Welcome, everyone to another live chat with Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. We'll get started here in about 20 minutes at 3 p.m. If you have questions, please submit them for the mayor in the comment box below. Thanks!
Thursday April 25, 2013 2:40 Mandy Hofmockel
Good afternoon everyone - welcome to the live chat. I'm looking forward to answering your questions!
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:00 Mayor Morse
[Comment From new episodenew episode: ]
What are your thoughts on shrinking the size of the city council and if in favor what would you like for the make-up of ward councilors versus at-large councilors?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:00 new episode
I am in favor of a smaller City Council in Holyoke. We have a larger City Council than Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and perhaps every other city in Massachusetts. I am in favor of the charter change question that will be on the ballot this November. That would shrink the Council to 11 members (7 ward and 4 at-large). I support this make up. I strongly believe that we need to have more ward councilors than at-large councilors. Currently, the system dilutes neighborhood and minority representation in the City. By shrinking the size of the Council, we will have a more representative government and give power back to our neighborhoods. We would also save at least $40,000. It is important this charter change passes in November, as our current charter is from the 1800s - it's time we modernize government, cut costs, and streamline operations.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:04 Mayor Morse
[Comment From caihlyncaihlyn: ]
You graduated from Holyoke public schools, but a very small percent of students graduate from Dean Tech. What are your plans to increase the MCAS scores and graduation rates of Dean Tech?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:04 caihlyn
Thanks for the question. Dean Tech has been a challenge within the Holyoke Public Schools for many years, but we do have many teachers, students, and community members working to improve it. Currently, the incoming Superintendent and I are in negotiations with Project Grad, an organization that will be the new operator of the school starting this summer (http://projectgrad.org/). I am hopeful that with new leadership, a better model, higher expectations, and a strong teacher evaluation model we will move the school in the right direction. At the same time, we must study the current shops available at the school, and identify those shops that are now obsolete, that is, those shops in which jobs are no longer in demand or available. We must invest in new shops in those sectors where employees are in demand (medical, health care, STEM, technology, pre-engineering, arts/theater, etc). Additionally, the City just received funding from the state to do a $6.3 million renovation and addition of new science labs at the school to bolster the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) programs at the school. We must make Dean a quality vocational school that guarantees all graduates a career or advanced training, and we must raise expectations for all students, regardless of where they come from.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:09 Mayor Morse
We've got a number of great questions from readers already, but there's still time to get yours into the live chat. Drop your questions into the comment box below.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:09 Mandy Hofmockel
[Comment From Don Don : ]
Mayor, since you eventually settled on a final position opposing the siting of a casino in Holyoke, do you have any leads on economic development projects of a comparable size that might come to the city?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:09 Don
There are a number of economic development projects happening downtown and all throughout the City. Many cannot be discussed publicly at this time but some projects will be announced in the next month or so. The city's new tax incentive program has recently helped a number of local manufacturers expand and grow their business - adding a considerable amount of jobs to the local economy. We have seen an uptick in the opening of several new businesses in the downtown, many jobs being created in the creative economy field, as well as hundreds of jobs being generated through the large number of public infrastructure projects happening in Holyoke (Veterans Park, Skate Park, Train platform, CanalWalk, etc), as well as in the private sector for construction projects (waste transfer station and the soon to be construction of Holyoke Catholic High School into apartments - over 100 jobs). We are also helping expand the IT sector in the City as a spin off from the computing center and have seen new consulting and IT businesses move into Open Square and other downtown sites. There is a lot of activity happening throughout the City - and I hope to announce a development project soon that will generate another few hundred jobs in Holyoke, pending final negotiations. We will keep the public informed with any new information we have. At the same time, those jobs that are generated as a result of a casino in Western Mass will be available to Holyoke residents, and both HCC has taken the lead on training Holyoke residents and others for those jobs.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:15 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Vic Vic : ]
Springfield seems to be doing a lot of good work in historic preservation with it's Trust. Do you think Holyoke could commit more resources to historic preservation and create a position like you did with cultural affairs, and are you supporting the YMCA demolition of the Farr Mansion?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:16 Vic
Thanks for the question Vic. Yes, we have been working with a core group of members of the city's Historic Commission to devise a plan to hire a Historic Commission Officer for the City. Just last year, we officially made the Historic Commission their own official city department, with the hope of making historic preservation a bigger priority in Holyoke. I expect the Historic Commission to submit a proposal to the City Council for their approval of more resources. As for the demolition of the Farr house, the YMCA is currently following all legal guidelines as it pertains to demolition and they will have to go through the process like any other demolition project in the City.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:19 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Guest Guest : ]
Why can't the city build more housing townhouses and eliminate all these buildings to avoid the hangouts and fights?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:19 Guest
The City has been moving in that direction for many years. For example, the Holyoke Housing Authority had great success in the development of the Churchill Homes, and they continue to build homes in that same area even today. Such development has stabilized that neighborhood and has led to more development in the area. We have also witnessed Old Holyoke Development Corporation build many duplexes in Holyoke over the years, particularly in the Flats section of the City, which has also helped provide neighborhood stability. The City is also working with other community development corporations and agencies to build more housing throughout the City that fosters civic and neighborhood pride, while creative a ladder for all families to move out of poverty and into homeownership. The City isn't in a position to decide to build houses on our own, but it is our job to be a good public partner and to leverage some city resources to go along with much larger private resources to make projects happen. You can also check out Holyoke's urban renewal plan to see what locations in the city we have identified as ideal locations for housing development.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:23 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Amedeo Botta Amedeo Botta : ]
Hi, I understand that a lot of events happen at the William Peck School but there is clearly plenty of signs on Northampton Street that say no parking but yet I see tons of cars parked there to watch events. There are times when you want to take a right on Beech Street and you can't because of parked cars. Any way we can prove upon this?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:24 Amedeo Botta
Good question - I notice the same thing. They aren't activities actually at Peck School, but at Crosier Field and the sports facilities, mostly baseball games, tennis, practices etc. Now that we have a traffic unit in the HPD we can look into this, but we would not want to prevent families from being able to enjoy such games if there aren't other parking options in the area. I can also pull up past traffic and accident data on that section of the street to see if there is any correlation between such parking and accidents. Either way, I will explore what our options are for this.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:26 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Mason Mason : ]
Fun question....name two of your favorite restaurants - name one in Holyoke and one in any other place in the Valley?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:26 Mason
I like fun questions! In Holyoke currently, I'm a big fan of Slainte, the new restaurant where 80 Jarvis was previously. If you haven't been, definitely check it out. Because I'm a politician, I also have to mention that I enjoy the Mick in the Delaney House, and good old Friendly's is always there when I'm in the mood. Outside of Holyoke, I most go to Osaka in Northampton - I love sushi! Holyoke has a lot of great options, during the day for lunch I like stopping by the Dam Cafe or the Electric Cafe in Open Square, JP's, etc.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:29 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Guest Guest : ]
Is there a regional solution to better schools?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:29 Guest
There is no easy solution to education, and I am hopeful that under Dr. Sergio Paez's leadership the Holyoke Public Schools will make substantial progress. In terms of regional solutions, this is something that needs to be explored in depth. Regional schools and regional districts would provide much needed equity in the public school system. Given the demographics in Holyoke compared to some of our surrounding cities, we would benefit from delivering such services regionally - and make sure all students have the same opportunities. With that said, I strongly believe that all students, no matter their socioeconomic background, family make up, or ethnicity, can succeed in school if given the proper educational environment and a high quality teacher. We have a lot of great things going on in the Holyoke Public Schools and many things we can be proud of. As a region, we must recognize that an educated Holyoke helps the entire area, as our current students are our future workforce.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:34 Mayor Morse
The mayor will be taking questions for about another half hour. Drop any other questions you might have into the comment section below, and we'll get to as many as time allows.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:34 Mandy Hofmockel
[Comment From Coffeetalking Coffeetalking : ]
Mayor Morse, the Essex Hotel is in bad shape along with the Holyoke House, the Prudential Building that's right next to City Hall, The BUD, as well as so many others in the downtown area. Are you going to just sit back and allow these beautiful buildings to either fall over or become so dangerous that they will all be torn down? What's your plan to stop this decay and to save whats left of Holyoke's history?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:35 Coffeetalking
I mentioned earlier our plan to put a bigger emphasis on historic preservation and ensuring the city has a plan going forward to prevent situations like the Essex House. The Essex House is a great example of poor planning over the years and something my administration has to tackle head on, as there are many other examples throughout the City. We are working on doing an inventory of buildings, and categorizing based on the feasibility to rehab, safety, likelihood of being redeveloped, and planning demolition for others. Once this is complete, we can attempt to identify resources for demolition, we can transfer to the redevelopment authority, we can auction properties. in the case of the Essex House, the City will need to incur a significant expense soon to ensure the public's safety - the City owns the building and it is beyond the point where the building can be saved. The Holyoke Catholic Project, Open Square, (and soon to be Lyman Terrace) and many other projects are great examples of changing the use of a historic building and respecting Holyoke's past. I'm a strong believer in preservation and will do what I can to live up to those principles.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:39 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Mason Mason : ]
What are you most proud of in your term as Mayor so far?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:39 Mason
Thanks for that question. I think there is a lot to be proud of. The last 16-17 months have been full of advancements on a number of different projects - ranging from economic development, education, and public safety. I think we have set the stage for a substantial and sustainable renaissance within the next couple of years. I can go on about the number of bricks and mortar projects that have happened in Holyoke last year and are happening this year (Train platform, CanalWalk Phase 2, Veterans Park, Skate Park, Computing Center, Senior Center, Holyoke Public Library, Community Field, updated Parking Garages, unprecedented sidewalk and street investments, Holyoke Catholoc redevelopment, etc) - all of these have helped create a critical mass of activity in the center city that have inspired many others to come to Holyoke and invest in our future. We have done a lot of the grunt work necessary to catalyze development and make Holyoke a place where people want to be - tax incentives, loans, marketing strategies, urban renewal plan, all these things allow us to swiftly move towards implementation. While all of these projects are important, I think the most significant accomplishment has been my ability to open government up to the people again - I have witnessed more civic engagement and involvement over the past year than I ever have before. People have volunteered to be on city boards and commissions in huge numbers, attending public meetings, speaking out, and playing a role in the future of our City. I love this job, and the best part of this job is the people I get to work with, so thank you.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:45 Mayor Morse
[Comment From MassLive.com MassLive.com : ]
Do you agree with the petition that city employees gave to the Public Safety Committee Wednesday? Should city hall's bathrooms be locked to deter drug use and other behaviors from occurring there?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:45 MassLive.com
Yes I agree. I can easily get the doors locked and put keys out even without City Council action, and I plan to do so as soon as possible. That activity is unacceptable.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:46 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Mason Mason : ]
Anything new on the future of the HH Richardson train station building?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:47 Mason
Nothing at this time. The building is owned by the HG&E. We have contracted with a local architect and his architecture class at UMASS to do a reuse study of the building that would identify potential, viable reuses of the building. We expect that once the train platform is completed, phase 2 of CanalWalk, and some other streetscape improvements, we will see private interest in the building. I'd like to see some sort of restaurant, cafe, or other retail/commercial venture there.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:49 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Mason Mason : ]
Do you think minor league baseball can be a catalyst for cities like Holyoke?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:50 Mason
Yes I think so - it's just a matter of exploring the viability of doing so. For now, we are lucky to have the Holyoke Blue Sox, a New England Collegiate Baseball League team that has brought some economic activity and tourists and families to the City (http://www.holyokesox.com/site/).
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:52 Mayor Morse
[Comment From MHC MHC : ]
Enough with the policy and City questions...what do you do for fun?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:53 MHC
My job is a lot of fun! Just kidding, well not really kidding. Like anyone else, I like to spend time with friends and family, my niece and nephews, my dog Snickers (14 year old chihuahua). I enjoy playing tennis, going for a run when I have time, go out for food and drinks with friends, and I like finding some time to just relax and watch reality TV when possible. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time working, early mornings, late nights, most weekends, and I do it because I love it. But I do enjoy stepping back and enjoying the small things in life. Thank you for the question.
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:56 Mayor Morse
[Comment From Mason Mason : ]
Should city employees be required to live in the city?
Thursday April 25, 2013 3:57 Mason
I don't think all of them should be required to, it depends on the position. I think we should have incentives to ensure most do. I have put a high value on my staff living in the City of Holyoke. Director of Economic Development Marcos Marrero has purchased a home in Holyoke and moved here, as has my new Personnel Administrator Bob Judge, and our incoming Superintendent Dr. Paez is also required to move here (per the motion I made as Chair of School Committee). I think it's important for those positions that play a big role in the city, and are a public face of government, however I don't think it is the smartest policy to require everyone who works for the city to live in the city.
Thursday April 25, 2013 4:00 Mayor Morse
Thank you everyone for your questions this afternoon, I enjoyed it. As always, feel free to contact me here at my office if you have additional questions, thoughts, or ideas. And thank you for playing your part in making Holyoke a better City. Enjoy the rest of your day, and your weekend, the weather is great!
Thursday April 25, 2013 4:01 Mayor Morse
Thanks everyone for joining the live chat this afternoon and submitting all your questions! It's great to have readers get involved in these.