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Holyoke Needs to Engage in Plan for Economic Success

Jobs and a robust tax base are essential to running a successful municipality. Holyoke is in need of comprehensive economic development. Citizens, along with government and business need to work together on determining how that tax base is developed. Holyoke needs to be an assertive player as opposed to a passive recipient, always desperate for proposals from outside the community.
The City Council has before it an order considering a spot-zone on a parcel of land on Whiting Farms Rd. The current zoning ordinances allow for residential and industrial business uses. “Spot zoning” unfairly favors the applicant of the zone change by giving preference to changes in access and traffic patterns that serve the applicant over those already established by the zoning in that area.
The Lowes proposal is “strip-mall” development not unlike the vacant and run-down area in the K-Mart Plaza which has proven not to produce promised benefits. Development in that area further disincentivizes development downtown, where it is needed most. A lack of investment in downtown is the source of our collapsing economy, as small businesses go under and Holyoke’s building stock falls into disrepair.
The Lowes proposal is a project. It is neither a plan nor part of a plan for economic success in Holyoke. It is a stand-alone enterprise seemingly removed from any larger vision of what is best for the city as whole. An expansive vision of urban planning in Holyoke would look at many variables and ask whether this project is a contribution to the direction in which Holyoke residents want the city to move.
Holyoke was founded on a sophisticated and well thought-out plan for urban development that places the core of economic activity in the city center – downtown Holyoke. A new Lowes does not get us any closer to a revitalized and successful Holyoke. Any decision that diverts badly needed resources away from downtown is nothing more than a short sighted project going after short term dollars.
The Lowes project comes not only at the expense of the industrial and residential neighbors at Whiting Farms Rd., but also at the expense of small-business owners and the Latino community who have been holding a place for economic development downtown. Our city can no longer sustain decisions based on narrow and divisive self-interests.
The community needs to work together to forge a new plan for a new Holyoke. I hope that there are other residents, who like me, have greater expectations for what Holyoke can become. We need to see your support for a long term plan that will need a lot of help. Please call or email your City Councilors and urge them to vote against this zone change.
Rebecca Lisi
Holyoke City Council At-Large

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. You have to be kidding me. We finally have a business interested in Holyoke and all you can think about is revitalizing the downtown. The state is telling cities and towns to brace for 10% cuts in state aid. How far would 3 million dollars go to stabilizing the budget. I hope the voters remember this next election.

  2. Thank you for your comment C. Please don't forget that the city does not receive any money for the sale; it goes to the G&E who can only use it internally to either adjust the rates or invest in capital improvements.

  3. City government must consider the citizens of Holyoke first. The community must be the number one priority. Once this simple idea is understood and implemented, only then will a healthy, vibrant city economy have the chance to grow and move forward. Holyoke must form productive economic strategies utilizing the city’s citizen, business, and government strengths. It is my belief that Holyoke is a city that hosts great resources and promise. It is a city constructed on honest, hardworking, and intelligent people. The city has the potential to become a leader. It is a city that has an opportunity to step out from the clouds of neglect and poverty that have covered it for so long.

    Strip malls are not the answer. If Holyoke is to experience comprehensive economic development it must avoid such archaic methods of revitalization and aggressively pursue innovative and creative economic solutions. Holyoke must promote the invitation of outside industry that brings jobs of high skill and technology. Industry that will operate as an important economic component of the future. Alternative areas like green industry and energy are but a few of the promising possibilities available. Holyoke must support and encourage collaborative efforts and projects that are located within it’s own neighborhoods. Holyoke must become more self-sustaining. I believe I am not alone by saying it is time for Holyoke to move in the direction of change. The city must move towards a positive and productive change that centers on the needs and resources of our community.

    The downtown region of the city is a vital part of Holyoke’s economy. At one time it served as the engine of a strong Holyoke workforce. Today it is empty, crumbling, and forgotten. Meaningful action to revitalize downtown Holyoke should have been taken long ago. In order for this city to realisticly consider the possibility of true economic gains it must address with vigor the needs of the businesses downtown. In today’s world our nation is fast becoming plagued with economic downfall and uncertainty. The direction Holyoke moves in the next few years will have an overwhelming impact on the people and businesses that call this city home for decades to come.

    Thomas Vickers

  4. I disagree

    Why is it ok, for a few neighbors of a middle class white neighborhood to cry and whine about Lowes, but its ok to dump trash (literally) on a low income Latino neighborhood.

    Yes we need tax revenue, we need economic stimulus, but the Lowes Site is on a sparse residential mostly Industrial Street.

    Crying about Kmart Plaza is due to the non-business climate of Holyoke itself, especially with the dual tax rate. Higher tax rates on a strip mall like Kmart increases the rent of these stores.
    Basically by causing empty stores you are giving the owners a Tax Shelter, and causing the city to lose more money from lack of more business revenue

    Holyoke is notorius for stealing from peter to pay paul, just look at the money that was supposed to go to Scott’s Tower from the lease of the cell tower.

    So what we need are creative thinkers for the benefit of the city, the residents of Holyoke need to pay a sacrifice.

    Approve the zone change, Cap the property tax going into the City Fund at say 50%, The Other 50% goes into a revitalization fund for the downtown area.

    There will be additional tax revenue from the other stores in the mall and licensing fees.

    So everyone can say not in my neighborhood, then complain when their property taxes go up.

  5. now- I don’t have a problem with Lowes coming to town. I have a problem with the lack of planning in choosing a proper location for the business that could have maximum benefit for the city.

    also, the same councilors who favor the waste transfer station downtown, accepting the plan “as is”, are the same councilors who are willing to accept this plan “as is”

    I am just saying that we should be able to position ourselves better. Holyoke has no plan to go after what it wants/needs.

  6. “Holyoke was founded on a sophisticated and well thought-out plan for urban development that places the core of economic activity in the city center – downtown Holyoke. A new Lowes does not get us any closer to a revitalized and successful Holyoke. Any decision that diverts badly needed resources away from downtown is nothing more than a short sighted project going after short term dollars.”

    Holyoke’s urban core development was innovative and well thought out for the 19th century. Successful modern development is concentrated along transportation corridors and accessible corridors convenient to other destinations.

    How many flourishing pre-war industrial downtown urban centers can you think of in New England that still boasts a sizeable industrial base? Today’s vibrant urban centers have succeeded because of an arts and urban living movement which is what Holyoke is beginning to see and should pursue further.

    The Lowes development would generate taxes on previously undeveloped city owned land. This is a net gain in revenue for the city. Current economic conditions will not allow the Whiting Farms parcel to be developed if Lowes is denied the opportunity leaving a large overgrown lot for the foreseeable future.

  7. Business wants to go where the people are. Since the Holyoke Mall attracts the most people to Holyoke, it would seem logical that Lowes would want to be near that customer base. Look at other areas where Lowes and Home Depot’s are located. They are in areas that have significant traffic (Boston Road, Route 9 Hadley, Memorial Drive in Chicopee, Route 20 in Westfield and Route 5 in West Springfield).

    Where is Holyoke’s retail business area? It is the Holyoke Mall and the immediate areas surrounding it. I would expect that the Lowes development would give the Kmart Plaza the boost it has always needed. Other businesses will want to be near the Lowes and the only other area on that street would be in the Kmart plaza. Most businesses want to be in areas where people will visit and be around other businesses that prosper. Just look at the developments in surrounding towns. A great example is Hadley, look at the boom of business there!!

    Downtown has nothing to offer large retail businesses like Lowes. There is currently nothing there to attract retailers, which is why there are no large retail developments downtown. Lowes isn’t going to build in a location that is not going to be profitable for them.

    I am all for an economic revitalization plan for downtown, but everyone just keeps talking about it and nothing gets done. Mean while businesses are opening up in the communities that surround Holyoke and eventually we will be standing there wondering why we missed the boat. There is only so much more you can tax the home owners of Holyoke (like myself) before we give up on the dream for Holyoke and move on to raise there family’s.


  8. ward7 and merrill-

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts. Very similar sentiments.

    The economy is changing and I believe that Holyoke is poised to be a leader in the up and coming Green Industry sector.

    I think that the city needs to play a role in generating transportation corridors downtown as well. Otherwise, we will be stuck with a blighted downtown that continues to drain resources as opposed to contributing to the overall economy.

    I believe that I have been doing “something” about downtown:

    I am thinking on a city-wide scale whever any project comes before the City Council and carefully considering the impacts on opportunities downtown.

    I helped to bring “Smart-Growth” zoning to the city which facilitate in-fill and mixed-use development in the urban center.

    I have helped to found c.r.u.s.h. (Citizens for the Revitalization and Urban Success of Holyoke) which is focused on bringing together the residents, businesses, and resourses necessary for successful urban renewal.

    It’s not all happening at once, but these are some steps that I have taken to get things started. the City will need a lot of help from all sectors of the community.

  9. found this letter to editor in The Republican, Sunday Dec. 21:

    Lowe’s store won’t fix local economy

    The Republican’s Dec. 9 editorial supporting Lowe’s plan to build a new store in Holyoke cited several reasons including: added tax revenue and more jobs for the local population. All that the chain needs is a zone change from industrial to commercial. Voila – end of problem and all will be fine. As a veteran of “East Longmeadow First,” the no-Lowe’s initiative in that town in 2006, building a Lowe’s is not that easy and there are hidden facts that no one is telling the people in Holyoke about.

    First, Lowe’s is known as “a category killer,” which means the stores have a negative impact on hardware, paint, lumber yards, furniture, flooring, nursery and garden and appliance stores. This may not seem bad, but there could be a 60 percent to 80 percent shift in sales from present stores to Lowe’s. This indeed will impact Holyoke significantly. It will most likely lead to loss of jobs and loss of tax revenue at the local level.

    There are other concerns to consider, such as the strain it will put on the existing water and sewer systems. These stores use thousands of gallons of water a day. Another question to ask is what kind of impact will Lowe’s place on your police and fire departments.

    The Reading Home Depot recently named a local policeman as employee of the year because he spent so much time there. And in Quincy one Lowe’s burned and released toxic fumes in to the air and was a threat to the local population.

    In the long run, Lowe’s is not a good thing for the city of Holyoke. It is a quick fix to a problem that needs some in-depth thinking. If Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan wants to help his city, and I believe he does, he must not look for a quick fix with possible serious repercussions.

    The mayor should look into manufacturing. I have heard a lot this past year or so about “green collar” workers. What if we embraced this idea and look into companies that would want to have a base in Holyoke?



  10. Holyoke is a diamond in the ruff, just waiting for some smart people to come along and take advantage of all that is there.

    If we could only get the taxes lowered and intice some folks to build here. And not Lowes or Waste Management either. I’m talking real industry, green industry.

    Look at Toledo Ohio and what they’ve done with the glass industry that was there and died. Ohio cut taxes and inticed people to open up new businesses. Guess what, it works! Toledo is now producing a large portion of the PVCs being manufactured right here in the good ol US of A. They have also created some 7,000 new jobs in that industry over the last year alone. These are good paying jobs, unlike those that will be created by a Lowes or even worse Waste Management.

    I suggest we tell John Olver we need a train to come back to downtown. AMTRAK has no business going to Amherst via Palmer. What idiot thought that up?

    We have no light rail either. The Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail are on the “Right Track” (Excuse the pun)

    I strongly support this group.

    Imagine a light rail system that starts in New Haven, and goes all the way up the Connecticut River Valley via Hartford, Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, Hadley and then into Amherst.

    We can also look at connecting it out to Westover and build a real terminal out there. Say a loop from Springfield via Chicopee Falls, or Willimansett into Holyoke. We have the rails already, all we need to do is upgrade them for passenger service.

    President Elect Obama promised to bring change to America. Let him start in Holyoke.

    What I personally want to see is a single politician in this city, county, state, stand up and say, “Hey, President Obama, Over Here! We Need Your Help!”

    Your thoughts?

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