PITTSFIELD, Mass. — From playable pianos to bolstering member to tweaking the parking system, Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has a lot of ahead of it for this summer.
The organization delivered its annual report to the City Council on Tuesday. It has gone through some changes in the last year or so. It hired a new director, Cheryl Mirer, and the city had changed its director of community development, which serves as the point of contact with the city.
"Every relationship we start takes some time to sort of understand each other," said Downtown Pittsfield President Jesse Cook-Dubin.
In the last few months, the organization has met with Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer to sort through the expectations of each party. That has led to modifications in the scope of work, which Cook-Dubin said eliminates some lofty hopes with more concrete and achievable tasks. One of which is for the organization to focus on maintenance issues with the streetscape project with the Department of Public Services.
"We feel that agreement has sort of been restored to packing a punch and some concrete commitments from Downtown Pittsfield Inc." Cook-Dubin said.
And now, as the spring rolls in and will eventually turn into the busy summer season, Downtown Pittsfield has a number of projects to unveil.
Mirer said she had just been elected to become the vice chairman of the Artscape Committee and, on June 14, that organization, which brings displays of public art to the downtown, will hold its first fundraiser. This summer, Pittsfield will see three of 14 playable pianos displayed.
"They are playable pianos and they will be outside," Mirer said, adding that the concept is in conjunction with Tanglewood's 100th anniversary and part of the "summer of music" theme for the county.
The organization is most known for its marketing efforts and Mirer said this year's downtown guide will be distributed shortly, helping to show people what downtown has to offer.
"We are going into print mode soon with our guide, which will be distributed across the Berkshires and land before Memorial Day weekend," she said.
The organization hired a part-time marketing coordinator last August who has been bolstering the organization's social media and sending out weekly email newsletters promoting events going on.
Mirer said the organization is also creating a "heart of the Berkshires" toolkit for member organizations to align the branding better. Those marketing tools will be given to the membership.
However, the city has been scaling back how much it contributes to the organization. In the last three years, the city decreased its contribution from $43,000 down to $24,185. Cook-Dubin said that has taken somewhat of a toll on the amount of marketing it can do.
"It has made it very difficult for us to market the downtown the way we want to market," he said.
Cook-Dubin said the organization had been able to reserve enough cash to take those hits to the budget.
"We had enough cash to absorb the hit in the city line item for one year," Cook-Dubin said. "We had a deficit budget this year and we almost clawed that back."
He said Downtown Pittsfield has been doing a lot of recruiting to bolster its membership and places like General Dynamics has seen dues increase. He said organizations such as Guardian Insurance and Interprint, while not located in the downtown, are members. And Berkshire Health System remains one of its largest donors.
"It is very appealing for businesses to get an ad in the guide," Cook-Dubin said of its efforts to increase membership.
The organization is also heavily promoting the Berkshire Lightscapes project, which aims to bring decorative lighting to Dunham Mall and Park Square. And Downtown Pittsfield will also continue running the downtown ambassador program, which puts people on the street to help patrons of the downtown businesses with wayfinding and other questions.
It is also serving a role when it comes to making recommendations to city operations when it comes to the downtown.
"We work with the city very closely on the parking program. It is just after the one-year anniversary for the kiosks something to Pittsfield. We are in the process of doing a thorough review of what's working, what's not working," Cook-Dubin said.
Already the organization has put in a petition to align the hours of operations for the parking lots and garages with on street — which currently have different hours. But, it hopes to come up with more tweaks to the system in the future.
While Cook-Dubin boasted of eight new businesses opening in the downtown recently or soon, he also recognizes that some businesses had closed. He said the organization is talking with those businesses and is looking to see if there is a common thread that could be fixed.
"It is all over the map. It is foot traffic. For some businesses, there is not the critical mass of foot traffic to sustain them. Certain niche businesses have trouble competing with online retailers," Cook-Dubin said. "We ask and we do our best to figure it out."
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