NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Develop North Adams is planning for a more sustainable future for itself and the city.
The organization, established in April 2010, already has some victories under its belt in pushing its mission of marketing, beautifying and connecting the community. But now the loose group of volunteers is considering a more permanent structure.
"Our board has been discussing exploring a membership-based model for the expansion of DNA, a chamber of commerce-based model, which won't be a massive change from what we already do," President Brian Miksic told the more than three dozen members and guests at the group's first annual meeting on Monday night. "But it'll help us if we have a membership base instead of just soliciting funds on a project-by-project basis."
Miksic said the membership structure would also aid in making the group more sustainable in hiring staff and solidifying partnerships "with existing groups that do the same things that we do on a regional and statewide level."
Vice President Michael Boland said, "it doesn't have to be this big pie in the sky, change the world" momentum for DNA to have a positive effect but small steps and "getting stuff done."
The group is built on the old Downtown Development Inc. base but has a broader outlook by incorporating businesses outside the downtown, said Boland, with a narrower mission focus.
A priority is the ability to continue to raise money to fund the ongoing projects that have looked simple but cost a lot. Over the last 14-15 months, the organization has raised some $49,870, almost all from local businesses and individuals, and spent nearly $35,000 to date, with more already allocated.
Marketing and promotion, beautification and development, business retention and recruitment
Pocket parks, benches, cleanups, crosswalks with Art About Town
Aiding new & expanding business with landlords, planning and permitting
Among the most prominent projects sponsored by the organization are the pocket parks, benches and colorful crosswalks (in collaboration with Art About Town) downtown. While some have pooh-poohed the cosmetic alterations, Miksic said those seemingly small changes are working.
"We're on Main Street every day and we see these things changing," said Miksic, whose wife, Suzy Helme, owns Shima, an infant and toddler shop. "Parks and benches, they're silly if anybody wants to make fun of it, but they have a serious effect as a welcoming piece to the community."
That's particularly notable after hearing that some local venues are having a hard time recruiting for jobs because of the city's looks. "Whether you agree with that or you don't agree with that people are having trouble recruiting for high-paying jobs — college jobs, hospital jobs, museum jobs," said Miksic. "That's a problem but it's problem that can be addressed."
DNA has also helped prime the economic pump by matching funds with merchants to support the Hometown Holidays marketing campaign, buying a full-page ad in the Berkshire Visitors Bureau publication, building a website and map listing restaurants and shops and marketing during the Solid Sound Festival, promoting new events like Motorama and the Mexican Fiesta. It's also looking at how to help the city fund a new tourism-based website.
The next step is getting a merchants group up and running, a process that began with a preliminary meeting earlier this month.
"The only way that this is going to work is if the merchants come together and lead themselves, not have somebody else telling them what to do," said Miksic.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer asked if the old signs from DDI were still around to help steer drivers downtown. Mayor Richard Alcombright said there were signs that came with the streetscape project that had not been installed yet because of the hurricane in August. He said he has also spoken with Neil Ellis, owner the former Kmart building, on signs to direct shoppers to the plaza and the movie theaters, and expected to bring DNA into the conversations.
More difficult may the attempt to get the larger chain stores involved. Miksic and Boland said they had reached out to local managers but the corporate structure of the chains was an obstacle. However, they had received good initial feedback and would continue the contact.
"I'm proud of what we've accomplished in two years time," said Miksic, noting that it was being done on everyone's free time. "We can see the difference in the cash register ... we can see the difference as our business grows."
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Congratulations to the volunteers who make up Develop North Adams. You can take pride in what you have accomplished in your first two years in operation. I have heard so many positive comments on the benches, the parks and the downtown crosswalks as well as the new events taking place in North Adams. Looking forward to what you have planned for the next year.
More fluff from the those who drink the Alcombright Kool Aid. In two years this is what these people have to show for their efforts. Where is the most important project in the downtown (Mohawk Theater) Mr. Alcombright? Take a good look at the picture and see who is running our community. Alcombright points to the 8 jobs created at Desparatos while the hospital with its 500 jobs is in serious trouble. All these people have a vested interest including Mr. Miksic who has single handily brought Main St. to its knees. No more Petrinos, no more Main Street Stage--but we have benches,bike racks, painted crosswalks and two pocket parks. Can't wait for the next two years, maybe we will have the real job producer, verticle parking!
Editor: Where's the Mohawk Theater been for the last 15 years? Seriously, you're whining about Petrino's and Main Street Stage going out? How often did you patronize those places? Of course these people have a vested interested - they OWN businesses on Main Street and in the downtown, just like we do.
Instead, we now have, a large and highly frequented Antiques store. We have a new sushi restaurant. We have a new Barbque joint. We have a new mexican place. We have a new bistro. We have 4 expanded retails stores and 2 new ones.
We have THE LOWEST VACANCY RATE IN DOWTONW NORTH ADAMS IN 10 YEARS.
Brought my friend from China to NA while back visiting the Berkshires. We both agreed that NA is a total diamond in the rough. The architecture and urban fabric of the city is superb... I couldn't keep my hands off my camera.
I've heard the constant whine from people from Pittsfield to North Adams about the developments going on in both cities over the last few years. People complain that our respective a major employer need to keep up the focus on bringing back a GE/Sprague Elec-style employer. It'd be a great magic bullet, but is totally unlikely. Something's gotta be done on the job front, but there's no reason that we have to live in dull, boring, ugly cities in the meantime! The mood in Pittsfield has shifted for most people and I hope NA has it soon too. These multi-million dollar gov't improvements are good, but I'd much rather see local citizens putting in their own labor and dollars to make it a better home. Keep up the good work!
In general, I agree, except with regard to the statement regarding the difficulty of recruiting qualified people for jobs, especially "museum jobs". One of the problems North Adams faces, especially with regards to attracting and keeping artists and "creative economy" professionals in the area is the lack of jobs. MoCA fills many of their jobs which would normally be filled by qualified professionals with interns. While their intern program is successful, it is arguably a detriment to keeping stable adult households in North Adams. Between MoCA's program, and the BHIP program run by MCLA* , it is very, very hard to find work here, even if one is a qualified professional in the field. It is very, very difficult to get an "in" with any of the local institutions. I doubt very much that there is a lack of qualified applicants for any local job openings.
(* yes, BHIP jobs are seasonal, but those are still positions that might otherwise go to local residents. Also the kids in these jobs get an "in" with the institution which leads to permanent placement.)