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Family ties fuels revitalization project

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The names of the two developers on the memo announcing the press conference launch of the new Rivers Landing project a revitalization of the abandoned former Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame building on Columbus Avenue sounded awfully familiar to me. High school familiar. Needless to say, I was curious, so I accompanied my managing editor, Mike Dobbs, to the event. And my suspicions were correct. The Peter Pappas and Michael Spagnoli listed as co-developers on the Rivers Landing project were, indeed, two guys I'd gone to Minnechaug Regional High School with. I introduced myself including my maiden name and to my surprise, Dr. Spagnoli, who, for a time had ridden the same school bus did remember me. I told them I was curious about their venture why two men who were approaching 50, who were very successful in their own right, and who don't live in Springfield wanted to tackle a project that no one else could get off the ground. I guess I piqued their interest, too I got the interview. "I'm Greek-American, Mike's Italian-American, our families have been in Springfield for generations," Pappas said when I asked why the pair, who grew up in the suburbs, were so vested in the city's future. "My grandparents came [to the city] in 1911, Mike's family came in the late 1800s." Pappas added that both men were born in the city, and spent a lot of time there while growing up. I also learned that Spagnoli's brother, photographer Jim Langone, still operates a studio in Springfield's South End. And, from 1938 to 1987 when it was taken by eminent domain, Spagnoli's family had run a restaurant called the Hollywood Cafe on Dwight Street Extension . And now, with solid plans to reinvigorate the city's riverfront landscape, Spagnoli and Pappas, whose family owned The Red Barn, a famous eatery and dancing spot in Chicopee from the 1950s through the 1970s, were looking to develop a new concept that honored both of their family's former establishments. Both restaurants were well-known for their connections to celebrities in fact the Hollywood Cafe got its name because several customers went on to fame in Hollywood, and the Red Barn was renown for bringing big names to the area to perform and I got the sense these men are hoping to recapture that kind of notorierty with their new venture. Spagnoli said he plans to mount the old Hollywood Cafe sign rescued from the building in 1993 in the new Hollywood Barn. But I've got the feeling that's not going to be the restaurant's only brush with fame. Debbie Gardner PRIME Editor dgardner@reminderpublications.com