Transcript Building Sale Gets Final OK
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Redevelopment Authority on Monday night swiftly approved the relocation of the Brien Center to the building now occupied by the North Adams Transcript at 124 American Legion Drive.
The three-man board has jurisdiction over a group of properties on the south side of Main Street including the former Kmart property.
The board had expected to meet on May 9 prior to the Planning Board but did not have a quorum.
The approval was a bit pro forma — the City Council has already approved a tax incentive agreement for Scarafoni Associates, which will purchase the property and invest $1 million into it and then lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center. The TIF requires the property to stay on the tax rolls for the next decade, netting about $21,000 a year for the city.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he'd spoken with Brien Center's Executive Director Catherine A. Doherty months ago on how to keep the center's services in the city once its lease ran out on the Marshall Street building it currently occupies.
"We worked very hard together to make sure the Brien Center stayed in the city of North Adams because it provides a very important service for many clients in the community, and also that we were able to maintain them here because of the jobs that they provide," said the mayor.
The center employs 60 to 65 people full and part time; added to that will be the 10-member staff of the Adult Day Center, which will also move into the 16,000-square-foot Transcript building.
The deal maintains the building, the jobs in the downtown and ensures the city a quarter of a million dollars in tax revenue over the next decade, the mayor said.
Authority Chairman Paul Hopkins asked David Carver of Scarafoni Associates if the Transcript was expected to stay in the downtown area. Carver said yes and that he had approached the newspaper's management about what they would need for space when the building went up for sale two years ago.
Alcombright said having staff from the 170-year-old newspaper on Main Street was a good thing. "I think to have a daily in a community this size sends a strong message about who we are," said the mayor, comparing the paper to the hospital, college and airport.
"They understand the importance of that history so they are focusing on one of the spots on Main Street," said Carver.
Signage is the responsibility of the Brien Center and will be provided at a later date. Carver said he expected it would be similar to the logo used at its other locations.
The City Council actually approved the TIF agreement twice after MassDevelopment suggested minor changes to the language. The council also OK'd an application to designate the Transcript property as part of a economic opportunity area for the next 20 years to allow Scarafoni to apply for state incentives.
The TIF, MassDevelopment application and related documents can be found below.
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Carr Hardware Eyeing Scarafoni Ford Lot
Carr Hardware is hoping to move into the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Carr Hardware is planning to relocate from its space on State Street to the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road and Roberts Drive.
Carr President Bart Raser said on Friday that a lease has not yet been settled with landlord Scarafoni & Associates but believed a deal was close. "We're feeling positive about the opportunity but it isn't done yet."
The company will appear before the Planning Board on Monday to apply for a change-of-use permit for the State Road property.
Carr Hardware has operated out of the former Tucker Toy building for 14 years, after purchasing the 192 State St. building from what was then International Outlets in 1997.
The car lot has had a couple different dealerships, the latest being Carbone Ford, which moved to a new building in Bennington, Vt., last fall to be near Carbone's other dealerships.
According to documents on file in the city's Community Development Office, Carr will have a full-service hardware, paint, lawn and garden and rental facility in the 10,000-square-foot building.
No significant changes to the color, existing footprint or parking are planned but the garage doors will be replaced on the former automotive service area.
Details of how the store would be laid out inside.
Raser said the offerings will be similar to the Pittsfield store; the company also has locations in Great Barrington and Watervliet, N.Y.
"This will be a real full-line operation," he said. "The Curran Highway store has been very limited to paint and rental."
Carr has also formed a relationship with Agway to sell its products in the new store. The last Agway in the area closed in Williamstown in 2009 after 45 years in business.
"It will be a green goods business, with flowers and plants and pets and birds supplies, which Agway is known for," said Raser.
The State Street location has had a significant drop in revenue since work began on the Hadley Overpass in 2009, to the point that it incurred the ire of the Planning Board when it was painted a bright yellow to garner attention. The Route 2 location will make the store easily accessible to customers from both Williamstown and North Adams.
"It's a great location and allows to do what we're very good at doing," said Raser. "We do a lot of commercial business that comes from our Pittsfield store. We know our North County customers will be happy with this.
"We've been trying to do this for a while. We have to move or close."
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Conte School Option Prompts Protest
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A presentation by Margo Jones Architects and Strategic Building Solutions on the proposed school building project to the City Council on Tuesday veered little from recent ones to the public and School Committee, and many of the questions covered similar ground.
City councilors and residents quizzed representatives on the costs, efficiency and process. The four options presented stem from a $680,000 feasibility study approved in 2008 that was required for any project approval and reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The city is hoping the MSBA will allow a two-school project to fulfill the state's charge of finding educational solutions to 620 students. Of those options, the preferred one is the construction of a new Greylock School and the renovation of Conte Middle School, both to serve kindergarten through Grade 7.
But the proposed resurrection of the old Drury High School as an elementary school hasn't been welcomed by everyone.
"A fifth option does exist," said John Bedard of Meadow Street. "The same exact solution of the Greylock School by putting a new school at the Sullivan site."
Bedard said the West End has gotten new fields and lighting, and now would get a new school so its property values would go up. But the Kemp Avenue area would lose its neighborhood school and see its the property values go down. And he's argued that downtown Conte isn't safe or appropriate for younger children.
"I see this feasibility study as a last-ditch effort to save that building on Main Street," he said. "... this should be about the children ... anyone who says the children would be better off downtown is either an idiot or a liar."
Councilor Keith Bona, a member of the School Building Committee, said there was no expectation the feasibility study would find a solution in Conte, which was closed as a middle school in 2008.
"Clearly, we thought Conte was off the board," said Bona. "At no point was anyone given any instructions to save Conte ... We thought it was going to be too costly."
Kristian Whitsett of Margo Jones Architects also said Conte wasn't really considered an option but the architects were surprised to find it worked well with the "clustering" configuration for teaching and also offered a way to be "green" in terms of reuse.
The Sullivan site, too, had been studied extensively, he said, in terms of additions and building a new structure but the steep terrain around the site limited location, parking, bus drop-offs and "we couldn't figure out where to put the ballfield."
The SBA will only cover site work up to 8 percent of the construction
Renovating and adding on to the current school would mean five levels that would require children and residents going up and down stairs to get from one end of the school to the other, making it difficult for the gym to be used by the community.
Diane Parsons said she was "biased" against using Conte and council President Ronald Boucher, "a fan of neighborhood schools," asked if there was an option to build a new Greylock and fix up Sullivan if the SBA rejected a two-school project.
Wittseg said they couldn't "spend a little bit" on Sullivan because it would trigger more expensive renovations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bedard was not convinced of the argument against Sullivan and was getting signatures on a petition to keep the school open.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said another public session on the project would be held on Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at Sullivan School. "We need people, we need people to give their input."
In other business,
• The council approved a tax incentive agreement that would allow Scarafoni & Associates to purchase the North Adams Transcript building on American Legion Drive and renovate and lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center.
The agreement sets the property's assessment at $767,200, guaranteeing about $21,000 a year for the next 10 years. Abstaining from the discussion and vote were Councilors David Bond (who works for Scarafoni) and Keith Bona (who rents from Scarafoni).
• The council approved a transfer of $83,000 from the technology account to upgrade the city's aging servers, particularly for the Department of Public Safety. The transfer will leave $50,000 in the account, which is replenished through a percentage of the contract with Time Warner Cable.
Information technology officer Kathy Wall said last week that the funds would be used to replace equipment more than a decade old.
"It's hardware that's going to position us so we can handle all of the infrastructure we have now and in the future," Wall told the Finance Committee last week, including the coming installation of fiber optic in the region. "It's a smart purchase because it's going to let us look at our hardware ... it's looking at all of the infrastructure we have, all of the servers that we have. It is going to give us flexibility for technology coming down the road."
• Set a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on a proposed zoning change on Curran Highway for Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m.
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Scarafoni Asks for Tax Deal on Transcript Building
Scarafoni Associates plans to purchase the Transcript property and renovate for use by the Brien Center.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council will be asked to approve a tax incentive that will allow the Brien Center to move into the North Adams Transcript building while keeping the building on the tax rolls for 10 years.
Scarafoni Associates plans to buy the 16,000 square-foot building on American Legion Drive and lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center. David Carver of Scarafoni Associates told the Finance Committee on Tuesday that the 10-year agreement may be critical to loosening up bank financing for the project.
"We think this TIF agreement is a big piece of making this work ... which will release probably $1 million in construction and repairs, something we need to see more of in the downtown," said Carver. "This type of project and this type of financing will make the numbers work for bankers."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the tax increment financing agreement would lock in the property's current assessment $767,000, guaranteeing property taxes of more than $20,000 annually for the next decade despite the Brien Center's status as a nonprofit.
Coldwell Banker lists the taxes as $21,197.
Chairman Michael Bloom noted the current unpredictability of the commercial market. "This is an amazing agreement."
That will provide the stability for both entities to make the project work, said Carver. "We are buying the building for less than the assessed value," he said. "So instead of petitioning for [the assessed value to be the] purchase price ... we have agreed as part of this process to lock in that current assessed value."
David Carver explains to the Finance Committee how the TIF agreement would work.
"I think it's a great solution for the city ... it retains the Brien Center in the city and the jobs and services they provide," said the mayor. If the Brien Center, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to some 10,000 people in Berkshire County, purchased the building, it would fall off the tax rolls completely.
TIFs once required job production but the state changed the law last year to take into account job retention.
The Brien Center, cited as the ninth-largest employer in the county recently by The Berkshire Eagle, employs 40 full-time and 20 part-time employees at its offices on Marshall Street. Catherine A. Doherty, chief executive officer, said the agency's lease on Marshall Street is up in August; moving to Ashland Street will allow the organization to stay in the downtown and not only retain programs but expand them.
"Once we our positioned into this new building we will be able to think about adding more programs," she said. "It's a building that speaks more to what we do."
She cited the property's easy access, single-story construction and spaciousness that will offer room for more programs for the 3,000 to 4,000 North County residents the agency serves. It will also provide space for the Adult Day Health Program, which will move from the former Department of Motor Vehicles building along with its 10 employees.
Alcombright said the city solicitor had reviewed the agreement. Carver's attorney, Elisabeth Goodman, on questions from the committee, said the agreement would remain in effect should the Brien Center purchase the property because it signing on to the deal. It could be broken, she said, if the Brien Center reneged on the lease.
The 45-year-old Transcript building was placed on the market nearly two years ago for nearly $1 million; it has sinced been reduced to $799,000. The presses were removed; printing and most of the support staff operate out of The Eagle in Pittsfield.
The city had eyed the property as a potential site for a new public safety building but its current fiscal problems have put that project on hold.
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