The Long Walk: Part I - Interview with Craig Della Penna – The Local Buzz -MassLive.com
Posted by wwpeters June 12, 2008 16:08PM
More updates (or non-updates, depending on who you ask) about Holyoke's Canal Walk
Something might actually happen: finally, Holyoke Gas & Electric is scheduled to begin laying down wiring for the Holyoke Canal Walk this summer. It's taken upwards of a decade to get this far for a project that could repopulate the demilitarized rust belt between Front Street and Race Street. But believe it or not, the Holyoke Canal Walk has not, in fact, been the most time-consuming project of its sort in Massachusetts's history. A project like the Holyoke Canal Walk, ultimately, is a transportation project, and is generally approached by the state and city in a fashion similar to converting an old roadway or stretch of railroad tracks into a park or a bike trail. The same tasks, often, are there: clearing the blueprints, in 25% installments, with MassHighway; the negotiating with property owners and whittling away to secure easement agreements – or a property owner's permission to let you build something on their property. So, the longest project, so far?The first phase, of three, of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, which begins at the Lowell-Chelmsford line, took 23 years to get off the ground.At a Canal Walk meeting on Race Street in Holyoke two weeks ago, realtor / lobbyist / author / bed-n-breakfast-along-a-trailway-owner Craig Della Penna brought this up. On average, he'd said, a transportation revitalization project like this took 10 years in Massachusetts. The shortest time ever spent on a rail trail, a14-mile trail from Pittsfield to Adams, took 6 years. After the meeting, when I asked him why this was, he said, "Institutional cowardice." He gave me his card and said "Google me.""What's going on here in Southern New England is not like anything in the United States," Della Penna told me when I followed up with him earlier this week. "These are not obscure, forgotten, coal-mine branch lines in the middle of nowhere. They're where people live, work and play." Della Penna marketed rail freight for twenty years. His background is in railroad history. As a hobby, one of his customers took obsolete topographical maps and converted them to stationery and, as a professional, published outdoor recreational guidebooks. In 1994, they'd got to talking - about how there wasn't a good, comprehensive book about New England railways - and Della Penna found himself with the chance to write a book on the subject. "So I went out, and my wife and I bought a place that year and proceeded to bike every open mile, every rail trail in New England," he said. "I published a book that came out in 1995, called 'Great Rail Trails of the Northeast.'" Della Penna, basically, knows a ton about all of this. He's both relaxed and dead serious, and is quick to rattle off biographical stats. He's given over 750 lectures in 16 states. Nobody falls asleep at his lectures, he says, twice - both over email and in conversation. He's the most in-demand speaker on smart-growth real estate. He's also the co-chair of MassHighway's Trails & Greenways Task Force. "I know everybody, I know every skeleton in every closet of MassHighway. Literally," he tells me. "I live and breathe the politics of this stuff. I know how to make this work." I'd have written a condensed narrative-type article here, but Della Penna has a lot to say. Part I of my slightly-trimmed interview with Della Penna is below. Forthcoming is a writeup about my conversation with Senior Planner Karen Mendrala about the progress on Holyoke's Canal Walk, and the work still left to be done.
At that [Canal Walk] meeting last Thursday, Karen [Mendrala] had mentioned that the relationship between the City of Holyoke and MassHighway has improved over the last few years. Do you know what factored into that?
Sure. Luisa Paiewonsky coming aboard, and the deadwood, retrograde Apparatchiks leaving MassHighway.
What was the process like before in working with Mass Highway?
Massachusetts had the worst record in developing things like this in the United States. Ranked last, literally last. And they got sick of being last. And one of the problems was - not in the context of Holyoke, per se - but in most of the places where there were wars on this stuff. There's three ways you can approach this
stuff. You're either going to have good support from the community, or you're going to have 'nobody cares', which is the case of Holyoke, or you're going to have opposition.
I typically go into places where there's opposition, and I teach the locals how to defeat them. Or I go into places where there's institutional ambivalence, and I go in and raise the level of interest. And in the case of MassHighway, they were always, up until 18 months ago, the only DOT [Highway Department] in the United States that said: 'You had to pave these projects.'
You have to pave them?
Yes. So in the context of Holyoke, and the urban trail, that wasn't a big deal. But when you go into places like Belchertown, Southampton, Westford, Danvers, Westport, on and on and on - these places that like to think of themselves as rural, but they have a big equestrian component - and you go in and you say, 'I've got
a great idea, I'm gonna pave that woods,' it's not seen in favor. And you typically have a war break out. And MassHighway and even the regional planning agency would melt into the background. They don't want to know about wars. So what I do is go in and teach the locals how to win, or if they lose, I go back in ten years later and teach them how to resurrect the project.
How do you do that?
You have to come to my lectures! Nobody falls asleep at my lectures.
You mentioned 'institutional ambivalence'. Last Thursday, you said 'institutional cowardice.' In Massachusetts it seems like there's this culture of being used to waiting for this stuff to happen. In your opinion, on what levels does that 'cowardice' occur?
Well, politicians - they're adverse to pain. And projects that are painful will not have a lot of interest in helping them along. Many times they'll put their finger up to the wind and see which way the wind is blowing, and come down on the side of the wind. So you just have to change the direction of the wind, sometimes.
Typically, local politicians won't be the leaders in projects like this; they'll lead from forty paces behind. So, you have to have an active core group to be the leaders, and then give the opportunity for the local politicians to be participants and then let them become the leaders. But you have to clear the way in the first place.
...Before they'll emerge to the front. And how has that developed, how can that happen in Holyoke?
I would have to think that there are some surreptitious, bad things going on. But I know that you can look at the last ten years of investment in Holyoke - public investment - and you don't really see too much down the hill from High Street. Or even Maple Street.
[...]A lot of those buildings appear to be abandoned, but there are actually small operations in them.
The Parsons Mill burned down. And, you know, that's not the biggest fire.
There was the one in 1999.
That was much bigger, and the Skinner Mill in 1980. The problem in Holyoke also goes beyond the Canal Walk. In the 1970s, Holyoke was the fire capital of the United States. There were more fires there than anywhere else in the country. It was on the nightly news sometimes. Sometimes there's arson, arson for
insurance, sometimes there are arsonists doing it for fires, sometimes it's spontaneous combustion, sometimes there are accidents because of bad wiring, all the above.
Everywhere you see an empty spot in Holyoke, I'm like the kid in "The Sixth Sense:" he sees dead people; I see the missing buildings. And there was an 18-month window in the 1990s, when there were more municipally sanctioned demolitions than the entire decade of the 70's. And so, when my book on Holyoke came out, it sort-of launched a little renaissance in Holyoke in terms of historical awareness. And there was a group formed to stop the municipally-sanctioned demolitions. And we succeeded to a degree to slow down, and actually, the demolition delay ordinance came about in the same type of awareness growing around town.
Then, there was one of the first notable hearings on the demolition delay ordinance was the Bull's Head building on Race Street, which had a four-story terra cotta facade, with a bull's head on it. It used to be Swift Meatpacking Plant right next to the railroad. The railroad side in there right by the Hotel Jess - right where it's blank now, right where nothing's there. So we wanted to buy that building, and the builder
wouldn't sell it to us, the developer wouldn't sell it to us. He sold it to a guy whose intention was to gently tear it down, dismantle it, and sell it on eBay. And he had the guys lined up to buy it, ship it to Houston Texas.
The whole thing.
The whole building, the whole facade. Take it apart, gently, and ship it Houston Texas for a steakhouse. And we stopped that. And he was actually one of the antique dealers here in Northampton. He knows who he is.
Then the building kept getting flipped and flipped and flipped to other speculators, waiting for the Canal Walk to get built. In the meantime, the building's getting more and more deteriorated. Part of the facade comes off, lands on the street. The mayor says 'Time's up, we're tearing that down.'
So the demolition company comes in to take the building down, something goes wrong, guy gets killed. Part of the wall fell, collapsed onto the adjacent auto body shop, seriously injuring the owner of the body shop who was in his office, sitting there. A few weeks later, MassHighway's 25% design hearing is up in City Hall. These are transportation projects, and the way they lay it out, it's the same format as transportation delivery. You have a 25% percent design hearing, so you have everybody's feedback on how the project is starting to look.
I went to the hearing and threw several bombs. I laid it out that here was a city that was totally incompetent, and there was a person that died because of their incompetence moving forward a project that many communities can do for just a couple of years. And here, now, this thing is being segmented to the nth degree and it's because they're cowards about [not] dropping their eminent domain hammer on a guy and getting him out of the way.
It seems like developers are either trying to game the system a little bit, or they're in this Catch-22 of waiting to see what will happen with the Canal Walk, and then nothing happens with the Canal Walk. Is that generally the dilemma with the developers along the Canal Walk territory?
Everybody's waiting for it to get under way. So they can, in turn, invest in their properties. I believe there's $20 million dollars on the sidelines for private sector investment in the buildings.
You had mentioned that other states can get this done in three or four years. And you had mentioned at the meeting that there was a project in Lowell and Chelmsford that took them 23 years to complete. Is that project like Holyoke's?
No. That's called the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Phase 1 started at the Lowell-Chelmsford line. The section going into Lowell proper through the Canal District is different than this. That's two of the 200 projects under way right now. But the section of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Phase 1 starting at the old Wang tower on the Lowell-Chelsmford line, going through all of Chelmsford and 200 yards into Westford 23 years in the making.
Some opposition in Chelmsford. And there was no real leadership. Most municipalities don't have the capacity to move projects like this forward. They don't have the planning staff.
So the state had to take a leadership role. And that was done through getting DCR [Department of Conservation and Recreation] planning staff, who are experts on building these things, to take a lead in moving the project forward. They're not going to be ones managing or running the project when it's done, but they're the ones that really got it through. So by the time they brought DCR in to develop the plan and
everything, it was probably 1998. So it started to move along fairly quickly after that. But, it's under construction right now.
Is that the longest one that you know of?
That's the longest one. The previous longest one was the one called Minuteman Trail, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, which runs down from Bedford down to Arlington's red line. That was 18 years. The fastest one ever built was in the Berkshires, from the north side of Pittsfield to just downtown Adams, and
that was about 14 miles. That took 6 years.
What do other states do differently? Is there something about Massachusetts culturally, bureaucratically, politically? What do other states do to get this done within a matter of years?
Pretty much, for projects to move forward [in Massachusetts] you have to have at least two of the three legs of the stool in function. One leg of the stool would be political activism; advocacy from the neighborhoods and the community.
Then the local municipality has to have some support; the best possible kind would be from the DPW director to be a leader - typically that's not the case - or at least the Planning Department to be leaders, usually that's not the case. Sometimes a mayor might be, but that's usually not the case.
And then the other one would be strong state rep or state senator support, and there's only two places where that's the case. So if you only have strong municipal support without any kind of citizen advocacy to help support it, then you don't move fast. If you just have the state rep and not one of the other two legs, you don't move fast. Any two of those three will move a project forward.
Why is it that the municipality has trouble being advocates for these sorts of projects?
Oh, because it's frivilous! [laughs] It's a frivolous thing, and we need important things! We need real economic development! We need to put a CVS in the heart of our urban core. We need take the country's only art-deco Buick dealership, one of the earliest Buick dealerships in the United States, and we need to turn that into a Walgreens bunker that's going to be so ugly, we have to bury it underground. The lunacy - the crack-cocaine of economic development. The first planned industrial city in the United States: the major planning conference in Massachusetts was this past week; next door to the first planned industrial city in the United States; the Massachusetts Association of Planning Directors. There was no one there from Holyoke! How does that happen?
The Long Walk: Part 1a, More of an Interview with Craig Della Penna
Posted by wwpeters June 17, 2008 15:29PM
Last week, realtor, lobbyist, and speaker on smart growth Craig Della Penna explained to me how a project like Holyoke's Canal Walk is ultimately a transportation project. It's a project based, ultimately, in Holyoke's roads, and thus has to pass through the same channels of any road construction project: the project goes through the city, the regional planning commission, MassHighway, and the Federal Highway Administration. Holyoke isn't alone in its Canal Walk taking forever to get built. In fact, whether there's a canal there or just someone trying to pave over a railroad tracks, nearly all road revitalization projects - known as Enhancement' programs in highway-department speak - take about this long in Massachusetts. Why do Massachusetts's enhancement programs take so long? It can be the usual suspects: lack of advocacy, lack of leadership, partly the state and the federal government being cynical. In Holyoke, the more immediate trouble has been in securing easements for property owners adjacent to Canal Walk territory, a task the City is still working on. But it might also have to do with how transportation money comes into Massachusetts itself. Funding is one of a few things Craig Della Penna and I talk about after the jump. What could they have done differently when this thing had launched in the nineties - is there something they could have done differently? Was there one particular sign that suggested this was getting started on the wrong foot?
What was missing here was the fact that there were no citizen advocates. They tried to do that, and you can't really have a top-down influence to create a friends group. The friends group has to be created from the ground. That's what I went down [to the Canal Walk meeting, on May 29th] to do, because I've seen now, reaching a critical mass, albeit with outsiders who have come to town investing their own private treasure to try and do something good. And this happened to be next to this canal walk that's taking a long time. The stars were aligned, and I went down there and helped get them going.
What was also missing was this was sort of a Congressman Olver-driven project. Congressman Olver likes this stuff and, God bless him, he brought this big pile of money. In most cases, municipalities chase the money. You've got grantwriters on it, and all they do is try to get money. But he's brought money for the project, and now they're trying to spend it. This is a project that obviously has not been a high priority.
Maybe it's not all the city's fault - MassHighway was very recalcitrant on this stuff, and they're not easy to deal with. The Feds were actually influenced by a right-wing property rights group operating out of the Southwest. And they were developing policy that was not consistent with 49 other states. The Federal Highway Administration is much like Oz in the background. When MassHighway says "We'll get back to you," all that means is 'we're gonna call our federal oversight guys and see if they're going to give thumbs up or thumbs down." So the radical property rights groups targeted the Massachusetts Federal Highway Administration Offices. There was one woman who, over a period of about six years, sent over 600 pages of virulent letters, emails, correspondence directed at the Federal Highway Administration's Massachusetts Division to try and influence them and make it harder for to develop trails.
And that has taken us several years to overturn to get this back in the mainstream.
[Eventually, the conversation shifts to the sometimes-bad reputation rail trails and bike paths have.] There's this popular argument that gets made,] that rail trails will attract pedophiles and rapists. That they're just waiting in the woods to pounce.
Well that's why I'm very effective [in my advocacy]. There's a regional bicycle magazine. In their tenth anniversary issue, they called me the most effective biking and rail-trail advocate.
One of the reasons is because we have a bed and breakfast right next to a rail trail. And I make complimentary room nights available to opponents. I say, 'You know, I happen to know something about this. Because I live eight feet from the oldest municipally-built rail trail.' And I say, 'If you're really fearful about this sort of thing coming into your neighborhood, I'll give you a complimentary weeknight stay at our
bed and breakfast along the rail trail. And it has to be a weeknight, because I want you to wake up to the laughter of children biking to school - and how many kids bike to school around here?'
Are there any statistics that back up this idea that crime is more likely to occur on rail trails?
There is a website that teaches these people how to kill off a rail trail in their town. And there's a book you can buy, and I have a copy. Number 1: call it a bike path. That isolates the constituency of people looking at the project and saying, 'Well if it's a bike path, it's probably not for me, because I don't bike anymore.'"
It disqualifies people...
Right. So isolate your users, make the project seem narrow and radical. The book teaches them how to demoralize local trail supporters by videotaping their meetings. Intimidating public officials - it teaches them how to do this.
They have about 900 pages of instances of rape and murder and robbery on trails. And it dates back thirties. And I say to them: 'That's all you can find?' If you add in sidewalks, if you add in churches, you're probably more instances of this stuff.
[...] The Rails to Trails Conservancy did a survey across all of the United States trails ten years ago, and talked to the trail managers about what their experience was with crime along the trails, and it was very much telling that if the community had a lot of crime, they may have a lot of crime on the rail trail. But they'll probably have less, because the rail trail will have enough eyes on it that these bad guys aren't going to go to it.
You talked about the Federal Highway Administration's behind-the-scenes role about getting some of these projects terminated. What are their financial priorities?
Well, the federal government has set aside 10% of all transportation dollars for the enhancements program [or the Transportation Enhancements program, which is the branch of the Federal Highway Administration that deals with developing or restoring bikepaths, historic highways, railroads, canals, etc.]. There 13 categories [in enhancements funding], and one of those categories is for building bike paths and rail trails. Sometimes it's a restorative transportation museum, made from an old railroad station - billboard removal is one of the categories, just to make things nicer.
The money coming out of the Federal Highway Administration given to every state comes in columns of money - road and bridge program; federal aid program; non-federal aid program; enhancements program - coming into all the DOTs [Departments of Transportation], then coming out of the DOTs to the local region.
They don't come directly to the cities, the come to the region, so the region can vote on their priorities for projects.
When you say 'region', do you mean the counties?
Well, it used to be counties, but in the context of today, this would be, in our area today, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. That's one of 12 or 13 planning commissions or metropolitan planning organizations that vote on the transportation priorities of that region. So MassHighway gets the big lump of money in the
feds in all the columns. In every other state in the United States, or maybe 45 states out of 50 - 46, 47 - it still comes out of the DOT in those columns to the regions, albeit much smaller for the region.
However, in Massachusetts, the money coming out of the MassHighway is lumped together coming to the region. Then the region has a transportation policy setting committee and they look at what their projects are and what bridges are falling down. And in Massachusetts, since all that money is lumped together, and they
say, you can vote for these enhancements programs that exist, too, but you don't really have to. Because this is all we have. And typically –
--They just don't think of embarking on projects like a canal walk?
Because there aren't specifically-designated funds for the project.
Right. But in the Pioneer Valley, this region does good in that regard. There are a number of projects that are coming forward right now. As a matter of fact, the most recent groundbreaking here was in Southwick. It started in 1995. It was a project that was led forward, spearheaded by local middle school students. And
here it is now, all these years later, they're in their twenties, some of them have families, they were at the groundbreaking, talking about how long it takes to do projects like this. This was not a project that was shepherded along by municipality, or the state. School kids were the advocates in getting the state rep. [...]
The Selectmen came along reluctantly.
So is the difficulty with the Holyoke Canal Walk partly that just came from the top down as opposed to from the ground up?
What did you make of the meeting on Thursday [May 29th]?
I know that some of the participants were disappointed. You should talk to Nancy Sachs. She's the leader of the group. What I saw there was completely expected from my point of view. This was going to be a presentation that was very low-tech, very much without any kind of supporting documents or take-home literature. It was not going to be very sophisticated. And that's what we saw. Holyoke doesn't have a lot of experience with citizen advocacy groups to partner with them.
Given your background in transportation and with all of this, what do you make of the state of Massachusetts's working class? When you see a city like Holyoke, is that a city that can be re-industrialized?
Yes. With the greening of America finally starting to take place, one of the amazing things I find about Holyoke is that it really has no viable rail customers. There's a move there that actually has gotten an award in the railroad industry for creative marketing. Holyoke Gas & Electric has a lot of unused steam capacitors because a lot of the mills are closed.
So, they have unused capacity. And there's a move where they bring in unit trains of wax for Yankee Candle. And they heat up wax - these are specialized rail cars that are plugged in with steam - the steam circulates, warms up the wax, melts it, transloads the trucks that are already warm. Then they take it up in refrigerated thermos bottles to Yankee Candle.
Which is ironic because years ago, there was a guy in South Hadley who started the Yankee Candle business in a cellar and garage or something, and he went to the mayor of Holyoke and said, 'I got a great idea, mayor. I'm going to start a candle making business and I want to cite it in Holyoke in one of these old
mills.' And the mayor said: 'Bah, kid, get out of here, we want real jobs.'
When they say 'real jobs,' what do they mean?
Well, in that context of the 1970's, it meant worker jobs in mills. And candles weren't seen as a good thing to get attached to - paper mill jobs, they're coming back, we just have to wait them out! That was the thinking!
Where the police station is now, just down the stream on the canal, there was a company, Hart Wool Combing. That was a typical industrial job in Holyoke, which meant they would get rail cars of shared sheep wool, bundled into the car. The cars were unloaded on specialized forklifts, broke open the bands, dumped into these vats of water and washed, flushed [the sheep manure and the water] into the canal, wash it again, get it as clean as they could, then it would go upstairs and work its way down again, [...] and eventually spun into wool. The tightening environmental rules said that you couldn't just be flushing sheep shit into the water. So the mill closed down.
It's like that all over: the environmental rules tightened up, so that it wasn't economically sound for those mills. Today, they have started to a degree to make these mills available for entrepreneurial uses - and it's starting to come. It hasn't reached a critical mass yet in Holyoke, but I think you'll see that. And I think the
fact that the Gas & Electric now controls the assets of the old Holyoke Water Power Company [...] is good. And, I think Holyoke will enjoy a renaissance.
People who I've said that to sometimes look at me like I'm crazy. But all this stuff in tertiary-sized cities will. You see what's going on west of us, in Worthington, to a degree Williamsburg, and further out, Cummington and Chesterfield. Those places are harder and harder to sell. Nobody wants to spend two tanks of $4-a-gallon gas to get to work. We're going to have to have a martial plan of epic proportions to make it easy for people to come back into the cities and to have a closer-in urban development. I'm not talking about, you know, ethnic cleansing - I'm talking about truly functioning diverse communities that work. It will happen. It will have to happen. [...]But if you want to bring transit back to the masses, it's not on rubber-tired buses. It's on steel rails.
The Daily Collegian: Creative Project Hopes to Revitalize Holyoke
By: Ian Nelson, Collegian Staff
Last month's University Gallery sponsored by the Public Art Symposium acted as a facilitator and brought artistic minds who work in the public spectrum together to share their national and international projects.
However, one of the panelists, Frank Sleegers, plans to bring his non-profit Hafensafari project from the harbors of Hamburg to Massachusetts' own Holyoke. Sleegers, who has lectured at UMass for the past two- and-a-half years, thinks this location would work because of "structural similarities" between the two sites, though Holyoke is far from a port.
Hafensafari, which began in the summer of 2003, is essentially a revitalization of Hamburg's abandoned and contaminated industrial sites and brings together local artists and citizens to create within a communal
environment, showcasing their works in the context of a multimedia walking tour.
In the five summers since its inception, Hafensafari has grown from a two-week to four-week event, and funding has increased to $10,000. The project consists of two miles of walking tours per summer, ranging
from sculpture installations and rooftop gardens to walking DJ sets and large scale projections "using strong [industrial] surfaces and edges to draw an ephemeral picture."
"We haven't changed fundamentally," Sleegers said, "but we have built on the strengths, highlighting special aspects."
He works to find what is successful and to keep that interest going from year to year, though the project will not run this summer. "To be realistic, you've got to have a break," Sleegers said. "It's not over by any means, and there are plans for the future. The team has to rest; I've had no vacation for five years because of working on these projects."
More recent events have included songwriting contests, children's sections and a botanic aspect, working with overgrown, contaminated sites to turn them into artistic expressions.
"The mix of mediums means a bigger turnout," Sleegers said. "Younger people are attracted to the music at night, though it's not totally youth-oriented. Local families and senior citizens attend as well."
The initial project took off quickly, taking approximately six to seven months from start to production. The first Hafensafari in 2003 was less of an outside project, with the core members doing most of the work. "It was fun," Sleegers said, for he "actually got to do some architectural work" for the tour instead of manning the organization aspect.
The idea of bringing the Hafensafari to Holyoke is a new idea, only a few weeks old, though Sleegers plans on fulfilling the notion. The center of this project would be Holyoke's hotly-debated canal. There has been much discussion on this topic, locals know about it, and "conflict makes a good product," according to Sleegers. Though he has no connections to Holyoke, Sleegers plans on getting fellow UMass architecture faculty member Joseph Krupczynski aboard, who has done work in Holyoke.
Sleegers hopes to get the University involved, a concept he finds both challenging and rewarding. He intends to employ not only visual artists for this campaign, but he also wants to branch out to creative writers, adding a new dimension to the venture. In addition to utilizing student artwork, Sleegers is looking to reference back to the localization of the Hamburg project by "encouraging people close to the site already to get involved, to expose a whole range of refreshing ideas."
"For Hafensafari, we select the artists by jury," Sleegers said, paring down 60 submissions to 15 finalists.
"In the U.S., we're willing to take whatever we can get and get as much work as possible. No competition, no jury, just as many interpretations of the space [of the canal] as possible."
"The strategy," Sleegers said, "is to bring people to a place where they are experts, who are important on a major level, who can talk to local people and become familiar with the space as well as the artists."
One challenge is to create a network, teaming up with art students, landscape architecture and regional planning faculty from the University, Holyoke locals and even Hafensafari members from Germany in order
to discuss how this all will work.
Another challenge? Coming up with a name. Hafensafari literally means "harbor tour." One idea Sleegers had was "Urbansafari," a walk through a bustling city environment, though he is open to suggestions.
Ian Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2008 The Daily Collegian
Republican Article: Canal Project to Start Moving
Monday, June 16, 2008
By KEN ROSS
HOLYOKE - After months of waiting, state officials finally expect to
put the long-awaited canal walk project out to bid on Sept. 6.
"We're very excited," said Mayor Michael J. Sullivan last week.
Based on such a timetable, this phase of the canal walk should be
open to the public next summer.
The state is overseeing the project, which calls for spending $5
million worth of federal funds to build a 15-foot-wide brick walkway
along the city's canal.
For years, city officials have been discussing the project, which they
hope will transform the mostly derelict industrial area into a vibrant,
The state plans to solicit construction bids on Sept. 6 for the first half
of Phase 1 of the canal walk project, said Sullivan. The first half runs
along the canal from Appleton Street to Dwight Street.
The second half of Phase 1 runs along the canal from Dwight Street to
The second and third phases will involve building a similar walkway
along the lower-level canal, said City Planning Director Kathleen G.
Anderson earlier this year.
Just when bids will be solicited for the second half of Phase 1 has not
Last January, Sullivan said that construction was slated to commence
on the canal walk this year. But last week, he said that state officials
were forced to postpone the project because of "a perfect storm of
Sullivan said, "It was very time-intensive."
Specifically, the design firm initially chosen for the project went
bankrupt, said the mayor. As a result, bids need to be solicited again
for the design portion of the project.
In addition, the project was delayed before that due to difficulty in
obtaining permission from adjacent property owners to build the
As for the second part of Phase 1, senior city planner Karen Mendrala
said last month that city officials were working on securing
permission from property owners to build the walkway.
"We're still working on securing the easements for (Phase) 1B," she
Once these easements are secured, construction will start soon
afterward on the second part of Phase 1, said Mendrala.
Canal plans on the move in Holyoke
by The Republican Newsroom Sunday October 26, 2008, 6:40 AM
By JEANETTE DeFORGE
HOLYOKE - City officials are ready to design the second phase of the canal walk, now that the first part is ready for construction.
City planners expect to meet next month with the state Highway Department to map out the next part of the walk, which will run parallel to the first, said Kathleen G. Anderson, economic development director, on Friday.
The city has received $5 million worth of federal grants to erect a 15-foot-wide brick walkway, complete with plantings, along the city's canals. The Highway Department is overseeing the project.
The second phase is to run between Appleton and Dwight streets along the lower canal, and essentially will make a square with the first phase. This will run between the same two streets on the upper canal, said Anderson.
"We think this will go a lot easier," she said. "Holyoke G&E (Gas and Electric) owns a lot of property on the canal, and one property owner who has already signed off on one side owns land there, too."
One reason it has taken almost 10 years to get the first phase started was that property owners were at times reluctant to sign an easement allowing the walk to be constructed on their land.
In fact, a portion of what is now dubbed Phase 1B, which runs from Lyman Street to Dwight Street, has been permanently put on hold. This, said Anderson, is because one property owner has not permitted the easement, while another is considering renovations near the walk.
Construction on the first phase of the project is expected to cost $716,445. Gomes Construction Co. of Ludlow, the low bidder, is scheduled to commence work in the spring.
There is no funding estimate on the second phase, but Anderson said she is hopeful that it could start in the following spring.
If the Highway Department agrees to let the project move ahead, four public hearings will be called.
"We are looking forward to it; hopefully, that will bring people downtown," said Bruce C. Fowler, an artist who has converted a vacant building on Race Street into studios. Another artist bought the building next door for the same purpose.
The second phase of the walk will run next to Fowler's building, which will eventually house a cafe, restaurant, and art gallery.
Fowler and his business partner were so enthusiastic about the second phase of the walk that they created the Friends of the Canal Walk to support city efforts.