Where’s the Beef? One Year Later, Springfield’s Long-Vacant Former Visitors Center Remains Deserted

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger BarIt seems like just a year ago — December 6, 2011, to be precise — that it was first reported in the Republican that the development team Lustra LLC, headed up by local attorney Raipher Pellegrino and his partners, won the preferred developer bid on the former Springfield Visitors Center located on Hall of Fame Avenue (West Columbus Avenue), with plans to open a Luxe Burger Bar restaurant there.

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Since that time, not much — if any — progress has been made at the site, it appears. Last May, competing developer Peter Pappas, who lost out on the bid to develop the site, complained to the Springfield Redevelopment Authority about the lack of movement in developing the property.

At the time, city officials reportedly told Pappas “they are satisfied with the efforts by Lustra,” this according to a Republican story on his complaint.

Pellegrino himself also insisted in the same story, “there is no delay.”

Then, of course, came the delay.

The development team didn’t finalize the purchase of the property until June of this year – over six months after they won the preferred developer bid and three months later than the original 120-day preferred developer deadline.

At the time of the finalized purchase, the Republican reported, “construction is expected to begin this summer and take six months to complete, according to the redevelopment authority and Pellegrino.”

ABC-40 News, meanwhile, reported later in June that the Springfield Redevelopment Authority told them the new restaurant was expected to be open “later this year” (2012).

This past August, then, this writer visited what he supposed would be a busy construction site, only to see the lonely, vacant former Visitors Center still standing there in silence, its interior and exterior entirely untouched and covered in dust.

Two months later, in October of this year, Pappas again issued a statement complaining about the lack of action in redeveloping the property. And again, he was rebuffed by the city.

Springfield’s Chief Development Officer, Kevin Kennedy, reportedly informed Pappas that rather than criticizing the city, the developer should instead be looking forward to other opportunities.

“I would always like things to move faster,” Kennedy was quoted as saying in a Republican story. “But significant and satisfactory progress has been made on both projects.”

(For a look at the “significant” progress currently going on at the former Visitors Center site, see photos below this story.)

Pappas responded to Kennedy’s statement with a statement of his own, shown below.

Pappas-Kennedy Letter

Finally, this past weekend (November 24), while out taking photos of the gas explosion in downtown Springfield, this writer again stopped by the former Visitors Center. But there it still sat, in exactly the same neglected condition it was in this past summer.

One would think the folks at Lustra LLC would at least sweep out the place – or do something to show they are moving ahead with this project.

The city’s continued assertion that they are satisfied with Lustra’s progress, meanwhile, only makes them look more and more foolish – or more incompetent – as each month passes by and the site continues to sit idle.

Back in May, when the Intruder originally posted a story on Pappas’s complaint to the city, this writer predicted there would be no Luxe Burger Bar at the Visitors Center:

The Luxe Burger Bar serves burgers, wings, soups and salads, and other snack-type foods. According to its online menu, it also serves wine and beer, so Lustra LLC will also be acquiring a liquor license – which is good news for the nightclub that will probably end up being there in a couple years.

It seems like that once-far-fetched prediction is looking to be a bit more on the mark these days. The Lustra partners could very well be waiting things out to see how the casino resort issue unfolds in the city. That might change their development plans considerably (to this day, neither the Luxe Burger Bar website nor the website of its parent company, Chow Fun Food Group, makes any mention of a restaurant opening in Springfield) – and the city, which has already rolled over for them repeatedly over the past twelve months (and apparently no longer lists the former Visitors Center as a redevelopment site), would probably put up little resistance to any project changes.

And for anyone who thinks they can’t possibly drag things out for that long, it should be remembered that the former developers of the Chestnut Junior High School in the North End of Springfield, Miramar Real Estate Management, did just that themselves for several years – and with the city covering their asses all the way – before they finally dumped the project back onto the city’s lap. And Pellegrino himself, about twelve or so years ago, had to be prodded by the Amoury-Quadrangle Civic Association’s Carol Costa and Springfield City Councilor Timothy Rooke (see comments at the bottom of this post here) to move ahead with the redevelopment of a property he had been sitting on for a likewise considerable amount of time, in a situation eerily similar to what we are witnessing with the former Visitors Center today.

So will Springfield eventually see a Luxe Burger Bar come to the downtown? Or have we all been taken for yet another ride?

Time will tell.

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Photo taken May 12, 2012

Springfield Visitors Center

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Photos taken August 18, 2012

Springfield Visitors Center

Springfield Visitors Center

Springfield Visitors Center

Springfield Visitors Center

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Photos taken November 24, 2012

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

Notice in the above photo that the sign is set in the exact same position by the closed door as the photo taken of the same view back in August. Has anyone even been in this building since Lustra bought it in June?

Springfield Visitors Center - Luxe Burger Bar

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