PEDA Prioritizing Marketing, Life Sciences ProjectBy Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires
09:00PM / Thursday, March 08, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority is taking steps for a more focused subcommittee structure this year to aid in marketing and developing a plan for a proposed life sciences center.
The board is awaiting the Legislature's approval of adding four new members, which will add more resources.
Executive Director Corydon Thurston said at Wednesday's meeting that he has been utilizing board members George Whaling, Michael Matthews and Christina Barret as an "ad hoc group" to work on furthering its marketing efforts, including the development of an RFP (request for proposal) to secure an advertising firm to promote the William Stanley properties.
PEDA will seek bids from qualified agencies for what is expected to be a three-year contract, in order to maintain consistency as marketing efforts go forward.
A key component of the marketing plan the authority hopes to develop will focus specifically on the hoped for life sciences "incubator" building, for which $6.5 million is earmarked as available.
The need for a more subcommittee-style approach to pursue projects like the proposed center was what motivated the move to expand PEDA's governing body, according to Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who appointed himself to the board in February. Bianchi said that after meeting with representatives of the state's Life Sciences Center, he saw the task of bringing this center to fruition as more challenging than he originally anticipated
The mayor said a competitive proposal would have to be created to get the earmarked funds, including demonstrated interest from organizations and businesses that would be interested in facilities there — in addition to Berkshire Community College and Nuclea Biotechnologies, which have already indicated interest.
"It's more than just filling out an application and then saying 'OK, give us the six million bucks,'" Bianchi said, "But I think it could be a tremendous endeavor for us, and one that I look forward to becoming more engaged with."
"It's a lot more complicated than I thought it was," agreed Whaling, who also attended the life sciences meeting, but he was encouraged to learn "not only is there a big pot of money for the center itself, there's layers of tax credits for employees."
Whaling suggested using some funds from PEDA's budget to make a temporary hire for someone "to become an expert" on the project and conduct the necessary research, strategizing and grant-writing type skills to successfully acquire the funds.
This idea was discussed favorably by the board, and Thurston said he will work on identifying a person for this position for the April 11 meeting.
The timetable for a bridge that would reconnect the Morningside neighborhood with the East Street area via the William Stanley Business Park may take longer than was hoped.
Thurston updated PEDA's board on design decisions for the bridge that will replace the current one extending Woodlawn Avenue across the former General Electric property. The design calls for a completely reconstructed bridge, which will not use the abuttments from the current one.
"It's good for the railroad, it's going to be an easier bridge for the state to build, but they will be doing it totally from scratch," Thurston told the board.
This may delay having a new bridge available for public use in time for the closure of Silver Lake Boulevard in summer 2013 for the remediation of Silver Lake and areas around it.
"Because we're digging, and we're digging in a brownfields site, we're going to have to be sensitive to all the environmental requirements ... [that] probably will delay, or add to the timing process, without question," Thurston said. "But I think we're pretty comfortable with what's in the soil there, from previous testing, and I don't expect it to be a large holdup."
Thurston estimates the removal of the current bridge will not take place until this summer.