Great Barrington Residents, Businesses Concerned About ReconstructionGREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — More than 100 people gathered at the Claire Teague Senior Center for a special Selectmen's meeting to discuss the latest plans for the Main Street reconstruction project.
The $4.2 million project, which could begin in 2013, is approaching the end of its 25 percent design phase. According to project director Jon Dietrich of Fuss & O’Neill, the West Springfield consulting firm for the reconstruction, once the state Department of Transportation has accepted the preliminary design, there will be a public forum that could happen as early as January.
Marvin Lieberman, owner of Great Barrington Bagel Co., expressed concern that the project could threaten tourism.
In fact, business was the primary concern among those residents and business owners in attendance. Marvin Lieberman, owner of Great Barrington Bagel Co., said the proposed project is a major cause for concern because it could threaten the town’s tourist-based economy.
“We are a tourist economy and we need the tourist economy to be successful,” he said. “This could really damage that.”
Other business owners and residents echoed Lieberman’s concerns. Resident David Lewis said more should be done to estimate the economic cost to the town before the project is finalized.
“What is the negative economic impact going to be on this community?” he asked. “How much lost revenue will there be? Great Barrington survived this economic recession and this could be a huge road block. How do you even qualify this?”
Barton Raser, owner of Carr Hardware on Main Street, while not able to answer these questions directly, did present some alarming statistics from two of the five other Carr Hardware locations; one in North Adams and the other in Watervliet, N.Y.
“We have two stores in towns which have undergone street renovations and construction,” he said. “In Watervliet we had 95,000 customers a year before the street reconstruction. Now, we have 40,000. Even though the construction is done, we’ve had a 40 percent drop in sales and we’ve yet to see any bounce back. In North Adams, where there is the bridge project happening, we’ve had a 22 percent drop in year one and a 20 percent drop in year two.”
In addition to the drop in sales, Raser also cited job loss as a consequence of construction projects in the two towns, saying that in Watervliet, the store reduced its staff from 15 to 4.5 and in North Adams from 8.5 to 5 jobs.
“What we’ve learned, despite everyone’s best intentions, is that a project like this has to be minimally invasive, otherwise the customers won’t come back because it’s not convenient,” he said. “We’ve got a good thing going here. This project could jeopardize that.”
Selectwoman Deb Phillips said minimal cosmetic fixes would not be beneficial to anyone.
“We need to fix the sidewalks because they’re dangerous. The roads need to be resurfaced. It’s not about simply fixing the sidewalks or simply milling the road,” she said. “We have the opportunity to do something that needs to be done. Different people in this room have different priorities.”
The town’s top priority, said longtime resident Nick Stanton, should be livability, not quicker through-traffic.
“Traffic efficiency at the expense of livability is not going to be acceptable,” he said. “Our decisions should be based on three categories; imperative, important and optional.”
For more information on the Main Street reconstruction visit www.townofgb.org.