John DeRosa, principal with the Partnership for North Adams, explained the outlines of the proposal for the redevelopment of Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Partnership for North Adams has pitched a proposal to revamp Western Gateway Heritage State Park and redevelop it for more commercial traffic.
The Redevelopment Authority, which oversees the park and several other parcels, voted unanimously on Tuesday to move forward with a lease negotiation at the behest of the mayor.
The city has been seeking a private entity to operate and invest in the park since last fall. The first request for proposals elicited one response, which while providing significant infrastructure investment, did not offer the city enough lease funding.
The North Adams Partnership, through a slightly convoluted legal structure, would commit to between $1.3 million and $1.5 million in investment along with $750,000 upfront for a 20-year ground lease.
The investment group would be a for-profit venture, putting the park back on the tax rolls, with an eye toward creating a commercial destination that would tie into Mount Greylock State Reservation, the city's downtown and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Also on the horizon is an eventual extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail through the park and ongoing talks about short-line tourist rail to Shelburne Falls.
"I think we're on the cusp of some very, very important growth and development," said Mayor Richard Alcombright on Tuesday in presenting the proposal to the Redevelopment Authority. He said the investment in the park, along with continued efforts for the Mohawk Theater and other public and private projects were helping "preserve our most precious landmarks."
"I think this — maybe not today — but I think this is what will strike the match and light the fire for so many opportunities ahead," he said.
According to the proposal submitted on Tuesday, the not-for profit North Adams Development Trust, an arm of the partnership, would created a limited liability corporation to "re-position and re-brand Heritage State Park as a vibrant retail plaza to be called Greylock Marketplace [within Heritage State Park]."
Principals of North Adams Development Trust:
• Bruce Grinnell, attorney • Malcolm Smith, energy entrepreneur • Duncan Brown, retired CEO
The plan: • Rebrand and market • Develop for cultural and recreational market • Connect to Mass MoCA, Mount Greylock • Reconceive signage, entry • Renovate building exteriors, complete deferred maintenance, improve landscaping, include public art
Includes: • All six current buildings • Sons of Italy site • Entry points on both sides of Route 2 • Foot bridge to West Main Street
Dependent upon: • DCR & DHCD approval • Local and state permitting • State infrastructure investments • Lease negotiations
The city gets: • $750,000 upfront 20-year lease • No longer responsible for maintenance • Park is placed back on the tax rolls • Renovated, landscaped southern entrance
"Our vision for the redvelopment of Heritage Park will strengthen the city's efforts to build a deeper base of small businesses in North Adams, and will invigorate the broader retail offerings of the city. We believe that a lively retail marketplace at Heritage Park will bring more traffic to other retail locations, luring strong activity to a second point of the retail triangle formed by Main Street, Heritage Park and Mass MoCA."
The group plans to tap into Mass MoCA's marketing expertise (the museum's real estate arm has already begun talks with potential tenants) and its 125,000-plus visitors each year through the largely unused foot bridge linking the park to the south end of Mass MoCA. Nearly a quarter million people visit Mount Greylock annually, with the park poised to become a main gateway to the summit through Furnace Street. The group would also work with the state and city to redo the entry, signage and visibility of the park.
John DeRosa, a principal in the partnership, said he has had conversations with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the project would move forward with the state.
"It would be subject to approval by DCR and subject to a finding by the [state] Department of Housing and Community Development that the proposal comports to the Redevelopment Authority plan that was enacted in the late '70s or early '80s," said DeRosa. This is the first of three development proposals in the city being floated by partnership.
The city solicitor said he was at the meeting for informational purposes; an independent attorney would have to be hired to represent the city.
Current tenants, many of whom were in attendance, expressed concern for their future. Representatives of two of the tenants, the North Adams Museum of History and Science and Northern Berkshire Community Televison, wondered what place their nonprofit organizations would have in commercial development.
"What is the impact on existing tenants?" asked City Councilor Lisa Blackmer.
DeRosa indicated that the group would work with them.
"The intention is certainly, 'lets bring more people so more people visit the museum, so more people buy more fish fries and drink more beer and watch more television,'" he said, adding it was not a matter of "starting all over again." "I don't think that's the idea of this at all ... My own guess is, you'll really find a group of people willing to work with you."
Colleen Taylor, a 20-year tenant of the park, said she was willing to 'take a leap of faith' on the deal.
While stating the nonprofits "are viable tenants," the mayor did add that should any of the tenants run into issues, efforts would be made to find comparable or better quarters.
Edward Morandi, of the Historical Society, expressed some skepticism, noting that the park was created 30 years ago touting ambitious figures that failed to materialize. The private developer failed and it had to be taken over by the city.
The mayor said the numbers this time are far more realistic, and should the private developer fail again, the city would retake possession but it would get to keep the $750,000.
"I'm going to take a leap of faith," said Colleen Taylor, whose Freight Yard Pub has been in the park for 20 years. The park as it is now isn't working, she said. "We do need to move forward a little ... it can be a win for everybody.
"I have as much to lose as anybody if it doesn't work out."
The mayor said he's nervous, too, about privatization but "it's a good solid proposal" and a step in the right direction.
The Redevelopment Authority of Chairman Paul Hopkins, Michael Leary and Kyle Hanlon voted to accept the proposal pending approval by DCR and by DHCD that its comports to the redevelopment plan, to enter negotiations for a ground lease and to authorize the mayor to hire an independent attorney to represent the authority.
"This is the most exciting thing that I've heard about North Adams in many, many years," said resident Edith Taskin.
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