SPRINGFIELD – With the recent demolition of the Civic Center parking lot, downtown Springfield continues to experience traffic jams at landmark events. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, city officials and business leaders announced a coordinated effort to alleviate vehicular and pedestrian traffic issues at a press conference Oct. 25.
The demolition of the Civic Center parking garage temporarily removed 700 downtown parking spaces near the MassMutual Center. The city is currently building a state-of-the-art mixed-use parking lot in its place, which will provide 1,000 parking spaces and 10,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. Sarno expects the project to be completed by the end of 2023.
As a result of the Civic Center garage closing, the city has approximately 8,800 parking spaces still available for public use. MGM Springfield offers 3,375 parking spaces through its free parking lot, the Interstate 91 North parking lot has 1,098 spaces available, and the Tower Square parking lot holds 1,203 vehicles. Other parking lots include the I-91 South Parking Lot, the Springfield Parking Authority’s Dwight Street Parking Lot, and the Monarch Place Garage on Boland Way.
Sarno said he and city leaders met for a series of post-summary review meetings following a recent spate of return events in Springfield. The Springfield Thunderbirds held their home season opener on October 15, while the Springfield Symphony Orchestra reopened for its concert season on October 22.
During his remarks, Sarno pointed out that the traffic congestion reflects the positive economic development of downtown Springfield. The mayor noted that the recently opened Artist Café has seen thriving business activity during the multitude of events.
“It’s a good problem to have. People are flocking to downtown Springfield…the payoff is huge for corporate taxpayers in the City of Springfield,” Sarno said.
Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood highlighted the department’s plan to ease some of the traffic congestion. She said traffic complaints stemming from recent weekend activity helped inform the police department’s new proposal.
“We weren’t sure how it was going to work with parking and traffic. Now we know what our issues are,” Clapprood said.
Part of the plan will include additional policing details to direct vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Officers should be positioned between Main and Union Streets, Main and State Streets, Main and Court Streets, East Columbus Avenue and State Street, East Columbus Avenue and MGM Way, East Columbus Avenue and Union Street and West Columbus Avenue and State Street during high traffic events.
Clapprood worked alongside Deputy Chief William Cochrane and Captain Larry Akers to assemble a “fluid plan”. On busy occasions, the police department may temporarily close the main street for 15-20 minutes when customers leave the MassMutual center. Further instances of high traffic may result in the temporary closure of Boland Way to expedite traffic outside the Monarch Place garage.
Clapprood said the police department will continue to monitor the traffic situation and make adjustments accordingly. Clapprood also pointed to the department’s experience handling high-traffic situations, such as the city’s annual Fourth of July festivities.
“We are very good at traffic control… We are going to do it the same way as the 4th of July, so that people coming out of MGM and people coming out of parking on the street can move smoothly and get out of downtown more efficiently than last weekend,” Clapprood said.
Cochrane said the increased police presence was carefully constructed after analyzing activity over recent weekends.
“We have identified some intersections where we will be deploying additional police resources to help with traffic…It’s really a fluid plan, it’s going to change on the fly based on what we see and what the supervisor sees,” said Cochrane.
Akers reiterated Cochrane’s vision while imploring Springfield visitors to consider parking options outside of MGM Springfield.
“There are parking lots other than MGM, and that’s a big problem when everyone’s flocking to just one,” Akers said.
To relieve some of the parking pressure on MGM Springfield, Springfield Parking Authority Director Bokul Bhuiya said parking fees for the Dwight Street parking lot would be reduced from $10 to $5.
DPW manager Chris Cignoli said the traffic pattern is similar to the pattern used at MGM Springfield’s grand opening ceremonies and other concert events. Cignoli and other city leaders also stressed the importance of public patience, noting that high-traffic events will always cause delays.
“It takes time to get out of a parking lot, it always will… It’s a plan from the past that worked, and we know it will work this time,” Cignoli said.
Business leaders, such as Paul Picknelly, Springfield Thunderbirds managing partner, Nathan Costa, president of Thunderbirds, Sean Dolan, general manager of MassMutual Center, and Chris Kelley, president of MGM, also spoke about how increased traffic reflects positive economic activity in downtown Springfield.
Picknelly shared that the Thunderbirds have continued to experience growth since he first acquired the team six years ago. Last year, the Thunderbirds averaged 5,300 attendees per game. Costa reiterated that the team’s success helps the downtown economy.
“Things are moving in the right direction for downtown Springfield. There’s been a lot of excitement around what we’re doing,” Costa said.
Kelley said dealing with traffic complaints is a “team sport,” while Dolan acknowledged the collaboration between the city and business leaders has been “incredible.”
“We’re all in the business of bringing people together safely,” Kelley said.
Sarno concluded the press conference by reminding the public of the city’s experience of dealing with heavy traffic situations.
“It’s not our first rodeo…It’s nothing new, we’ve done it before with major events here,” Sarno said.