Springfield urged to promote “City of Firsts” to attract business

London-based Future City pitched proposals after six months of researching the city's landscape, culture and history.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – There’s a new concept to transform Springfield into a hub of arts and culture.

Imagine this: A weekend festival of everything Dr. Seuss, in his hometown of Springfield. London-based FutureCity suggests Springfield tout everything that makes it the City of Firsts. For the past six months, FutureCity has researched how to combine major economic development projects like MGM Springfield, CRRC rail, Union Station, and the renovation of the Morgan Square Apartments with Springfield’s arts and culture. This is the organization’s first endeavor in the United States; working on projects in Springfield, Worcester and Boston.

Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker said they’re shaping cities for the first time by having a conversation among cultural organizations, developers and city leaders.

FutureCity’s head of strategy said they’re inventing a new type of brochure for the downtown. He said they’re giving Springfield some narrative drivers and framework to attract people and keep them in Springfield. Focusing on culture isn’t just on museums or theaters, but also green spaces, small businesses, and technology.

The goal is to boost the local economy by attracting more tourists and offering opportunities for young people. One proposal: utilizing the space under the I-91 overpasses to connect downtown Springfield with the riverfront. Others included creating a new facade for the power plant across the river and hosting a potluck dinner to celebrate the city’s ethnicities.

FutureCity’s research found there’s room for improvement. It found there are store vacancies downtown, retail space needs improvement, students are cut off from the center of the city, and there is limited space for artist workshops.

It’s one thing to envision these amazing events and art projects throughout the city, but 22News asked city planners if concerns over funding and crime in the city could prevent these plans from all becoming a reality.

“We’d need a lot of money to make these things go forward, but in terms of the tying in with a lot of the Seuss activities and the Basketball Hall of Fame, I think we have so many elements here that are unique to our area,” said Judy Matt, Executive Director of Spirit of Springfield. She added that a potluck dinner would be doable and successful in the city. She said in all the events she plans, crime has never been a problem.

Springfield Principal Planner Scott Hanson told 22News that once storefronts are filled and streets are lit, crime seems to take care of itself. Hanson said, “Every urban center has crime, but the more people you have on the street, the more economic development activities that are happening, the less crime happens.”

Hanson said the major economic developments have, or are going to, contribute to some $3.3 billion for Springfield. FutureCity found $276 million of the City’s annual income is based on the cultural district. That includes 5,000 employees.

These proposals will serve as a template for the city to use as the major economic development projects progress.