A couple of weeks ago, the MGM Casino opened in Springfield’s South End. This was a years-long billion-dollar investment, and represented for many the long-sought hope for the city’s comeback – a symbol of a resurgence and new life pumped into a community which for decades has largely known only disinvestment and struggle. Having gone there last week for White Lion Wednesdays, I can say that it is, without a doubt, an impressive urban space that provides many much-needed amenities to the city’s downtown (bowling alley, movie theater, restaurants, etc.).
Looking around at derelict buildings in the region, I am forced to wonder if this was a weird outlier event. Will there be other MGM-scale investments in the region? Or maybe there are already and I just don’t know about them?
I was recently introduced to a new statewide dataset called MassBuilds, which tracks major real estate developments around the commonwealth. I’m sad to say that this dataset confirms what I already suspected – despite the fanfare and hubbub over MGM, the vast majority of new large real estate developments take place inside I-495 (the outer beltway of Boston). Don’t get me wrong, MGM is a huge investment by any measure (nearly $1 billion) and one of the largest in the state in recent years. But it is an exception to the overwhelming trend of where new large developments take place.
Using the MassBuilds dataset, I first took a look at major real estate developments by region since the year 2000. You might notice the same trend that I did.
You can see in the chart above, Metro Boston totally dominates the commonwealth when it comes to major developments. You can also see this remarkable disparity mapped:
Finally, I took a look at the top ten developments that had been completed or were in construction by total cost. The number one development is the new casino in construction just outside of Boston, coming in at a whopping $2.4 billion. MGM is number three at $960 million; the other nine developments are in Boston or a nearby community.
One caveat I would note is that the MassBuilds database was created and is maintained by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and so there might be an under-counting of projects outside the Boston region since they are the Boston-area planning commission. However, in absence of evidence to the contrary, this suggests that the red hot real estate market in the Boston region is fueling a development boom that’s largely not felt in the rest of the state.
It’s easy, as a knee-jerk reaction, to feel like the rest of the state (including the Pioneer Valley) is being left behind. I have to remind myself that being in a calmer real estate market has its benefits: fewer bidding wars and all-cash offers locking out many families from home ownership; less gentrification and displacement in low-income, majority people-of-color neighborhoods; fewer families struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table.
At the same time, as I look at the abandoned mill buildings, boarded up apartment buildings, and empty storefronts of Holyoke and Springfield, I can’t help but wonder – can’t we just get a small slice of that development bonanza going on 90 miles east of us? Just a taste, enough to get a few restaurants and a refurbished mill building (without needing slot machines to make the project pencil out)? Can’t we have our cake and eat it, too?