ADAMS, Mass. — Americans spend more than $130 billion on outdoor recreation every year. Adams is hoping to grab a slice of that as the Greylock Glen project moves into its next phase.
Officials on Friday unveiled the design for the Nordic ski and outdoor center for the 1,063-acre glen at the foot of Mount Greylock. The $6.5 million project is expected to go to bid next spring with a projected opening in fall 2020.
"My heart is filled with optimism," said Selectman Joseph Nowak, who once worked on the mountain for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. "We as a community we have struggled to gain our footing economically since the demise of our factories many years ago."
It's been a long road to this point — 50 years if you count the many failed projects in the past. After the most recent private plans for a golf course and housing development collapsed, the state in 2006 designated the town of Adams to take over the development of about 60 acres in the glen in partnership with DCR.
The 15-year plan has had some fits and starts. The concept of a camping area, amphitheater, outdoor educational center, trail network and lodge grew out a series of meetings that brought all the stakeholders together in agreement. The complex design was released to acclaim in 2009, not long after the global economic collapse.
The $3 million trail system funded by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation finally began last year but efforts to find a developer for the campground and lodge have fallen fallow. However, work on the infrastructure to prepare for development has continued apace, including the traffic roundabout at Friend and Columbia designed to make access toward the glen safer and easier.
Officials are hoping the investment in the outdoor center and further infrastructure work will kickstart development.
"The state has been very wise in its investment in the project, the way they've structured the subset of the site itself to allow the project to have an economic framework for success," Charles Johnson of Johnson Consulting said. "Nevertheless, it takes all the mixed uses to make this project work — the amphitheater, the trails, the campgrounds, the Nordic ski center and the lodge."
Johnson's study of the economic and fiscal impact of the glen development projects $30 million in direct spending by year 20 and nearly 700 jobs, half of those through indirect spending — local restaurants, stores, services, and other related areas. The project would become the largest employer in Adams and is estimated to generate $4 million in local and state taxes.
"The hotel is going to be the hardest part and that's going to really change the nature of it," he said. "Inch by inch, you have to build volume into this project so it allows the hotel to have the opportunity to succeed."
The town plans to apply for a $2 million to $3 million MassWorks grant to complete infrastructure in the glen development. The idea is that getting all of that out of the way, and having a site that's ready for expedited permitting and state and federal tax credits, will attract the private investment to capitalize on the public work that's been done.
"This will be focused on completing all the infrastructure, not only to serve the outdoor center but the entire glen resort project," said Donna Cesan, the town's community development director (and interim town administrator) who's been working on this project from the start. "We're very excited to be at this moment."
She anticipated issuing requests for proposals for operators — outfitter, cafe, and environmental programming — in the fall. If the bidding for the outdoor center is successful next year, groundbreaking could occur by summer.
"I believe this will make Adams a destination," Cesan said, but added that it will take a concerted effort from the town, state officials and partners to make it happen.
There's a lot of crossover in what visitors do when they come to Berkshire County. Nearly 80 percent go to museums and historic sites, about 60 percent attend performing arts and about 37 percent engage in outdoor recreation. They tend to be college educated, married and about 50, with a median income of $100,000.
State Sen. Adam Hinds pointed to the potential opportunities in recreational tourism. The nonprofit Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vt., gets 100,000 visitors a year on its locally developed mountain biking trails, he said.
"Their average visitor comes from 250 miles away," Hinds said. "You can see that again we have an asset that people want, that's growing as an industry: outdoor recreation. We are that close to Boston and New York and people have demonstrated they will drive for that experience."
It wasn't simply a matter of "build it" and they will come, he said. "Build an amazing resource that everyone here can use right now and then they will come."
Hinds and state Rep. John Barrett III have been working to keep the funds flowing. An environmental bond bill has $2.3 million in it that is hoped to go toward the center and an economic bond bill is in the beginning stages; $500,000 was obtained last year by Hinds and the late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi to get the outdoor center to 100 percent design and bid and shovel-ready for early next year.
The partnerships developed so far — including with Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts — have been critical, said Barrett.
"We need to have the public dollars first, with that will follow the private sector," he said. "Everybody is on board to get this done."
It's taking a long time but Barrett and Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson are well aware of the payoff, because of the years it took to get Mass MoCA open in North Adams. It's since become a serious economic driver bringing upwards of 150,000 people a year to North County.
"Things take a long time is the single biggest lesson of my life," Thompson said to chuckles. "These kinds of projects are generational."
MCLA President James "Jamie" Birge said the outdoor center could offer other opportunities for the college beyond education, especially considering the summer programming and conferences it does; Wiliam Maclay of Maclay Architects reviewed the design and how it linked to the mountain and its solar energy plans; and George Wislocki, founder of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and William Wilson, former director of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, reflected on the history of the glen and of the project.
"The town is moving forward, the town of Adams, it's our time and the glen is going to happen," affirmed Selectmen Chairman John Duval.
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