Live chat: Ask Holyoke Mayor Morse your ...
 
2:49
Mandy Hofmockel: 
Mayor Alex Morse will be joining us at about 3 p.m. so there's still plenty of time to submit questions in the "Send questions or comments" box below.
Thursday December 20, 2012 2:49 Mandy Hofmockel
2:58
Mayor Morse: 
Good afternoon everyone - I'm looking forward to answering your questions!
Thursday December 20, 2012 2:58 Mayor Morse
2:59
[Comment From Thomas Thomas : ] 
Good Afternon Mayor Morse, Amtrak's Vermonter is poised to once again pass through Holyoke in 2014 and Connecticut is funding a major commuter railroad project between Springfield and New Haven. What are the city's plans for reestablishing passenger rail service?
Thursday December 20, 2012 2:59 Thomas
3:02
Mayor Morse: 
Thanks Thomas. I've made it a priority since day one to make sure that there will be a stop in Holyoke when passenger rail service is coming through Western Massachusetts. We recently were awarded a $2 million dollar grant from the state to construct a passenger rail platform on the corner of Dwight St. and Main St. We will have the initial design done in February and construction will begin in the Spring. We expect that our platform/stop will be ready for the return of rail service in Spring 2014. This is a very exciting project for the City, and we expect this investment to catalyze other development in the City in that area. It also makes Holyoke more competitive for business growth, as we can now attract a workforce from beyond our borders. Thank you for the question.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:02 Mayor Morse
3:02
[Comment From John John : ] 
Mayor Morse, is there any update on what is going to happen to Lynch Middle school?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:02 John
3:05
Mayor Morse: 
We are still going through the process of crafting a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for the property. Last year, there were no bids on the Lynch school itself. We are working with the state now to figure out a way to include Anniversary Field (the adjacent park) in the RFP, which would make the parcel a more attractive place for redevelopment. I envision a mixed-use development in that area - combination commercial, retail, office space, dining options, perhaps something similar to the South Hadley Commons model with a variety of options. Now that the City Council has approved our Urban Renewal Plan for Downtown Holyoke, I hope that the Redevelopment Authority will begin to address the marketing of this key property right off of I-91.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:05 Mayor Morse
3:06
[Comment From Kelly Kelly : ] 
Now that the casino is not going to happen in Holyoke, do you think you can encourage Mr. Suher to expose the land to industry and hopefully bring jobs to Holyoke?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:06 Kelly
3:10
Mayor Morse: 
Kelly - it depends on the type of industry. I am willing to have a conversation with any developer in the City as long as they know that casinos are off the table. We have shifted our efforts to making sure that Holyoke will benefit from a revenue-sharing agreement and workforce commitments from other operators in Western Massachusetts. I think the citizens of Holyoke have many ideas for the Mt. Tom. I see very real opportunities for us to bolster eco-tourism in that area, other recreational activities as well. I also think we have to mindful that if we hope to revitalize downtown Holyoke, only certain types of development on the mountain can be compatible with real substantive development in the Downtown. It is important to engage Holyoke residents on any plan that involves the mountain. Furthermore, any development on the mountain would require a zone change by the Holyoke City Council, which in some cases would need at least 10-12 votes of approval by the Council. On a related note, we are developing a jobs strategy for the City, other revenue expansion strategies, and exploring options to reduce next year's municipal budget to provide tax relief to residents.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:10 Mayor Morse
3:10
[Comment From Brad Brad : ] 
What are Holyoke's chances of getting a piece of the casino revenue as a neighboring community of Springfield? Is it going to be a problem that Holyoke does not actually border Springfield?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:10 Brad
3:14
Mayor Morse: 
Good question Brad. This is the perfect opportunity to have that conversation. One of the positive results of the conversations over the past few weeks was our ability to transform the casino conversation from a Springfield centric conversation into a regional conversation. For the first time, we have mayors, town administrators and other regional stakeholders sitting around a table discussing the regional implications of a casino development. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is now in the process of defining what a "surrounding community" is, as the original Gaming Law did not define that term. We will be advocating directly to the Gaming Commission for this designation, which will enhance our efforts to be part of a revenue sharing agreement, as well as making sure that a percentage of Holyoke residents are employed at the eventual site. We have already begun these conversations with other cities, and leaders of any city or town where the casino is sited will be forced by the state to have these conversations.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:14 Mayor Morse
3:15
[Comment From Abe Abe : ] 
Mayor Morse, do you feel that your series of reversals on the casino question will define your legacy as the mayor of this city? Have you cemented your image of an indecisive politician with these missteps?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:15 Abe
3:21
Mayor Morse: 
I don't think so. I think the past few weeks have demonstrated that elected officials often times have to deliberate on issues in a public forum. As Mayor, it is my obligation to keep an open mind, despite personal opinions about a particular issue. I have always been opposed to the siting of a casino in Holyoke, and at the end of the day, in retrospect, only one person is responsible for keeping a casino out of our City, and that is the Mayor. After some consideration, I realized that the casino issue will only distract us from our common vision for a creative, innovative, vibrant city. We have made a lot of progress over the past year, and more is to come, and we can't afford to allow such a divisive issue divide our community. We must put our destiny in our own hands - and the question comes down to this: What kind of city do we want to be? What do we want to be known for? I can think of a lot better things to be proud of than earning revenue on the backs of our society's most vulnerable populations. We are quickly getting back on track, and plan to begin implementing our new Urban Renewal Plan, getting more people to live Downtown, expanding market-rate units, supporting small business development, building off the success of the Green High Performance Computing Center, and continuing to support creative industries. Politicians are people - and we deliberate and think deeply about issues. I think it's better to have an elected official that evolves on issues, rather than one who digs in their heels and refuses to look at the bigger picture.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:21 Mayor Morse
3:21
[Comment From Terrence Terrence : ] 
I have a concern about your efforts to renovate downtown Holyoke. If the downtown area becomes a Northampton-like area, then the property values and cost of apartment rentals will reach Northampton-like heights, meaning that many of Holyoke's residents may not be able to afford to live here anymore. What are you doing to ensure that you revitalize Holyoke without potentially forcing out many of the city's current residents, who are also a large sum of your supporters?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:21 Terrence
3:29
Mayor Morse: 
Thanks Terrence - I understand your concerns on this issue and I assure you that these conversations do occur often at City Hall. We need to remember that Holyoke once had a population of 60,000 people. We now have around 40,000. We have room to grow and expand without gentrifying the people who live here. Holyoke is not Northampton, we never will be. We are something different - we are unique, special, and poised to undergo a substantial renaissance. The exciting thing about Holyoke is that we are not complete - both Holyoke natives and new Holyokers have an opportunity to directly shape our future - together. No doubt, it is a priority of mine to get more people moving to Holyoke - we need to increase urban density, we need to have income diversity in our Downtown to support a vibrant small business community. We need more restaurants, cafes, shops, etc, but we also need the consumers to support these establishments. Holyoke has a large share of subsidized low-income housing, much higher than surrounding communities, and it is also time that other more affluent communities show the compassion to people and families that Holyoke always has. At the same time, it's important we support families so that they can move up the social and economic ladder, so that generations of families aren't stuck in public housing - help people realize employment, homeownership, educational opportunities. Again, Holyoke has a more diverse and unique identity than Northampton, which presents us with the opportunity to surpass our counterparts in the future. In terms of rentals, there will always be rent-controlled units in Holyoke. We are close to transforming the Holyoke Catholic High School campus into Downtown apartments, we are also in the process of developing a solid, realistic plan for the rehabilitation of Lyman Terrace, and also working to increase homeownership through "Buy Holyoke Now" - www.buyholyokenow.com
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:29 Mayor Morse
3:30
[Comment From Bill Bill : ] 
Please tell us your impression is of Paper City Development's offer of development monies to the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club. Would you support it if a Casino was part of the deal? Thank you.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:30 Bill
3:32
Mayor Morse: 
Casinos are off the table, and I suspect they will not have the money nor the desire to do anything with that property without a casino being involved. I look forward to working with the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club on a more sustainable way to develop their property.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:32 Mayor Morse
3:33
[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
How is the Holyoke/Chicopee bridge project coming along? I really miss being able to use this avenue.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:33 Guest
3:34
Mayor Morse: 
I think we all do! I don't have a good answer for you, but if you email my office (morsea@ci.holyoke.ma.us) I can send you a timeline. This is a state project, not a city project, so I will have to contact the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to get a realistic time frame for you. Wish I could be more helpful here.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:34 Mayor Morse
3:35
[Comment From anne duffy anne duffy : ] 
Why didn't you tell the people of Holyoke about your meetings with Eric Suher before you met with him? It gave a lot of people a shock, and was certainly not the most transparent way to operate.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:35 anne duffy
3:37
Mayor Morse: 
I meet with people every single day - residents, current and perspective business owners. This was no different. In the effort of transparency, I let the public know that I had a meeting with Mr. Suher in regards to his concept for a casino and that nothing had been decided. Typically, public officials do the opposite, that is, make announcements that deals have been made. I made it clear that I wanted public input as I considered this, and that is what happened. I appreciated every single person who emailed, called, came in person to provide me with their opinion. It matters.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:37 Mayor Morse
3:37
[Comment From Juan Juan : ] 
Mayor Morse, what are you doing about Holyoke's drug problem?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:37 Juan
3:42
Mayor Morse: 
We are doing a number of things to address the drug issue here in Holyoke. First off, it's important to note that a vast majority of drug-related arrests in Holyoke are of people who don't actually live in Holyoke. We have to send a strong message that Holyoke is not a place to buy and sell drugs. A few things we have done - 1) We have coordinated the schedules of all of our Narcotics officers in the HPD to ensure that we have more people working on drug cases at the same time - and they have been successful in making more drug-related arrests, and we have succeeded in expediting investigations. 2) In my budget this year, I reinstated a K-9 unit in the Police Department Narcotics division - this has also helped. 3) Earlier this year, the new Chief and I established a new "traffic" unit - with the hope of both addressing traffic-related incidences, but also in an effort to cut off supply of drugs on I-91 and 391. 4) Overall, we have increased police presence with new community policing efforts - more officers on bikes and on feet, as well as the new Mobile Community Policing unit, which we park in high-crime intersections (Dwight/Linden, Elm/Appleton). We have also succeeded in building relationships with residents who provide the HPD with leads and tips which lead to the arrests of many drug offenders.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:42 Mayor Morse
3:42
[Comment From Max Max : ] 
Do you believe that neighboring communities that would get casino revenue should have to contribute to the region in terms of solving the homeless problem, affordable housing and social services, all of which now are left mainly on the shoulders of the cities? If these communities were to receive funding, should they be required to open their own shelters and committing to solving these regional problems, instead of just receiving a blank check?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:42 Max
3:45
Mayor Morse: 
Yes of course, that is exactly what I am advocating for. I am not alone in this view, that is why it's important for all of us Western Massachusetts communities to come together to discuss these issues. Even with the casino in Springfield, there will still be negative spillover impacts onto surrounding communities. I look forward to standing up for Holyoke on the regional stage to protect our city's interests. Also - the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the Gaming Law require that some of the revenue from the casinos go towards preventing and addressing some of the social ills that have been proven to exist as a result of casino developments. Thank you for this important question.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:45 Mayor Morse
3:45
[Comment From Sara Sara : ] 
Mayor Morse, what is city government doing to make Holyoke a safer place to walk and ride a bike? I'd like to see Holyoke become a Bike-Friendy and Walk-Friendly City as we move forward.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:45 Sara
3:49
Mayor Morse: 
I completely agree - thank you! We are doing a number of things. We actually have an entire "Transit Oriented Development" (TOD) plan for the City of Holyoke. We are investing in key infrastructure projects that promote a more walkable and bikeable city - be it new roads with lines, new sidewalks, Phase 2 of the CanalWalk that will begin next year, as well as reconstruction of Heritage St. in Downtown. Furthermore, we have a walking/biking committee in our Planning Department that works with the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council and the Holyoke YMCA to address these issues - making sure we have safe crosswalks for bikers and walkers. We also have great people in the City (with the Y) hosting "bike shops" for our city's youth - where young people learn how to repair old bikes and earn a bike at the end of the program. Greater Downtown development lends itself to more TOD advancements, and there is a strong sense of reurbanization here in Holyoke and throughout the country. More people want to be able to walk/bike to work, to school, a place to eat, grab a coffee/drink etc. If you'd like to be involved in any of these efforts, let me know.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:49 Mayor Morse
3:50
[Comment From Aaron hohol Aaron hohol : ] 
When is the official opening of the senior center?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:50 Aaron hohol
3:51
Mandy Hofmockel
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse answers MassLive.com reader questions in a live chat at City Hall.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:51 
3:51
Mayor Morse: 
Also, Sara, check out our new Urban Renewal Plan, both the plan and the video at www.holyokeredevelopment.com
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:51 Mayor Morse
3:52
Mayor Morse: 
Aaron - the new Senior Center is now open! The official open house and ribbon cutting will be early February. The Center is a fantastic addition to the City - great new building with a fitness center, library, art rooms, community and event space - there is a whole host of programming and activities for our city's seniors. We should be very proud of this important investment in the City, and I encourage seniors who have never utilized the Center in its previous place, to visit the new Center - you will not be disappointed!
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:52 Mayor Morse
3:54
[Comment From Terrence Terrence : ] 
Thank you for your response. Have you considered the option of demolishing abandoned Holyoke property on imminent domain, and then selling that space to businesses for cheap? It would create more jobs and reduce the number of places where drug dealers can hide.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:54 Terrence
3:57
Mayor Morse: 
Yes - in our new Urban Renewal Plan we have an entire list of vacant and abandoned properties that we plan to take by eminent domain - once we do that, we either market the property to a developer for rehab if that is viable, or demolish the property and market it as such. The City is much more aggressive today in taking properties for tax-title (owners who don't pay taxes). We take them to court and take ownership of the property. Right now, we are in the process of planning the city's first public property auction since 1976, to put these properties back on the tax rolls and clean up the blight. In the auction, we can also include a specific use for the different properties. We also reserve the right to take the building back for $1 after a year or so if the new owners are not making progress on the site.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:57 Mayor Morse
3:58
[Comment From Suzanne Williams Suzanne Williams : ] 
Will Mayor Morse join 'Mayors Against Illegal Guns' and also the recent Menino/Bloomberg petition?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:58 Suzanne Williams
3:59
Mayor Morse: 
Suzanne - I joined "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" back in January, and I signed a letter yesterday that was crafted by Menino and Bloomberg, urging both Congress and the President to take action on gun control soon.
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:59 Mayor Morse
3:59
[Comment From Andrew Andrew : ] 
What are your plans for Avery Field?
Thursday December 20, 2012 3:59 Andrew
4:01
Mayor Morse: 
I'm hoping that the City can tackle Avery Field next year. Now that we just received a $175,000 grant to go towards the skate park, that frees up the money I originally allocated for that to use on other parks. I have directed my staff to present me with a plan for Avery Field that includes new benches, playground, basketball courts, as well as a beach volleyball court. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know. Thanks for the question.
Thursday December 20, 2012 4:01 Mayor Morse
4:02
Mayor Morse: 
Thank you everyone for your questions this afternoon. Have a Merry Christmas next week and a Happy New Year. Stay safe and enjoy time with friends and family. As always, if I wasn't able to answer a question or you would like more information on something I said, don't hesitate to contact me directly here at the Mayor's office. Take care.
Thursday December 20, 2012 4:02 Mayor Morse
4:02
Mandy Hofmockel: 
That about wraps it up for this live chat with the mayor. Thanks for joining us with all your great questions!
Thursday December 20, 2012 4:02 Mandy Hofmockel
 
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