22News investigates crime, economic development in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Only on 22News: In a special edition of InFocus, Kait Walsh gives us an in-depth look at why people are saying Springfield is experiencing a “Renaissance” period. In part 1 of this series, she took a walking tour of downtown with Mayor Domenic Sarno.

22News InFocus: What the future holds for the city of Springfield

“It was an exclusive area and that’s why it was called the Hollywood section at the time. It went through some troubled times,” said Mayor Sarno. For years, shootings, stabbings, nightly drug deals plagued Springfield’s Hollywood section – the neighborhood off of Main Street in Springfield’s South End. But in just over a year, this neighborhood- now known as Outing Park – will border nearly 1 billion dollars of economic development with MGM Springfield. The City is encouraging visitors to explore the downtown while at the casino…which means safety must be a top priority. We tested that safety by taking a walking tour with Mayor Domenic Sarno, starting on Marble Street outside the future $11 million South End Community Center.

“We’re shedding the light on the good things that are going on, but also sending the message for any individuals that want to perpetrate negative activities, that we’re going to run you out of town, so it’s gotten better,” said Mayor Sarno.

“Would you say this is, crime-wise, one of the worst so to speak parts of the city?” asked Kait Walsh. Sarno answered, “At one time. At one time.”

He’s knocking down a housing project so that Marble Street connects with Central Street, creating a thruway and increasing police visibility.

“So where would the people that live here be housed?” asked Kait. Mayor Sarno said, “Well they have different vouchers that they can go for on affordable housing.”

As we approached Outing Park on our walk, we did notice a more kept apartment complex. Mayor Sarno explained, “”One company controlling this, the marked improvements here in the housing, the camera system, they have their own little community center that they’ve opened, crime’s down, we have C3 policing units that are here.” He said the whole region has transformed.

In the distance, the cranes from MGM Springfield construction served as a symbol of hope for economic recovery and success. “To see those cranes. Cranes in the skyline, what it means to people, whether they see it from I-91 or up on Maple Street, they see it’s a sign of progress,” said Mayor Sarno.

Still, around us on Main Street were still some empty storefronts. Kait asked, “When people are visiting the casino and obviously the casino is set up that way so that it’s part of the city, would you ideally want other businesses to be here so they can come in? Mayor Sarno responded, “I think what you start to see is, at times they say it’s a bad word, but you start to see re-gentrification occur and as we continue to move on 31 Elm Street, all due respect to a pawn shop or this or that, you can look to relocate to a different type area. That’s not going to be conducive…Bring in the positive body or people that are here and have a more disposable money, you’re going to see an eclectic mix..”

Main Street is perhaps the most visible part of Springfield, but MGM Springfield is providing just a third of 3.3 billion dollars in economic development for the city.

Click here to learn what other industries are fueling the local economy and how public safety plays a large role in the city’s future success.