The images of downtown Springfield in the plans presented to the Township Committee earlier this month looked markedly different from the downtown that exists today.
The architects, designers and attorneys who made the presentation emphasized that the plan was still in its early stages and was an ongoing process. But even a diluted version of what was presented would be a dramatic shift from the Morris Ave. business district as it stands.
Bob Blakeman, an architect from the firm PS&S, presented images of a bright and modern urban shopping area teeming with pedestrians and lit by sunlight. Blakeman said that the plan was an example of “new urbanism” and that pains were taken to include mixed use of housing and businesses in the space. The end result, Blakeman said, is hoped to make a place that was attractive for people to both live and work.
He said the plan employs sustainable development practices, noting that the shops and homes were positioned and designed to take advantage of natural sunlight.
“The green infrastructure and glass will allow the buildings to use less energy,” Blakeman told the Township Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 9.
In addition, he said the open, sunny design would have impact on public safety through increased visibility.
“It will reduce crime and improve safety,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman termed the plans “smart growth,” saying that the designs, which include a central courtyard, would be compact and kept within the current shopping district’s perimeter.
Mark Lennon, an attorney from the firm McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, the firm that the Springfield Business Improvement District has signed a Redevelopment Counsel Services Agreement, said that the redevelopment was a long time coming.
“Springfield has been trying to redevelop for over a decade,” he said, noting that a recent big push for remaking downtown was upended by flooding in 2007. He noted that flooding issues were taken into account in this plan.
“Because the area is in a flood plain, there are several limitations on what you can build and how you can build,” Lennon said, adding that everything shown in the presentation would clear state environmental regulations.
Lennon said that dealing with the interests of a group of property owners presented a second challenge for the project. He noted that there were multiple owners of the properties alongside some municipal property. Committee member David Amlen noted that property owners have been unresponsive to past calls for redevelopment and asked what would be different with this plan.
“Make it economically attractive and they’ll do it,” Lennon said, adding that tax abatements can be powerful incentives and that knocking down select existing structures would be called for. “Almost all concepts involve demolition.”
Mayor Ziad Shehady emphasized that the plan was not a final conclusion, but instead was a concept plan that could show what was possible and help cut through red tape. Blakeman added that the development was planned to occur in phases.