Domus Inc. proposal aims to boost downtown business

Ann Lentini explains the details of Domus Inc.’s proposal for the Elm Street project. Next to her is a floor plan for the entire property. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- Domus Inc. Executive Director Ann Lentini presented a proposal Jan. 7 to the Westfield Redevelopment Authority (WRA) for a mixed-use building on the site of the former J.J. Newberry’s Department Store on Elm Street. 

Lentini told WRA members that the proposed building would be a catalyst for downtown business.

“We have lost some businesses and we need to pull them back in,” said Lentini. “I think this building will do that.”

Lentini proposed a building that is along the lines of what the WRA has been seeking for years to replace the J.J. Newberry’s building, which burned down in 1986. The Domus project would be a mixed-use building that contains units for retail space and 61 affordable housing units. She noted that it would include units for Section 8 housing. 

Chris Novelli shows off two rendered images of what their version of the Elm St. project would look like on completion. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Domus created the proposal in conjunction with Studio One Architects in Springfield. Chris Novelli of Studio One said that one of their priorities was to match the aesthetic of Westfield’s existing downtown buildings.

“We wanted to design something that looks like it has always been there,” said Novelli.

Lentini noted that Domus has already been in talks with at least one local business that is currently located on the third floor of an existing building, but would be interested in moving to the first floor of the Domus project should it be built. 

Domus would put most, if not all, of the retail space on the ground floor. One thing Lentini said they still need, however, is a single business or agency that would act as an “anchor” tenant. The anchor tenant could be an office or classroom for Westfield State University or space for any of the local hospitals, she said. 

Jessica Allen of Domus said that their project would likely be completed and occupied in three to five years. They would need to apply for government funding in February of 2021, which may take multiple applications. Should they quickly be approved for funding, they would expect to be notified by August of 2021. 

If funded, they expect that a groundbreaking to begin construction would begin in the Spring of 2022. The full construction is projected to take 12 to 18 months. 

When WRA Chair Kathleen Witalisz asked why Domus wants to do this project in Westfield, Lentini said she believes the project would fulfill needs in the city.

Witalisz also asked about what effect a potential 2021 recession may have on the project. Peter Graham, who is partnering with Domus on the project, said that a recession could benefit the project because construction costs would likely go down. He also said that affordable housing projects such as this could be a stabilizer during a recession.

The WRA is reviewing proposals from Westfield-based Domus Inc. and Needham-based Arch Communities LLC. Witalisz said they will likely make a decision in February. 

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