Tower Square History

Tower Square History

The centerpiece of the city’s 1960s urban renewal plan, the 50-year old Tower Square has never fully lived up to its potential as an economic development engine. The Center at Springfield brings a new brand of economic opportunity and hope to the city and its residents.

In the early 1960s, a small group of downtown civic and business leaders were concerned about the gradual demise of Springfield’s downtown. To change the trajectory, they chose to spearhead the development of a 1.6 million-square-foot building featuring:  

  • A 28-floor office tower 
  • A 265-room hotel and conference center 
  • An 18,000-square-foot retail center  

Known as Baystate West when it opened in 1970, the building was expected to play a major role in reviving the downtown business district. Smaller retailers and a food court occupied the two-story retail center. Airwalks connected Baystate West to two major department stores: Forbes & Wallace and Steigers.

From its earliest days, Baystate West struggled financially until it was purchased by Mass Mutual in the 1970s. Meanwhile, large scale shopping malls were being developed close by in Enfield, Connecticut, and off I-91 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Each featured well-known anchor tenants and a wide array of specialty shops. 

As the retail environment grew more competitive, Springfield’s economy was spiraling downward. Once a legendary manufacturing center, the city was witnessing the closure of large-scale factories that had once provided well-paying jobs for generations of residents who had only completed high school. Across New England, manufacturing jobs were moving from the higher wage Northeast to southern states with less expensive labor.

Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to attempt to end racial discrimination in its public schools. The means was busing in Massachusetts’ two largest cities: Boston and Springfield. Springfield’s demographics were already shifting. Families who could afford to move to the suburbs were doing so in droves. By 1975, Springfield Public Schools were fully integrated and would eventually serve majority minority populations.

Fast forward to 2014. UMass announced the decision to create an academic center on the second floor in what is now known as Tower Square. The 27,321-square-foot center would provide opportunities for Springfield residents to earn a certificate, undergraduate, or master’s degree in academic programs that represent careers in high-demand areas: healthcare, education, business, and nonprofit management, as well as a design-your-own undergraduate degree. With the city’s higher unemployment, there was a growing demand by local businesses for a job-ready workforce.

In 2017, Mass Mutual announced the time was right to put Tower Square on the market. The city’s major financial services anchor made it clear it was not abandoning the city; rather, the company was pleased to see a resurgence of interest in downtown real estate by investors and developers. Just two blocks from Tower Square, the city would soon see MGM’s $1 billion investment in downtown Springfield come to life. The end of a 25-year wait for the redevelopment of Union Station would soon end and result in dramatically increased train service between Springfield and points north and south.

Today, the UMass Amherst Center at Springfield is proud to be part of a downtown that shows great promise. Tower Square is now owned by local investors who have been able to attract several popular services including: 

  • Childcare and fitness facilities offered by Springfield YMCA  
  • Retailers providing conveniences to downtown workers 
  • A new bank 
  • Expanded food options 
  • A refurbished Art for the Soul Gallery, featuring art installations from around the country 

In addition, the building will soon be home to the White Lion Brewery, a Springfield-based entrepreneurial venture.