To better inform your decision about the upcoming election, SPT sent four questions regarding important current historic preservation topics to better understand how city council candidates stand on historic preservation in Springfield. We sent the following message to all city council candidates and asked that they respond by October 27th.
The Springfield Preservation Trust is a 45-year old nonprofit concerned with the city’s built environment. We have held home tours to showcase historic districts, purchased and renovated houses, given awards to acknowledge those who have done good things to old buildings, maintained a Most Endangered List for threatened buildings, and have advocated with local government on preservation issues.
Over the years, numerous consultants have included historic buildings as one of Springfield’s assets. City government, however, continues to neglect these assets. The Trust would like to know your thoughts on the following four questions to share with our members.
1) The Historical Commission protects 1300 properties in the City’s twelve local historic districts, oversees the Demolition Delay Ordinance, and reviews federal, state, and municipal projects which impact historic resources. The SHC remains, however, one of the few major commissions not provided staff support by anyone trained in its area. Would you support creation of a position trained in historic preservation to assist the SHC and then advocate with the Mayor to fund the position?
2) The City continues to fund demolition–including demolition of historic buildings–rather than offer rehabilitation incentives. This policy reduces the tax base and disrupts neighborhood fabric. What would you do as a city councilor to see that City’s first efforts are to provide rehabilitation incentives rather than to utilize demolition funds?
3) The long-vacant historic Court Square Building is proposed to be renovated–which is a good thing. The developers, however, are asking the City to fund acquisition and demolition of the Shean Block at the corner of Main and State Streets for a 40-car surface parking lot. This idea is neither good preservation nor good urban design financed by the tax payers. Would you advocate for less costly alternatives which don’t result in the loss of an early 20th century building anchoring an important corner?
4) The City often holds tax-foreclosed buildings for several years, during which the structures deteriorate from lack of care. For example, the City foreclosed in 2009 on the historic Chapman & Brooks Block at 135 Lyman Street and the historic Knox Automobile Factory at 53 Wilbraham Road. Both buildings are now in far worse condition than when acquired by the City. What would you do to ensure that foreclosed buildings are maintained while awaiting disposition?
Below are the Responses Received
(additional responses added as received)
Tim Allen, ward 7
I am a member of the Springfield Preservation Trust and attend all the events that I can, including most recently the house tour that was held in June 2017. I have consistently been in support of historic preservation issues. While the Allis mansion on the Mercy Hospital property ultimately was demolished, I was one of two councilors who advocated strongly and publicly for the pursuit of alternatives. Listed below are my responses to the survey.
1) I would love to see a city employee who oversees the historic properties in the city. However, as Chair of the Finance Committee of the City Council, I am pretty aware of the financial difficulties of the city. On a day-to-day basis, we are doing well financially overall, but we are severely under-funded on our pension plan, and face an increase of $5 million dollars in our annual payment to the state next fiscal year (July 2018). While I would love to see that position funded, I would have to look at it in the context of how next year’s budget looks. I will pursue the thought of adding that position and find out as much as I can in order to be informed on the subject.
2) This is a topic that needs to be pursued. Properties have been demolished when there might have been a chance of rehabilitation. I was a sponsor of the Demolition Delay ordinance which we put in place a few years ago. Hopefully that has helped. I will pursue more knowledge on how it is easier to demolish a building than to put those funds towards rehabbing the building. Obviously, rehab is more expensive in most cases, but some funds could be better allocated.
3) I do not support the demolition of the Shean Block. There have to be better alternatives – I can think of a couple myself! I am a member of the Casino Oversight Committee. While this has not been a huge topic at our two meetings, I know that people are aware of the concern people have about demolishing that block. I support the pursuit of better alternatives.
4) I will learn about this process. I do not know who oversees these buildings after the city acquires them. With the knowledge of the budget constraints and the fact that there are practical considerations about investment in a building with an uncertain future, we still need to understand the process and the risk of letting the properties deteriorate. I can point out an example of an investment in a city-owned property. The building at 31 Elm Street that is the centerpiece of the Court Square project has recently received a new roof paid for by the city. That investment better positions the property for development. I believe this is an example of the type of activity that you are advocating for.
Bob Collamore, ward 6
2) Before any building is demolished. I will carefully see if it can be rehabilitated. I will work the Historic Preservation Trust in efforts to provide incentives rather that total demolition.
4) The city must maintain all tax-foreclosure properties in the city. I will be vigilant and will seek for alternatives before demolition, and work hand and hand with the History Perseveration Trust timely goals.
Melvin Edwards, ward 3
2) Encourage the Mayor to make funds available
4) Willing to support funding for more adequate inspections and staff designated for maintenance
Michael Fenton, ward 2
2) I drafted an ordinance to address this (Section 218-3(F)). I am willing to continue these efforts. Below is the text of the ordinance I drafted, which is now law:
(1) No municipal department shall use general funds, grant funds, or bond funds to demolish a building without first offering, through a request for proposals, financial rehabilitation incentives equal to or greater than the estimated cost of demolition. The results of the request for proposal will be reported to the City Council in writing. If no acceptable responses to such a request for proposals are received by the City, the applicable municipal department will advise the Council that no acceptable responses were received, and request clearance to complete the demolition. At that time, the Council can either approve the demolition or order another attempt at issuing an RFP.
(2) When the RFP is issued, such RFP will note the amount of money available for the rehabilitation, and shall further:
(a) Require proof that the respondent is financially able to complete the rehabilitation;
(b) Require a detailed plan of rehabilitation, including a firm time line. The rehabilitation of all properties governed by this section shall be completed no later than 12 months from the date of award of the project;
(c) Require that any respondent sign a reverter deed to the property, with advisement to the respondent that failure to timely complete the rehabilitation will result in the filing of the reverter deed, extinguishing his/her rights to the property and returning ownership of the property to the City of Springfield;
(d) Advise all respondents that the rehabilitation plan and all work done in accordance with such plan must comply with all applicable codes, and must be approved by the Commission for historical appropriateness;
(e) Advise respondents that the financial incentive money will not be paid out until the project is complete, and a certificate of occupancy has been issued by the City of Springfield Building Department;
(f) Require that respondent does not have a significant history of noncompliance with code enforcement as determined by the RFP Review Committee and/or does not have any outstanding financial obligations to the City.
4) I will fight to see that these building are: (1) maintained properly while under City control by advocating for municipal funding to be made available for this purpose, and (2) swiftly returned to the tax rolls through by advocating for an expedited RFP process that allows developers to purchase and restore these historic resources as quickly as possible.
Jesse Lederman, at-large
1) I believe it is critical that the Springfield Historical Commission is staffed by a qualified professional to assist in carrying out it’s duties. For years, Commission members have volunteered far beyond the norm to maintain the duties of the Commission in absence of such staff support. This practice has resulted in a lack of continuity for the Commission, and means that when members who take on those tasks leave the Commission, their institutional knowledge leaves with them. I would support the creation of such a position and would advocate to the Mayor for funding it.
2) When we demolish a historic property in one of our neighborhoods, not only do we lose a piece of history from our city, but we also lose a potential home for a family – meaning our neighborhoods grow smaller, and our tax base shrinks. I believe we should always prioritize potential preservation and restoration of historic properties over demolition. Our historic properties are one of Springfield’s greatest assets. I supported the successful efforts to pass a demolition delay ordinance in Springfield to help slow down the process of demolition and provide more time for advocacy for historic buildings. I also believe that with the implementation of the Community Preservation Act, additional funds will be in place for such restoration. As a City Councilor, I will continue to support preservation projects, and will advocate for innovative funding solutions to support historic preservation.
3) I do not support the demolition of the Shean Block. I believe this is a bad idea not only for historic preservation, but also in terms of the landscape and future development of our Downtown. As a City Councilor I will work together with community organizations and residents to advocate for an alternative to the demolition of the Shean Block.
4) I believe that banks in possession of foreclosed properties as well as properties in possession by the City should be held to the same standard that we hold homeowners to. For bank-owned properties, we need to utilize code enforcement and legal action to ensure banks are keeping up their properties, and in the past I have supported legislation to require banks to front bond money to ensure their foreclosed properties are maintained. In the case of city-owned properties, we need to evaluate the current practices in place for their maintenance, and move forward with an action plan to ensure that the deterioration that has occurred in the past does not again. This can include a clearer accountability process within city government regarding who is responsible for the maintenance of such properties while they are in possession by the city.
Kelli Moriarty-Finn, at-large
1) Yes, as the City of Homes it is an embarrassment not to have such a funded position.
2) Again, as the City of Homes, we need to think outside the box and get creative financing or grants at the state and or federal levels that would allow for great preservation/rehabilitation rather than demolition.
3) Absolutely, a surface lot there would be a complete and utter eyesore. Additionally, we will have the MGM garage to utilize which is within walking distance of the proposed surface lot, not to mention a garage at Union Station that seemingly is hardly being utilized.
4) The city needs to hold the owner accountable to maintain the property while it remains in foreclosure. I propose taking foreclosure owners to housing court after they have received 2 code violations. After that, their tax rate should increase until they make a concerted effort to remedy the situation. FYI, my husband and I bought our great home at 63 Atwater Terrace while it was in foreclosure. In our case, the bank was doing right by the neighborhood and properly maintaining the property.
Timothy J. Ryan, at-large
1) Yes, I could support the creation of a position to assist the SHC in its mission. My question back to you is whether there are any CDBG funds, or state funds or grants that could be used to pay for some or all of this position.
2) Yes, I would like to redevelop whenever possible. The problem is that I am not aware of “city” funds that are available, other than funds that may come to the city through CDBG, and those funds continue to decline on an annual basis.
3) The re-development of the Court Square building is crucial. Elm St running from Main to the Housing Court has lovely buildings. My sense is that the redevelopment of the Court Square building will require a substantial encroachment on the back of the building. As such the on-site parking will be lost. I am not crazy about the demolition of the buildings on Main and State St, but if that is a cost of the larger project we have to move forward. The Court Square building has been closed for about 20 years, prior to that it was in decline for another 20-30 years. It is a difficult building to redevelop, and we need to recognize that, and preserve what we can.
4) As to funding a position you know the practical problem is prying these funds away from the CD overhead, which I am sure those funds support. Let me ask does SHC need a fulltime, or can a 50% position be a start towards something better.
As to the City properties referenced in question 4, those properties were acquired through tax title foreclosure. As such, the city reluctantly became the owner of these properties. I am uncertain as to any efforts by the city to sell or transfer the properties upon acquisition of the same. My guess is that there was little demand for these properties. Both buildings are a link to an important, but unrecognized industrial past of the city. Due to the size of these buildings the cost of repair and maintenance must be very high.
Moving forward the city needs to have a better, more efficient plan for the turnover and disposition of tax title properties. The tax title custodian is one of those hidden little items and if elected, I would be happy to work with you to review the number and identity of properties held by the city and any disposition plans or efforts.
E. Henry Twiggs, ward 4
1) Yes, because the task of historic preservation enhances the unique character of our city and the reputation of Springfield. It helps to attract new businesses and residents. For over 30 years, I have historically supported preservation over demolition of historical homes, as a real estate developer and as a city councilor.
2) While I favor the demolition of abandoned “eye sores” that detract from the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods, the removal of historic buildings, with no thought to their significance, is a policy I would oppose. Such matters should be carefully considered on a case by case basis, and incentives should be provided to rehabilitate sites of historic value.
3) If financial costs are greater than the benefits to be derived, the question almost answers itself. Furthermore, urban design should always figure heavily in such decisions. With respect to the historical Court Square building called The Shean Block at Main and State Streets, I am already on record as being opposed to such a drastic consideration. Creating a parking lot on Main Street is out of the question. My work on the Council will be to encourage a majority to vote with me on such a silly proposal.
4) The physical deterioration of tax-foreclosed structures is a common problem in urban areas. The city should be taking measures to prevent this situation, especially when a building has historical value. I would favor the development of a plan – which involved input from The Preservation Trust – that would address the problem.
Kateri Walsh, at-large
1) Absolutely. If there were a designated, trained advocate, she could work on the issues highlighted in your questionnaire.
2) The City Council has taken steps to provide rehabilitation incentives. We passed the Demolition Delay Ordinance to address this issue. As a City Councilor, we can advocate to support funding of appropriate staff in Law department, Office of Housing and Code Enforcement to make a real effort to get properties back on the tax rolls. Allocation of funds , however are not the responsibility of the City Council. We also would not have authority over Court ordered or dangerous properties.
3) I support the renovation of the long vacant Court Square Buildings . My husband had an office in that building and I appreciate the historic appeal of the building and the need to preserve it. Discussions regarding other plans are underway and up for review .
4) Regarding foreclosed buildings maintaince awaiting disposition, I’d like to point out that The City is doing a much better job of getting properties back on the Tax Rolls by increasing Tax Title auctions. This not only gets properties back in private hands but improves the appearance of property for neighbors. For example, on Sumner Avenue, Oakland Street and Page Bouvelard there are now 3 abandoned fire stations in private hands producing tax revenue. I would support allocating funds to secure buildings awaiting demolition.