AN EXCITING STEP FORWARD FOR DOWNTOWN WESTFIELD
Last night, we took a very exciting and long-overdue step forward in realizing the untapped potential of our downtown by adopting the Redevelopment Plan for the One Westfield Place proposal! I want to thank everyone who took the time to join us at the Town Council meeting to provide input, express concerns, and show support.
At the opening of the meeting, I provided a bit of context and background on this complex project which touches on a variety of issues – downtown vitality, economic impact, traffic, revenue opportunity, financial risk mitigation, scale/density, and more. The significant level of engagement we’ve had with our residents, business owners, and downtown property owners is what we had always hoped for; however, the forest has often gotten lost through the trees when discussing the many details of the proposal. I want to take this opportunity to recap how we got here and what this proposal is aiming to solve.
The One Westfield Place proposal is the culmination of four years of planning and collaboration with HBC | Streetworks Development, and is the result of the public’s input into a new Master Plan Reexamination that was unanimously adopted by the Planning Board and supported by the Town Council, along with subsequent input Streetworks received from numerous community groups with whom they met prior to the proposal’s September introduction. Each of these planning milestones was discussed publicly and often, always with the goal of ensuring and encouraging resident engagement in the process. As The Westfield Leader noted in their editorial last week, “Any notion that any of this was a secret is bull.”
In addition to the importance of public input, we have been guided by a top-tier team of redevelopment professionals in finance, law, parking, traffic, and planning, all of whom have proceeded with the Town’s long-term best interest as their top priority. I recognize that we have many Westfield residents who are also professionals in these areas, and we have welcomed their input and received their full support in many instances. We are fortunate to have two long-term residents as part of our team of professionals, and a Westfield resident also led the Master Plan Reexamination process, his residency being a key reason why his firm was chosen. I say this to reiterate how important it has been to have the proposal reflect the voice and desires of Westfield residents, but at the end of the day recognizing that it’s not possible to govern by committee. As elected officials, our obligation is to represent the interests of the community at large, and we believe the current One Westfield Place proposal, with the recent modifications made in response to public feedback, does just that.
There is no such thing as a perfect project, but we have strived to find a balanced proposal that addresses long-standing challenges that have gone ignored for decades while mitigating any potential negative impacts. Recommendations of a 1999 Downtown Improvement Plan submitted by the DWC to the Town Council and Planning Board were largely ignored, which included increasing building height and density, developing the Lord &Taylor employee parking lots, evaluating every municipal parking lot for mixed use redevelopment in collaboration with private developers, and redeveloping the South Avenue business district into a more pedestrian-friendly commercial corridor to include structured parking and office buildings. Sound familiar?
What followed was “kicking the can down the road,” which finally caught up with us 15 years ago, resulting in many downtown vacant storefronts while surrounding communities were thriving. As previous administrations discovered, it’s so much easier to say no than get to yes. But most of us on this Town Council did not seek office to maintain the status quo. We were elected to solve problems, and ensuring the long-term vibrancy of our downtown has always been a publicly stated top priority.
Thanks to the countless number of residents who have sent emails to me and the Council, dropped notes off in my mailbox, stopped me on the street in town, and even at the gym, to express their support for this project and encourage us to have the fortitude to keep moving it forward. Many, understandably, don’t want to express their support publicly in light of the vitriol they have seen on social media, and unfortunately in our Council chambers as well. I also want to thank our business community, including the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the DWC, for their support, who know firsthand how much our downtown has suffered and how much it would benefit from this project.
While some may disagree on the how, I am confident most agree on the goal of One Westfield Place: To deliver a downtown for the future – one that will feature 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. It is designed to celebrate the best of Westfield and reaffirm the Town’s long-standing reputation as one of the premier places to live in the State, anchored by a downtown that serves as a national model for a post-COVID Main Street community – one that meets the needs and desires of all residents and downtown businesses, including those who have been here for generations as well those who have just arrived.
Very importantly, One Westfield Place is a proposal that delivers over $350M in private investment in our downtown with $54M in public improvements, restores many of the 2,000 jobs that have been lost since 2015, and provides the ability to stabilize and potentially lower taxes over the long-term. Those are outcomes that every resident should welcome.
I also want to remind everyone that last night’s vote on the Redevelopment Plan is by no means the final step in this process, and there is still a long way to go. Many of the specific details will be ironed out when the project is submitted for site plan approval with the Planning Board later this year. There will be no shovels in the ground until late next year at the earliest.
Thank you all for your continued engagement, your passionate points of view, and for your commitment to the civic process as we share the common goal of improving our hometown.