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Down by the River Connecticut…

Today at the site of the Old Basketball Hall of Fame, the developers of the remodeled complex, Mike Spagnoli and Peter Pappas, along with distinguished guests participated in the formal groundbreaking of the project.

The project, known as River’s Landing, will include a branch of the L.A. Fitness Sports Club chain, a sports medicine clinic, and a restaurant to be called Hollywood Barn. The restaurant’s name is an amalgamation of two restaurants owned by the developers family in the past. Both Spagnoli and Pappas are from the area originally. In attendence were many of the area’s most prominent movers and shakers, including Cong. Richard Neal, Mayor Charles Ryan, State Rep and Chairperson of the House Tourism Committee Rosemary Sandlin, and former State Senator and current Clerk of Courts Brian Lees.

While I did take some notes on what the speakers had to say, I will spare you the quotes. Oh, I’ll take some time sprinkle in the greatest hits, but mostly I’m going to boil this down to what it means for Springfield: Local Faith.

Various news reports, blogger posts, and press releases all over the region indicate that what Springfield lacks is local faith in the economy, in the region, and so on. This malaise is crucial. Without local support and local interest, those who know the region best cannot think creatively to expand upon local resources and develop and sustain growth. Most developments in the city and indeed throughout the region come from companies outside the region (chains) or investors looking to add to their portfolio (money men in NYC and Boston). Case in point is the recently opened Applebee’s on Boston Road. These additions are certainly welcome, as I love Applebees, and they provide jobs, not entirely surprisingly for people I know. However, we also want to see expanded local enterprises and jobs outside the service sector.

Innovation like River’s Landing is key and as Cong. Neal said today, continues to open the city’s “front door to the River.” With any luck it will turn this stream of investment into a raging river. David Panagore, Director of Economic Development noted that this project will generate interest for the soon-to-be cleared York Street Jail Site. The hope is to create something of a domino effect or even snowballing with the next investment being bigger and better.

Panagore made a point to emphasize not to “over-promise and under-deliver,” as the city has in times past. Sustainability is key in his view. Indeed he’s right. The city’s population has grown so cynical about such projects that they are barely met with any enthusiasm. So many have become nothing. According to Pappas and Spagnoli, after the unveiling of their plans their website received 7000 hits, underscoring the strong chances of sustainability for their project (and perhaps a profound shift in local thinking?). Dr. Spagnoli said it right when called for area residents to “Love where you live.”

While turnaround is visible in many quarters of the city, a move toward Spagnoli’s advice, perhaps spurred by his and Pappas’ project will be key to cement any recovery.