Westfield

Steve Dondley: Council Update

I was watching former GE CEO, Jack Welch, on Charlie Rose several years back. Charlie asked Jack what his keys to success were. Welch gave three of them. I don’t recall the first two, but the third one stuck with me: “You can never over communicate.”
Though I can’t say I’m a huge admirer of Mr. Welch who had a reputation for being rather ruthless, I like to think I can recognize good advice when I hear it. And so one of my campaign promises was to open up the lines of communications with my constituents.
I don’t want to be the elected official you hear from only around election time. So you can expect me to do my utmost to communicate my thoughts on issues and convey news to my constituents as much as I can.
There is a certain amount of risk for politicians who engage with constituents. The traditional advice given to elected officials is that it’s best to keep your head down, avoid controversial issues if you can help it, and be good at kissing babies and shaking hands around election time.
That will not be my approach.
I don’t want to “hold office.” My goal is to leverage my office any way I can to serve my constituents and lead them forward. Sometimes that will require being outspoken on issues that not everyone agrees with. And yes, that will cost me some votes. But I’m hopeful a more forthright approach will be appreciated by most voters who understand that you can’t always agree with an elected official 100 percent of the time.
One of the huge reasons I think it’s so critical to communicate is that we live in very cynical times. Trust in government and other major institutions is at an all-time low. I think one great way to rebuild that trust is to actively reach out to constituents and keep them informed on what’s going on with their government and why certain decisions were made. It’s a huge challenge because many issues are very nuanced and complicated and aren’t very easy to explain or communicate with a sound bite. But, I will do my best.
With that in mind…
One of the big issues everyone wants to see addressed is downtown development. While one downtown merchant reported to me that foot traffic has increased a good deal at her establishment, there is obviously a lot of work to be done to turn Elm Street into the thriving commercial corridor we’d all like to see.
Fortunately, progress is being made to make that happen. As we have all seen, the new gas light construction is continuing. As we dig up the streets to improve our infrastructure below, they will be replaced with new lighting and other amenities to beautify our downtown.
And at Thursday’s city council meeting, Westfield’s City Advancement Officer, Joe Mitchell, showcased a possible vision for development of the vacant lot on the corner of Arnold and Elm Streets. The concept drawings he presented contained three major structures: a transit pavilion, a parking garage, and a multi-story, mixed-use building for restaurants, retail and office space.
Development of the property will happen in two phases. The first phase, construction of the transit pavilion, will likely start this May and is scheduled for completion in January, 2017. A two story structure which will be located on Arnold Street, the pavilion has a modern design featuring glass and metallic-like façade. Designed with an eye toward public safety, it is designed to be cornerless and transparent in order to limit opportunities for loitering and other unwanted activities. Mitchell billed the facility as one that would “meet future transit needs” by combining facilities of interest to pedestrians and cyclists as well as bus and taxi passengers.
The second phase cannot begin until the city acquires all the necessary properties. There are presently two small lots needed. Once acquired, the city plans to turn the lots over to the Westfield Redevelopment Authority which will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to private developers. The process of selecting a developer is a contest, of sorts, to see which developer has the best proposal for the lot. The city will outline the criteria to which the proposals must conform and award the project and sell the property to the developer with the best proposal. As of right now, I am supportive of using city money to acquire these lots. I believe what we spend will be easily offset by the revenues the city will receive in additional tax revenue as a result of the tax revenue the new building would bring in.
The slide presentation by Mr. Mitchell, created by a private consulting firm, HDR, depicted a five story building on the corner of Arnold and Elm. It’s envisioned that the façade would take cues from Westfield’s early 20th century architecture. From Elm Street, it would sit in front of the transit pavilion, and, like many cities, highlight the contrast between traditional and more modern architectural designs. The mixed-use facility was billed as a “Thorne’s Market” for Westfield, a mix of commercial, retail, and food establishments. The final proposal may well include residential apartments as well. The other major structure in the vision was a four story garage to accommodate visitors to the mixed-use building and surrounding neighborhood.
There’s a lot more to cover than I have space for, but you can get frequent updates from me on my Facebook page. For those of you not on Facebook, I will also be overhauling my website and cross-posting my communications there soon. The address is http://www.dondleyforcitycouncil.com/. You can reach me by phone at 413-537-4451 or by email at [email protected]
Finally, I just want to say thanks to Patrick Berry and the Westfield News for giving our elected officials the opportunity to communicate with our constituents. And thanks to all the Westfield News subscribers who keep informed and keep this vital resource in our community going!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not the staff, editor, or publisher of this publication.

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