Vacant School Department building to become apartments

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – An historic downtown building that has been vacant for years will be converted into apartments, with the help of MGM. Davenport Realtors will be taking over the former Springfield Public Schools Central Office at 195 State Street, in order to convert the building into housing.

MGM has been looking for a location for 54 units of market-rate housing, which they were originally planning to locate on their South End casino property. Those units will now be moved off-site, and the former School Department building will be the site of between 30 and 35 of those. They hope to have the State Street apartments open and ready for occupancy by the time the casino is done in 2018.

195 State Street was built back in 1905, and has been vacant since the school department’s move to the former federal building on Main Street in 2010.

During a news conference with City and MGM leaders Monday morning, 22News asked MGM President Bill Hornbuckle why the State Street site would be attractive to young professionals, due to its location. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno answered instead: “The best answer to that question is right next door. At Classical Condominiums. It was said before that people wouldn’t live downtown. Fully occupied Classical Condominiums. Young professionals, baby boomers, and empty nesters.” 22News then asked MGM International President William Hornbuckle if he would answer that same question. He responded, “The mayor knows this community far better than we do.” He continued, saying that at a glance, he approved of the site’s proximity to downtown and other landmarks such as the library and condominiums.

A few local IBEW laborers were also at the news conference. Dan D’Alma is president of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades. He said MGM Springfield’s moving the housing off site could threaten their jobs. “Anything in the footprint was going to be done 100 percent union and now that this has moved off site, our concern is that bringing in out of area contractors who will not hire anybody from this city,” D’Alma said.

As part of MGM’s plan changes, they removed a 25 story glass hotel tower from the design. MGM International President William Hornbuckle blamed rising construction costs and building delays as some of the reasons for the change in plans. “I would love a big shiny glass tower that says MGM on top of it. But for today, the opportunity before us and the reality of the opportunity is we’re going to put the guest rooms out on Main Street,” Hornbuckle said.

22News asked him if the new design would keep Springfield competitive with Connecticut’s casinos. “What’s happening in Connecticut, while it’s a concern to our industry and our company, because what we believe they’re doing is unconstitutional and there’s a pending legal case so I’m not going to get too involved in that, but it is not an economic assertion in what we’re doing here,” Hornbuckle said.

MGM is also considering locating housing at Court Square at 31 Elm Street. The goal is to incorporate more of the City’s downtown into the design.

MGM Springfield’s new design plan still needs approval from Springfield City Council and the State Gaming Commission. Hornbuckle spoke with Springfield City Council’s President and Vice President Monday. City Council Vice President Orlando Ramos said he was glad MGM was meeting with them, but that he didn’t agree with the change in plans that eliminated the 25-story glass tower. “I made the argument that it’s not only more aesthetically pleasing, but there’s also an economic development component to it. There’s studies that show there is a correlation between cities that build up and signs of a healthy economy,” Ramos told 22News. He said he did approve of the new housing units being built on State Street.

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