HOLYOKE - Attorney General Maura Healey took her campaign for governor to Western Massachusetts on Wednesday, picking up endorsements from local officials and emphasizing her commitment to economic development across the state.
“Every region is deserving of its own particular support and amplification, and I look forward to having the opportunity to serve the people of Western Massachusetts,” said Healey, a Democrat and the front-runner in the gubernatorial race.
She spoke at the historic Victory Theatre, located in the city’s downtown. The 1,600-seat Broadway-style theater was first built in 1920 and has been vacant since 1979. City officials are now looking to the theater, with a restoration cost in the tens of millions, as a potential source of economic revitalization for Holyoke and the region.
“Efforts like this have an ability to transform community,” Healey said, adding that she would strongly support arts and tourism as governor.
According to residents at the press conference, Holyoke could use the transformation. “Have you driven around town? We need something,” said Kathy McKean, the managing director of Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA), which bought the theater in 2009.
In its heyday, the city had a vibrant downtown, McKean said. But as industrial jobs left, so did the businesses that once supported the workers.
She and others in the city are now hoping recovery can come through the theater. Bits and pieces of the ceiling hang down, and the entrance is lined with artifacts from better days. The dust on the seats, Donald Sanders joked, is original.
Sanders, MIFA’s founder and current artistic director, said that when the theater is restored, it could bring in a business income of about $3.5 million a year and draw performers from around the world. The renovation will be financed by a mix of tax credits, private fundraising and other sources, according to the theater’s website.
“If anybody watched the Tonys two weeks ago, all those shows that you saw in the Tonys can all come to this theater — including Hamilton,” he said.
Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia, who endorsed the attorney general along with other officials from the city council and school committee, said that Healey understands the challenges facing cities like his.
“She gets it,” he said. “She gets the challenges in Black and brown communities and gateway cities. When we’re talking about these key things — housing, economic development, education, and so much more we can talk about, but those three important factors there — Maura Healey and I are completely aligned.”
Healey echoed the priorities of the mayor. Her planned visit to an affordable housing project was rained out, but she said that as governor, she would work to boost housing production and support efforts already underway. She said there needs to be a range of housing options that would cover people at different socioeconomic levels.
“Housing is at a crisis point around the state,” she said. She added that “people are really struggling.”
Some communities, she said, may also need to revisit their zoning restrictions that are preventing housing development.
“That’s a conversation we need to have if we truly want to be a Commonwealth and support the collective good here across the state,” she said.
Kate Selig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.