Editorial: Economic boost for Northampton, Easthampton

  • The site of the former Bill Willard Inc. concrete plant at 303 King St. in Northampton this month was purchased by The Colvest Group. The 2.9 acres of commercially zoned property is adjacent to  the Northampton Crossing development by Colvest at 325 King St. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Friday, January 26, 2018

The prospect of two significant commercial developments in Northampton and Easthampton announced this week are signs of a healthy economy in those cities.

The Colvest Group, a Springfield development company, has purchased three acres at 303 King St. where the Bill Willard Inc. concrete plant operated for decades, and will convert it to retail or office space. And River Valley Co-op in Northampton has an option to buy 3.17 acres at 228 Northampton St. in Easthampton, site of the former Fedor Oldsmobile Pontiac dealership, for a second store.

The mayors of both cities said the news is a positive sign for the local economy.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, who met Jan. 19 with River Valley officials, said, “I think it’s a smart business move on behalf of the co-op to be so interested in Easthampton as a space for their second store. More and more has Easthampton become a crossroads between the Hamptons and Holyoke and it’s becoming a budding business community.”

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said he welcomes the expanded commercial tax base resulting from Colvest’s redevelopment projects on King Street. “It bodes well in terms of their track record in Northampton.”

Colvest already turned the former Hill & Dale Mall, at 327 King St., into Northampton Crossing, an office building whose tenants include Pioneer Valley Family Medicine. The 62,000-square-foot building once housed a Price Chopper supermarket. There also is a Greenfield Savings Bank branch in a separate building at that site.

Colvest bought the adjacent Willard property Jan. 10 for about $2.25 million, and the developer now owns about nine contiguous acres, including a now-vacant building at 301 King St. after a Papa Gino’s restaurant closed last February. The Willard family operated the concrete plant from the early 1950s until it closed in 2016.

Frank Colaccino, founder and CEO of Colvest, said the latest purchase will improve the area near Northampton Crossing after buildings at the rear of the former industrial site are demolished. “At least make the site look presentable,” he said, before it is developed for office or retail space.

That will continue a revival of King Street, the city’s most heavily developed commercial district, which has seen new banks, car dealerships, retail businesses and office space in recent years.

There is similar commercial development on Northampton Street in Easthampton, where a Stop & Shop supermarket is planned south of the site River Valley is considering for its second store. It would be roughly the same size as the co-op’s existing market at 330 North King St. in Northampton, with about 11,000 square feet of retail space, and would employ about 100 people.

Andrea Stanley, president of the co-op board, said, “We believe that Easthampton is an ideal match for River Valley Co-op. In fact, we have many co-op owners and vendors from Easthampton already, so we feel a strong connection to the community and look forward to expanding our working relationships even further with this project.”

River Valley’s store in Northampton “has some limitations that limit our growth as a co-op,” Stanley said. “There wasn’t as much of an understanding at the start, when we opened the store 10 years ago, about how much volume it would bring.”

The co-op, which is owned by 9,500 members, has been exploring since 2014 the possibility of a second store. Its option on the Fedor property is good for at least a year, during which River Valley will hold community meetings, complete a market survey, work with the city on a traffic study, raise money and begin design work.

Like the first store, the project would be funded primarily with individual loans from co-op owners, as well as bank loans. Although there is no price tag yet for the Easthampton project, the Northampton store cost $7.3 million.

If River Valley buys the Easthampton property, it expects to begin construction in spring 2019 and open the new store by spring 2020. In addition to appealing to Easthampton residents, it will likely draw shoppers from the southern part of Northampton and other communities.

The Colvest Group and River Valley Co-op already are contributing to the local economy, and we expect they will bring that same smart business approach to their latest projects.