For the second time in 18 months the city of Springfield Massachusetts was hit by a major disaster in 2012. A natural gas explosion rocked downtown on the Friday after Thanksgiving. As with the June 2011 tornado, the city went through a recovery period and is now looking to rebuild. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said his economic development officials will work up a plan that includes what the mayor recently called a “ revisioning” of the downtown Entertainment District, the home to numerous restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as other small businesses. The first priority is to get existing businesses back on their feet.
The explosion destroyed a building that was home to a strip club. More than 40 buildings in a three block radius were damaged. Three were condemned and about a dozen will require extensive repairs before the buildings can be reoccupied.
The US Small Business Administration, in response to a request from Governor Deval Patrick, is offering disaster assistance to people affected by the explosion. Residents and business owners in the affected area can apply for low interest loans for physical property damage and economic injury. Mayor Sarno said the federal help is most welcome.
Columbia Gas Company accepted responsibility for the explosion. A worker punctured a high pressure gas line because its location was marked incorrectly. The company has reported agreed to pay out $1 million so far in damage claims. It received close to 700 claims.
Although a majority of the businesses in the Entertainment District reopened a few days after the explosion, for weeks people stayed away wrongly believing the area was unsafe, or that streets were still closed. Donald Courtemanche, Executive Director of the Springfield Business Improvement District said restaurants took a big hit.
The BID ran a promotion in hopes of bringing back customers.
The preschool operator, Square One, was directly impacted by both of the recent disasters. Its early education center , and administrative offices in Springfield’s South End neighborhood were destroyed by the tornado. Square One CEO Joan Kagen said plans were to rebuild, then the gas explosion took out another of its pre schools.
Square One, which has three locations now, had to find new day care placements for 100 children along with furnishing and educational materials at an estimated cost to the agency of a half million dollars.
Some of the help received by Square One included a $25,000 donation from Penn National Gaming, which hopes to a build a casino in Springfield.