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Making the Case for Transit-oriented Development in Downtown Holyoke, Massachusetts

This report serves to inform the City of Holyoke about compelling features in its downtown district as they would pertain to the creation and management of a transit-oriented development district around the recently created Intermodal Transportation Center, a hub for bus service between Holyoke and other communities in the Pioneer Valley. These features were developed through literature and interview surveys and are described in a SWOT analysis, identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as existing and future advantages and disadvantages related to transit-oriented development. Some of the more compelling strengths include a municipal reputation for attracting planning grants for large-scale projects to improve the district; a competitive location efficiency in the historic business district, the area's accommodation for multimodal service - particularly pedestrian and transit traffic, and national trends correlating the city's demographic profile to transit ridership support. With little expectation for change, all of these features should translate to the near future in Holyoke. Challenges cited in this report include bus-based transit-oriented development's unproven and unfamiliar reputation with stakeholders in the Pioneer Valley, the rustbelt community's tough-luck image in the development community, lagging leadership for the planning technique from state and regional planning officials, the City's zoning regulations that oblige a suburban development model, and excessive parking that presently challenges a comfortable pedesrian environment. These challenges have solutions. Opportunities discussed in this report speak to financing options typical to transit-oriented development projects to generate a favorable reputation, ongoing strategies to increase and highlight the City's accomplishments, recommendations for zoning amendments to encourage pedestrian-friendly development, and popular methods to improve transit's viability as a competitive alternative to car use. Some issues are simply beyond the City's hands and will persist as threats to successsful downtown transit-oriented development. These issues include market hesitation to invest in transit-oriented development and Holyoke in general, a challenging reputation established for decades, and persistently lagging support from Beacon Hill for the unique issues confronting communities like Holyoke in the Pioneer Valley. Transit-oriented development presents a myriad of benefits and challenges for Holyoke and its stakeholders. Overall, the development technique offers compelling reasons for political and business leaders in Holyoke to adopt policies intended to realize its goals to create a vibrant, economically viable downtown district. This report informs these leaders and offers an opening comment to the ongoing dialogue about Holyoke's renaissance.
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