The former railyard in the heart of the city was once the gateway for all traffic moving west. Now it's targeted to become a gateway again, but not to the west. This time it will be a stopping point before going — up.
The city and the state Department of Recreation and Conservation are looking into revamping Western Gateway Heritage State Park into the northern gateway to the state's highest peak, Mount Greylock.
DCR Commissioner Richard Sullivan briefly touched on the subject on Wednesday during his talk at the Massachusetts Mayors Association's monthly meeting. "We're working closely with the mayor here in North Adams to turn Heritage Park into the new gateway, the northern gateway, to that facility and we expect that it's going to be big for tourists."
The state's already invested $23 million into rebuilding the roads to the peak in the state reservation; another $900,000 in federal funds is being spent for wayside stations, interpretative kiosks and regular signage.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said some of that signage money will be used to direct tourists to Heritage Park, much like the state directs people to the southern access point at the Mount Greylock Visitors Center on Rockwell Road in Lanesborough. Visitors will be encouraged to use Reservoir Road to the park's entrance rather than Notch Road. That street is off a busy, curved section of Route 2 with limited visibility for exiting.
Photos by Fredy Alvarez
Work on the Hadley Overpass hasn't helped the park's popularity.
"There's also hopes that the DCR will also put a visitors' center in there in Heritage State Park," said the mayor. "We do have some money in our Heritage State Park account and we can partner with them [on grants]. ... We're going to do a really nice facelift to Heritage State Park, painting, a whole new landscape design, try to put a little playground back there."
The revamp will include fixing the crumbling retaining walls, finding ways to better utilize the foot bridge and urging Pan Am Railways (Guilford) to clean up the weeds and foliage around the trestle.
"So, next year we do a facelift and coupled with this [sign] project, market the heck out of it," said Alcombright.
The park's seen its ups and downs. Its most popular tenant is the Freight Yard Pub; a quilt shop, the city's historical society, a DCR visitors center focused on trains and Northern Berkshire Community Television are also in there. But there's still plenty of empty space and the park can sometimes look bedraggled, with weeds popping up through the cobblestone walks.
The former railyard — once a seedy area whose buildings were used for railway storage and apartments not so long ago — has never quite lived up to its potential. Encouraging its use as pitstop on the way to the state's oldest park could well bring back a little of its glory days as the gateway to big things.
Does the maple tree in front of Petrino's wonder if it's next on the chopping block?
New paving and pressed concrete are being installed along Main Street.
The trees around Main Street have been disappearing at a swift and alarming rate. Not to worry, says Mayor Richard Alcombright, the worst is over.
The trees are being removed as part of the $3.2 million downtown streetscape project. Some weren't healthy to begin with, others were beginning to endanger the sidewalks and yet others were likely to be damaged from the ongoing construction.
It's all part of the regular construction process but citizens are wondering why the massacre; Alcombright addressed the topic at a recent DNA meeting and we asked him about again on Monday.
"Many of the corners had to be dug up to adhere to ADA requirements; ADA compliant ramps under the new requirements have to be wider and have less of an angle," said the mayor on Monday afternoon. "Where they would be placed would damage the root balls anyways."
Several trees along what was once the grassy strip near Sleepy's weren't in good condition and were always going to be replaced. Two others in front of Jack's Hot Dog Stand on Eagle Street were removed because they were beginning to intrude into the sidewalk.
Trees and "ugly weeds" along American Legion will be removed and replaced with new trees as needed and ornamental grates similar to those on Main Street.
All of the trees will be replaced except two in front of the Mohawk Theater. "We're not going to being taking them down without putting them back up," said the mayor, but until the plans are finalized for the Mohawk, that section will be left bare of greenery.
The maples marked in front of Petrino's and the former Sports Corner at Holden Street aren't going anywhere, hopefully, despite their orange badges.
"I've asked them to dig gently around there," said Alcombright. It would have nicer to have leafier shade trees on the "sunny side of the street" and more ornamental on the south side, which has the most shade, he said.
But with plans for the streetscape finalized more than a year ago, the current administration was unprepared for how quickly the street's leafy denizens were being hacked and hauled away.
The mayor, administrative officer and other staff toured the construction areas with the engineers to ensure everyone was aware of the full plans.
"Some of the frustration was not having the full-scale understanding of the project," said Alcombright, who added "there will be no work on Eagle until Beach Party [on July 9] is through ... They are real sensitive to what's going to be done and they are halting when I see something I don't like."
The streetscape project won't be completed until summer 2011. It includes the laying of new conduit, sidewalks, lighting and traffic signals along River, Main, Eagle, Holden and Marshall streets, Route 2 and American Legion Drive.
Not all trees are attractive. The one in front of The Hub is skinny and and another in front of Sleepy's looks half dead. Below, what's left of the tree in front of the Baptist Church's side door on Eagle Street. We didn't even see that one come down.
The city, like many municipalities, is pursuing a Green Communities designation. Michael Rosenburg, superintendent of public buildings and lead in the North Adams Energy Efficiency Initiative updated the City Council on Tuesday on the criteria and the city's progress so far.
The process was begun some years ago, which residents may not be aware of, said Rosenburg.
"Not many people know this is going on," he said. "I've given presentations before and people have been surprised we're doing this but it's been going on behind the scenes."
The most notable green effort was renovation of the library, which included a photovoltaic system and geothermal pump. It became the first public library certified as LEED.
More recently, the high school and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art have been awarded grants for photovoltaic systems; on the smaller side, some lights and trash cans are solar powered.
The city is also looking at uses for LED lights and a solar array at the landfill, and ways to reduce energy usage for its 45 buildings and 93 vehicles.
Rosenburg said his group met with National Grid and Berkshire Gas in January to discuss ways the city could find savings. National Grid is offering three free comprehensive energy audits that will be done at Drury High School, Brayton Elementary School and the water filtration facility. The newer schools were selected because a feasibility study will look at all the school buildings, the assumption being that significant work may be required to the older buildings.
A Green Communities Act requires the municipality to meet seven criteria, including setting an energy-use baseline from which to determine a reduction of 20 percent within five years. Rosenburg said 2009 — the worst year so far in energy use and the best documented — will likely set the baseline.
The formation of a new business association in the city is being announced Thursday afternoon.
Mayor Richard Alcombright and Brian Miksic, president of Axiom Multimedia and a member of the board of directors of the new group, will talk about the initiative on Thursday, April 29, at 1 next to Persnickety Toys.
Develop North Adams Inc. will be a private development corporation (it does not yet appear in the state's corporate database) "focused on growing and promoting businesses in North Adams," according to a release from the mayor's office.
The group is an outgrowth of talks between city officials, local businesses, cultural and educational entities and former members of the old Downtown Development Inc. to spur creation of a local association to take on marketing and development for the city. It's been merged with the grass-roots NorthAdamsIdeas.com, a Web site created shortly after Alcombright was elected last fall to allow residents to share ideas. The site is now "Develop North Adams."
The first initiative out of the Web site is the Community Day of Service on Saturday that will bring residents and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students together to work and socialize. DNA (like those initials for a rejuvenation group) will presumably also work with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce on North Adams-specific projects. Merchants have complained over the lack of a city association after the Northern Berkshire Chamber merged with the larger Berkshire Chamber some years ago.
Chamber President Michael Supranowicz will be a member of the new DNA board, as will Miksic.
Also on board are Blair Benjamin Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; Tom Bernard of Massachusetts College of Liberal Art; Seven Blakeman, photographer and owner of the Elf Parlor; City Councilor Michael Boland; City Councilor Keith Bona of Bona Marketing; David Carver of Scarafoni Associates; Lois Daunis of Papyri Books John DeRosa of Freedman, DeRosa & Rondeau; Ryley Gaudreau of Edward Jones; retired MCLA administrator Steve Green; Paul Hopkins of Northern Berkshire Healthcare; Mary Morrow of MountainOne Financial Partners and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce; artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd; and Jonathan Secor of MCLA's Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.