Business owners support new plan

WESTFIELD – Plans for the multimillion dollar redevelopment of downtown has support from neighboring business owners.
Anne Woodson of George’s Jewelers attended a meeting Wednesday where the proposed project was unveiled by Mayor Daniel M. Knapik.
“I’m very excited about the proposal,” said Woodson. “It’s long overdue.”
Woodson works at her family business owned by her father George Kedzierski. George’s Jewelers has been located at 67 Elm St. for 43 years and the family remembers how downtown used to look.
“It wasn’t just J.J. Newberry’s,” said Woodson of the longtime staple department store that burned down. “It was Kute Kiddie and Blocks – all those stores. It’s heartbreaking. A lot of business by local residents moved away, as far as shopping.”
Kedzierski said he remembers the day of the Newberry’s fire.
“I was working and I watched it,” he said.
Having a new development on that property will be a boost to other business, said Prob Reshamwala, who owns Mina’s Wine and Spirits, formerly the Tobacco Barn, with his wife Mina.
His business, at 53 Elm St., has evolved over the 30 years the couple has owned it. And it is thriving, he said, because he has changed with the times and looks to the future. He said the proposed downtown project is something he has been waiting for as his business has changed.
“I think the overall plan is very promising and exciting,” said Reshamwala.
He praised the inclusion of a parking garage as part of the project, which is composed of three elements: a 130,000 square-foot, six story mixed use commercial building, a 2,000 square-foot transportation component and a five-story, 500-vehicle parking garage.
“There have been a couple of plans in the past, and developers have pulled out, but I think parking is one of the biggest problems here,” he said. “Whatever you do, you need to have parking – they nailed it by putting in parking at the same time.”
Reshamwala said existing businesses would benefit from the redevelopment, which would include a PVTA bus shelter, restaurants, shops and market rate apartments. Reshamwala did say a city-owned bus system would be a key element, in his opinion, in bringing even more local residents downtown. He also said he believes having the Columbia Greenway bike trail coming through downtown would be positive for the area.
Reshamwala is currently expanding his business, which was recently remodeled, because he knows the development of downtown is on the horizon.
“I don’t want to wait – I want to be ahead of the game,” he said.
Reshamwala said there will be tough times ahead for other downtown businesses while the project comes to fruition.
“The next three years will be rough during construction,” he said. “It will be hard, but I look toward the future.”
Reshamwala said he hopes all the current businesses will forge through the difficult construction phase because he believes the existing and new businesses can work hand-in-hand to create a vital downtown.
Alice P. Flyte, owner of The Seat Weaver at 71 Elm St. is also supportive of the proposal.
“I like the concept, but I still have some questions,” said Flyte, who also attended the public unveiling of the plans this week.  “I do think it will be good for us.”
Flyte opened her shop, which features handcrafted items from local artisans as well as chair caning and repair, in 2009. The small shop was on Arnold Street, but she said she moved to Elm Street in May of this year to capitalize on drivers passing by, as well as foot traffic, to broaden her customer base.
“It’s better here on a main street,” she said. “We saw the potential in 2009 and I see the potential again.”
The project involves the use of public funding and state and federal grants, to assemble, environmentally clean and clear the proposed site, at the corner of Elm and Arnold Street, for private development of the commercial building. The transportation and parking garage components will be constructed primarily with public funding.
“The key for us in Westfield is to show our state and federal partners that we have a viable project to gain release of those funds,” Knapik said Wednesday. “What we have here tonight is the beginning of that process. The next 18 to 36 months will be an exciting time for our city.”

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