"The goal here is to fit hand in glove with your activities and see where we can help," Anne Haynes, the director of the Transformative Development program, said on Tuesday.
Pittsfield was just one of 10 cities chosen for the district designation.
Haynes and staff from various areas of MassDevelopment's expertise are touring and visiting with officials of each TDI district to further develop action plans. She hopes to match the tools and resources they have with the needs of each district.
In Pittsfield, she met with representatives from the Tyler Street Business Group, Director of Community Development Douglas Clark, City Planner CJ Hoss, Permitting Coordinator Nate Joyner, Mayor Daniel Bianchi, and Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Executive Director Corydon Thurston.
"This is a great old neighborhood with a lot of potential," the mayor told MassDevelopment's staff. "I think we need somebody with fresh eyes to help with the redevelopment."
The city has already committed to putting in new lighting to brighten it up. Clark is also hoping to receive engineering money in the next capital plan to craft a 25 percent design of a streetscape renovation.
The Rice Silk Mill, an affordable housing project in the neighborhood, opened a few years ago to some acclaim.
A walking and biking assessment is expected to be completed soon with a series of recommendations — including ways to be more pedestrian friendly near the congested Morningside School. A walking loop has already been developed and will connect to the East Street area in the future.
But there is still more to be done.
More than 30 percent of the commercial properties on Tyler Street are vacant and city officials are hoping to turn that around — particularly around the William Stanley Business Park on the eastern side and Berkshire Medical Center on the west.
"We looked at Tyler Street as our next planning priority," Clark said. "There is a 30-40 percent vacancy rate and it is spread out across the street."
The goal with the district designation is to follow similar plans as laid out for North Street of ushering in a project or two that will trigger more private investment. Those private investments hoped for are both commercial and residential.
The city has been awarded $9.75 million to build the Berkshire Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park and that is expected to be one of the anchors of Tyler Street when it opens in 2016. Thurston said the BIC will help existing businesses in the life science industry grow by providing them an area for research and development. So far, 17 organizations have signed on to be members of the center.
PEDA is also working to develop the former General Electric sites that sit between Tyler and East Street, adding more commercial activity to the area. The state is expected to rebuild the Woodlawn Avenue bridge to connect the two major thoroughfares, Thurston added.
The rest of the Tyler Street neighborhood includes a mix of commercial and residential properties. The city envisions the redevelopment as one that builds on the neighborhood feel of Tyler Street.
"Tyler Street is not North Street," Clark said of the type of redevelopment plans focused around the arts that went into North Street's redevelopment. "This is the neighborhood businesses, the shoe repair and the restaurants."
MassDevelopment has three "buckets" of resources to help the cities and towns, Haynes said. The first is technical assistance, which can help officials and developers weed through the details of a project. They'll do market studies and help craft plans for funding.
The second is by becoming owners of properties and leasing them or employing a joint venture deal with developers. The third is to provide an array of financial tools — either working with developers on tax incentives or even loaning at low-interest rates.
Haynes says the goal is to create a "pipeline" for the TDI districts to access equity or the tools needed to transform the neighborhood.
"We anticipate that it is going to take different forms in different cities," she said.
But MassDevelopment officials made it clear that the program isn't intended to be a pot of money for cities to tap into for their own projects. Instead, the tools are to be used in places where they would trigger or leverage private investment.
City officials walked the representatives through the entire Tyler Street area, showing various sites where a redevelopment project could lead to more. The St. Mary the Morningstar Church complex, the former Tyler Street fire house, Shedd Plumbing, and the Hess Gas station were among several vacant sites cities officials pointed out as areas of potential redevelopment.
Haynes was particularly interested in the role the non-profit Tyler Street Business Group can play in the process. She said its addition to the application helped the city earn the designation.
"One of the things we wanted to see was the on-the-ground support," she said.
Tyler Street Business Group President Diane Marcella outlined the organization's history and goals. The group started as a subcommittee of the Morningside Initiative and has grown into its own non-profit organization, Marcella said. Right now the group is looking to get more of the residential owners involved in the group to help improve the market-rate housing stock.
Anne Haynes, of MassDevelopment, discusses possible projects with Director of Community Development Douglas Clark and Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
MassDevelopment suggested the creation of a corridor plan and then honing in on an individual project or two.
Clark said Community Development asked for $80,000 to fund such a plan last year but the City Council only funded $10,000. That money hasn't been touched, he said, because it isn't enough to do a complete job.
MassDevelopment officials said that might be an area they could help — to leverage the city's $10,000 to get state funds for that study.
The agency hopes to have a clearer plan of what it can offer the new TDI cities. Of particular desire from nine of the ten cities selected for the designation is to bring on a "fellow."
MassDevelopment is hiring three professionals in the redevelopment field to be deployed full-time to specific cities.
In Pittsfield, Clark said a fellow could be really beneficial in looking at each property — Tyler Street Business Group has a list of vacant buildings — and through market studies find out exactly what obstacles and opportunities there are for each building.
From there, the fellow could work with developers and building owners through the process and connect them to already existing resources. Through this program the city would help create a "toolbox" of resources to help property owners get over hurdles, Clark said.
"How do we market our services to explain them in a way that is bite-sized and manageable?" Clark said.
Haynes said the agency is interviewing candidates with different levels of experience and expertise. In the next few weeks, it will play matchmaker and determine which cities match with which candidates. The three cities will be chosen will interview and hire from the selected pool.
"The whole point is to be as local as possible," she said of the fellow program.
Haynes hopes the fellows will be staring in late March or early April. The first year, she said, will mostly be focused on building relationships and getting a scope of work.
While only three will get fellows this year, she said MassDevelopment is looking to grow the program in the future.
"We know redevelopment takes a long time," she said.
If the Pittsfield isn't chosen, MassDevelopment said the agency will increase its presence since the designation also gives priority to the services it offers. The TDI program was specifically for so-called "gateway cities."
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