“Activating” Downtown Springfield will transform Morgan Square, into Station 4.
Jim Kinney, The Republica:
Springfield – On Taylor Street, where the Duryea brothers started the first automobile company, property manager and commercial real estate broker Evan C. Plotkin wants to develop a neighborhood where no one needs a car.
“It’s ironic because the auto industry started here, but the car killed downtown Springfield” Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin Realty, said in a recent interview. “Once people started driving in the 1920s, they started moving out. They started moving their businesses out.”
Plotkin is the rental agent and manager for what’s now known as Morgan Square but used to be called the Springfield Steam Power Blocks, a complex of brick mill buildings on Lyman and Taylor Streets near the stone-arch railroad bridge over Main Street. Once, the building housed boilers that fed steam power to area industry in the days before electricity. The rest of the space was rented out to small manufacturing concerns.
“It was the industrial park of its day,” Plotkin said.
At that site, he wants to create Station 4, a housing and retail complex with restaurants and art galleries. He also hopes to offer apartments at discounted rents to people who work downtown, especially those employed at Thing 5, LLC. a telecommunications firm which promises to bring 500 jobs to the One Financial Plaza office tower five blocks south.
“We like anybody downtown,” said David A. Thor, managing director of Thing 5, LLC.”From our standpoint, being able to work and live in the same environment is a great asset. As the city matures and dies and grows again, there is a benefit to living in the city.”
Plotkin said Station 4 will fit in with recent renovations at the former federal courthouse on Main Street, the planned relocation this spring of Cambridge College to Tower Square, and the moving of 23 employees of WFCR New England Public Radio into new studios in the Fuller Block on Main Street in 2013.
Plotkin’s plan over the next few months is to rebrand the space as Station 4, a play on the nearby Amtrak station and the existence of four buildings. The complex would have 275 apartments and 16 street-level storefronts.
Plotkin also wants to incorporate artwork into the complex’s courtyards to attract people and bring in restaurants and shops. It’s all about drawing foot traffic.
“When people see other people who look like they belong, they feel safe,” Plotkin said. “We call it activating the space. The key is making a clean, safe, active environment.”
He acknowledges that the lack of a downtown supermarket will make it difficult for tenants to establish the type of urban lifestyle he’s advocating. But there are efforts under way to attract such a market.
“The world is changing away from the suburban lifestyle,” Plotkin said. “Research shows that young people just out of college want to live in a city environment and that is what companies will have to offer in order to attract that talent.”
Plotkin is also the rental agent for One Financial Plaza, formerly known as the Sovereign Bank building, where Thing5 is locating.
Despite the decided Dr. Seuss nature of both names, Plotkin insists that partnering Thing5 and Station 4 is just a coincidence.
The jobs at Thing5 will be full-time and will be mostly entry-level call center positions, including those requiring knowledge of more than one language, with a salary range of $10 to $14 per hour. There will be some management positions.
Thor said there is construction going on now at One Financial Plaza and the company has already hired about 100 of the employees it will need.
“Our struggle is to bring them up to production speed,” he said.
Thing5′s training programs vary in length.
“It really depends on the skill,” Thor said. “The job skill is very similar to what a travel agent used to do. It has to do with booking the event, not doing the research.”
But the computer systems many of Thing5′s clients use are out of date and hard to use. “You don’t know why someone has to type 5,000 words at an airline reservations counter,” Thor said. “That is why.”
Thing5 started in the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park on Federal Street in 2004.