Joel Russell: Downtown Northampton project an idea whose time has come
NORTHAMPTON — David Pesuit’s excellent guest column Jan. 23, “A case for new downtown housing,” hits the nail on the head. It zeroes in on both the need for a substantial increase in downtown housing and shows an ideal development concept for the site behind Pulaski Park, an idea that is far better than the ill-fated Hilton Garden Inn that had been approved for the site.
An Italianate-style building that is architecturally compatible with downtown, containing mixed-income housing and civic and commercial uses, is exactly what we need to boost economic development, tax revenue and overall vitality.
Cities across the country have found that this type of development makes a good downtown great, energizing the public spaces it adjoins, and providing safe gathering spaces for local residents and visitors alike. It is especially attractive to empty-nesters and seniors who are increasingly moving to Northampton because of the charms of its walkable downtown.
The demand for housing close to or within downtown seems to be limitless, as shown by the premium price commanded by housing that is within walking distance of the heart of the city. If Northampton is to be a truly sustainable community, what it needs most is housing and other development that is accessible on foot to everything people need on a daily basis, reducing the need for cars and making public transit more viable.
And our struggling downtown businesses need a larger customer base to support them.
There are many other opportunities for downtown infill that should be encouraged, but this one is too great an opportunity to miss. Since the city owns the site, it is in the driver’s seat to make this project happen and become a model.
I hope that the city takes Pesuit’s idea and runs with it. We could have an open and inclusive public design process that results in a development that the community will welcome with open arms. A responsible developer will not be far behind, willing and able to construct the type of building that is the hottest part of today’s housing market: apartments and condos in the heart of walkable downtowns.
This project would be an achievement that would make us all proud of our community. Even better, it could be part of a larger package that also provides badly needed space for arts organizations and all of the other activities that have put Northampton on the map as a cultural center. I urge all in city government and the public to embrace this idea and move it forward.
Joel Russell lives in Northampton.