NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The year 2018 saw a new government for North Adams and significant projects completed or waiting on the horizon. It also was a year of farewells and, in some cases, the passing of the baton to the next generation.
For only the third time in 34 years, the city swore in a new mayor in Thomas Bernard on Jan. 1. The city native and Drury High graduate promised a tenure into the "exciting and uncertain wilderness of possibility" as North Adams ventured into new era. The new mayor almost immediately began pushing through efforts such as a marijuana ordinance that had been lingering for some time and followed up over the year in supporting an initiative looking at domestic violence, the consolidation of the School Department into City Hall, a further expansion of the veterans' office, and the first steps in reviewing the city's ordinances, including the potential restructuring of public safety.
It hasn't all been smooth sailing as the new City Council has been flexing its own legislative muscle. Only one councilor has served with all three past mayors — Council President Keith Bona — while the average tenure for the other eight is barely three years. Four new councilors were sworn in on Jan. 1 — Rebbecca Cohen, Marie T. Harpin, Paul Hopkins and Jason LaForest — to join returning incumbents Eric Buddington, Benjamin Lamb, Joshua Moran and Wayne Wilkinson.
The North Adams Ambulance Service has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past few years, extending its coverage into parts of Southern Vermont. It added on again to its coverage area by merging with Village Ambulance in Williamstown to create Northern Berkshire EMS in time for the service's 40th anniversary.
A second collaborative, the North Berkshire Academy, grew out of talks with the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District to provide a better option for special education students than out-of-district placements. The academy opened in March in the Armory with an appearance by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
The city's seen some new energy in recent years that in 2018 resulted in the NAMAzing Eagle Street Initiative, largely led by Lamb and Director of Tourism and Community Events Suzy Helme. The collaboration between the city and the merchants and residents of the historic byway raised more than $35,000 through Patronicity for business development, revamping an existing park and adding artwork, signage, trash containers and a portable parklet.
The seasonal parklet, built by B&B Micro Manufacturing, was perhaps the biggest hit because it created a gathering space that soon became popular for Friday morning coffee get-togethers. Businesses on the street also got a $15,000 economic development grant to provide them with some technical assistance.
The city began under the Richard Alcombright administration to divest itself of properties that no longer had, or ever had, municipal purpose. While the future of the Windsor Mill is still up in the air, Cumberland Farms has been approved for a new convenience store at the site of the former City Yard. The company is expected to close on the property in the early part of 2019.
The City Council also authorized a sale of the former Notre Dame Church property on East Main Street to a group planning an $18.5 million renovation of the complex into a hotel and the salt shed property on Ashland Street to B&B Micro Manufacturing.
The growth in hospitality projects, including two other hotels in Williamstown, led the developers of Greylock Works to switch gears from a planned hotel to all condominiums in the next phase of work at the $16 million project. The mill developers also were able to get an ordinance change to allow a distillery to function there, the first of what it hopes will be a number of artisan food producers at the site.
Perhaps the biggest success so far in transforming an old mill has been the Norad Mill on Roberts Drive. Purchased by Moresi & Associates in early 2017 from Excelsior Printing, the 100,000 square foot mill rapidly filled up with a broad assortment of small retail and manufacturing concerns. Just this year alone, a yarn production company, yarn retailer, wine tasting room, record company, computer repair business, fitness center, dance studio and opened in or relocated to the mill.
The West End also saw the opening of the Trail House Kitchen & Bar by local restaurateurs and Freight Yard Pub owners Sean Taylor and Colleen Taylor and the successful relocation of Brewhaha into the former West End Market.
Less than successful was a brief encounter with entrepreneur David York, who came to the city with plans for a Museum of Dog and two eateries. The Fall Foliage Festival picked up the theme, declaring 2018 the Year of the Dog for the annual parade, but after gaining national coverage the museum folded in less than a year and the one cafe that opened shuttered in a matter of months. York put the closure down to a lack of space and parking for events and sold the former Quinn's building at a loss. The museum's gone "mobile," according to the website.
And, nearly 100 years after it was established, the Wigwam on the Western Summit of the Mohawk Trail is seeing a rebirth. The tourist stop is getting a makeover as a coffee and snack bar and gift shop, some of the old cabins have been restored and modernized and yurts are in the planning stages.
More outdoor recreation is in the offing for residents with the opening this year of the UNO Community Park at the bottom of Houghton Street and a second park being constructed on the western corner. The collaboration between UNO, the city, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and John "Jack" Wadsworth and his wife, Susy, owners of the Porches, has revitalized the somewhat rundown corner of the city into a welcoming center for visitors and residents alike.
The city also moved ahead with construction of a splash pad and revamped basketball courts at the Noel Field Athletic Complex, part of a larger plant to update the park that includes the skate park installed a couple years ago, and a Born Learning Trial, sponsored by the Northern Berkshire United Way, was placed near the Child Care of the Berkshires leading to the park.
The mile-long section of the Mohawk Bike Path from about Galvin Road through Harriman & West Airport is moving forward despite protests from residents along the route.
The North Adams Airport Commission was embroiled in controversy early in the year when it leased hangar space to a notorious convicted rapist to run a skydiving school. The commission had put off the decision for months, with Alex Kelly, the so-called "preppy rapist," accusing it of trying to deny him access. The commission said it was reviewing lease agreements. Its approval lead Turboprop owner Harry S. Patten Jr. to pull the $200,000 he'd pledged toward the construction of an administrative building.
The commission did move ahead with the development of an administrative building. The former medical building on airport land was donated to the city Berkshire Health Systems and will be relocated and renovated next year.
A second controversy embroiled the Public Arts Commission when the mayor attempted to rewrite its authorizing ordinance to bring it into line with the city's charter, which directs the executive officer to sign off on certain contracts. Members of the commission and arts community objected that it would put too much power over artistic expression in the hands of the mayor — power that the commission had been designed to blunt.
The council's General Government Committee, in consultation with the Public Arts Commission, came up with what they believed was a fair compromise but the chairwoman of the PAC quit in protest and the matter was continued into the new year.
But what seemed a surge in violent crime over the past couple years turned out to be an error in coding. The Police Department began a review of its computerized reporting to the FBI after being described as the most dangerous community in the commonwealth for two years. It found misdemeanor assaults were being reported as felonies, which increased the number of violent assaults being reported.
The department will also see other changes, including removing itself from Civil Service to increase the number of officer applicants and shifting back to police chief structure. The City Council at its last meeting approved restoring the titles of police and fire chief, a shift from the city's nearly 40-year-old public safety commissioner structure. It rejected, however, the placement of the police chief on the compensation plan to rather negotiate the salary.
Judith Grinnell spent a decade convincing elected officials and community members that a restored Hoosic River was safe and doable. This month, she handed off her "baby" to a new generation of leaders who she believes can take it to the next phase.
And the late Gailanne Cariddi continued to shower the city with blessings. The state representative left a bequest of $420,000 to organizations in North Adams, including another $175,000 to the public library and $210,000 toward maintenance of the Mohawk Bike Path, more informally known as the Cariddi Mile.
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State Declares 'Green Friday' in Support of Local Xmas Tree Farms
UXBRIDGE, Mass. — The Baker-Polito administration has declared Friday, Nov. 27, as "Green Friday" to encourage people across the commonwealth to visit their local farms and nurseries for Christmas trees, holiday plants, and holiday decorating needs.
To celebrate, state Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux participated in a Christmas tree-cutting ceremony at Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge. In an effort to support the commonwealth's Christmas tree industry, the declaration of Green Friday encourages people throughout the state to visit their local Christmas tree farms to purchase their trees, holiday plants, ornamental swags, and wreaths to fulfill their holiday decorating needs.
"Our administration believes in the importance of supporting our farms by shopping locally and purchasing holiday decorations from one of the commonwealth's many family-operated Christmas tree farms," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "Now more than ever, it is a great time to spend quality time with your family while partaking in this outdoor activity which allows for proper social distancing."
Christmas tree season in Massachusetts provides hundreds of seasonal jobs at approximately 264 Christmas tree farms on approximately 2,801 acres of land from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. The sale of more than 82,524 state-grown Christmas trees contributes approximately $3.5 million to the commonwealth's economy each year. Christmas tree farms, which are often sited on soils that cannot support other crops, stabilize soil, which helps prevent erosion and protect water supplies. When chipped, the trees can be used as a renewable source of energy to be burned as fuel, used as mulch, or composted.
The mayor's remarks were largely to remind residents of the virtual tree-lighting ceremony being broadcast on Northern Berkshire Community Television starting at 6 p.m., that City Hall offices will be closed Thursday and Friday and as will the transfer station.
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The hashtag "GetBackMass" is part of the latest public awareness campaign launched by the commonwealth. The focus of television and digital advertising will be to promote the idea that "normal" activities can only resume after the threat of the novel coronavirus has subsided.
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