PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With the plans and funding secured to finish the North Street reconstruction project, the Community Development Department has turned its focus to Tyler Street.
The city has applied to designate the Morningside area as a "Transformative Development Initiative District," which is through a newly developed state program.
Earlier this year the state Legislature earmarked some $16 million in a Transformative Development Fund, which will be administered through the quasi-public agency MassDevelopment, for gateway cities.
Pittsfield is now looking to tap into those resources in an effort to redevelop Tyler Street.
"Morningside has got it all. It's got one of our largest employers with Berkshire Health Systems in the area. It has got a number of restaurants and small businesses. It has a combination of large employers and small businesses," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said in a recent interview.
"It also has the old GE site on the other side of it that we are looking to develop. It has older neighborhoods and pockets of housing."
According to Director of Community Development Douglas Clark, the program would work with MassDevelopment on a series of "anchor" projects throughout the district. Those projects — including the redevelopment of commercial and residential properties — are eyed to help trigger private investment and small-business growth. Eventually, the city hopes to start a streetscape program there as well.
The plan is essentially the same the city used on North Street.
"What happened on North Street is that there was some planning by downtown business folks, Berkshire Blueprint, the city's Master Plan and the cultural economy. You had the investment in the Central Block and the Colonial Theatre and the Beacon Cinema. The city helped with grant funding for some of those projects — plus the streetscape improvements that the city contributed some money toward, to make all that happen," Clark said.
"As a result, it has really transformed North Street."
While the city eyed North Street mostly for its tourism and creative economy draw, Tyler is getting a different personality. Clark says the focus for Tyler will be to foster the small businesses that provide residents daily needs within walking distance — whether that be groceries or shoes or a choice of restaurants.
"Primarily those neighborhood businesses again. North Street focused on the cultural and tourism aspects, that doesn't fit with Tyler Street. It is more 'how can we make this a place where you can be in that neighborhood and walk to three or four businesses and get all of your needs met,' " Clark said.
"Tyler Street really is a neighborhood, business district that's got a lot of services. It is the kind of place that allows you to live in a neighborhood and ideally you are walking to work, you've got the shoe repair place, the convenience stores, the market, restaurants, you've got all of the sort of day to day services right there."
The street is surrounded by residential neighborhoods so the effort will try to tie the housing stock into the plan. Clark envisions multiple projects that include commercial store frontage on the first floor and market-rate housing on the upper floors.
Additional anchors — or "hinges" — for Tyler Street could include St. Mary the Morningstar Church
, the former firehouse or even the vacant Hess gas station on top of already existing developments.
Many businesses have been successful on Tyler Street. Bianchi pointed to La Fogata as an example of the array of small businesses that have laid the foundation for the future redevelopment of the area.
"You've got the start of a very vibrant neighborhood," Bianchi said.
"We still have some unfinished business on North Street but we have a good idea which direction we are going. So we decided to, in this call for districts, the district we submitted was for Tyler Street," Clark said. "It really is anchored by BMC to the west and the William Stanley Business Park and the Berkshire Innovation Center to the east. There are some real opportunities."
This year, the Tyler Street Business Group became a non-profit entity. The organization advocates for the Morningside area and for the businesses on Tyler. It formed as a business subcommittee for the Morningside Initiative and grew from there, now representing more than 30 businesses.
"We got really focused and this year became a non-profit," said President Diane Marcella. "This is our first year as our own entity and we've got a ton of stuff going on."
The Tyler Street Business Group was part of a larger group to create a new walking loop to generate foot traffic. And this is the first year the street will be decorated with lights for the holidays.
The group gets businesses and residents together to share ideas on a monthly basis and can direct other business owners to where they need to go for certain resources. The group also launched a new business directory.
"We encompass all of the businesses in the Morningside neighborhood," Marcella said.
And, of course, they put on the annual Discover Tyler Street street fair to show off all the neighborhood has to offer.
Now the group has signed onto the Transformative Development Initiative District application and is ready to be a partner in that effort. It has already done some of the work — such as gathering information on vacant parcels — and bring members knowledge and connections to the table.
"That would be a big step. I'm so appreciative that they are trying to get something over here," Marcella said. "We're due and it's coming. The city is in a good spot and we're in a good spot."
The state designation and the city's focus on Morningside includes its largest employer in Berkshire Medical Center and the redevelopment of the William Stanley Business Park and the planned Berkshire Innovation Center.
"I think the Berkshire Innovation Center is going to be a big boon for us," Marcella said.
The state would be willing to essentially become the developer for some underdeveloped commercial properties to build more anchors.
"MassDevelopment is willing to take an equity position, where they'd be willing to own 51 percent of a project. They are fairly open to what type of project they'd consider," Clark said.
The former Fire Station on Tyler Street is one lot the city will be looking to redevelop.
With a series of larger projects throughout the street — mostly focused on small business and both affordable and market-rate house — the city hopes to trigger the smaller business growth to serve an increase amount of foot traffic.
"The idea of having a couple larger projects will then help make that a more attractive place for a business to come in and thrive," Clark said.
Developing those anchors is a goal but more of a long-term one. The city hopes to use the state program to bring economic development experts to focus solely on the district.
"There is also a program to provide technical assistance. They are going to hire economic development specialists and match them up with a gateway city so these specialist will not only be the technical expertise but also to have someone who can sit down and focus on one area," Clark said.
That consultant will inventory all of the properties and then work with developers on the various hurdles in the way of redevelopment of certain properties. The expert will also look over all of the zoning and try to get those into place for what the city wants.
"More projects will be getting the technical assistance aspect of it. There will be a fewer number of projects that will get the equity investment," Clark said. "This is a concept they rolled out and are hoping they can point to some early success stories an grow the project in the future. If we don't make it this year, there will be additional opportunities."
Those smaller businesses can then work with the consultants. The state will be able to guide the developer in getting financing, state grant programs, identifying code issues on a property, developing a business plan and providing the data information such as traffic counts and demographics.
Right now, the real estate values in that area are down so city officials envision it being ripe area for new businesses — ones that couldn't afford North Street — to get their start.