Hoping to attract more restaurants to downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, the city has begun accepting applications for a new loan program.
Mayor Domenic Sarno said Springfield used $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a dining district development fund with a goal to fill now empty storefronts, create new jobs, and bring new vitality to the core of the city’s downtown.
"We have a vision," said Sarno. " We feel we can build on bringing empty-nesters and young professionals to not only work downtown, and stay downtown after work, but to move downtown."
The loan fund is for new full service sit-down restaurants. Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said there was a lot of initial interest in the program, even before applications became available in late February.
"Restaurants have some difficulty getting bank financing and this loan fund will offer something in the 2-3 percent range for loans up to $200,000 with a reasonable repayment schedule if they will open a new restaurant in the so-called 'dining district'," explained Kennedy.
The dining district is a somewhat loosely defined area of downtown that includes an entrepreneurial-driven innovation center located just steps from the recently renovated Union Station and roughly three blocks from where the MGM casino is under construction.
Kennedy said the dining district is not viewed as competition for MGM, which will have restaurants located inside the hotel-casino complex.
" I think it is going to work," Kennedy said about the planned dining district.
The city will contract with the non-profit Common Capital to review the applications and service the loans.
Kennedy said the city is planning to spend $300,000 to widen sidewalks to make space for outdoor dining. Also, there are improvements planned to public spaces within the prospective dining district.
The Springfield Park Commission has approved design plans to restore Stearns Square and Duryea Way. Stearns Square is a block-long tree-shaded patch of grass and dirt with crumbling stone benches and a non-working water fountain. Duryea Way is a small plaza.
Kennedy said the restoration plan calls for new landscaping, trees, paved walkways, new park furniture and fixing the water fountain.
The estimated $1.2 million price tag will be paid for with federal and city funds.