2nd $200K ‘casino effect’ grant boosts Holyoke’s efforts to revitalize tourism, economic growth

Work will begin on the Appleton Mill project in Holyoke's historic Canal District.

Aaron Vega, director of the Holyoke’s Office of Planning and Economic Development, said a new $200,000 grant derived from casino impact fees will help advance the city’s comprehensive tourism plan. Pictured is Holyoke’s historic Canal District. (Dennis Hohenberger / Special to The Republican)

HOLYOKE — Holyoke has received a second $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Gaming Mitigation Fund, which will again go toward raising the city’s economic and tourism profile in Western Massachusetts.

The fund is designed to assist communities economically affected by the MGM Springfield casino.

Plans include establishing a shuttle service between the casino and Holyoke, shuttling casino patrons into the city for annual events.

Aaron Vega, director of the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development, emphasized the grant’s significance in the Holyoke’s ongoing efforts. The initial $200,000 grant awarded in 2019 paid for Holyoke’s comprehensive tourism plan.

Vega outlined the five major areas, or “buckets,” where the new funding will be directed. First, there will be continuous work on the Explore Holyoke website, keeping it updated and expanding its reach via social media and e-commerce.

Second, the city will begin implementing its historic tourism plan, with potential collaborations with Holyoke Public Library and the city’s Historical Commission. In January, Holyoke launched its yearlong 150th Anniversary Celebration.

Vega said Holyoke seeks innovative solutions to enhance its historic tourism offerings. Vega mentioned potential partnerships with technology companies for augmented reality experiences, allowing visitors to view overlays of landmark images on modern cityscapes.

The grant also will support the Beyond Walls mural project, aiding in creating a dozen new murals in the city.

“We’re going to capitalize on the fact that more people are coming to Western Mass. due to the casino,” Vega said.

Vega promoted the importance of cultural diversity and food options in bolstering Holyoke’s image. “One of our big focuses is cultural diversity, especially when it comes to our restaurants,” he said.

The initiatives are seen as more than short-term projects. Vega stressed the importance of building partnerships and creating an appealing community, which includes economic investment.

“Companies want to see a vibrant community,” said Vega. “Businesses are looking for places to locate with other activities.”

While the city still faces challenges, such as homelessness and substance use, Vega acknowledged that the initiatives would bring fresh ideas and resources to Holyoke.

The City Council formally accepted the state grant on Tuesday, a requirement before allocating the money.

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