Nearly 10 months after a tornado caused widespread damage businesses have returned in surprisingly strong numbers to the commercial district just south of downtown Springfield Massachusetts. In the immediate wake of the June 1st disaster there were fears the tornado would be the last straw for recession slammed business owners, but that has proved not to be the case. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Dave's Furniture Store, a fixture in Springfield's South End Neighborhood for forty years reopened its show room on Main Street earlier this week. Owner David Dudley says the store took a direct hit from the June 1st tornado. Contractors labored for more than 9 months to repair damage that cost $280,000.
All up and down the commercial corridor just south of downtown, tradesmen over the last several months have managed to transform a streetscape of blue tarps, boarded windows and broken brick facades back into a neighborhood of restaurants, specialty food stores, retail shops and professional offices. Dudley says the pace of the rebuilding is very encouraging.
About sixty businesses in the South End were directly impacted by the tornado, according to the city's economic development office. Forty-two of the businesses have reopened, 8 moved away, and just 7 businesses closed.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno thanks the business owners who chose to stay, and praises the city's economic development officials who worked to see that the neighborhood survived by providing grants, referrals to state and federal agencies, debris removal, and in some cases temporary space.
There are vacant lots, where condemned buildings had to be razed. The neighborhood lost a community center and a major day care provider. The mayor says a complete recovery will take three to five years.
Many credit as a catalyst to the South End's tornado recovery, the decision by Caring Health Center to proceed with an expansion of its medical and dental clinic on South Main Street.
Because of the storm damage to the building, the project's cost rose by about two million dollars to a total of 20 million dollars. Construction work commenced last fall. The new clinic will provide services to 26 thousand low income people and result in 150 new jobs, according to Caring Health executive director Anne Awad.
A food co-op also recently returned to business in the South End after it was closed by the tornado. The co-op is run by Alliance to Develop Power, an agency that advocates for poor people. Prior to the storm it provided one week's worth of food to 150 families, according to Elsie Gonzalez a coordinator of the co-op.
Alliance to Develop Power temporarily re-located its offices to Holyoke after the tornado damaged the Springfield building. But, executive director Tim Fisk says they provided emergency services and counseling to tornado victims in the South End.
Across the street from the food co-op there is a vacant lot, where a four story apartment building stood until the tornado tore off most of the top floor and the building was condemned. The hundreds of housing units for low income people that were lost in the tornado have not been rebuilt. The city's master plan for tornado recovery envisions new housing being constructed in the South End that is mostly owner-occupied.