Mass. Convention Center Authority seeks to replace Civic Center Garage with more than a ‘monolith’

After the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority demolishes the 50-year-old Civic Center Garage, the new parking structure it builds at 41 Harrison Ave. won’t have blank walls facing the sidewalk like what’s there now.

It might have a coffee shop on the corner, or other retail, David Gibbons, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, in a telephone conversation Wednesday following the announcement of redevelopment plans that were in the works for decades.

“How do you make a garage not a monolith?” he said. “You sacrifice some parking spaces on the first floor and you put in some retail.”

The new garage – no timeframe or cost estimates are available yet -- must work not only with the MassMutual Center across the street which the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority also owns and operates but with the neighborhood. Gibbons specifically mentioned Pynchon Plaza, also just across the street.

The plaza with its decorative paving and elevator to the Springfield Museums reopened last month after a $4 million renovation.

The Plaza needs to be in a neighborhood, Gibbons said. That’s not what is there now

“You’ve got this parking garage that kills a block in either direction,” he said.

The Springfield Parking Authority recently sold the Civic Center Garage, its largest and busiest parking structure, to the Convention Center Authority for $3.5 million. The deal was revealed in paperwork filed last month at the Hampden County Registry of Deeds.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which also owns and operates the MassMutual Center, will rebuild the garage and continue to own and operate it. The new garage may even have a skybridge connecting it with the arena, replacing one that was removed.

The old skybridge was likely removed because it had deteriorated, Gibbons said . But having a way to walk over Bruce Landon Way to the arena solves a few problems.

First, its convenient for people arriving for events at the MassMutual Center arena or convention center . Secondly, it helps to disperse the crowd.

Today, pedestrians cross the street meaning cars can’t pull into or out off the garage, creating gridlock.

The garage was built in 1971 at roughly the same time as the MassMutual Center, once known as the Springfield Civic Center. The arena opened in 1972.

The city and the Convention Center Authority have been talking about the Civic Center Garage for more than a decade. The garage has low ceilings, with just 6-feet and 2 inches of clearance in some spaces. Maintenance problems have kept many of its spaces — particularly the rooftop deck and second floors — closed for years.

Gibbons said one of the first conversations he had when he took his job five years ago was about the Civic Center Garage. He said it’s the first thing that comes up when he talks with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.

But Gibbons said it made sense to hold off on a major project while the billion-dollar MGM Springfield complex and its 3,400-spot garage were under construction.

“It’s too far away to service the needs that we are talking about answering,” Gibbons said. “It’s tough for pedestrians and those who use that garage to get to the MassMutual Center have to go through the casino.

What about the need for these facilities in the post-COVID world?

Gibbons predicts that there will be about one more year of disruptions. But the sales force at MassMutual Center is doing business, booking shows and events.

“People are going to want sports, they are going to want events they are going to want meetings,” he said. “You are seeing it in the hotel data that smaller cities will bounce back faster.”

That’s because visitors feel more comfortable with smaller-scale events that they can drive to, he said.

Gibbons said the Convention center Authority and the Springfield Parking Authority will coordinate parking alternatives while construction is ongoing.