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Heritage Park Getting a Facelift

By Tammy Daniels

The city is hoping to spruce up Western Gateway Heritage State Park this spring with paint, landscaping and upgraded doors and windows.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is looking to pump more than $300,000 in repairs and renovations into Western Gateway Heritage State Park this spring. The hope is to have the park ready to take advantage of the completion of the Hadley Overpass and a state signage program in 2012.

"We see this now as a unique opportunity at the right time with all development that's going on to further utilize Heritage State Park," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Redevelopment Authority on Monday. "The thing is we have to make it better or do something with it and generate some community interest ... or sell it."

The proposed renovations would include a complete landscape redesign at a cost of $100,000 to $150,000, resetting of the cobblestones, painting, replacement of doors and windows on several buildings, a new roof on Building 4, decking, and new signage. The mayor said he also would like to create a playground or child-friendly stations throughout the park.

The mayor looks over parking options at the park with the Redevelopment Authority. Right, the caboose has been locked up for awhile because of safety issues. It needs restoration and won't be included in the sprucing up this spring.

The city has operated the park since the 1980s and its success has varied over the years. Its best-known tenant is the Freight Yard Pub; it also has a museum operated by the North Adams Historical Society, a quilt shop, theater group, coffee distributor, Northern Berkshire Community Television studios and state visitors center and museum. It's been particularly hard hit because of the ongoing work on the Hadley Overpass.

"The park is losing somewhere around $20,000 or so a year," said the mayor. "We're hopeful that with the improvements this summer, with a recommitment of the city to provide activity down there and the completion of the bridge that this will be money well-spent."

For years, officials had hoped to link the park to the Mount Greylock State Reservation but were blocked by bad road conditions to the mountain. Furnace Street and Reservoir Road have been redone in the last decade and the state spent more than $21 million and two years repairing roads around the summit.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation is looking to install signage and a kiosk, possibly an information center, at the park to aid visitors in finding their way to the state's highest peak. The main visitors center is on Rockwell Road in Lanesborough; the mountain can also be reached by taking Notch Road off Route 2 through a heavy residential area.

More signage in the right places could lead visitors to the park.

"The hope is that Heritage State Park will become the northside visitors center for Mount Greylock," said the mayor. "What makes us very excited about that is last year, 248,000 visitors reached the summit. Let's assume 15-20 percent go up or down the north side  — that would breathe some life into the park."

He expected to spend $330,000 if the landscaping can be brought in at about $100,000. There is currently $313,000 in the park reserve account, a state grant of $50,000 and, possibly, $50,000 in unrestricted funds from DCR. The city has been maintaining the property but a project this size would be too hard to do internally, said Alcombright.

An easement agreement in being worked out with the owners of the Sons of Italy that could trade parking for access across city property to the sewer line. The parking area created on the south side of the bridge would be retained.

Chairman Paul Hopkins, Michael Leary and Kyle Hanlon were supportive but encouraged the mayor to locate parking spaces closer to the pub. Most complaints, they said, were about the distance patrons had to walk.

"It's a great start," said Leary.

The Redevelopment Authority meets as needed and has purview over select areas of the downtown. It was unclear if the park falls under its jurisdiction and for years the property has been overseen by the mayor's office.

Alcombright said it was the city solicitor's opinion that it should fall under the board, of which the mayor is a member. Besides, he said, he wanted the board in the loop particularly when spending funds.

"It's a good sum of money, it's a big project and we will come back before the authority for an appropriation," he said.

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