City Seeks Public Input On Master Plan
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city begins work Monday night on its first master plan in 40 years.
The public is encouraged to attend and participate in the session on July 11 from 7 to 9 at All Souls Church (St. John's Episcopal). The session is being facilitated by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
The work so far is being done through two grants from the BRPC. The first was used for the BRPC to map out a long-range planning strategy; the second will move the public input, or "visioning" sessions, along. The city will seek a federal grant to begin implementation.
"We're looking for just thoughts and ideas," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "It will really highlight on the six or seven things, the economy, sustainability, and all the other things we've been talking about."
The plan is being developed in conjunction with Sustainable Berkshires, a new long-range regional plan that will take a more comprehensive look at the county by including health, environmental, education, economics and other concerns.
The first visioning session for Sustainable Berkshires was held Wednesday at All Souls Church; companion sessions are set for Tuesday and Wednesday in South and Central Berkshires.
"I hope people are going to come with ideas and just open this up and see where we're going to go from here," said the mayor.
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New Tourism Director Setting Priorities
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Veronica Bosley, former program coordinator for the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, was introduced as the city's new tourism director on Thursday night at an artist's discussion group at the Beaver Mill.
"We made our decision and we're sticking by it," joked Mayor Richard Alcombright, who with BCRC head Jonathan Secor and Develop North Adams Chairman Brian Miksic selected Bosley from a pool of about 30 candidates. "I think you're going to find her helpful to all of you, helpful in many ways; [she] will continue to drive events in this community and will really involve herself in the arts and culture community and also many other sectors of the community ... I think we need to grow in all sectors."
The town of Florida native is stepping into a post that's become a flashpoint as the city struggles to overcome a $1 million deficit after an override went down in defeat last month. A number of citizens, including a couple of city councilors, have advocated slashing the $51,000 tourism budget — or at least holding off on filling the post for another year.
But Bosley found a warm welcome at Eric Rudd's Beaver Mill as some 40 or so artists and residents lobbed ideas at her for expanding the city's marketing stance and luring more tourists and their dollars to the area.
Bosley said she was flattered to be selected. "It has been really exciting to see the challenges and changes that have happened over the years," said the 2006 Mount Holyoke College graduate. "I'm really hoping to harness that great energy and all of those good vibes and market North Adams for what it really is, which is a great place to live, a great place to own a business and a great place to come and visit."
She worked at Williams College's Sawyer Library for several years and writes a monthly column for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. Her experience includes organizing and coordinating a number of performances, conferences and dance festivals at Williams; marketing for the Berkshire Museum; managing and marketing the Berkshire Hill Internship Program, part of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts BCRC; and overseeing related websites and social media. She's also appeared in some local plays.
Bosley won't be on the payroll until after July 17 but the group had plenty of ideas to throw at her during the 90-minute discussion that covered topics ranging from passenger rail to artists housing to revamping the website.
Peter May, a local chiropractor, said he could name two dozen things the city could boast about but couldn't understand why it hasn't been "discovered."
"Any town in our economic situation would die for one of them never mind 24," he said. "It's completely dysfunctional that it hasn't happened."
The new tourism director's task will include cultural development and marketing, and building connections locally and statewide to find ways to let the wider world — and the towns next door — know what North Adams has to offer in terms of culture, recreation and natural beauty.
Bosley said the website is one of her priorities, but it's a project limited by the lack of funding. She and the mayor said it should reflect usable information for people visiting, or looking for jobs or to relocate. Attendees said it should have a list of events and suggested using it as a vehicle for "bragging" stories about some the interesting things going on and a place for photographers to display their images of city.
Along with the summer and fall event planning, she'll be working on setting benchmarks to measure progress.
"I imagine it would have to be some sort of combination of people and money spent here. ... which I'm hoping will indicate satisfaction," she said. "I think it's important for us to start keeping track of those things."
Alcombright said it's been difficult to measure the actual impact of tourism or events such as the Solid Sound Festival. "I think the information is there," said local potter Gail Sellers, who suggested retail operations begin tracking traffic and sales as she's been doing to provide Bosley with data. "It's just a matter of putting it in one place."
"Right now we have no baseline ... and we need to be able to measure this," said Miksic. "We need to be able to measure this, economically speaking, to the City Council next year."
Benchmarks may be critical to proving to the council — and skeptical residents — that the position should continue to be funded.
"I fought very hard to keep this in the budget, I think it's one of those positions that can help the community grow, bring revenue to the community and it's what we're shooting for," said Alcombright. Still, he cautioned that Bosley was working without clerical or other support and with a very low budget.
"I'm hoping, really hoping that people don't try dumping stuff that's already being taken care of because we have so many new things we have to do," said Rudd, turning to Bosley to say, "I think you're going to have to say no to some people."
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Taylor's Restaurant Changes Hands
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — An employee at Taylor's Steak and Seafood on Holden Street has purchased the restaurant and will make it his own in August.
Jared Decoteau has been working at the restaurant for the last two years, becoming good friends with owner Colleen Taylor. Decoteau had always wanted to run a restaurant, and when Taylor found herself and her brother and business partner Sean Taylor becoming increasingly busy with their own lives, what started as a casual conversation snowballed into a deal.
"It's a feel-good thing. It all unfolded well," Colleen Taylor, who also owns the Freight Yard Pub, said on Thursday. "It feels good and it feels right."
The transfer is pending the liquor license transfer that Decoteau expects in August. When that goes through, Taylor's will close down and Public Eat and Drink will open in the space.
"I was looking to start up a place and she was looking to unload one," Decoteau said. "It's going to be a little more casual. It'll be some smaller plates and sandwiches — a little on the lighter side."
Decoteau expects to go in front of the Planning Board on Monday for approval of his signs. He's already launched a Facebook page.
Public will feature "casual and inventive" dining with live entertainment and a late-night bar menu. Most of the current staff will be retained and the inside will be redecorated a bit, he said.
"I can't take over until the transfer is complete," Decoteau said. "There is a lot I'm still working out."
The new full-service restaurant will be open from 5 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. most days. It will be closed on Tuesday and on Sunday it will be open for brunch.
The Taylor siblings opened the restaurant in 2007, filling the vacant space that had been Gideon's. Colleen Taylor said the restaurant never went on the market because the owners had no intention to sell it immediately. And then the wheels started turning and the conversation became more serious.
"It was a good opportunity for both of us," Taylor said. "There was a seed that was planted. We weren't even looking to do that."
Decoteau said the two were casually discussing the exchange for about a year and the deal became serious. Now Decoteau will have a restaurant of his own and the Taylors get to sell the restaurant to a close friend.
"You always, someday, want to sell your restaurant," Colleen Taylor said. "We're going back to the Freight Yard Pub and square-one."
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City Gets $1M Community Block Grant
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Adams is getting $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds, some of which will go toward the Armory rehabilitation.
The grant was announced on Thursday by Gov. Deval Patrick's office. Some 41 cities and towns will receive $28 million in the federal funds for housing, development and public service projects.
The aged Armory is in the midst of a $5 million renovation to create space for community events and social services.
Part of the $1 million will be used for parking improvements at the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink and city's abandoned property program.
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Tourism Director Being Introduced This Week
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is expected to have a new tourism director named by Thursday.
Mayor Richard Alcombright confirmed on Tuesday that a selection had been made but some details were still being worked out before he felt comfortable in making a public announcement.
"I think everybody will be excited," he said. "I think we made a good choice."
The new director of tourism and community events will be introduced at a "First Thursday" discussion group with artists at the Beaver Mill. The monthly evening sessions have been held by Eric Rudd and other artists at the Beaver Mill for some time.
Alcombright said the timing for the session dovetailed with the expectation that a new director would be hired and resulted with Rudd's invitation to attend.
Area artists and the general public are invited as well. The talk will be held on the first floor of Frog Lotus Yoga Studio from 6:30 to 8; use the center front entrance. Light refreshments will be served.
Rudd's press release on the evening stated "This discussion will give the artist-community a chance to not only hear ideas from the new director, but also to hear ideas and concerns from the community."
The director's job has been vacant since the departure of Rod Bunt this past March. Some 30 or so applications were submitted and the finalists narrowed down to a handful.
The post itself has become controversial as the city struggled with a $1 million deficit. Last month, the City Council debated tossing out the entire tourism department (the director and some cash for events) before approving the budget in its entirety.
Some may have expected the job to be back on the chopping block after the defeat of a controversial $1.2 million override to fund the deficit but the mayor says he'll fight to keep the post.
"This will be in Plan B," he said. "I'm going to leave that in the budget ... I am standing by this."
The mayor sees the director's post as a revenue generator, one that will agressively market the city and seek out grants. The goal is for the new director to raise his or her own salary through grants or increases in revenue by luring tourists and new business to the city.
A salary of $34,186 has been budgeted but the total line item for the tourism department has been cut $10,000 from this year.
Alcombright said he planned to submit a revised 2012 budget on July 26. "We cut from the city and the school side $900,000 out of the initial document we came up with in March and April," he said. "The deficit is now about $477,000 ... We're working to get it down."
One bright spot is the recently passed state budget that holds out hope of restoring some $65 million in local aid cuts. That's dependent on how the state's books look; it could be October before municipalities get firm numbers.
"We could pick up a quarter of a million ... This could be a real shot in an arm," said the mayor.
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