The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mayor Brindle on September 21, 2022.
A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY FOR WESTFIELD
At this week’s Town Council meeting, HBC | Streetworks Development, the owner of the Lord & Tayor site, presented their plans for the development of their property, as well as the North and South Avenue municipal parking lots. Branded as “One Westfield Place,” this potentially historic project is the culmination of over three years of collaboration and community input. I would like to take this opportunity to recap how we got to this exciting moment.
As we have all witnessed first-hand, our downtown has struggled over the past ten to fifteen years due to a variety of factors – the shift to online shopping, a loss of daily foot traffic from employers who departed, and long-standing issues around parking and infrastructure that had not been adequately addressed for many years. Neighboring towns, on the other hand, had taken measures during that time to revitalize their downtowns, leaving Westfield even further behind.
After taking office in 2018, one of my first priorities was addressing the inevitable challenge of our Lord & Taylor in light of the shifting retail landscape. To that end, I facilitated discussions with the top executives at the parent company, Hudson’s Bay Company, to ensure there were open lines of communication with the Town about the future of the property.
When Lord & Taylor closed in 2020, it lent an even greater urgency to addressing our downtown challenges and, fortunately, our relationship with HBC was established. More importantly, our community had already embarked on a journey to create a long-term vision for Westfield which resulted in a roadmap for future progress, with a specific focus on restoring the health and vibrancy of our downtown. This process, driven by your input, resulted in an updated Master Plan Reexamination which was adopted in 2019 and now informs how we, the residents of Westfield, want to achieve our shared vision.
Since Lord & Taylor closed, HBC | Streetworks Development has been engaged and committed to Westfield. As our largest downtown property owner and taxpayer, they have a vested interest in the long-term vitality of our town, and their history of community involvement has proven them to be a trusted partner.
In order to devise a plan that reflects not only what Westfield wants and needs, but more importantly, who Westfield is, they pored over our Master Plan, spending the past two years meeting with residents, community groups, and business and property owners; attending many of our favorite community events; hosting Facebook Live seminars on their areas of expertise; and spending time here among us, often just simply listening and learning.
The proposal they unveiled this week was guided by the cumulative input from all of those efforts, as well as Westfield’s top-flight team of redevelopment professionals and the Master Plan Reexamination. With a commitment to maintaining Westfield’s distinct character, they are proposing a downtown for the future – a downtown that will deliver a vibrant commercial hub for generations to enjoy; resolve long-standing traffic, parking, and congestion challenges; provide engaging spaces for community gathering, art, and events; and result in unprecedented new sources of commercial tax revenue.
Their proposal is designed to celebrate the best of our community and reaffirm Westfield’s long-standing reputation as one of the premier places to live in the state. This is an opportunity to shape the downtown we want our kids to inherit – one that serves as a national model for a post-COVID Main Street community that prioritizes people over cars, dedicating itself to sustainability, walkability, inclusivity, and affordability – and one that meets the needs and desires of all of our residents and downtown businesses, including those who have been here for generations as well those who have just arrived.
Westfield’s potential partnership with HBC l Streetworks Development proposes a historic investment in our downtown that would benefit every taxpayer, and is only possible through a proposed PILOT agreement which will deliver $200M in incremental tax revenue over the next 30 years, enabling Westfield to undertake a wide range of important initiatives that include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Stabilizing resident taxes and improving property values;
- Reinvigorating the Town's public spaces;
- Repurposing underutilized flat surface parking lots;
- Optimizing and creating user-friendly parking;
- Improving pedestrian connectivity, specifically between the north and south sides;
- Building a long overdue new firehouse and repurposing our existing historic one into a community space;
- Upgrading infrastructure and improving climate resiliency;
- Implementing meaningful traffic mitigation measures;
- Memorializing and upgrading Open Quimby;
- Building new playing fields and upgrading our parks;
- Providing assistance to our schools to support priority capital projects
Under our current tax structure, we, like most municipalities, could never support most of these public improvements. This partnership represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize our collective aspirations for the future of Westfield.
I would like to thank our team of redevelopment professionals who have worked diligently with HBC | Streetworks Development for the past three years to get us to this moment, specifically:
Economic development advisor and 28-year Westfield resident Liz Jeffery; redevelopment planners Phil Abramson and Chris Colley; redevelopment legal counsel Bob Goldsmith and Steve Mlenak; finance professional Bob Powell; redevelopment bond counsel and Westfield resident Matt Jessup; traffic management consultant John Federico; and parking consultant Jim Zullo. Their collective vast experience ensures that this proposal delivers on the priorities that matter to all of us: traffic and safety, parking, financial health, and smart growth that moves our town forward while staying true to our town’s historical character.
I would also like to thank Town Administrator Jim Gildea for his expertise and guidance, and to Finance Committee Chair Linda Habgood and Code Review and Town Property Committee Chair Mark Parmelee for their leadership in helping to guide a proposal that maximizes the benefits to Westfield residents and taxpayers.
It’s an exciting time to be a Westfield resident. There is a tremendous amount of momentum building in our downtown as we have seen with last week’s announcement about a transformative donation and progress at the Rialto, as well as the recent surge in new downtown business openings – including over 30 just this year. With the wind at our back, now is the time to seize our future and set up Westfield for long-term success.
The proposal from HBC l Streetworks Development is just the beginning of a conversation, not a final presentation. As you assess their proposed project, it’s important to remember what changes are not being considered, and that is our traditional downtown as we know it. The only development being proposed is on flat surface parking lots which are currently not delivering any foot traffic to our stores, public benefit to our residents, or tax revenue to the town.
Our team of professionals has worked hard to bring forth a well-scaled, financially compelling proposal that reflects the community’s guiding principles for a vibrant downtown – honoring our past while planning for our future. It’s now up to you to take it from here. You can view the HBC | Streetworks Development presentation and other details of the proposed project at onewestfieldplace.com. In addition, I encourage you to visit their Preview Center at 76 Elm Street (formerly Chico’s), which opens in early October, to see a full scale model of the project, ask questions, and provide feedback. The final outcome will only be as good as the public input they receive so please let them know what matters to you.
This is a historic opportunity for our community, and one that relies on your participation. Thank you, as always, for your engagement and commitment to making Westfield a great place for all of us to call home.