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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

"A Jump To Destiny": Latest Greylock Glen Proposal

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, December 07, 2006

A view of a portion of the newest Greylock Glen development proposal
Adams - Town Community Development Director Donna Cesan is experiencing a growing level of excitement about Monday's scheduled
ceremony that will involve a formal designation of the town as the developer of the latest version of a Greylock Glen plan.

Taking The Plunge

The Dec. 11 event is set to occur at 11 a.m. at the town-based Berkshire Visitors's Center. Officials of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation plan to attend as well as town officials. Town officials will be designated as the property developers via a provisional developer designation agreement, Cesan said.

"At first, I looked at this as kind of an administrative detail," Cesan said. "We have known since April, May, that we were selected as the developer."

"But I've been thinking more recently that this ceremony is really saying the town - the town - is the project developer. The town is making the jump towards its' destiny. And the strength of our proposal is in who we are working with and the constituencies they represent."

Cesan identified the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts as project "collaborators." She noted that the inclusion of environmental and ecological groups as well as arts and education facilities have boded well so far for this version of mountain development.

"Their involvement is key," she said.

Next Steps

Once the town is formally acknowledged as the project developer, a planning and engineering firm will be hired to create a final master plan.The costs of "pre-development activities" are to be shared by the town and the DCR, with each entity kicking in about $150,000.

Pre-development plans include acquiring a number of state and town mandated permits, and public process will be followed as the project progresses, Cesan said.

Total project estimates are at about $44 million, with Phase I requiring up to four years complete at a cost of about $6.3 million. Cesan said that $3 million of state DCR incentive funds, $200,000 of town revenues, and $300,000 of funding from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency will be used to fund Phase I.

Much of the remaining total project is expected to be funded with about $5.2 million in captial campaign funds,$2.8 million in private foundation grants, $1.6 million in additional grant revenues, $8.8 million in private equity, $19.9 million in private mortgages, $1.2 million in a MassDevelopment tax-exempt bond, and $1 million in bond funding.

As with some past proposals, the development plan relies on private investment as well as public support. The current plan, designed under requirements put forth by the state, does not include a golf course or housing as was included the last proposal. That proposal came to a screeching halt about three years ago, when then-acting Gov. Jane Swift pulled state funding from the project.

Education, Art, And An Ampitheater

The current plan does include creation of an art and nature center that will host an MCLA 2,500-square-foot field office for the college's Center for Environmental Studies, a "base camp" for visitors planning treks to the Mount Greylock Reservation or Glen sites, and classrooms, exhibit space, a concessions area, and public restrooms.

A focus on education is expected to include the Glen's ecology and programs about natural resource conservation, sustainable development and emerging technology information, and environmental art exhibits.

A Nordic ski and sports center is planned and will share space within the environmental building. Groomed ski trails are planned to serve beginner, intermediate, and expert skiers during the winter months and mountain biking opportunities are expected to be offered during milder seasons.

A performing arts amphitheater with a 4,000-seat capacity [2,200 reserved covered seats and 1,800 general admission "lawn" seats] is planned and is expected to be operated by MASS MoCA. The venue is expected to include performer dressing rooms, public restrooms, and production space.

Temporary and permanent art exhibits that highlight local and national artists will be in place at the amphitheater, and according to plan documents, MASS MoCA "will take the lead in cross marketing of the site and its North Adams facility."

Links And Connections To Community

Numerous plans are in place to link the Glen with the town's downtown area, and with the town likely to be the property leaseholders, town officials will be in a position to require active participation between planned private Glen ventures, such as a lodge with rustic overnight accommodations, and downtown merchants, Cesan said.

Cesan spoke with enthusiasm as she explained various project plans and concepts.

"We are looking at the relationships between art and nature. A trails network will have about a mile of interpretive nature trail. The Nordic ski center will be privately operated, and there will be about 4 kilometers of lighted trails."

Trail illumination plans drew interest from the Mount Greylock Regional High School ski team, Cesan said.

"They are interested in the site as a practice area and a place to host tournaments," she said, and noted that high school ski team practices are scheduled for after-school hours.

During the winter, dusk begins at about 4 :30 p.m. and lighted trails would create a better practice environment, she said. Cesan also noted plans to introduce snowmaking capabilities to the ski center operations.

"There are times when it's cold but there isn't any snow," she said. "We would need to be able to have snow on the trails."

"I am very excited about the MCLA field station plans," Cesan said. "That could be a living laboratory with a field station. And we have asked about interest in using the site as a teacher training area."

The environmental art arena could include things such as sculptural gardens, she noted. And MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson was very enthusiastic about the future of a Glen-based ampitheater, she said.

Glen Lodging Could Generate Town Revenues

Lodging must be included in a viable development plan, she said.

"If we are serious about developing tourism and the economy, we have to have a lodging facility," Cesan said. "We want this to be very rustic; we don't want steel and glass up there. You want to embrace natural materials, the stone and the wood. We see the possibility of a main lodge, a place where you would walk in and see a fireplace, get the idea of snuggling up in one of the smaller buildings that would be nestled along the area."

The town may impose a lodging tax during future years and if the tax were imposed, Glen lodging tax revenue could add about $400,000 yearly to town coffers, Cesan said.

The entire project could require 10 to 15 years to complete but once finished, could generate as much as $16 million in revenues spent in town by Glen visitors, Cesan said.

The Committee

A town Greylock Glen planning committee had to work within the state's requirements, Cesan said. Months of work was done by former Selectwoman Myra Wilk, who last week resigned her elected selectwoman's post, Finance Committee member James Wojtaszek, and Selectman Joseph Dean., Jr., Cesan said.

"The property has 1,063 acres and the state master plan allows about 53 developed acres and designated active recreation areas," Cesan said.

"We knew that housing and a golf course wouldn't be allowed," she said. "We started working with what was left."

The remaining acreage is designated for "low impact" recreation and includes areas of the property's rugged terrain. All-terrain vehicles will be prohibited from the property but state law requires that snowmobiles be given access to the reservation, Cesan said.

Inclusion Incorporated In Plan

The current plan is focused on community inclusion, public use, attracting new people to the region, encouraging downtown interaction and showcasing public art and education opportunities.

Previous plans often grew away from area natives, she said.

"With previous plans, there were concerns; a lot of care had to be taken to avoid gated communities [via private housing] that fostered a sense of 'them' and 'us,' Cesan said. "A lot of people who live here consider the Glen area as their backyard and they treasure it."

"A Good, Unique,Proposal"

Town officials have spent many hours working toward a goal of designation as the site's developer, Cesan said.

"We've had to answer a lot of questions, we've had to be interviewed by state officials, and we've had to put on public presentations," she said."We have to move to the next steps, which include successfully completing the MEPA [Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act] process. We have to acquire the necessary permits."

Cesan said she understands that there are people who believe that no plan will ever come to reality at the Greylock Glen. Decades of dashed hopes give substance to their beliefs, she said.

"And I don't want to make any promises," Cesan said. "But I believe this is a good, unique proposal."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 413-663-3384
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