As Berkshire Banks grows, their obligation to help the community grows with it, Sean Gray, vice president of retail banking, said of the donation.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Bank is donating its Allen Street offices to 1Berkshire to house the countywide economic development agencies.
The former Central Fire Station building will be the offices of the collaborative efforts of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and Berkshire Creative as early as April. The building currently houses Berkshire Bank's commercial team, which will be moving its offices to 66 West St. this month.
"Banks are only as strong and successful as the communities they serve," Berkshire Bank Executive Vice President of Retail Banking Sean Gray said at a Thursday morning press conference. "I've seen their hard work firsthand. These folks are experts in their field and they do critical economic and community development work."
The historic fire station was built in 1895 and was added to the National Historic Register in 1977, but by 1999 had fallen into decrepit condition while the city used for storage. Berkshire Bank purchased and rehabilitated the structure, which is now valued at $1.6 million.
"We look forward to creating one full-purpose location here for the Berkshires," 1Berkshire CEO Stuart Chase said.
The group has been searching for a home that would accommodate all three agencies. The Berkshire Economic Development Corp. was also merged into the 1Berkshire umbrella.
The chamber and the Berkshire Creative are in the Central Block. Visitors Bureau was housed in the Discover the Berkshires Visitors Center in Adams but moved out to join the rest of 1Berkshires in Pittsfield - a move many in the northern part of the county felt would dilute their voice.
The umbrella organization for the three groups, 1Berkshire, was formed in 2010 but Chase, former director of the Berkshire Museum, wasn't hired until last April. The organization's first public effort has been considered a misstep. It took a stand last year on a low-impact cleanup for the Housatonic River that mirrored General Electric's, the company is responsible to pay for it, after 1Berkshire accepted GE funding.
Berkshire Bank bought the historic fire station in 1999 as a fix-me-up.
Despite what many would consider a slow start, the group now has a leader, organizational structure and a new building and hopes to begin making a larger impact. Getting this far in the collaborative effort is something Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz said has taken years to accomplish. It was a goal of his when he was working with the Visitors Bureau 23 years ago.
"We're in a place now where we are really going to show that collaboration," Supranowicz said.
Supranowicz emphasized the one-stop shop idea behind 1Berkshire, saying he will no longer have to send prospective businesses all over the county. Visitors Bureau CEO Lauri Klefos said the location in the center of the county will help the groups work with the entire county.
"I believe in a short time you will begin to see the collaboration that will help us create new information about the Berkshires and create the awareness of the Berkshires not only to visit, which we do really well, but also to live," Klefos said.
That collaboration will work well for its next-door neighbor. The building is located next to City Hall and will make it easy for city officials to work with the countywide organizations.
"I am excited to have them right next door because I look forward to having our economic people work closely with Staurt [Chase] and Mike [Supranowicz]," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said.
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This is nice to see. Once upon a time banks were respectable pillars in our community. The recent bailouts and housing crisis tarnished that image nationwide, but here in the Berkshires local banks are still an asset to our community.