City acquisition of former Friendly site called essential for staff parking, reducing school bus congestion at nearby Sumner Avenue school

SPRINGFIELD — City and school officials have warned the city must act quickly to acquire the site of the former Friendly’s restaurant for use as overflow parking for the nearby Sumner Avenue School before the owner decides to sell or rent the site to someone else.

School superintendent Daniel J. Warwick and administrative and financial director TJ Plante each said that if the school lost access to the site for parking, it would cause a cascading effect throughout the Forest Park neighborhood so that employees scramble to find parking on the street.

“If we had more space, we could handle the situation better, but without this parking lot, we couldn’t run the school,” Warwick said. “People wouldn’t park in the streets around there…and that would be, I’m sure, completely unacceptable.”

The city is seeking to acquire the property at 65 Sumner Avenue through eminent domain. But before you can move, the city council must approve the expenses. Council voted in August to send the request to its finance and public safety subcommittees for a recommendation.

City and school officials spoke in favor of the move Monday at a joint meeting of the two committees.

The Sumner Avenue School, built in 1911, has had little room for parking or for buses since an addition was built in the mid-1990s, Warwick said.

Since then, around 30-40 staff have parked in the parking lot adjacent to the school, and buses have picked up and dropped off students outside the school on Sumner Avenue, disrupting traffic on one of the roads the busiest in the city.

The city plans to acquire the property through eminent domain to use the site for employee parking and to give buses a place to pick up and drop off students each day.

While the site was a working restaurant, Friendly’s allowed school employees to park at the rear of the grounds free of charge. Since the restaurant closed and the property was acquired by Springfield Realty Ventures, LLC, the city has been paying $40,000 a year to use it as a parking lot.

The city is seeking to acquire the 52,300-square-foot parcel and building for $1.15 million, which Plante says is a compromise between the city’s assessed value of $925,000 and the $1.3 million dollars wanted by the owner.

Under eminent domain, the city can go to court and obtain ownership of a private parcel on the grounds that it is necessary for the public good. It would then be up to a judge to set a fair price for the good.

He said the two sides agreed to transfer the property through a “friendly eminent domain” process where both sides agree on a fair price before going before a judge.

Plante said the alternative would be “hostile eminent domain,” where both sides dispute the fair price and leave it up to a judge to decide. If the city went that route and lost, it would have to pay the higher amount plus all court costs and legal fees, he said.

Plante said he was also told by the landlord that two potential businesses, a dry cleaner and a restaurant, have inquired about buying or signing a long-term lease for the site.

Ward 6 Councilman Victor G. Davila, chairman of the public safety committee, said he’s heard from several residents in his ward talking about the acquisition, and people are mostly concerned about what will happen to the Friendly’s old building, and whether it would be used for school activities or something else.

He said before the city commits, there needs to be a discussion involving residents and the Forest Park Civic Association about acceptable uses of the property.

Plante replied that there were no immediate plans for the building itself, and while he was happy to hear from the neighborhood, he said the city needed to act quickly before the opportunity arose. not be lost.

“I would take the building, put it under control, and then have dialogue without rushing,” Plante said. “Because now, if we don’t take the building. They’re going to turn around and do a long-term lease and put a dry cleaner there, and I don’t know if that’s what the neighborhood wants.

Councilor Tracye Whitfield, chair of the finance committee, said she supports the acquisition. In addition to unclogging the front of the school, the land could be used as emergency overnight parking for people in the neighborhood during snowstorms.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer. I have nothing against this proposal. I support it,” she said.

She warned that the council needed to act quickly. The owners are ready to welcome the city, but that could change.

“If we refuse this or deny it or extend it, they can go out and leave with another owner. And then that landlord doesn’t have to allow us to use that parking lot…we have more crisis issues than we currently have right now.

Council Speaker Jesse Lederman said he also supports the acquisition, but he wants the administration to wait to decide on the building’s use until the civic association can step in.

“I think the argument that we have control of it is a good one, because otherwise we have no control over what happens there,” he said.

Lederman said the board will likely put the issue to a vote at its Oct. 17 meeting.

Davila said he will contact the Forest Park Civic Association to meet with its members. He plans to hold another subcommittee meeting on Oct. 17 before the board meeting.