HOLYOKE – Seeking to boost its profile, officials said they plan to promote the city’s tourist attractions and focus economic development in an area around the High Street, an area they describe as a “gateway to entrance” to Paper City.
Mayor Joshua A. Garcia, in comments at a Sept. 21 press conference, cited several “pipeline projects” underway that “will contribute to greater growth and economic development in the city.”
The mayor added that new quality of life initiatives would help the city’s efforts to bolster economic opportunity and boost community pride.
Aaron Vega, director of planning and economic development, mentioned Gary Rome Hyundai’s $4 million car wash project for the Whiting Farms Road dealership, a housing development project on Route 5 and the issuance of special permits for the cannabis industry, the city’s fastest growing sector.
The Planning Department has taken the initiative to promote tourism in Holyoke. He described ongoing plans to refurbish the Victory Theater on Suffolk Street as a “catalyst project”, which could accommodate Broadway-wide productions.
The city will host several major events in October, including Doors Open Holyoke, The Great Holyoke Brick Race and Paper City Food Festival on the High Street. Additionally, preparations are underway for the city’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2023.
“We’re looking for partners to come to the table and help us with this,” Vega said.
Vega noted that tourism rarely gets the attention it deserves, despite a steady stream of visitors to the Children’s Museum, the Carousel, the Holyoke Mall, the Wistariahurst Museum, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and festivals. annual.
Vega said Holyoke’s first Fiestas Patronales in August drew 20,000 visitors to downtown.
“We have people coming into town. We need them to take advantage of what’s happening here, and tourism is our way of doing it,” he said.
The tourism effort is tied to a 2020 study emphasizing Holyoke brand recognition, addressing infrastructure issues, public safety and marketing. The planning department has become the city’s “default marketing team”.
Vega called for transferring a percentage of cannabis impact revenue to hire a marketing company to promote Holyoke. Plans also include the creation of a Puerto Rican Cultural District on Main Street.
Recent funding supported the new Explore Holyoke website, a one-stop online resource for events, restaurants and cultural information.
Holyoke benefited from the state’s rapid recovery plan released in 2021. The city’s share funded an extensive marketing and tourism study, which examined the city’s downtown neighborhoods, civic engagement , commercial development, infrastructure and cultural and historical sites.
Vega said the High Street had become the planning department’s “new focus”, a “gateway into the city”. The City of Holyoke has partnered with Way Finders, a nonprofit housing organization, for a feasibility study targeting several city blocks along and off the High Street.
The study will examine potential housing, mixed income development and commercial opportunities on Newton Street, Nick Cosmos Way and Cabot Street. Vega added that the data collected could better identify community needs.
Vega praised the working relationship and open communication with Garcia’s administration. Vega introduced several new employees to the Planning Office, including Jennifer Keitt, a development specialist.
Keitt oversees the department’s Transformative Development Initiative, a grassroots development program for gateway towns like Holyoke. The program helps accelerate economic growth in targeted districts.
“We have many partners joining us in this endeavor,” she said.
Keitt announced as partner agencies Way Finders, Common Capital, Holyoke Housing Authority, MassHire, Greater Holyoke Chamber, Congregation Sons of Zion and Valley Opportunity Council.
The Transformative Development Initiative “focuses economic development activities, resources and investments in designated neighborhoods, known as TDI districts, for two to four years,” Keitt said.
TDI districts are mixed-use with a commercial component within a five-minute walk of dense urban areas. The planning department designated High Street as the TDI location of Holyoke, jokingly called the “So-High” neighborhood, a nod to the nearby cannabis industry.
The High Street area extends from I-391 to Franklin Street, continuing from Worcester Place to Appleton Street.
TDI districts receive funds that provide access to a “range of tools” to drive development, including technical assistance, market development grants, collaborative workshops, additional resources, and event support.