North Adams Setting Out Future Goals
A range of city residents — from natives to newcomers — participated in Monday's master planning process at All Saints Episcopal Church.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Some 40 residents came together on Monday night to brainstorm priorities and set goals to transform the former mill city into a modern, forward-thinking community.
Among the priorities identified were capitalizing on the city's history and natural resources; sustaining and encouraging the local arts community; updating the city's 50-year-old zoning; reviving the Hoosic River; supporing local agriculture and community gardens; making the city more accessible and pedestrian friendly; improving signage; promoting healthy lifestyles and preserving the hospital; changing its mill-town attitude; pursuing green ideas and technology; and holding landlords and property owners accountable for blight.
Participants discussed the city's needs then broke into groups to determine priorities in categories ranging from health to natural resources to energy.
It's the first time in decades that North Adams has developed a long-range blueprint; it will be used to guide the city over the next 20 to 30 years. And this time, it's taking into consideration a far wider variety of resources and more progressive goals.
"I think people know this planning process was a passion of mine as I came into office and even beforehand," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who participated in the visioning session along with City Councilors Keith Bona, David Lamarre and Lisa Blackmer, among others. "It's been 40-plus years since the city had a formal document that kind cast it's future out there. ...
"I think this is really important and I'm really glad we have such a great representation here tonight."
The master planning process is being done in conjunction with Sustainable Berkshires, an updated countywide plan being led by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Over the next three years, the city and Great Barrington will follow closely the county plan's timeline and "piggyback" on its workshops.
"There is a better turnout here than for the entire region workshop, which is great," said BRPC senior planner Amy Kacala, who facilitated the meeting. "It speaks well for the city and how much interest there is behind this effort."
She said there is some truth to the saying that plans just gather dust but they can be effective if used.
"If everyone is aware what's in it and wants to see the things implemented that are in the plan, there's more support and momentum behind it to make sure things happen," said Kacala.
The planning started last year with the appointment of a steering committee representing a broad range of interests and built on a once-dormant Community Development Advisory Group. While the plan will be three years in the making, implementation of certain elements could begin as early as next year.
Several questioned the absence of education in the visioning process. Kacala said improvements in standardized scores and other benchmarks had lowered education as a priority but a number of participants said that education connected many of the goals and should be included.
While the groups mostly outlined broad goals, there were several specifics mentioned. For instance, Phil Sellers, a local potter and community activist, said his group thought the development of an artists' district and incentives for artists to buy homes here would spur growth.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, a believer in the planning process, sat in on the visioning session.
Michael Bedford, who attended last week's county session, said residents should think twice before sending money out of the city through big-box stores and national chains. "We need to feed our local enterprises with local money," he said.
Alcombright said a few things on the priority list are getting close: the city's just a couple steps away from being designated a state Green Community and a couple years away from having the most solar power per capita in the state. "We're working on those contracts right now," said the mayor.
But the city won't reach its goals overnight. "I think we got a strong start ... we need to know that the public sector moves very, very slowly," he said.
Residents will have more chances to comment as the process continues; information will be added to the city's website.
Steering Committee: Lisa Bassi, Jonathan Secor, John Greenbush, Donald Pecor, Steve Green, Joanne DeRose, Brian Miksic, Michael Nuvallie, Paul Hopkins, Alan Marden, Glenn Maloney, Michael Boland, Judith Grinnell, David Willette and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
North Adams Planning Priorities 2011
|Tags: master plan|
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.
Transcript Building Sale Gets Final OK
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Redevelopment Authority on Monday night swiftly approved the relocation of the Brien Center to the building now occupied by the North Adams Transcript at 124 American Legion Drive.
The three-man board has jurisdiction over a group of properties on the south side of Main Street including the former Kmart property.
The board had expected to meet on May 9 prior to the Planning Board but did not have a quorum.
The approval was a bit pro forma — the City Council has already approved a tax incentive agreement for Scarafoni Associates, which will purchase the property and invest $1 million into it and then lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center. The TIF requires the property to stay on the tax rolls for the next decade, netting about $21,000 a year for the city.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he'd spoken with Brien Center's Executive Director Catherine A. Doherty months ago on how to keep the center's services in the city once its lease ran out on the Marshall Street building it currently occupies.
"We worked very hard together to make sure the Brien Center stayed in the city of North Adams because it provides a very important service for many clients in the community, and also that we were able to maintain them here because of the jobs that they provide," said the mayor.
The center employs 60 to 65 people full and part time; added to that will be the 10-member staff of the Adult Day Center, which will also move into the 16,000-square-foot Transcript building.
The deal maintains the building, the jobs in the downtown and ensures the city a quarter of a million dollars in tax revenue over the next decade, the mayor said.
Authority Chairman Paul Hopkins asked David Carver of Scarafoni Associates if the Transcript was expected to stay in the downtown area. Carver said yes and that he had approached the newspaper's management about what they would need for space when the building went up for sale two years ago.
Alcombright said having staff from the 170-year-old newspaper on Main Street was a good thing. "I think to have a daily in a community this size sends a strong message about who we are," said the mayor, comparing the paper to the hospital, college and airport.
"They understand the importance of that history so they are focusing on one of the spots on Main Street," said Carver.
Signage is the responsibility of the Brien Center and will be provided at a later date. Carver said he expected it would be similar to the logo used at its other locations.
The City Council actually approved the TIF agreement twice after MassDevelopment suggested minor changes to the language. The council also OK'd an application to designate the Transcript property as part of a economic opportunity area for the next 20 years to allow Scarafoni to apply for state incentives.
The TIF, MassDevelopment application and related documents can be found below.
|Tags: Transcript, Scarafoni, Brien Center|
Carr Hardware Eyeing Scarafoni Ford Lot
Carr Hardware is hoping to move into the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Carr Hardware is planning to relocate from its space on State Street to the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road and Roberts Drive.
Carr President Bart Raser said on Friday that a lease has not yet been settled with landlord Scarafoni & Associates but believed a deal was close. "We're feeling positive about the opportunity but it isn't done yet."
The company will appear before the Planning Board on Monday to apply for a change-of-use permit for the State Road property.
Carr Hardware has operated out of the former Tucker Toy building for 14 years, after purchasing the 192 State St. building from what was then International Outlets in 1997.
The car lot has had a couple different dealerships, the latest being Carbone Ford, which moved to a new building in Bennington, Vt., last fall to be near Carbone's other dealerships.
According to documents on file in the city's Community Development Office, Carr will have a full-service hardware, paint, lawn and garden and rental facility in the 10,000-square-foot building.
No significant changes to the color, existing footprint or parking are planned but the garage doors will be replaced on the former automotive service area.
Details of how the store would be laid out inside.
Raser said the offerings will be similar to the Pittsfield store; the company also has locations in Great Barrington and Watervliet, N.Y.
"This will be a real full-line operation," he said. "The Curran Highway store has been very limited to paint and rental."
Carr has also formed a relationship with Agway to sell its products in the new store. The last Agway in the area closed in Williamstown in 2009 after 45 years in business.
"It will be a green goods business, with flowers and plants and pets and birds supplies, which Agway is known for," said Raser.
The State Street location has had a significant drop in revenue since work began on the Hadley Overpass in 2009, to the point that it incurred the ire of the Planning Board when it was painted a bright yellow to garner attention. The Route 2 location will make the store easily accessible to customers from both Williamstown and North Adams.
"It's a great location and allows to do what we're very good at doing," said Raser. "We do a lot of commercial business that comes from our Pittsfield store. We know our North County customers will be happy with this.
"We've been trying to do this for a while. We have to move or close."
|Tags: Carr, Scarafoni|
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|