The Partnership for North Adams commissioned a modern museum design inspired by the original train station. The building would house the city and state museums now in Heritage State Park.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Partnership for North Adams unveiled an ambitious vision for downtown on Thursday that would link the city's resources to create an "urban center of intellectual creativity."
One of the more immediate projects is a high-visibility structure to house the local history and railroad museums in a way that would artistically emulate the city's long-vanished train station as early as 2015.
A second is an entrepreneurial center to take advantage of the fertile minds of young college graduates.
Also a priority in Phase 1 is ensuring visitors can find their way around the city with signage; developing the bike path from Adams through the city and toward Williamstown; the development of Western Gateway Heritage State Park; embracing opportunities in retail, downtown housing and health-care support services, and planning for bigger projects such as green space and bridge improvements.
The strategic economic development plan, prepared by HR&A Advisors Inc. and SHoP Architects for the non-profit partnership, lays out the potential for economic growth, retail development, green space and recreational opportunities that build on existing assets and align with planning already under way in the city's Vision 2030 Master Plan and by the Hoosic River Revival.
"This, I think, is a great example of how the private sector, working with the public sector, can really accomplish great things," said John DeRosa, a founding principal of the partnership and a member of the board of directors, to representatives from the city's community, arts and business sectors gathered at City Hall. "I think there's a very exciting future for the city of North Adams."
Kate Collignon, a partner in HR&A, presented some of findings and recommendations in the strategic plan. It was created with input from local stakeholders, including interviews with city officials and residents.
"The vision as a whole was designed ultimately to be choices and to be implemented incrementally," she said. "A huge piece of what we wanted to look at was how to create jobs directly."
The challenges were somewhat obvious — the loss of manufacturing jobs and the resultant decline in population and income. However, the city does have significant natural and institutional assets, including entrances to the Mount Greylock Reservation, two colleges in close proximity, a hospital and area museums. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Clark Art Institute and Mount Greylock alone draw a half-million visitors a year to the region.
Building on those assets can create growth in tourism and recreational resources, such as the need for more hotel rooms and retail for outdoors pursuits. There is an estimated need for 100 housing units in the downtown in the coming years.
Collignon said there's 170,000 square feet of recreational retail space outside the city where residents and visitors are spending more than $43 million a year. North Adams couldn't absorb all the retail, but there is definite opportunity for growth in that area.
Hampering the ability to leverage investment from these resources is the incoherent pedestrian network — you really can't there from here.
So the plan's most important element is connecting the downtown anchors: Mass MoCA, Greylock Market, the new transit museum, the planned Berkshire Scenic Railway platform and Main Street.
"If we do that, that whole landscape is going to change," said DeRosa.
Equity costs: $2.7M to $4M
Grants & Gifts: $3.7M to $4.4M
° Connect anchors: walk/bike paths, signage, connective art installations
° Investment: Heritage State Park, co-work space, downtown housing, outdoor retailer, health-care support services
° Plan ahead: town common
• Possibilities include a footbridge from Mass MoCA over the flood-control chute to Marshall Street, and another from Greylock Market toward American Legion Drive — with talks of a possible tunnel under the railroad tracks.
• "The Junction," a combination of the Greylock Market, the new transit museum (where the Sons of Italy is now) and the railway platform at the downtown's entrance are a key stepping-off point, both in terms of development and future growth in the downtown.
• The entrepreneurial center, or "co-work space," prompted by finding there was a need for freelancers and startups to interact, is on track with more information expected by next fall.
• The partnership has commissioned SHoP for design work for a park space and commercial use at the northwest corner of Main and Marshall and for the Veterans Memorial Bridge, possibly along the lines of a "Bridge of Flowers" a la Shelburne Falls.
• Clark and Green Architecture Design, which is working on the Greylock Market, is also doing the design work for the museum, which will house the North Adams Museum of History and Science and the state's Hoosac Tunnel museum. DeRosa said the partnership is funding the design and feasibility study for that project.
• In cooperation with the city, the partnership will seek proposals for branding and signage for streets and wayfaring.
• In the future: more green space, sculptures, walkways and public programming would attract visitors from spot to spot, including downtown. The plan envisions a town common, a revamp of the Route 2 corridor enhancing pedestrian and bicycle access and incorporating the Hoosic River along River Street.
The vision will require both public and private investment to move forward. DeRosa noted the partnership has already played a pivotal role in raising the $1.5 million from private investors for Greylock Market, "a priority project that is identified in the plan. ... with Benjamin Blair as its manager, that project is moving full speed ahead."
"We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the private sector," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "The private sector is bringing this opportunity to the city.
"Our roadway to economic and social viability is through growth and that can only happen with public-private partnerships."
DeRosa acknowledged that some of the properties in the plans are currently privately owned. The strategy is flexible, he said, but the vision is important.
"What I think our goal was in creating the plan and articulating a vision was, let's just say that if ... dollars weren't an issue and we could start from the beginning and we put builders to work to build out what you see on the screen, there's no one in the world who wouldn't say North Adams is the best place in the world to come and live.
"So you start with a grand vision and work and you start piece by piece to get you there. I think we can get there."
North Adams Strategic Economic Development Plan