Stephen Stenson and Heather Cachat, left, give the board an update on the new plans for the Mausert Block.
ADAMS, Mass. — The owner of the Mausert Block is assuring the Selectmen that there's progress being made at the former Woolworth building across from Town Hall.
Stephen Stenson provided the board with a project update on Wednesday after remarks were made at a past meeting about the slow pace of work over the last six years.
He said the renovation of 10 apartments in the upper floors are nearing completion and there are plans for a shared restaurant and kitchen space as well as wellness collaborative on the first floor.
"This is not the end but the beginning of the end and I think we are moving forward and wrapping up the apartments," Stenson said. "We are going back to reinvest more money into the restaurant area and we hope that is the first step in developing these ideas."
Tensions flared during a May board meeting when Selectman Joseph Nowak aired his grievances about the lack of progress on the empty building since Stenson purchased it in 2011.
"I say if he wanted to be in the fabric of our community he should do something over there instead of just doing it in little waves," Nowak said at the time. "People walk by there and they don't even think anything about it they see it as a vacant building and it always is going to be a vacant building."
The Stensons purchased the structure as Braytonville LLC for $60,000 and are developing it through their real estate management firm REDPM, which stands for real estate development property management. Exterior work on the 1920 brick structure was largely completed in 2013. REDPM matched a $125,000 federal grant the town received in 2011 to overhaul the exterior and storefronts and the got a $700,000 MassDevelopment in 2014 for interior work.
However, work has been slow and last fall REDPM finally got to the point it was able to open an office on the first-floor. The apartments had been gutted for renovation but were largely put back together except for finish work and installing kitchens and baths.
Stenson in the past has pointed to "regulatory" difficulties and financing as holding up the project for several years.
The board had invited Stenson to a meeting to provide an update and a new vision for the building.
Rather than the restaurants that had been advertised for years as "coming soon" on the first floor, Stenson said updated plans are to install a shared commercial kitchen facility in the historic building
"There is no commercial kitchen in the Northern Berkshires. The closest one is in Greenfield," he said. "We are talking to individual people and culinary artists. They can have access to a commercial kitchen and they can provide their services to North County."
The second piece of the collaborative space would be a shared restaurant.
"Instead of just relying on the services of the kitchen, we are actually allowing people to open up restaurants, pop-up restaurants, open up for an event, just a weekend, open for a festival," he said. "So there is a range of things."
He said there is the potential for outdoor seating along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in the back of the building and the new street-side windows can all open to bring new life to Park Street
Heather Cachat, a small-business owner who had been involved with downtown efforts, said this would be the first step in creating a food innovation district in downtown Adams.
"Its purpose is to connect and promote food and agricultural activity in the area," she said. "We have a lot of farms but we need to connect them all together and promote them ... we want to support and develop the business community."
There would be an effort within the community to use local produce, Cachat said, and instead of trucking food across the country, the food district would look to connect local farmers to businesses, schools, organizations, and the community at large.
She said this district could put Adams on the map and not only create jobs but attract tourism.
"Right now the Berkshires are trying to brand themselves and each town is trying to brand themselves," she said. "North Adams and other towns are cultural art destinations and people are driving through Adams every day ... Adams could be a destination for diverse cultural food."
Stenson also introduced local yoga and meditation instructor Howard Rosenberg to present the third piece of the Mausert Block vision and he said the plan is to open a collaborative wellness area.
"Most people know what it takes to be healthy ... but how many people actually do it," Rosenberg asked rhetorically. "So the idea is to create social groups of five to 10 people and have them meet in groups and expose them to the wellness practices in the area, which there is no shortage of."
He added with the kitchen, they can also help train people how to cook more nutritiously.
Stenson said he is in the process of applying for a MassDevelopment co-working grant but could not disclose how much he has applied for. He said the grant would be awarded in the fall.
He did ask for a letter of support from the town, which Selectmen obliged.
But Nowak also read from myriad articles about the Mausert Block, quoting Stenson and noting project deadlines that were missed.
"It's hard for me to sit here seeing the building the way it has been for a long time and feeling confident that this is going to happen," he said. "Personally I think you have been holding this town hostage because that is a premier building ... and very little has been done since your ownership. I wish you well but I also wish your word would equate to something over there."
Stenson said he did not feel it was the place to dig up the past and preferred to look forward.
"We have been working on this for a long time and we have been dedicated to the building and have been invested in this building," he said. "What we are talking about is the future of the building and we can keep looking to the past and have a post-mortem but I don't think this is dead yet. It is not the time for post mortem."
Chairwoman Christine Hoyt stopped the exchange and although she shared Nowak's frustration, she said it is time to look ahead.
"Stephen has opened the door to have more conversations with our board," Hoyt said. "He has invited us in and there are some things that are going to be happening then we can go on and have further discussions. I understand the frustration but we are trying to move on and I think this has been a really nice update."
Stenson did extend an invitation to the board to see the apartments when they were complete and the Selectmen agreed they were looking forward to the tour.
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Pending its blessings, the articles will then move to annual town meeting for final approval. The board passed on all 28 articles unamended but some came under brief scrutiny, mostly for clarification purposes.
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Gary Munson went 2-for-3 with a triple, and the Adams Aces exploded for nine runs in the third inning en route to a 12-2, five-inning win over the Berkshire Thunder to capture the Berkshire Adult Baseball League 35-and-over division championship on Thursday night. click for more