A sweeping economic development bill signed into law this week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick streamlines state funding for local infrastructure projects. State officials say an example of how it is suppose to work can be found in a Springfield neighborhood that was ravaged by last year’s tornado. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Six separate grant programs have been consolidated under the umbrella of the MassWorks Infrastructure Program. It has awarded $63.4 million dollars to 42 cities and towns of all sizes in all regions of the state for work this spring and summer to fix up streets and sidewalks.
Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki, whose agency oversees the program, says the projects funded by the state support local initiatives in economic development, housing and job creation.
Bialecki said the consolidation of six capital budget programs for infrastructure grants was something his agency had been doing in practice before it became part of the new law.
The city of Springfield received a $1.2 million MassWorks program grant for a streetscape improvement project in the South End, in a sub-section of the neighborhood known as the “ Hollywood District”. Officials say the work that is underway will improve the physical condition of streets, traffic circulation, and on-street parking. Bialecki said it will make it easier and safer for people to get around.
The infrastructure project is also supporting a future phased rehabilitation of 23 historic buildings that will result in more than 300 new apartments for rent. The project’s developer, Gordon Pulsifer says its $75 million investment.
The streetscape project and the new housing are part of a larger South End neighborhood revitalization project that launched a few years ago. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said it took on new urgency after last year’s tornado ravaged the neighborhood.
Housing specialists have been using a planning grant awarded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to map out major improvements in the South End. Sarah Page, an official with the non profit HAP housing, said there are plans to replace a community center that was destroyed by the tornado, do major renovations to a public housing project, and improve social services.
City officials hope to secure a $20 million grant from HUD later this year to put the plan into action.