafferty, as the deputy director of special housing and homelessness. She took that plan, and really wordsmithed it, worked with us, and what will be presented today is really a comprehensive plan that includes a lot of people’s work, but certainly includes good work by the city’s homeless and special housing director.

My co-chair is someone many of you know well. Mr. Denver is a very opinionated person. He tells me he’s middle of the road; I have not found the path that that is yet. It has been a pleasure working with him, because he has kept me on task, and on target, and he was very committed to making sure that we got this plan done. So let me introduce to you my co-chair Russ Denver, who is the chair of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Russell Denver: I don’t know if I should thank her for that kind introduction or not. I want to give, before I proceed any further, my personal thanks to everybody who served on the committee. I came into this knowing next to nothing about the issue of homelessness. And I want everybody on the committee that’s here today to know that I learned a great deal from you. You know, Michaelann [Bewsee], Kevin [Noonan], Doreen [Fadus], just to name a couple.

I learned a lot from you, and I want to personally thank you for telling me things that I didn’t know before, and things that I needed to know to try to move things forward. So thank you very, very much.

I’m here just to tell you that the business community is going to be supportive of this plan. We will be behind it. We will participate in it. We want the entire community to come together, to come around it, support it, and be part of it. Other than that, I have made a personal commitment that I will continue to be involved. I will be on the implementation committee, which will be chaired by Bob Schwarz, and that’s further commitment of the business community. So as we move forward, I ask the entire community—and I’m choking up because I really believe in this plan—that everybody come together, and everyone participate for the benefit of the community. Thank you.

Mayor Ryan: Thank you very much Russ, and Helen. Not only for your presentation today, but for your leadership on this committee. We’re going to move now and spell out what I consider four key elements of the plan. One asks for the city to have a point person. We’ve had people before; primarily Helen and Kathleen, and other people on their staff, who would be involved in this.

I think we all felt there was a clear need that there be one individual of proper competency and experience to really do this on a full-time basis. We certainly needed the private sector to lead the implementation. City government can go just so far, but this is a complex, multi-faceted problem and approach, and so we needed that leadership.

In what I think is the most dramatic change of all, [we had] to come up with a brand new strategy of Housing First. Not housing last, not housing never, but housing first.

While I intend to re-emphasize this when I introduce Phil Mangano here, I really feel, ladies and gentlemen, that while we can get frustrated and impatient and unhappy with what we see as the inability of the federal government, through its agencies, to get things done in a way that we feel common sense would dictate; if there’s any one area of the federal government that really has done an outstanding job in the last several years, it’s the office of homelessness. And it’s been headed by Phil Mangano.

I really think that while many, many people participate—certainly on something that’s a national problem—that the whole dialogue, and the whole emphasis, and the whole approach has changed because of the fact that Mr. Mangano had a vision of Housing First.

While we were kind of stuck in the mud, and the only approach that any of us seemed to know, from here to Sacramento, was shelters, shelters, shelters, he from his pulpit in the federal office has really changed, in my opinion, the awareness of this country. And so as we examined it, it seemed to be that Housing First made eminent sense, and you will see that’s an integral part of this plan.

And last but not least, because of the fact that we know not everything is done overnight, especially something as complicated as this, that we feel we have to move forward with a homeless assistance center, which is part shelter, and part a gathering together of those other disciplines which make sure that the shelter experience is at least as positive and affirmative as it possibly can be. And so let me go on those four, one by one.

Gerry McCafferty, this young lady sitting in back of me [above, at left], is the point person. She’s an outstanding human being. She’s a woman who has devoted her career, up until this time, really in the area of advocacy. We’re fortunate she’s here, and I thank my lucky stars every day for her presence.

She’s a graduate of Notre Dame University, Georgetown Law School, has her Master’s in urban affairs from the University of Colorado, and is just an enormously dedicated and intelligent person. She has a unique ability to deal in difficult matters, and really do it always with a smile, and always with sensitivity, and she is absolutely indispensable. We’ve been very, very fortunate with respect to item number one.

Item number two, another strong person in our community, Bob Schwarz, who, as I remember, for some years held the position that Russ Denver holds now. He was the president of the Chamber of Commerce for a good number of years, but through his friendship with the late Peter Picknelly, became the number two man in the Picknelly empire.

He is the executive vice-president of the Peter Pan bus company. He’s an outstanding individual and a guy who it’s so easy to ask to do something, because he’s saying yes even before you get the final words out of your mouth. He’s an outstanding citizen. It’s one thing to craft a plan and disseminate a plan; it’s another thing to make it work. Bob Schwarz has taken on the significant responsibility to do exactly that.

The third one is Housing First. Well, this is where we plow new ground: new ground for Springfield, and probably new ground for many other communities; although Denver and Chattanooga, and other communities throughout this nation, are a little bit ahead of us. It’s their initiative, and their example, which has enabled us to feel as competent as we do in this new approach.

That is, to endeavor to move the long-term and repeat homeless individuals into permanent, supportive housing.

I can remember discussions with Michaelann Bewsee two and a half to three years ago, where she was saying exactly that. And I’m sorry, Michaelann, we weren’t there at the time. But you were right, and here we are.

It’s one thing to say 140 units—again, nothing is capped. I think what we’re talking of is a new strategy, a new way of doing things. We start off with 140, and we see where we go with that. Because this is not going to be the easiest thing in the world, either.

We understand, with respect to some of the people who are homeless, who will go into private housing opportunities, that we also need to supplement that with professionals, from a health care point of view, or from some other discipline, which will make sure that we don’t stumble and fall. This has got to work. And so it’s housing opportunities on the one hand, but supported by the appropriate professionals, to make sure that we can be successful.

There are many building pieces on this, but I just want to say, and pay tribute to, the Springfield Housing Authority, for really being our partner. Again, this is what happens. We go back three years, we had a housing authority in tatters, with the biggest scandal Springfield has ever known. That’s behind us. The people who have done wrong are being punished.

The reconstituting of our housing authority, so that it can be an effective force for the community, is a major job. I was fortunate enough to be able to persuade people like Ray Warren, and Melinda [Pellerin] Duck, and Tim Babcock, and others, to take on membership of the board, and then under their leadership—and Carlton Standen, of course, was already there; he was the governor’s appointee. These are great people.

Under their stewardship, ultimately they came up with Betsy McCright as the executive director. And so now we have this significant municipal asset, even though it’s an Authority, able to be part of the team.

In that spirit, when we went to them and said we need Housing First opportunities, and because of the fact that you control the vouchers, you’re critical, you’re key to this, we can’t do it without your help. And they did it; they responded. I’m extraordinarily grateful to them for the leadership role they’re playing.

Also to the owners of the private dwellings or private apartments into which these people will go, for having the willingness to cooperate, to yes, bring these people in, clearly on a subsidized basis, but again, if we’re going to have a Housing First strategy, it could not and will not work without this strong and affirmative and generous participation of the housing authority.

Let me say this: this is almost the middle of January; to get this so that it’s effective, we know that we need at least a couple of months of turnaround time. Our goal is that as we gear up, and begin to fill these spaces that have been set aside by the Housing Authority, there will be a matching reduction in the occupancy at the gymnasium [Warming Place homeless shelter] at the York Street jail. We expect to have that emptied by June 30.

The York Street jail [shelter] occupancy will come down as the housing occupancy goes up. We realize that the housing occupancy has got to go up before we can expect that the jail [shelter] occupancy will come down. And that’s our job, to make it work right. But we’re confident it will work right.

The goal is that we will be closing the York Street jail. As you have probably seen in the papers, on an economic development front, we have planned this summer to tear down the whole jail—not only the gymnasium, but the whole jail infrastructure itself. So this is an integral part of it, also.

I’ve already talked about the collaboration not only with the housing authority, but also the other service providers. My understanding is that the Mental Health Association really is out in front of us on that. I see Jerry Ray here. The first 20 units are being done right now, under their auspices.

We learn from everything that’s happening. I think it’s very important to acknowledge not only the part the Open Pantry will have in this, but also to enable me to say some very kind words about the Open Pantry, and its leadership of Kevin Noonan over the years.

He’s been a consistent advocate in this cause. It’s not been easy; it’s contentious. He has kept the faith, and has done a superb job. The Open Pantry, as the jail [shelter] phases down, we expect that they will be playing a very strong, significant role in providing the house visits by the professional staff, to make sure that in the housing first component of this, that it works.

I can’t think of any organization better-equipped to do this. They really have been, in so many respects, one of our two primary caretakers of the homeless now—the other being Friends of the Homeless. Now, you will see, a shifting of at least a part of their role as the housing first component becomes more and more important.

The last major part of this plan is what we call the Homeless Assistance Center. This is another entity, what should have been a strong asset of this community, was not an asset, because of its failed leadership—that’s Friends of the Homeless.

I won’t say anything more about it than—I guess we all kind of know what’s happened, and we’ve reached a final conclusion with respect to the former leadership. But out of the ashes of all that, there has been a reconstruction of the board; I see Bob Carroll here, who at my request, took on the chairmanship, even though it’s a non-profit agency.

We had a wrestling match about a year ago where we said we would put no more money in support of that organization unless there was a change of the board. And out of that came a very, very unique gathering of men and women who have cared about that. They selected Bill Miller, who is sitting next to Bob, and Bill has done a yeoman’s job and a sensitive job in operating this shelter.

The facility is kind of a mixed-up facility, to put it mildly. They want to move forward on something that I think is enormously exciting: a new facility, which would provide day space, and that’s important—that’s critical. As you know, right now, the homeless are shoved out on the street at seven o’clock in the morning, whatever the weather is; we’ll see you tonight at five or six. But somehow, they have to [fend] for themselves for ten or 12 hours.

This new facility would provide space all day long. It would provide meals for up to 150 people. Supportive services on-site: in other words, on site there would be a housing and an employment resource center. You don’t need to go walking all over creation to find these things; they’ll be right there. A medical and a dental clinic. Separate dorm space for men and women, and open 24/7.

We’re not there; it just hasn’t happened. When you look at the women’s shelter at 501 Worthington Street, it’s out of Charles Dickens. It’s just an absolute humiliation. And to think that we have women of our community in there is just absolutely unacceptable. And so this is a major step forward.

We’ll have an appropriate announcement of this, or Friends of the Homeless will, within the next two to four weeks, but that’s just a quick exterior rendering of it; and that’s an interior—and without better pictures, you really can’t have a full appreciation—but that does have the dormitory space, it has the meeting room, which then turns into eating facilities; and then you have the separate offices for the supportive services.

There is a financing of it all, looking to the Commonwealth to issue some tax credits, and you go on from there. It’s not easy; that’s a complex matter. I know from time to time, Bob Carroll wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders how it’s all going to be done.

I believe it will be done because this community is going to be galvanized to make sure that it happens. The better-off people in this community, whether they’re individuals or corporations, I have confidence will understand our responsibility unto another. Our new governor is saying exactly that. And he’s not saying because it’s political, because the campaign’s over. He’s saying it because he believes it. But that’s a message that is long overdue.

And unless it’s an integral part of our leadership and government, and of the people who have been so successful and so fortunate in their private or their corporate lives, we’re not going to do very well as a society. But I think that we’ve turned a corner on that, and again, we all take strength from one another. This is going to be a very, very exciting and profound experience in citizenship.

Before I introduce Bob Schwarz, because I do want him to respond, I do want to—I’ve already acknowledged Michaelann Bewsee and Kevin Noonan, and I want to reiterate the leadership, and I’m aware of the lonely role they have played up ’til now. I want to acknowledge what they’ve done, and what I know they’ll continue to do, with deep gratitude.

I’ve introduced Bob Carroll, and Bill Miller. And clearly, this is the other organization—it still has the same name, but different people, a different methodology, different motivation, and I’m sure, far different results.

I want to thank Clodo Conception and Marty Gallagher, who a couple of months ago reached out to me, and said that they had been to Providence. They had been to a place in Providence called Crossroads, which is kind of Providence’s non-profit organization that deals with the problems of the homeless there.

Through their good offices, we went to Providence with them, and several other people, a month or so ago. And I was delighted, because I knew what was coming along. I knew what the assistance program was going to call for. I was able to see at Crossroads, which is in the building of a former YMCA, really what it meant when you had these supporting services all under one roof.

By the way, when I say I’m confident that the corporate community can come up with some help here, we should be aware of the fact that the renovation of the old YMCA in Providence, to what it is now, cost $26 million. If the Providence community was able to do that—now that wasn’t all from the community; there were state and federal funds, or applications there, but the community did a lot. I can’t tell you how important that was to me, and some of my advisors, thanks to Clodo and to Marty, to see that.

Jerry Ray and the Mental Health Association really has been in the leadership of all this, Doreen Fadus; I really almost have to stop there, because there are so many of you who really have kept the faith in this battle to do better for the homeless, and we’re enormously indebted to all of you.

I want to talk about Sheriff Michael Ashe. This is a man who is dealing with people who are down and out. This is a man who—yes, when you go there, you don’t escape. But by the same token, he’s not warehousing people. With his programs, both inside the jail and outside the jail, from day one, Michael Ashe has understood that these are men and women who are coming back into the society, and he wants to equip them in any way he possibly can.

Rick Devine is here this morning, right here, one of the sheriff’s key men. We’re working with him all the time. I think we have ten or 15 different programs with the Sheriff’s Department, where these men, while they are still inmates of the jail, or on release, or partial release, post-confinement, working with us.

There’s nothing that makes me happier, or fills my heart more completely, than to be with those men, and to see what it means to them to be outside doing something, something good and something important. In this whole field of homelessness, the sheriff and his department, and his key advisors such as Rick, really stand unmatched, I think. It’s a tremendous community asset that we can’t overlook.

Last but not least, and I don’t know if it’s here today, but you’ve read in the paper of Bernie [Glassman], the Zen Buddhist from Montague, Mass., he’s come here. There’s his partner right there—could I have your name again, sir?

James Bastien: Jim Bastien.

Mayor Ryan: Yes, thank you, Jim. We met recently. He’s got an embryonic partnership with the sheriff—this is very exciting—to provide jobs, at a place where these men and women can make a living. They did outstanding things in Yonkers, New York. They’ve come here into this Valley, and I think we’ve tried to put out the red carpet for them, because we understand that you’re part of the solution. We welcome you here, and we’re just delighted you’re here.

This is the kind of team that’s coming together, so that when we get together a year or two from now, we’ll show that there was progress from here. As I said, this is really, this is kind of the jumping-off spot. All the fits and starts, all the hits, runs, and errors, I think are kind of behind us.

Take a little bit of a deep swallow, but Housing First is the way to go, and Housing First has got to work, and it’s our partnership responsibility to make sure it does exactly that.

With that, I would like to call my very close friend Bob Schwarz forward to accept his new responsibility as the chairman of the implementation committee, so that we can begin to see some measurable success just as soon as possible. Bob, would you come forward?

Bob Schwarz: Mayor Ryan, thank you very much. The family, the Picknelly family, that I worked for for 20 years, and particularly Peter senior, would always say, the highest calling is to serve, when asked, by the chief executive of your city to do something.

So it’s with great pleasure I accept your challenge. My company, Peter Pan Bus Lines, stands prepared to put our resources behind accomplishing the goals and objectives set in the ten-year plan.

Russ, I am very proud of my alma mater, and what you have done. Helen, your work, that you will see, that has been forward in this document, is outstanding. It truly is a business plan.

Deval Patrick at the Hoop Hall

Posted on Thursday, December 14 2006 by Heather Brandon

Last night, governor-elect Deval Patrick paid a visit to Springfield’s Basketball Hall of Fame to sit in on a combined workforce development, technology, and economic development transition working group (PDF) meeting, part of a series to invite the public’s input that apparently ended yesterday. Reports are due to the governor-elect tomorrow. In the photo above, Patrick speaks to the audience briefly before taking leave to some other meeting, as he said, “around the corner.” The combined working group members are at the blue table behind him.

Upon walking into the spacious Center Court room, I was asked if I wanted to have a turn to speak. “No, thanks,” I replied, and the person at the desk said, “Are you sure?” with a friendly little smile. She held up a white piece of paper, included in the packets at the table, where I could jot down my vital information, circle which working group my idea was for, and on several lines taking up half the page, write down my idea. Such papers, or requests to speak, were selected at seemingly random order by the chair of the evening, workforce development working group member and economist Paul Harrington. Speakers were provided with a microphone and the floor for what seemed like extraordinary lengths of time in most cases.

I’m all for transparency, democracy and community meetings, but I was struck by how dull it was to listen to one individual after another recite his or her idea in a dry, robotic tone as each person read from a prepared document. The best people to hear, by far, were those who dared to lift their eyes off the scripted page and simply look at the folks at the blue tables. (Some had no script at all, like Springfield’s Mayor Charles Ryan; has audio of his brief words, among others.)

By the same token, the cumulative voice of so many people across the state, asking for help with this or that project, initiative or crisis, has conveyed a singular message, reiterated last night, which is that a large number of agencies and entities have been starving for cash, structure, accountability and oversight, leaving them feeling profoundly neglected by the state government.

I noted that many people echoed each other’s ideas, but did not refer to that fact as they spoke, missing a chance simply to point out the building collective interest. The sheer act of being invited to a meeting to speak of the level of need understandably reduces some to a kind of emotional jelly: we no longer remember, if we ever knew, how to communicate with government. Thus, the scripts, and maybe a few missed sparks of connection, but overall the necessary information was conveyed. And redundancy has its merits.

The working groups seemed attentive and poised to listen. When they paused their listening to ask pointed questions of a speaker, such questions were highly tuned-in and focused.

Kristen Beam over at the Fray blog has a summary of some of the speakers and their points.

The working groups provided attendees with their “guiding principles.”

Principles guiding the Technology Working Group:

• Allowing for greater transparency in government
• A plan to implement statewide Wi-Fi
• Utilizing technology to rebuild communities

Principles guiding the Workforce Development Working Group:• Workforce Development programs will be more attuned to the demand-side needs of employers
• Help reduce waiting lists for ESL and ABE programs, and integrate the operation of these programs more closely with community colleges and workforce development programs
• Ensure that Workforce Development programs are responsive to existing skill mismatches in the state by better preparing participants for jobs in current and projected shortage occupations
• Work to make Workforce Development agencies better coordinated at the local level to streamline services to those in need
• Improve Industrial Relations and strengthen wage and hour law enforcements in hiring practices
• Improve our information base on the outcomes and impacts of existing workforce development programs to guide future funding programs

Principles guiding the Economic Development Working Group:

• Promoting an innovation economy
• Retaining core businesses
• Streamlining the permitting and approval processes
• Investing in our infrastructure
• Increasing access to capital through public and private partnerships
• Better selling Massachusetts

Patrick’s administration also offers ways to “plug in,” as they put it. You can submit your own written comments either via the transition Web site or via mail (Attention: Rafi Goldberg, Patrick-Murray Transition Team, 56 Roland Street, Suite 100D, Boston, MA 02129).

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Maureen McAvey
Executive Vice-President, Initiatives Group (Washington, D.C.)
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