Steven Valenti presented the Robert Quattrochi Downtown Person of the Year Award to Berkshire Theater Group CEO Kate Maguire.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshires has a niche when it comes to scenic beauty and cultural institutions that other places can't replicate.
The city's downtown has positioned those two aspects as cornerstones to economic development. At Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s annual meeting Thursday morning, businesses who have helped expand in those areas were honored for their efforts.
"We're not going to compete with New York City and we're not going to compete with Boston. But guess what? They can't compete with us in the access to nature, with cultural, and with where you want to raise your kids. That's what we need to get right," state Sen. Adam Hinds said.
Hinds commended the organization's master plan for North Street and the surrounding areas for setting the building blocks for redevelopment. That plan is now used as referred as the Pittsfield Democrat and other elected officials pursue the vision.
"The trajectory we are on is going to be building by building, block by block and we already have the building blocks for that with the strategic plan," Hinds said.
Part of that plan is the walkability of the city's downtown. Downtown Pittsfield honored the Artscape Committee, volunteers who bring public art to the city on a rotating basis, with a community award. Those sculptures are part of the organization's marketing as it tries to get more people to walk throughout North Street and visit local shops.
"For almost 20 years, sculptures had a place in downtown Pittsfield. It is so much a part of the fabric of downtown that we couldn't image life without them. But what you may not know is the rotation of sculptures, the introduction of painted sheep, and now of painted electrical boxes is all organized by a volunteer-led committee," Downtown Pittsfield Executive Director Kristine Hurley said.
But the maps to the art isn't the only way to walk around downtown and with the help of Berkshire Health Systems, the creation of a downtown walking loop was created.
"Fitness and healthy living is such a strong selling point of downtown Pittsfield and the Berkshires. For every initiative we have done involving fitness and healthy living, the first people at the table are Berkshire Health Systems," Downtown Pittsfield President Jesse Cook-Dubin said, before presenting the company the president's award.
The health-care provider has also run life enhancement project, pushed for anti-smoking signage and legislation. But, and maybe more importantly, they've helped the redevelopment of properties throughout. Cook-Dubin said the organization doesn't necessarily need to lease space in other buildings but does so to help the redevelopment of a building.
"If you are going to be the community's health-care provider, you need a strong downtown if you are going to recruit doctors and other medical providers. You are looking at people coming out of training and in many cases looking for downtown living opportunities," Cook-Dubin said.
When it comes to healthy living and outdoor recreation, nobody has really done more to promote that than the Berkshire Running Center. The center was also provided a community award.
"When Kent and Shiobbean Lemme, co-owners of the Berkshire Running Center, opened their running store in 2011, they knew that sneaker sales were not the only way to make their mark on this community," Kait Stinchcomb, who head's the organization's task force on foot traffic, said.
The running center has helped develop a culture around running as a sport and recreation. It has done with community engagement, charity events, and free events. Stinchcomb said the center has helped introduce and inspire people to take on healthy lifestyles.
For culture, Downtown Pittsfield honored its former president Kate Maguire. McGuire is the artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theater Group, which has become the backbone of the city's cultural offerings. She was honored with the Robert Quattrochi Downtown Person of the Year Award.
"She is passionate in her belief that the arts open doorways to growth and that the experience of watching theater, hearing music, seeing dance or visual arts helps us all to understand the mystery of the human heart and can ultimately transform a community," Steven Valenti, who won the award last year, said.
When she headed Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Valenti said she "kept us all marching in the same parade" and "was like a tornado the room."
McGuire laughed at the comparison, but said it is was an apt one. She praised Quattrochi and the Berkshires, where she made her home years ago.
"I traveled from the eastern part of the state and came out to see what was in the Berkshires. I was then a single mother with my twin daughters and I never went to New York City or L.A. Why would you leave here? It is such a gorgeous place. It is one of the most gorgeous places on the planet. My children thrived because of their lives here and my life has been blessed," McGuire said.
Mayor Linda Tyer spoke of how her administration's goals run parallel to those of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
Those efforts in culture, nature, and outdoor recreation have become centerpieces in not only the city's strategy but also the Berkshires. Hinds said he'll continue to push for tourism dollars from the state house and likes the narrative of the Berkshires being a good place to mountain bike or kayak.
"This has to be a regional approach. When Pittsfield thrives, the region thrives. When the region thrives, Pittsfield thrives," Hinds said.
That identity is starting to take hold, Mayor Linda Tyer said. The arts and culture have helped bring the downtown back to life and she knows that because now people want to live there. There have been a number of recent market-rate housing developments and those have sold out units before construction had even been completed.
"It is a place where we hope people will walk and enjoy all that downtown has to offer," Tyer said.
She used Downtown Pittsfield's master plan as a match to her priorities. Downtown Pittsfield identified public safety as a priority and Tyer has hired 15 officers over the last year. The organization wants more foot traffic, promote the region, and make the downtown look nicer — all priorities of Tyer.
"I hope you found this year's snow removal to be improved," Tyer said. "We worked really hard this year not just in the downtown but all throughout our city to have a better system for managing snow and ice. It costs a lot of money to do that, but I think we did it really well this year."
More recently she launched what she calls the "red carpet team" approach to economic development. The effort streamlines promotion and economic development efforts.
"We need to be extremely polished in everything we present on behalf of economic development," Tyer said. "This strategy does not have a geographic boundary."
Tyer said economic development isn't focused on trying to find an outside employer who will bring hundreds of jobs at a time. But rather, she sees a future in helping all of the businesses here now who want to grow - and extended the invitation to any current business looking to speak to the red carpet team.
"One of the things that I think about when we talk about the word diversity is how do we support a diverse economy, not reliving our past as being the GE town that we were. We can never rely on one large company again. We have to have a rich and vibrant fabric of an economy," Tyer said.
The Beacon Cinema had numerous business representatives, city department heads, and elected officials in attendance for the annual meeting. Cook-Dubin said Hurley has been particularly helpful in building those relationships. When she was hired Cook-Dubin said the organization was looking for someone who builds an agenda in collaboration with membership businesses, board member, and other stakeholders.
"You have exceeded our highest hopes. It didn't take us long to figure out you were exactly the executive director we were looking for," Cook-Dubin told Hurley, and presented her flowers as a recognition.
"Since that time, through your efforts, we've expanded our membership by over 20 percent, which is phenomenal."
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