‘Numbers don’t work’ right now for Elm Street Urban Renewal Project potential developers

First floor of Test A concept by Utile Design for Elm St. Urban Renewal Plan.

WESTFIELD- The Westfield Redevelopment Authority (WRA) met Tuesday morning to give an update on the Elm Street Urban Renewal Project (URP).

Jeff Daley, founder of CJC Development Advisors, LLC, briefed the WRA members on the recent developers preview for the Elm Street project. Daley noted that there did not seem to be overwhelming excitement among possible investors at the time, but with the rollout of the Request for Proposal (RFP) he believes people will learn more about the project. He did say that a couple people expressed interest, but that they would need to check finances first.

“As presented right now, the numbers don’t work,” said Daley.

The project is being proposed thanks to a technical assistance grant of $50,000 from MassDevelopment last summer. The WRA contracted with Boston architects and urban planners Utile Design to study the city block and utilization of parking. The current plan is to design and build a mixed-use residential and commercial building on the Elm Street lot next to the PVTA bus station, however, WRA board member Kathleen Witalisz said in past meetings that it could be subject to change.

Witalisz said they received good feedback during the rollout event with investors and developers. She was hopeful  there could be more excitement about the project in the future.

Daley and Witalisz said they would float the idea of a Request for Interest (RFI), which would allow developers to express initial interest in the project without specific amounts of money up front. It would let the WRA choose a specific development partner based on the developer’s estimates to move forward down the line. Part of the process, however, may require public subsidies. Some WRA members said that the next mayor will have to negotiate subsidies such as tax incentives or housing incentives for the URP’s developers.

“Ground-ups in an urban environment are super difficult to make the numbers work,” said Daley.

Witalisz mentioned  that the Westfield State University’s downtown Landsdowne Apartment building will soon be vacant, possibly opening up about 60 apartments across the street from the project site. The best-case scenario for the project assumes that there are no vacancies in the new building, which is harder to achieve if more housing is available in the immediate area.

The WRA agreed on a submission deadline of Oct. 30 of this year for developers to formally express interest in the project. Daley and the other WRA members were confident that a developer would take up the project.

“It’s uncommon to have three acres in the middle of a downtown,” said Daley, “We will get interest from somewhere, whether it is a private or public developer or a private-public partnership.”

Daley added that he has meetings with potential developers in the coming weeks in the hopes that they can make the financials work. Witalisz said that the board would choose whether to go forward with the RFI at their next meeting on July 22.

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