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Team Better Block has identified the section between Smith and Cortland as the location for the one-day event.

'Better Block' Presents Conceptual Plan for Section of Tyler Street

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Jonathan Braddick presented the conceptual plan on Tuesday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — One day the doors of the former Tyler Street Fire Station will be opened, the old emergency vehicles in the backdrop, with a live band and a craft brewery serving up drinks.

Across the street, Jacob's Pillow will be giving dance lessons.

That day sounds far away — about seven weeks, on Aug. 26.

The firehouse is too decrepit for the building inspectors to let people all the way in and attempts by the city to dispose of the property had found no interest. But, it is possible that the historic building could be brought to life for one day.
 
Team Better Block has identified the section of Tyler Street between Smith and Cortland streets as the place to show off what Tyler Street could eventually become. MassDevelopment brought in Better Block to run the community building exercise. 
 
Last month, the organizers outlined what it does: it picks a blighted section of property, engages community volunteers, and brings all of the visions of the future to life for one day. The special event build momentum and excitement among community members who are looking to revitalize an area.
 
On Tuesday, Project Manager Jonathan Braddick outlined what they'll do with Tyler Street. 
 
"This is what we've come up with and our best practices. We have been doing these type of projects for over seven years now," Braddick said to open the meeting at the Berkshire Dream Center. 
 
The group held a tour of multiple blocks along Tyler Street and chose this one block as the one with the most potential. There are four or five vacant buildings in that section, but also the social spot of the Dairy Cone and a planned mural already feeding some life to it. And, the property owners, for the most part, have been willing to assist.
 
The Fire Station is going to be a beer garden featuring White Lion Brewery. It is adjacent to the ice cream shop and will be coupled with local music for entertainment. The building inspectors have only given permission to enter in the first 25 feet of the station itself, but Braddick is hoping to get it opened so people could at least look inside instead of seeing the closed-up exterior to which the community has grown accustomed.
 
"It is going to be family, fun, friendly," Braddick said.
 
Across the street there are a number of vacancies. The buildings with JJ Lock, the former Fin and Feather, and Tyler Welding all have spaces available. And, most notably, there is the former Hess Gas Station. The Better Block group polled the residents at its earlier meeting and identified the needs for such things as a coffee shop, outdoor seating, and a bakery.
 
With those vacant storefronts, volunteers are going to spend three days cleaning them out, adding lighting, and moving in a pop-up business. The team is looking for possible businesses now. On the south side of the street, volunteers will create a parklet out of plywood and 2x4s. 
 
The group wants more than a bike lane, it is looking to create a cycle track. Braddick has created a loop, which will include a barrier between traffic and two lanes for bicycles. That track is still in development, awaiting final approvals for access to land.
 
"We're basically creating a loop on Burbank, Smith, Tyler, and hopefully through the Hess Gas Station, we are still awaiting approval for the Hess property," Braddick said. 
 
That will not only provide a safe pedestrian area but also slow traffic down, and lower the volume from passing vehicles. The group is also putting in temporary traffic calming measures such as a center lane median and bump-outs at crosswalks. The crosswalks won't just be plain either. The group is gathering volunteers to paint them and spruce them up.
 
At the Hess Station, if the group can get access, Better Block intends to use that space as a social gathering place. Those plans haven't been quite developed yet as access is still pending.
 

The group is still attempting to get access to the former Hess Gas Station to turn it into a social area.
The volunteers will also be sprucing up the streets with art and landscaping. Braddick said the company is working with local nurseries to get temporary plantings for the day to up the appearance of the block.
 
The project isn't just about recreation and appearances. It is about economic development. Better Block is seeking possible business ideas and entrepreneurs to apply to become pop-up shops for the day. 
 
"We have some money to put toward pop up shops as well as to help them become possibly permanent," Braddick said.
 
The National Association of Realtors has given the group a grant of $15,000 to help with the pop-up shops. Throughout the day, there will be an array of events planned, such as Jacob's Pillow sponsoring dance lessons.
 
While much of the focus is on what Tyler Street can become, there is also a focus on what it was. Braddick has put out a call for old photos of that block that will be enlarged and highlighted as part of the decor. 
 
"We need help. We need some help with the researching," he said, asking anyone with old photos from the 1990s or earlier to email him at pittsfield@teambetterblock.com
 
Braddick presented the plan on Tuesday and gathered even more input from dozens in attendance. From there, the team will craft out detailed plans — from blueprints to how to build the seating areas and parklets to how the pop-up shops will be created. He'll present those on Aug. 14. 
 
And then on Aug. 23, the volunteers will start the build. For that week, the volunteers will physically create what they'd want in Tyler Street. On Aug. 26, it will be a one-day event to bring it all to life. 

Tags: better block,   massdevelopment,   tyler street,   

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