By Andy McKeever On: 09:42AM / Friday April 26, 2013
Donald Sommer is looking to return to the Board of Selectmen with hopes of having the Community Development refocus.
ADAMS, Mass. — Since being off the board, former Selectman Donald Sommer has been keeping an eye on town politics and he doesn't like what he sees.
He sees the town spending money on studies that just become shelved, selectmen who don't seem to delve into issues and ask questions and businesses opting to open shop in neighboring towns instead of his own.
"I don't think there is one big problem in Adams. I think there are a lot of small problems," he said on Wednesday.
With his children taking over more and more of his business affairs, the 79-year-old is vying for a seat back on the Board of Selectmen to finish what he started and jumpstart a serious push to reel in more businesses.
Particularly, a $50,000 warrant article at this year's town meeting is asking for voters to hire a consultant to create a formal reuse plan for Memorial Middle School. But Sommer says officials already know what the school needs — and know that it is best to just give it away to a business that will bring jobs.
"All of these $50,000 studies don't amount to anything," Sommer said. "We know what has to be done, we don't need another study."
Sommer says he would like the town to take that $50,000 and hire a consultant who will go out of the region and try to "sell" the building. There are biotech and other industries that could use the classroomlike spaces, he said, but the town has not aggressively sought them out.
"Just give a company the building and let them bring in 30 or so jobs," he said.
The town is currently seeking short-term leases with the Youth Center and Ooma Tesoro's marinara sauce maker but neither of those will bring in the number of jobs Sommer envisions for that property.
The marketing person could become a town position that could focus on one building at a time with the old Community Center being the next.
"The town needs somebody to go out and talk to people and show them the comfortable living," Sommer said, adding that the new high school is a good selling point to attract people to town. "Every other town is doing it."
Sommer also doesn't like the way the Department of Community Development has been utilizing funds. Recently, the town tore down garages behind the former Albert's Hardware and put in a parking lot on Summer Street. A streetscape project was also completed on Summer.
But Sommer, who owns the Halflinger Haus restaurant on Commercial Street, says that money should have been focused on Park Street instead. Summer Street shouldn't be ignored, he said, but it has businesses that serve the neighborhoods while Park Street is the attraction.
"I think Community Development needs to refocus," he said. "The town can't support two business districts... I don't think we should start trying to attract people to Summer Street until we've filled Park Street."
The school and the Community Center are going to be a "serious problem" for the town to maintain and Sommer wants to see them back on the tax rolls somehow.
"We need to get rid of those buildings and get them on the tax rolls," he said.
Sommer says there are too many empty storefronts and too many businesses have opened and failed. If the town can put its effort into Park Street, if only one small shop can survive, that will start a snowball effect for the entire street.
"If one makes it, then maybe the one next door can make it," he said.
But that isn't to say that he thinks the town hasn't done good things too. Sommer supports the Greylock Glen project, particularly the plan to build an amphitheater. And the recent agreement with Berkshire Scenic Railway to run scenic train rides out of the Visitors Center had worked well in South County so that will be a boost to downtown Adams, he said.
"I think the rail trail is the best thing they've done in a long time. So many people use it," he said.
Sommer also supports the work of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners to revitalize the annual ski race. Efforts like that help make Adams a destination, he said, and that will grow with the Greylock Glen project.
He also hopes to finish what he started with a farmers market, which could attract people to the downtown. He said he started the process while on the board in the past but it never came to fruition.
While those major projects can help the business and tax base, Sommer said there are little things the town could do to help save money. During his three years on the Board of Selectmen before losing his seat in 2010, he said they went through every budget line and cut what they could. So much, that there isn't much left to cut.
But, he says working with Cheshire and North Adams could prove to lower material costs. He used asphalt milling machine, which reuses pavement, as an example. While the town may not be able to afford it alone, if it partners with other towns, the cost would be reasonably small.
"We don't need all of our own equipment," he said.
Going in with other towns to make bulk purchases of material — such as road salt — could also save money, he said.
Sommer is the oldest of the candidates seeking two spots on the board. He is running against Richard Blanchard, Michael Young and Joseph Nowak in the May 5 election. But, being the eldest of the candidates is what he says makes him a better one.
"I think age and successful experience helps," he said.
Sommer has a master's degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and has been in business for 40 years, after turning Greylock Apartments from a failing company to a successful one. He was on the School Committee for seven years, chaired the Redevelopment Authority for seven years and was on the Finance Committee for nine years. He served three years as selectman.
This is the second of four profiles of the candidates for selectman in Adams.
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