WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The city’s downtown improvements are going to continue into the New Year, with one big part of the project being finished by the spring.
A number of updates and funds are continuing to come to the downtown area and most of the projects continue to be on track with their prospective end dates. Officials have had very few issues with the improvements, which should help to bring more activity downtown and perhaps even a relief to some parking woes.
The biggest part of the project currently being worked on is the PVTA Transit Pavilion on Arnold Street. The building, as far as a structure goes, is currently standing and work continues on the interior and according to Joe Mitchell, city advancement officer, the project is actually on track—something that residents like to hear when discussing construction efforts.
“The transportation pavilion is on track and should have a ribbon cutting in the first week of April,” Mitchell said.
The pavilion is part of a larger project in the area that will encompass portions of Arnold Street, Summer Street, Church Street and Elm Street—also known as the Gaslight District.
The next step in the project is the acquisition of several properties behind and around the pavilion. These properties—56 to 58 and 64 to 66 Elm Street, as well as the former Romani Bowling building and nearby alleyway at 11 and 0 Church Street—will hopefully be acquired soon by the city and will then be demolished to make room for another structure in the downtown area.
“The goal is, once the properties are acquired, demolish the bowling alley and put up a request for proposal for a mixed use building there that would extend from the corner of Arnold Street to the Church Street Commons building,” Mitchell said.
The requestrian for proposal would allow the city to contract out the development of the area to a private company, but Mitchell said that the Westfield Redevelopment Authority, which is overseeing this project, will also be active in the design and implementation of the area.
The plan is to design and build a multi-story building at the site, which will have a restaurant and retail space on the first floor and business space on the floors above.
“I think getting the first floor tenants will not be difficult, people are waiting in line to come to Westfield,” Mitchell said. “I get phone calls at least once per quarter from regional restauranteurs who want to come to Westfield but we don’t have a space large enough.”
However, with the proposed mixed-use building, another large restaurant could be a reality for Westfield.
In the same area, Mitchell said that the city is looking to also build additional parking space, including a multi-level parking garage. The total size will be determined by the size and occupancy of the mixed-use building, so the details are still to be determined. However, Mitchell estimated that this could be done within the next 18 months to two years.
All this will hopefully help to funnel traffic over to the rest of the downtown area, where community development coordinator Peter Miller is attempting to secure funds for downtown businesses.
Currently, Miller is working on a storefront façade improvement project called the Westfield Improvement Program. The point of the project is to provide money to retailers along the downtown corridor so that the exteriors become more welcoming and revitalized, promoting greater traffic and hopefully greater sales.
Miller said that there is just one store, Blue Umbrella Books, that has been OKed for the funding but he does expect more to receive the grants. If a retailer is interested in the funding, you can contact the community development office for more information.
Another project that the community development office is working on is to help bring additional retailers to the downtown area, especially ones who may struggle to find a way there without assistance.
“We are working to partner with and work out with HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] on a loan guarantee program for start up businesses, just to try to attract some people who may have more of a challenge being approved for loans,” Miller said. “We would guarantee a portion of the loan to take some of the risk off the bank and we’re hoping to do that in the spring.”
Miller said that applications are not being accepted for the program yet because fine-tuning of the implementation still needs to happen, including meeting several federal program standards.
For more information on the projects or to see Mitchell’s presentation to Westfield city council when it was first put forward, visit https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4IStrCoQ4iXUEU3emNaQ2dKZ0ZlemdweGlLTWlUZ0xZQXdZ/view?usp=sharing.
NOTE: The presentation was created prior to Tom Woodson joining the Westfield Redevelopment Authority. The rest of the members are Kathy Witalicz–chair, Mark Morin, Bill Parks and Ali Salehi