MassLive (December 27, 2023)
SPRINGFIELD – Westmass Area Development Corp. will take over work of a small nonprofit under a partnership designed to boost economic growth in the city.
The two organizations joined with Springfield officials Wednesday to announce that the struggling DevelopSpringfield organization will become a subsidiary of Westmass, which owns and operates industrial parks in the region and the Ludlow Mills mixed-use development project.
The announcement comes at a time when Springfield is looking to develop key properties, including the 17.5-acre Vibra Hospital property on State Street, a prime commercial property, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said.
“This continues to expand our economic development horizons,” he said.
DevelopSpringfield was created in 2008 to take on the worst cases of blighted buildings in the city. The group bought the River Inn, a hotbed of drug deals and prostitution on State Street, and turned it into a Pride station. In another project, it converted an aging church and vacant lot on Carew Street into a Baystate Health dialysis center.
The city knows developers can’t tackle projects that are financial losers, which is where DevelopSpringfield came in. The agency would acquire and prepare problem properties for redevelopment and sell them to businesses, returning them to the tax rolls, Sarno said.
The organization owns the Springfield Innovation Center, where the announcement took place, and the historic Merrick Phelps House at 83 Maple St., which was an eyesore converted into offices.
Westmass plans to put the Merrick Phelps House on the market. The building is being rented, as are a row of garages and a carriage house in the back, said Jeff Daley, president and chief executive officer of Westmass. The house was built in 1841 for Solymon Merrick, inventor of the monkey wrench.
The Springfield Innovation Center, on Bridge Street, serves as a business incubator and has one tenant. Westmass has experience managing similar buildings. It plans to make improvements to the building and seek new tenants, Daley said.
“It is a neat complex but it needs some maintenance and attention,” he said.
With no full-time staff, DevelopSpringfield has hired Westmass and other consultants when it needed help, said Nicolas A. Fyntrilakis, its chairman.
When Fyntrilakis approached Westmass about taking over management of DevelopSpringfield, Daley said he and his staff determined they have the capability of doing the work.
Officials see benefits in Westmass expanding into the region’s largest city, the main economic driver in Western Massachusetts.
Tim Sheehan, chief development officer for the city, said he thinks Westmass will bring “a new vision to DevelopSpringfield and will enhance the work DevelopSpringfield has already accomplished by bringing forward new ideas, a talented development staff and a commitment to focusing on the development opportunities that are unique to Springfield as the largest city in Western Mass.”