NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Redevelopment Authority has purchased the former Sons of Italy building for $150,000 from Deborah Renzi and K & M Nominee Trust of Pittsfield. The money was taken from the HSP/Redevelopment Authority Account, which after the purchase has a balance of $150,000.
In a message to the City Council, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said the purchase was to ensure overflow parking for Western Gateway Heritage State Park after an attempt to negotiate parking in return for an easement to hook into the city's sewer line.
The Sons of Italy has been sold twice in the last year. The newest owner is the Redevelopment Authority.
The property was purchased for $75,000 by Michael Renzi and Kurt Hotspot in spring 2010 with the idea of developing the building at 1492 Christopher Columbus Drive. The Sons had put the building up for sale in 2006 as its membership aged and declined. More than half its members were over the age of 80, Sons of Italy Lodge 704 Trustee Paul Catelotti said last year.
Renzi and Hotspot were aware of the septic issues but hoping to overcome them to develop the property into studio or retail space.
Alcombright explained the reasoning for the purchase in his communication to the council, posted below:
Last year, two gentlemen from Pittsfield purchased the Sons of Italy building. As the building had a failed septic system, they wanted an easement to hook on to city sewer. As I thought through the process, I determined that the City has no "legal" parking rights in the Son's lot for what we refer to as the overflow parking for Heritage State Park (HSP).
In the ensuing months, I negotiated with the owners to give the city an easement for the parking in exchange for an easement for the sewer. They would not give the easement. My persistence with wanting the easement on the parking was determined by the following:
1. Parking has always been limited at the park and in that respect, limits potential growth whether owned by the city or held in the private sector.
2. As the Department of Conservation and Recreation has committed to locating a visitors office in HSP in 2013, this will give the park considerably more exposure as the North Side Visitors Center [for Mount Greylock State Reservation] and have the potential of putting tens of thousands of visitors through the park annually.
3. This, combined with the completion of the bridge, potential capital improvements at the park and a good marketing plan could drive more retail or arts-based businesses back into the park, also increasing the need for parking.
Additionally, the Sons of Italy building and land is the only parcel not owned by the Redevelopment Authority from the entrance on West Main all the way down to the Apkin property. There have been discussions with the city and the Partnership for North Adams with respect to future passenger rail and/or some sort of tourist/scenic rail. The Partnership has been in conversation with Pan Am as well as Berkshire Scenic Railroad and while this concept is still far away, it is something that could certainly come to fruition.
With the owners not willing to give an easement on the parking, I could not risk losing that parking and as time passed, the owners threatened to block all parking and access to park customers ... and at one point did chain off the parking. With no clear rights to the parking, I spoke with the city solicitor and he advised me that a purchase of the property would be the best solution and would avoid a court case and prolonged litigation should the owners continue to barricade the lot and prevent HSP parking (which they were prepared to do). The priority then became to find a way to assure the city retain that area and assure adequate parking for the park.
In May, I began negotiations with the owners to purchase the property and last month, I met in executive session with the Redevelopment Authority to discuss the details of that purchase. The Authority approved the negotiated purchase of the Sons of Italy building for a price of $150,000 and authorized me to act on behalf of the Authority through the city solicitor to finalize the purchase. The property was purchased on Tuesday, July 19.
Please know that the funds for this purchase came from the HSP/Redevelopment Authority Account which after the purchase has a remaining balance of approximately $150,000. No "city" money was used for this purchase.
I will be happy to answer any further questions at the council meeting.
The city is hoping to spruce up Western Gateway Heritage State Park this spring with paint, landscaping and upgraded doors and windows.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is looking to pump more than $300,000 in repairs and renovations into Western Gateway Heritage State Park this spring. The hope is to have the park ready to take advantage of the completion of the Hadley Overpass and a state signage program in 2012.
"We see this now as a unique opportunity at the right time with all development that's going on to further utilize Heritage State Park," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Redevelopment Authority on Monday. "The thing is we have to make it better or do something with it and generate some community interest ... or sell it."
The proposed renovations would include a complete landscape redesign at a cost of $100,000 to $150,000, resetting of the cobblestones, painting, replacement of doors and windows on several buildings, a new roof on Building 4, decking, and new signage. The mayor said he also would like to create a playground or child-friendly stations throughout the park.
The mayor looks over parking options at the park with the Redevelopment Authority. Right, the caboose has been locked up for awhile because of safety issues. It needs restoration and won't be included in the sprucing up this spring.
The city has operated the park since the 1980s and its success has varied over the years. Its best-known tenant is the Freight Yard Pub; it also has a museum operated by the North Adams Historical Society, a quilt shop, theater group, coffee distributor, Northern Berkshire Community Television studios and state visitors center and museum. It's been particularly hard hit because of the ongoing work on the Hadley Overpass.
"The park is losing somewhere around $20,000 or so a year," said the mayor. "We're hopeful that with the improvements this summer, with a recommitment of the city to provide activity down there and the completion of the bridge that this will be money well-spent."
For years, officials had hoped to link the park to the Mount Greylock State Reservation but were blocked by bad road conditions to the mountain. Furnace Street and Reservoir Road have been redone in the last decade and the state spent more than $21 million and two years repairing roads around the summit.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation is looking to install signage and a kiosk, possibly an information center, at the park to aid visitors in finding their way to the state's highest peak. The main visitors center is on Rockwell Road in Lanesborough; the mountain can also be reached by taking Notch Road off Route 2 through a heavy residential area.
More signage in the right places could lead visitors to the park.
"The hope is that Heritage State Park will become the northside visitors center for Mount Greylock," said the mayor. "What makes us very excited about that is last year, 248,000 visitors reached the summit. Let's assume 15-20 percent go up or down the north side — that would breathe some life into the park."
He expected to spend $330,000 if the landscaping can be brought in at about $100,000. There is currently $313,000 in the park reserve account, a state grant of $50,000 and, possibly, $50,000 in unrestricted funds from DCR. The city has been maintaining the property but a project this size would be too hard to do internally, said Alcombright.
An easement agreement in being worked out with the owners of the Sons of Italy that could trade parking for access across city property to the sewer line. The parking area created on the south side of the bridge would be retained.
Chairman Paul Hopkins, Michael Leary and Kyle Hanlon were supportive but encouraged the mayor to locate parking spaces closer to the pub. Most complaints, they said, were about the distance patrons had to walk.
"It's a great start," said Leary.
The Redevelopment Authority meets as needed and has purview over select areas of the downtown. It was unclear if the park falls under its jurisdiction and for years the property has been overseen by the mayor's office.
Alcombright said it was the city solicitor's opinion that it should fall under the board, of which the mayor is a member. Besides, he said, he wanted the board in the loop particularly when spending funds.
"It's a good sum of money, it's a big project and we will come back before the authority for an appropriation," he said.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee rejected on Tuesday a proposal to name a street for a famous former resident and, instead, find a better way to honor him.
"I don't think we should rename streets except for to address public safety issues," said Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer. "It's costly."
Local historian Paul W. Marino had approached the City Council last November to consider renaming the section of Summer Street between Ashland and Church streets for Lue Gim Gong, a horticulturist who bred the late-maturing orange often named for him.
Lue had lived for a time in the Burlingame house on the corner of Summer and Church that is now better known as the offices of chiropractor Peter May.
Lue Gim Gong came to North Adams as a boy.
Blackmer acknowledged Lue's accomplishments, particularly the orange ("Which I guess is great for all mankind.") but didn't think changing street names was an option. Larry Murray, a resident of that section of Summer Street, said he, too, was opposed to the change because of the aggravation it would cause.
Fellow committee members David Lamarre and Michael Boland agreed that renaming the street should not be recommended to the council. Councilor Marie Harpin, also in attendance, thought her colleagues were right.
However, they were open to other possibilities of honoring Lue, who spent most of his life in the state of Florida but kept in contact with North Adams residents.
"I think something more in the spirit of his accomplishments," said Boland, who suggested renaming one of the planned pocket parks for him or possibly the greenhouse program at Drury High School. "Since his history is a horticulturist, maybe tie something into that."
Marino said, "monuments have a tendency to become invisible." He'd hoped for the street change and a marker at the private Burlingame house to reinforce name recognition.
Lamarre and Boland thought that might be accomplished at Western Gateway Heritage State Park — a path and/or garden area named for Lue and a display at the North Adams Museum of History and Science.
The committee voted to refer the matter to the Conservation Commission and the Historic Commission.
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.
Have you been to Western Gateway Heritage State Park lately? The volunteers at the North Adams Museum of History and Science are inviting the community to come by on Saturday - and bring a friend.
Sure, there's a lot of construction going on around the Hadley Overpass, but don't let that deter you. The North Adams Trolley will be picking up and dropping off from 12:30 to 3:30 on Saturday afternoon at the park and from Main Street, the St. Anthony's Municipal Parking Lot, City Hall, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sons of Italy.
The North Adams Historical Society is encouraging residents and visitors to tour all the venues in the state park. Along with the museum, which features the golden, refurbished J.J. Newberry letters installed on their traditional red background, a number of other events are occuring throughout the day:
• "Furniture That Talks," an exhibit with creator/collector Don Trimarchi at the museum, runs from 10 to 4
• Talk at the park Visitors' Center in Building 4 at 2
• Mill City Productions highlights past performances and preps for upcoming caberet from noon to 3
• Tunnel City Coffee will be offering samples from 10 to 11:30 under the Freight Yard Pub tent and during the Mill City event
• Tony Pisano will discuss beekeeping in the morning
• Tala's Quilt Shop will offer quilting demonstrations
• Freight Yard Pub is offering a special lunch
:: 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.