From Kirby on the Loose
By Mike Kirby
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Why King Street languishes, why the Fire Station is where it is, why Roy Martin got almost 30% of the popular vote for mayor, and other minor mysteries cleared up.At a forum before last month’s election, a woman asked the candidates for councilor at large, “Why all the empty lots on King Street?”
None of the candidates seemed to have a take on what was wrong. Just some of the usual bromides. It’s clear, however, that the people that are building and expanding businesses are locating elsewhere. Look to our north, where new businesses are springing up all along along Routes 5 and 10 in Hatfield, just north of the town line. Look at where the Valley Medical program money is going: Easthampton and Greenfield. Look at all the earth-moving equipment working in Easthampton. Easthampton Savings Bank is building a three-story building barely 100 yards from our town line. Look at all the construction along Rte. 9 in Hadley. Modern office space, modern industrial buildings. There are no new commercial or industrial buildings going up on Hospital Hill. Why?
And then look at King Street, bracketed on the south by that huge empty parking lot that once held Lia Honda, and then the empty Kollmorgen buildings that Pat Goggins called “useless” this year. And behind the railroad, you will find increasing numbers of vacancies at the Industrial Park. It had zero vacancies in 1999, now there are four or five buildings vacant. The other day I saw signs outside Tiger Press telling us they are moving to East Longmeadow. They are an expanding successful business, and were able to find a big 100,000 square foot building in East Longmeadow. Their 65 employees are going with them. Their offices were emptying out and the packing boxes were everywhere. I was told by one of my reliable sources that their cost per square foot was cheaper down south than here. I called Northampton’s economic development coordinator, Teri Anderson, and she confessed that she had not known they were shopping around last year when they were making up their minds where to go. Clare Higgins hired an old friend to head up economic development, and didn’t go outside to get a really qualified person. The two women go back to the eighties, when they both worked at Hampshire Community Action Commission (HCAC). Teri was in charge of HCAC’s fuel assistance program, and was good at it. But it was a one- woman program, her credentials in economic development are slender, she always has been more at home behind a desk, and she will never be a dynamic “out on the streets” kind of person the job needs.