Home Remedy Holyoke Health Center Gears Up To Complete $20 Million Renovation Project

The Holyoke Health Center has embarked on a renovation project that promises to bring new jobs, new commerce, and, ultimately, new life to the city’s downtown area.


A piece of Holyoke’s past is on its way to becoming a significant part of the city’s future, as Holyoke Health Center, Inc., moves to complete a $20 million renovation of the former Epstein Furniture complex, creating an expansive health care plaza.

The project is entering the second phase of an initiative that began four years ago. Work has been delayed by the process of acquiring Federal Historic Preservation tax credits, which necessitated some redrafting of architectural plans to preserve some of the buildings’ original look and charm.

Jay Breines, executive director of Holyoke Health Center (HHC), said plans for creating a medical facility within the so-called ‘Epstein buildings,’ the former home of the historic furniture store and a once-booming department store that encompasses the corner at Maple, High, and Dwight streets, were blueprinted in 2000, and the property was purchased in 2001.

‘Phase One’ of the renovation, as Breines calls it, was also completed in 2001, when a suite of medical and dental offices and a Louis & Clark pharmacy were opened on the Maple Street side of the property, which consists of the two interconnected buildings.

The bulk of the property has remained vacant, however, while the health center awaited notification on the tax credit, worth $2 million.

Receipt of the tax credit was contingent upon a lengthy revision of architectural plans, in order to maintain historic standards set by the National Park Service with regard to the Epstein Buildings. Breines identified several structural concerns, including the maintenance of hard wood floors in some areas of the building and the installation of specific windows and storefronts that blend well with the property’s existing features.

Most of the changes, however, relate to the design of the building; in order to qualify for an historic preservation tax credit, various specific aspects of a property must be maintained, such as the decorative façade that runs along the buildings’ rooftops.

Recently approved, those plans are now ready to move off the drawing board, and construction is set to resume this month. Breines said he hopes the project will be completed by December.

A Scale Model

Breines told The Healthcare News that the project is proof that nonprofits can play a significant role in the growth and expansion of Holyoke. Not only have the federal tax credits spurred continued construction, but in addition, Holyoke Health Center will augment that $2 million with New Market tax credits provided by the U.S. Treasury for community development entities – a federal program being utilized in conjunction with Holyoke Health Center’s major partner, Mass. Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC).

Holyoke Gas & Electric also provided a loan to HHC, and federal loan guarantees make up the remainder of funding for the project, creating a unique financial package.

In order to take advantage of many of the various funding sources, Breines explained that a development company had to be formed, a for-profit LLC that, for tax purposes, is owned in part by the building project’s sponsor (Holyoke Health Center) and in part by a second for-profit entity. That group, the Community Health Center Capital Fund based in Boston, was created specifically to partner with non-profit health centers in order to allow them access to federal tax benefits. It controls 2{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the LLC, named CHCCF/HHC Development, LLC.

He added that such a combination of funding sources has never been used for an urban revitalization project such as that within the former Epstein Buildings, and he hopes the project will serve as a model for similar initiatives across the country.

“Integrating all of these financial components is unique,” he said. “Holyoke is the first community in the country to develop a financial package like this. There has also been a big push on the federal level to open and expand community health centers across the country – it has been one of George W. Bush’s major priorities. I think our initiative is a shining example of how community health centers relate to economic development.”

Breines said the project’s size and scope will provide a significant economic boost to the city and especially its downtown. The Holyoke Health plaza represents the largest investment in downtown Holyoke to date, and he expects that, once completed, the project will bring about 1,000 people to the Maple, High, and Dwight area each day, and thus spur additional development there.

“I think development of this scale is unusual for the city,” he said. “But we are lucky enough to already have Holyoke Medical Center as a part of our landscape, proving that an investment of this size provides stability to a community like ours.

“The fact that so many people will be coming to the area after the plaza is completed is one of the biggest plusses to the whole project – surrounding stores will undoubtedly benefit, and increased foot traffic will make the area look and feel safer,” he continued. “I fully believe that had we not chosen this facility for reuse, it would have remained vacant for some time. Making the investment was the right thing to do.”

Nailing it Down

The construction project – now aptly dubbed ‘Phase Two,’ following the four-year break in building – will complete the creation of what amounts to a medical mall in downtown Holyoke. Once completed, the facility will feature the existing medical and dental offices and Louis & Clark pharmacy, which will be expanded. It will also include offices for the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC), Midwifery Care of Holyoke, and 75,000 additional square feet of office space for medical and human services providers.

Breines said 75{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the leaseable office space has already been accounted for, and he expects the trend of partnering with other businesses will continue.
Holyoke Health Center has already fostered relationships with Tufts University and UMass Medical Center, and also with local for-profit and non-profit businesses including the Holyoke Charter School, Holyoke Community College, and the Holyoke Food Policy Council to offer additional educational and community-oriented services, recruit staff, and better treat patients.

“Louis & Clark was our first such partnership, and we are delighted with the relationship,” Breines continued. “The pharmacy has become the poster child for the opportunities created by business partnerships in Holyoke.”

He also noted that health and human services jobs represent the highest percentage of jobs per capita in Holyoke, due in part to the number of jobs made available by Holyoke Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, and soon by the Holyoke Health Center’s expansion.

“Health care is the fastest growing industry in the country, and settings like this plaza represent that,” he said, adding that he is confident that new tenants in the facility will both contribute to and benefit from the ongoing revitalization efforts in Holyoke’s downtown business community. “I think sometimes the role of human services and nonprofit organizations in the rebuilding of areas like Holyoke gets less attention than it should. This is where the jobs are; Holyoke is looked at as an industrial or manufacturing city, and there’s some truth to that, but the health care industry is adding jobs, spending more money, and outperforming many other sectors.”

In fact, Holyoke is the most health care job-dependent community in the Commonwealth, excluding Boston, and the health center expansion is expected to double the number of jobs generated by the facility to more than 300. The average salary for those positions is about $40,000.

“One thing that has held us back from hiring has been space,” he said. “When we open the new facility, we anticipate staff expansions that will not only create more jobs, but create more opportunities for partnerships with other Holyoke-based businesses.”

Park and Pride

Health center staff is now spread between three offices on Maple and High Streets, but Phase Two of the project will bring all of the facility’s employees together under one roof, in addition to the additional staff employed by expected tenants.

That, along with the patients, clients, and customers expected to visit the health center and surrounding businesses following its completion, should create a bustling block, and a new brighter future for downtown Holyoke. The new development will create some challenges — with regard to parking, traffic, and other issues, but they can and will be overcome.

“Traffic in general downtown should increase, and along with the city, we’re going to need to look at solutions for parking,” Breines explained, “but that’s a problem we’re happy to have.”

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