Urban Renewal Project RFI goes public

The WRA discussing their plan to roll out the Elm Street Urban Renewal Project proof of concept to investors and to the public in a December, 2018 meeting. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- The Redevelopment Authority (WRA) began advertising a Request for Interest (RFI) in the Massachusetts Central Register on Wednesday to seek proposals from developers on the redevelopment of a 1.6-acre parcel on Elm Street.

The parcel is the empty space next to the PVTA station that is largely used for parking. It was once the location of J.J. Newberry’s Department Store, but a 1986 fire forced the structure to be demolished. The lot has remained vacant since then.

The WRA said they are seeking proposals from developers with “a demonstrated expertise and track record in the development of multi-use buildings and complex real estate development projects in an urban environment.”

“For the past 10 years, we have worked toward this important day,” said Kathy Witalisz, chairperson of the WRA, “We’ve worked hard to consolidate ownership of the several parcels that make up the site, we’ve demolished blighted buildings that had outlived their useful life, and we’ve worked diligently with professional planning and design firms to identify concepts that we are confident will work to bring new life to this central block of Elm Street.”

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

A release from the WRA posted on states that previous plans to develop the land, “were unsuccessful due to the challenge associated with private developers’ inability to gain site control.”

An Urban Renewal Plan (URP) was ratified by the WRA, the City Council, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development in 2014. This URP allowed for the WRA to assemble the parcels to help push economic opportunity downtown.

The WRA is seeking investors for a possible building to be constructed on the parcel. Previously, the WRA had proposed a four-story building that would be a mixed use of residential and commercial spaces.

Jeff Daley, founder of CJC Development Advisors, LLC said that a developer from Boston took a tour of the site with him and said it may not be an easy project. He said that if the city were to consider putting affordable housing there, it would be easier because there would be more guaranteed money and guaranteed returns of investment.

“His final comment to me was that he would be surprised if the city got any responses just because it’s such a difficult urban development to do without serious incentives from the city and the state,” said Daley.

Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said that if subsidized housing is the route they end up going, they should advise people to be aggressive with their requests for subsidies.

“If that’s the only way to get responses, if there is a need for subsidies, I would rather get responses that say how the project does work rather than not get responses and get no real feedback,” said Miller, adding that the WRA should not be scared away from investors that ask for too much.

Daley said he believes that the projected costs for development and rental were not calculated with Westfield’s market data in mind. He also urged against committing to certain incentives for developers, because the WRA does not have the authority to give them.

“People from the eastern part of the state live in a different economy than we do,” said Miller, “What works in Brockton doesn’t work in Westfield. What works in Lawrence doesn’t work in Westfield.”

Mayor Brian P. Sullivan said that this has been the most complex project he has seen in his two decades within the city government.

“I am incredibly thankful to the WRA members who serve as volunteers, our city staff, and our consultants who have helped us capitalize on the full toolbox of available incentives to get us to where we are today, which is on the cusp of something very special,” said Sullivan. He added that the more than $100 million in investments in Downtown Westfield on the federal, state, and local levels set the table for the project.

“I am proud of how far the City has come in repositioning our downtown,” he said. “State and federal partners helped us to rebuild Main Street, our bridges and parks, Westfield’s ratepayers funded new utility infrastructure, small business owners have invested private dollars, and volunteers have brought new life to our underutilized spaces,” he added. “Together, we’ve laid the groundwork for a brighter future,” he concluded.

The City will be accepting proposals for developers through the summer and into the fall, with a deadline for submission of October 30, 2019. For detailed proposal packets, interested parties are directed to contact the City’s Purchasing Department for access at (413) 572-6254.

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