Town Administrator Jonathan Butler said the Discover the Berkshires Visitors Center will help the town brand itself as a recreational area.
ADAMS, Mass. — The value of the Discover the Berkshires Visitors Center was the only hot topic during the annual town meeting on Tuesday as voters approved 25 warrant articles in about an hour.
The center is being turned over the to the town after the Berkshires Visitors Bureau moved its offices to Pittsfield. The Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Jonathan Butler proposed moving the Council on Aging to the downtown building and using $80,000 to renovate it to create a large gather space.
In the end, town meeting members sided with Butler to spend the money to renovate it but not after lengthy discussion.
Resident George Haddad led a charge to remove that $80,000, asking the town to find the value of it in the private sector before making a decision.
"I thought that it would be best if we at least looked to see what the private interest is in that building," the former selectman told the 100 town meeting members. "We should know what the true value of that building is so we can make a conscious decision as a community of what we want to do."
Butler, however, said determining the true value isn't done on the private market; it is in determining the value to the town. The building can always be sold later, he said.
"It's time for us to aim big and I think our intentions of this facility will do just that," Butler said. "What we didn't realize [before] is what the true value of the visitors' center is for us and that's what we're going to figure out in the next few years."
If the rest of the community development plans continue, that building will have an even bigger demand in the private sector, Butler said. Selectman Scott Nichols said the building will be more valuable to the private sector with the renovations.
George Haddad led the charge to hold off on renovating the building until the town looks at selling it to the private sector.
The center will be able to not only house the Council on Aging but will be an Adams-only focused visitors' center that will continue the town's goal to brand itself as a recreational center. It will be instrumental in having downtown events, attracting people away from the rail trail and will emphasis the town's history and businesses, Butler said.
For now it solves a massive puzzle, he said, in that there are three buildings for which the town will have to determine a future. The Memorial Middle School, the Community Center and the visitors' center are all in flux. This step will allow the town to sell the East Street Community Center to avoid costly repairs, he said.
"The decision was made to start to solve the first problem and that is the three buildings," Butler said.
Haddad, however, contended that if the community development plans do create the recreational haven that officials believe the town could be, the visitors' center wouldn't be needed. The Greylock Glen project, for which Haddad sits on the advisory committee, is the keystone of the town's plans and if that happens, the attraction would be on that site, he said. If the project never gets completed, there is no attraction, Haddad said.
Closing the center's restrooms would encourage people using the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail to venture into the downtown, he said, and the Council on Aging could use other venues — such as the Library Annex — that would buy some time to look at the private market.
"To make a good decision, you have to know what the real value is," Haddad said.
The motion to remove the $80,000 renovation money was defeated 65-29.
The rest of the warrant articles passed easily with little to no discussion. Those included the town's $13.2 million budget. The budget consists of $278,000 in capital improvements; $3.9 million for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District; and an assessment to the Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School District of $622,000.
In a citizen's petition, the Adams Agricultural Fair was approved for $10,000 from the town's free cash for a new gazebo. Voters also approved allowing the vocational school district (McCann Technical School) to amend its charter to allow Lanesborough and Cheshire to join.
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