South Hadley proposes 20-year plan for revitalizing the Falls

  • South Hadley Town Hall, located at 116 Main St. in South Hadley Falls.  FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2019 4:39:51 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — A 20-year plan intended to revitalize South Hadley Falls will be brought to vote at a special Town Meeting on Nov. 20.  

This latest renewal effort, detailed in a 300-plus page document and dubbed the Urban Redevelopment and Renewal Plan, centers around fostering job growth through new and existing businesses; expanding housing options; supporting institutions and resources such as the South Hadley Public Library, social services, education providers, the Connecticut River, and Buttery Brook Park; and undertaking historic preservation efforts.

The proposed project will cost “tens of millions of dollars” spread out over the next 20 years, according to Frank DeToma, chairman of the town’s Redevelopment Authority, but most funding will be provided by private developers and state funding. 

The proposal outlines the acquisition of 28 parcels; assembling of 10 new parcels; demolition of 11 structures; construction of nine new commercial, residential, mixed and municipal use structures; construction of around 33 residential units as part of a 40R housing development; and rehabilitation of four structures, in addition to other improvements of the area. 

“We’re trying to make the Falls more attractive,” DeToma said, “make it a more attractive opportunity for developers, with infrastructure improvements.”

The town has taken multiple measures to bolster the Falls in the past, including designating the neighborhood as an economic opportunity area in 2007; establishing the South Hadley Redevelopment Authority in 2014; and setting revitalization of the area as the first initiative outlined in the town’s 2010 Master Plan. 

Despite these efforts, “the past decade has seen little private redevelopment and several businesses close in the Falls,” according to the Urban Redevelopment and Renewal Plan.

“The prosperity and bustling Main Street once a feature of the Falls is a memory,” the plan states. 

The Falls were hit by the same difficulties that many communities with similar business profiles were faced with in the post-industrial area, said Frank DeToma, chairman of the town’s Redevelopment Authority. The area, once anchored by mills and factories, declined as the industry buildings and mills that defined the community shut down. 

“It used to be the site of many mills, places where people could get employment,” DeToma said of the Falls. “Much of that has changed … It’s not the commercial manufacturing center that it used to be.”

In a recent iteration of this phenomenon, the closure of paper-making company Canson Inc, formerly located at 21 Industrial Dr., saw 67 workers lose their jobs earlier in the year.

Alongside business and industrial troubles, the Falls area has also struggled with a declining residential population and relatively lower incomes among residents. The town’s overall population has grown by 1.2 percent over the past five years, but the Falls has experienced a 3 percent population decrease. The area also sees an average median income of $49,029, compared to the town’s average median income of $60,427.

Despite these challenges the Falls faces, there are already “signs that it’s coming back,” DeToma said, citing growth among businesses such as Mohawk paper company and E Ink electronic paper company, as well as new condos being built on Canal Street. As part of the Urban Redevelopment and Renewal Plan, the town is also seeing the redevelopment of the former library at 27 Bardwell St. into condos. 

In the past, a lack of concerted effort and vision for the Falls hampered efforts to revitalize the area, DeToma said. 

“The intention was there, but we didn’t really have a vision for the Falls,” DeToma said. But with increased attention on the Falls from different groups in town, DeToma sees this trend changing. 

“When you have a vision, things can fall into place,” he said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at 

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