Case Study

The Court Square Building in Springfield, MA 

6 min read

Historic Massachusetts Hotel to Be Preserved and Improved 

The Court Square Hotel in downtown Springfield, MA, designed and built more than a century ago, still has what the architects call “good bones.” But to continue the design metaphor, it has developed a few missing teeth over the years, something a historic rehabilitation is set to correct. 

The Court Square Building, laid out in a “L” shape fronting Elm and State Streets directly across Court Square from the historic Wellspring Church and City Hall in Springfield, has been vacant for a long time—decades, according to Adam Stein, executive vice president of developer WinnDevelopment, Boston. 

The $62.8 million rehab is the work of many hands, according to Stein.  

The city of Springfield put up $4 million in pre-development money, for instance, to remediate environmental problems, in addition to a $6.5 million investment. Insurer MassMutual made a soft loan of $5 million, MGM Springfield provided a $16 million loan and MassHousing put up $14.5 million. State and Federal Historic Tax Credits provided another $14 million. 

Opal Real Estate is partnering with Winn on the development. MassHousing will be the funding administrator. The project will have no hard debt, “which is a really unique situation,” says Stein. 

A more unusual partner was a nearby casino. MGM Springfield contributed a $4 million soft loan and $12 million in MGM Housing Funds. Its motives were twofold—to eliminate a crumbling eyesore in its neighborhood, and to give potential workers a chance to live near where they work. The casino will also have access to some of the new parking being developed on the site. 

In addition to having the casino for a neighbor, 31 Elm will be just blocks from the Springfield train station, which is currently being remodeled into a regional transportation center. 

A good bit of the history of the old building will be preserved. “A lot of the old features were still in the building,” Stein says. “Wainscoting, crown molding, terrazzo flooring, an ornate marble lobby and original doors and windows surround, beautiful staircases with curved wooden banisters, plus all the irreplaceable masonry exterior. All those items were intact when we took over the building.” 

When finished, the project will have 74 units of one- and two-bedroom housing, divided into 15 workforce and 59 unrestricted units. (The one-bedroom units will average 700 square feet; the two-bedrooms, 900 square feet.) 

Another Very Old Building 
There will also be four dwelling units and two retail spaces built at the smaller structure adjoining the hotel, the “Byers Block,” believed to be the oldest building on the site, according to the architect, The Architectural Team of Boston. (Fontaine Brothers is the general contractor.) 

In all, 13,000 square feet of office and retail is planned for the first floor of the site. Total construction costs come to $53.7 million with an additional $6.9 million in soft costs, a design fee of $1.735 million, and a small conveyance fee of $500,000. 

“The ornate original details of the building will be preserved with guidance from the MHC and National Parks Service,” according to Winn. “Units will feature large windows, high ceilings and historic woodwork original to the site. The building will also be improved with the addition of amenity space for tenants, including a common room and fitness area. The exteriors of the building will be improved with new landscaping, hardscaping, upgraded lighting, in addition to new store fronts and pedestrian friendly sidewalks and slot parking spaces along Elm Street and fronting historic Court Square.” 

Many of the partners in the project came together for the closing or lauded the project in late June, including Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, MassHousing executive director Chrystal Kornegay, Winn executive vice president Michael O’Brien, Peter Picknelly of Opal Real Estate Group, and Chris Kelley, president of MGM Springfield. 

Although the property was just conveyed to new ownership at the end of June, substantial work has been done at the site beforehand, says Stein, who notes the hotel was in “rough shape structurally” at acquisition. The city contributed a $4 million hazard abatement at the site, and Winn then undertook removing historic items from the hotel and cataloging them. 

“We stored them (very carefully) in the basement in crates, organized and tagged,” Stein says. 

Other preconstructions have been on the way as well. “We’ve been under construction since January,” Stein says, estimating that 15 to 20 percent of the work has been completed, including structural and building envelope work (a late 2023 opening is expected).  

The early start has enabled the developer to gather materials and lock in costs in an environment where costs are volatile and supply lines subject to disruption. 

Bump Outs Widen Corridors 
Converting old hotel rooms to apartments will call for ten- to 12-foot “bump outs” widening the corridors and giving better access to the units. Door management is a definite consideration on this project, as there won’t be a one-to-one ratio of hotel doors to apartment doors. 

Historic items that need to be kept to preserve historic status include some beautiful details. 

“The ceiling heights and big windows are maintained,” says Stein. “Even the old stairwells that don’t meet code today are being preserved and replaced by new egress stairwells.” 

The exterior is “beautiful,” he says, “with yellow and terracotta brick, curved windows, copper turrets and window bays, wrought iron balconies, cornices and details you just don’t see on buildings today. It’s an incredibly attractive building and has played an important role in Springfield’s business life.” 

Care will be taken to integrate the exterior spaces into the historic landscape of downtown Springfield. 

The project is a great example of public-private partnership, Stein says. 

“Many dedicated people and entities came together in a big way to make this thing happen,” Stein concludes. “We have the City of Springfield, Mass Mutual, MGM, MassHousing, Bank of America, OPAL and Winn all adding time and significant efforts to marshal the necessary resources to advance this impactful project. 

“We hope Court Square will contribute another 100 years to downtown Springfield and will be a real economic benefit to everyone.”  

The Court Square Hotel’s Long and Extensive History 
This five-story office building was constructed by Dwight Gilmore in 1882. It nicely encloses the south side of Court Square.  

In 1900, an additional story was added, and the building was extended with an addition from Elm Street to State Street. The building contained offices, shops, a theater and a hotel. 

The buff brick building with brownstone trim was designed by Fred S. Newman in Classical Revival and Victorian Eclectic styles; it uses eight different window designs. The building once housed the Court Square Theater, which was the premier live performance venue in western Massachusetts. The theater was demolished in 1957. 

The most obvious features of the building are the massive copper adornments that frame many of the windows. A pair of sphinx sculptures are high on top one of these copper frames on the facade of the old theater section. 


Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.