David Pesuit: A case for new downtown housing
NORTHAMPTON — When the owner of the Hotel Northampton announced a $10 million, 108-room, hotel on land next to the Daily Hampshire Gazette building in Northampton, I was reminded of an earlier hotel project.
The Parmar family, owners of the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group, proposed a similar venture behind Pulaski Park five years ago.
That project fell through for lack of financing, even though the city had offered to sell the land for a dollar.
I now see that turn of events as a major opportunity for downtown Northampton. While hotels fuel restaurant activity and retail sales, those who live in a residential condominium complex behind Pulaski Park would do more than shop and eat at local restaurants. They would shop for essentials, seek entertainment on a regular basis, invite guests from out of town and add much to the city’s tax base at a time when schools are suffering and state support for local government is diminished.
Northampton has been identified as one of the best places to retire in America. Nationally, there is a growing trend of retirees moving back to downtowns. Therefore, Northampton would benefit from having more housing located where residents can buy groceries and walk to nearly everything without navigating steep hills or needing to use a car on a daily basis.
Given our public transit system, many who would live next to Pulaski Park might not need cars at all.
To stimulate interest in such housing, I asked the engineers who work with me at the Accident Analysis Group in Northampton to model a residential complex on the same footprint as the Parmar family’s former hotel project. They then inserted that complex, in the Italianate-style compatible with Main Street, into site photos from several perspectives. Since the land behind Pulaski Park drops off by about 25 feet, the photos that accompany this essay show a five-story complex with a central grassed courtyard that connects directly to Pulaski Park and sits above a two- or three-story parking garage.
Although the complex would not be imposing when seen from Pulaski Park and Main Street, it could offer about 75 units measuring 600 to 1,200 square feet in size, including affordable housing and possibly other municipal or commercial uses.
I have no financial interest in this project. I propose it because I want to help guarantee the future of a city that has been very good to me. I welcome reader comments on these preliminary designs.
If the city of Northampton can spend more than $14 million building a police station and parking garage, it can and should take an active role in seeking out and fostering the public/private partnerships needed to create an attractive tax-producing residential project on this large, centrally located, empty lot downtown.
David R. Pesuit, Ph.D., is a principal of the Accident Analysis Group in Northampton. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.