Downtown development projects move forward

WESTFIELD – City Advancement Officer Jeff Daley provided an update on several projects to the Westfield Redevelopment Authority this morning.
The WRA will play a major role in those projects as they are pushed forward, Daley, who serves as the WRA executive director, said.
“The Elm Street redevelopment project is moving forward pretty aggressively,” Daley said. “The stars are aligning.”
The Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority, in conjunction with the city, has hired a Boston-based consulting firm, HRS, Inc., to conduct a feasibility study for the project to replace the present commercial buildings on Elm Street next to Arnold with a new building which will have retail, business office and residential space.
In late 2010, the PVTA secured approximately $427,000 in Massachusetts Department of Transportation grant for the project, with approximately $175,000 slated for the development of a Joint Development Master Plan that would include a mixed-use development and transportation center on the 2.8 acre site, which includes empty storefronts next to the old Newberry’s site. The remaining $252,000 will be utilized for designing the project.
The city owns the two-story Block Building on the corner of Elm and Arnold streets. The one-story building, located between the Block Building and the former Newberrys Five & Dime store site (destroyed by fire in 1985), is currently owned by Hampden Bank.
The city has retained Hayes Associates to complete an urban renewal plan that will become the blueprint for the project.
“The urban renewal plan will be presented to the City Council, and if approved, will then go to the state for its review and approval,” Daley said. “When the urban renewal plan is approved by the state, it becomes a WRA project.”
The City also received a “brownfields” grant to remove petroleum and lead from the soils beneath the site. The state has notified city officials early this month of a commitment of $480,200 to remove contamination for the Elm Street property. Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said the brownfield grant is being issued to the city through MassDevelopment.
“There is a pretty extensive environmental clean up for such a small property,” Daley said. “Nothing can be done until the buildings come down.”
Daley said that the city is currently negotiating with officials of the Hampden Bank to bring all of the site under municipal ownership, a process that Daley anticipates will be completed within the next several months.
“Hopefully the buildings will be taken down by late fall because the environmental work is recommended to be done during the cold weather,” Daley said.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel. This is the fun part of the process when things are being created,” Daley said. “There is interest from four or five large developers from outside the area for a project at between $20 and $30 million.”
Daley said that state Senator Michael R. Knapik is seeking to include money in a transportation bond bill to support construction of a parking deck or possible a three-level parking garage with as many as 375 parking spaces.
Peter J. Miller Jr., Knapik’s Chief of Staff, said this morning that $3 million was included in the Senate’s transportation bond bill which is slated for debate and a vote today. The bill would go to a joint House-Senate committee for reconciliation.
Daley said that the city will seek funding through the state’s 2002 and 2005 transportation bond bills.
“There’s $4.5 million in those two bonds, but it’s there on paper,” Daley said. “We’d have to cobble together a plan, then go down to Boston to make the case that we need the money for a parking facility.”

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