Scarafoni Asks for Tax Deal on Transcript Building
Scarafoni Associates plans to purchase the Transcript property and renovate for use by the Brien Center.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council will be asked to approve a tax incentive that will allow the Brien Center to move into the North Adams Transcript building while keeping the building on the tax rolls for 10 years.
Scarafoni Associates plans to buy the 16,000 square-foot building on American Legion Drive and lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center. David Carver of Scarafoni Associates told the Finance Committee on Tuesday that the 10-year agreement may be critical to loosening up bank financing for the project.
"We think this TIF agreement is a big piece of making this work ... which will release probably $1 million in construction and repairs, something we need to see more of in the downtown," said Carver. "This type of project and this type of financing will make the numbers work for bankers."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the tax increment financing agreement would lock in the property's current assessment $767,000, guaranteeing property taxes of more than $20,000 annually for the next decade despite the Brien Center's status as a nonprofit.
Coldwell Banker lists the taxes as $21,197.
Chairman Michael Bloom noted the current unpredictability of the commercial market. "This is an amazing agreement."
That will provide the stability for both entities to make the project work, said Carver. "We are buying the building for less than the assessed value," he said. "So instead of petitioning for [the assessed value to be the] purchase price ... we have agreed as part of this process to lock in that current assessed value."
David Carver explains to the Finance Committee how the TIF agreement would work.
"I think it's a great solution for the city ... it retains the Brien Center in the city and the jobs and services they provide," said the mayor. If the Brien Center, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to some 10,000 people in Berkshire County, purchased the building, it would fall off the tax rolls completely.
TIFs once required job production but the state changed the law last year to take into account job retention.
The Brien Center, cited as the ninth-largest employer in the county recently by The Berkshire Eagle, employs 40 full-time and 20 part-time employees at its offices on Marshall Street. Catherine A. Doherty, chief executive officer, said the agency's lease on Marshall Street is up in August; moving to Ashland Street will allow the organization to stay in the downtown and not only retain programs but expand them.
"Once we our positioned into this new building we will be able to think about adding more programs," she said. "It's a building that speaks more to what we do."
She cited the property's easy access, single-story construction and spaciousness that will offer room for more programs for the 3,000 to 4,000 North County residents the agency serves. It will also provide space for the Adult Day Health Program, which will move from the former Department of Motor Vehicles building along with its 10 employees.
Alcombright said the city solicitor had reviewed the agreement. Carver's attorney, Elisabeth Goodman, on questions from the committee, said the agreement would remain in effect should the Brien Center purchase the property because it signing on to the deal. It could be broken, she said, if the Brien Center reneged on the lease.
The 45-year-old Transcript building was placed on the market nearly two years ago for nearly $1 million; it has sinced been reduced to $799,000. The presses were removed; printing and most of the support staff operate out of The Eagle in Pittsfield.
The city had eyed the property as a potential site for a new public safety building but its current fiscal problems have put that project on hold.
|Tags: Transcript, Scarafoni, Brien Center|
Councilor Asks For Solicitor's Opinion on Planning Board Authority
Councilor Marie Harpin questioned why relocating and new downtown businesses weren't going before the Planning Board. Councilor Michael Bloom, second from left, worried about micromanaging businesses and Coucilor David Lamarre, next to him, said the Planning Board should be concerned with standards, not matters of taste.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday referred questions about the purview of the Planning Board to the city solicitor.
The request was prompted by Councilor Marie Harpin, who expressed concern that downtown businesses were not being properly vetted by the Planning Board.
"The Planning Board doesn't just fall under the city ordinance; it has to comply with that state law," she said, referring to Chapter 41, Section 81 of the General Laws. "By not coming through the Planning Board, even if it's an existing business, it still has to through for the signage and parking and all those other issues."
Harpin pointed to the recent musical chairs on Main Street in which Shear Madness, I Got Goodies and Shima relocated to larger quarters, and to the reopening of a restaurant on Marshall Street as the barbecue joint RUB.
"I attend every Planning Board meeting and I haven't seen any of those people," she said.
(RUB, I've Got Goodies and Shima submitted letters to the Planning Board notifying the board of changes and two were approved for new signage; Shima kept its original sign.)
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the none of the businesses needed site plan review because they were a pre-existing conforming use.
"When you have an existing business that's basically moving two doors down to expand their business, they don't have to go before the Planning Board," he said. "I don't think we're outside the ordinance and I don't think we're breaking any laws here."
Councilor Michael Bloom, also a local business owner, said the board would not be out of the loop because any business would have to contact the building inspector, who would tell them the planning process.
While Harpin worried about broken rules, Bloom was concerned that the rules would be too tight.
"If we're going to micromanage, it's anti-business," he said. "If you want to have cookie-cutter signs that are all black and gold throughout the entire city, all one exact look, that's your opinion ... I think diversity will attract more people to the city."
Harpin, however, thought the proliferation of colorful nonstandard signs, like those at an Eagle Street pizza parlor, wasn't putting the city in the best light.
"So we become the city of the rainbow," she said. "We have to abide by the rules we set up, otherwise why have them?"
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she had had a long conversation with former Administrative Officer Jay Green shortly before his departure about site plan review and how the city's practices compared to those of other municipalities.
Blackmer said she was of the opinion that "we're actually lucky that someone didn't have the financial wherewithall to sue us in some cases because of some of the things we denied or hoops we made people jump through."
Harpin said planners had expressed their concerns to her.
As part of the agenda, Robert Cardimino spoke against the biomass plant being proposed across the border in Vermont, citing concerns over air and water pollution, logging and the effect of heavy traffic that will come with it. Alcombright agreed, noting up to 100 trucks a day are expected to arrive at the plant — most of which will come through the city.
The mayor said he has been in contact with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Williamstown officials and had sent a letter to the BRPC, which has been granted intervenor status, to be included in the consortium.
Cardimino asked the council to adopt a resolution against the plant; Harpin believed former councilor Gailanne Cariddi had started one before taking up her duties at state representative. Alcombright asked the council to keep him apprised of their decision on a resolution or letter "so we're working together on this."
In other business:
• A zoning change for 420 Curran Highway first sent to the city solicitor was referred to the Planning Board at the recommendation of the solicitor.
• The council approved the reappointment of Shaun Daugherty to the Airport Commission to a term to expire Feb. 1, 2014.
• An application by Terrance Brown to drive a taxi for Lori Smith was approved.
Edited on March 10, 2011, to clarify an opinion expressed by Councilor Blackmer is her own.
|Tags: Planning Board|
Community Meeting Set for Lift Ev'ry Voice
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — MCLA Gallery 51 is hosting a panel discussion and community meeting on Thursday, March 3, about the countywide Lift Ev'ry Voice summer arts festival.
Joining festival steering committee Chairmen Shirley Edgerton and Don Quinn Kelley will be Mayor Richard Alcombright.
The meeting starts at 6:30 at the Main Street gallery.
The monthlong festival will celebrate African-American history and culture both in the Berkshires and around the world. It will be held June 19 to July 2, and local cultural and civic organizations and businesses are encouraged to be part of it by planning appropriate programs.
Gov. Deval Patrick and first lady Diane Patrick of Richmond are the honorary co-chairmen. Many of Berkshire County's cultural and civic organizatinos will be programming events as part of Lift Ev'ry Voice, including Tanglewood, the Colonial Theatre, Barrington Stage Company, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Clark Art Institute, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and the Upper Housatonic Valley African-American Heritage Trail.
The festival kicks off with a Juneteenth celebration on June 19 and ends with Berkshire County's only traditionally African-American neighborhood festival, the Gather-in, on July 23 in Pittsfield. Other notable events include world premiere plays at both Berkshire Theatre Festival and Barrington Stage Company; Earth, Wind and Firehttp://www.earthwindandfire.com/'s 40th anniversary World Tour at Tanglewood, and a Youth Day at Mass MoCA.
Lift Ev'ry Voice founding partners include the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, the Women of Color Giving Circle, the City of Pittsfield, Upper Housatonic Heritage, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Women's Times.
For more information visit www.liftevryvoice.com.
|Tags: African-American, festival|
Winterfest Comes and Goes
Sarah Smith spoons up the winning lobster chowder her husband, Sandy Smith, made for Winterfest.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Hundreds roamed the downtown on Saturday looking for some good chowder.
More than a dozen restaurants and food service providers participated in this year's "Chowder Hop" with locations set up from Marshall to Eagle streets. There were no surprises this year; all the top chowders have won in the past. But surprisingly, there was little overlap of the judges' and People Choice selections.
This year's winner was Gramercy Bistro for its lobster chowder, the first time the restaurant's taken a title since it won People's Choice in 2009. The chowder had just the right flavor, consistency and appetizing look to make it the favorite of all three judges.
The judges — Mayor Richard Alcombright, City Councilor Lisa Blackmer and me, iBerkshires Managing Editor Tammy Daniels — were also impressed with the catfish chowder served up by Gramercy's new sister eatery RUB. Of course, they were both made by chef Alexander "Sandy" Smith.
Coming in second was The Hub, which took third last year, followed by North Adams Regional Hospital Dining Services. Both offered up creamy, traditional clam chowders with plenty of clams, potatoes and vegetables. The Hub's chowder was once again made by Matt Schilling and the NARH's by Jon Charbonneau, who last picked up a third in People's Choice in 2008.
We decided to give an honorable mention to Valerie Schwarz of the Berkshire Food Project for her spicy but not-too-over-the-top corn and clam chowder. Schwarz and kitchen manager Adam Quimby were having their own little competition by serving up two varieties at First Congregational Church. Sorry Adam, yours was good but we liked Valerie's better.
The People's Choice winners couldn't be more different: Gringo's got the most votes, a real coup for David Nicholas who reopened the Tex-Mex eatery in Adams this past fall as Gringo's Firehouse Cafe.
More pictures here.
Perennial favorite Boston Sea Foods took second and Aramark Services of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts was third.
Voting was done by ballot; ballots and maps were available at each location. They could be dropped off on Holden Street, where NARH and Red Herring were set up with the SteepleCats and Boy Scout booths.
"People were really taking time to make out their ballots and drop them off," said the city's tourism director Rod Bunt. "We had a decent amount of votes."
"It was a pretty nice spread," he said of the results of the 222 ballots that were submitted. "Other people got respectable votes, too."
Garnering enough votes for honorable mentions were Petrino's, Big Shirl's and NARH. Petrino's Cafe ran out early, but it was the easiest to find: Mark Petrino set up a table right on the sidewalk outside the cafe.
"If I could predict a nice day, I'd say for everybody get out on the street," said Bunt.
It was a nice day, compared to the some we've had this winter. Similar to last year, a severe storm swept into the region on Friday but left in time for Saturday's event, with exception of a few snowflakes for effect.
Last year, the event was moved to Main Street from St. Elizabeth's (St. Anthony's) Parish Center to encourage more outdoor activities and downtown traffic.
Dozens were lined up during the afternoon for a horse and carriage ride around Main Street; stores and eateries were offering specials, there were places to get hot cider and chocolate and, if you were sick of chowder, Girl Scout cookies and ice cream.
Ice blocks were carved into flowers and squirrels and people and First Congregational Church offered a guided tour of its beautiful stained-glass windows.
A list of all the activities and restaurants can be found here.
Bisque, Beads & Beyond Looking At McClelland's Storefront
Bisque, Beads & Beyond owner Donna Rivers at the grand opening of her Pittsfield location. Rivers may host another ribbon-cutting ceremony as she now looks to open a second storefront on Main Street in North Adams.
McClelland's Office Supply closed up its Main Street location last week after 28 years.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The empty space of McClelland's Office Supply has barely had the chance to get cold before a prospective replacement was found.
Pittsfield-based arts and crafts store Bisque, Beads and Beyond will look at the Main Street location as a possible second storefront. The company already has a store on North Street in Pittsfield but according to owner Donna Rivers, more than 30 percent of her business comes from the north.
"I've been looking at North County for five years," Rivers said on Friday. "We wouldn't be moving. This location is working well for me so we'd be opening a second store."
Rivers said she was approached by city councilors about the 85 Main St. location after the office supply store decided to close. Rivers expects to look at the site next week with David Bond, who does commercial leasing for the building's owner, Scarafoni Associates. Bond is also a city councilor.
"I think this is the type of business we need downtown," Bond said on Monday. "My goal is by the end of the year to fill all the empty spots downtown."
The crafts store had come close to a downtown location before but the deals always fell through, she said. The business requires a lot of space to accommodate its materials and many workshops at a reasonable price and McClelland's may be just right. The space previously was Apothecary Hall, once renowned for its mocha sundaes.
"I've looked a couple times under the previous administration but I couldn't put it together," Rivers said. "It's definitely a possibility. If I don't do it now, I don't know when there will be another chance."
According to Bond, the McClelland's building is 3,000 square feet - right in the range Rivers is hoping for. If Rivers likes the location, the two will negotiate a rental price, Bond said.
"We're willing to work with anyone to make the numbers work," Bond said. "We'll have an honest discussion about what the business can afford for rent and we'll set up a rent structure that would work."
Rivers said city councilors have been helpful in ushering in the possible expansion and told her the business would fit well with the city's long-term plans.
"We'd be a really good mix up there," Rivers said.
Bond said the craft store fits because it is unique, is not a competitor with the "big box stores" and brings the creative element that the city is trying to embrace.
McClelland's announced it was closing in early January, after 28 years at several locations on Main Street, and was liquidating its merchandise.
Shortly after Bond met Rivers through common friends and found out she wanted a North County location.
On Wednesday, the McClelland's lettering over the windows was scraped off. The store sold greeting cards, gifts and limited stationery and office supplies. Its store on Spring Street in Williamstown closed last year after more than 80 years in business.
Rivers opened her North Street location last July. The store offers workshops in ceramics, beading and other crafts to all ages.
Edited with more information on Feb. 26, 2011, at 2:30 p.m.
Edited with quotes from David Bond on Feb. 28, 2011 at 3:49 p.m.
|Tags: Main Street, North Adams, Bisque Beads and Beyond, McClelland's|