Local, State Officials Promote Forward Bill at Berkshire Innovation Center
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local and state officials are urging the passage of the Future Opportunities for Resiliency, Workforce, and Revitalized Downtowns, or FORWaRD, bill that is expected to bring nearly $12 million to the city.
"It is essential and urgent that the Forward Act is passed so that we can get going on the shovel-ready projects that we have right in front of us," Mayor Linda Tyer said during a promotional event at the Berkshire Innovation Center on Thursday with state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealy.
The Baker-Polito administration filed the $3.5 billion act in April of last year to support the state's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes $1.256 billion in capital authorization organized around housing, innovation, and communities and $2.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
Pittsfield has been earmarked for $11,963,130. Funded projects include $50,000 for standards development for harmful algal blooms, $632,130 in downtown recovery grants, $5 million for the removal of the Bel-Air dam, and more than $6.2 million for Site 9 redevelopment with $1,100,000 through the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and $5,181,000 through the William Stanley Business Park.
The state's investment in the abandoned General Electric site was highlighted at the event.
"We have some very hard questions to ask ourselves about what kind of economy do we want to have and what will it take to get there," Kennealy said. "And I bet a lot of us would say we want to have an economy that will accomplish two things: it's going to be competitive and it's going to be equitable."
To accomplish these objectives, he said the state needs to solve its housing crisis that has lasted for an entire generation, get people back to work in promising careers, promote the innovation economy, invest in the community, and support small businesses.
"And here we are today with big ideas about how to bring our economy forward and some knowledge of what we need to do and I'd say now in Massachusetts we've never had more of three important things: collaboration needs and money," Kennealy argued about post-pandemic Massachusetts.
He reported that there was $455 million in applications for key community programs this year and the state was only able to fund $115 million. Without this bill, Kennealy said the remaining $340 million in valuable projects would not be funded.
PEDA Vice President Pam Green pointed to the success of the BIC and said Site 9 is holding the quasi-public agency back.
"It's a huge site. It is 16 and a half acres, it has 18 different foundations, it has 31 feet in elevation changes. It's an overwhelming project for any one developer to take over. We've tried really hard for a very long time to find that magical unicorn of a developer to come in who wants to take it and run with it and it just hasn't happened. That's not the way that economic development works these days," she said.
"The way it works is through a team effort, which is what we're doing now. Through collaboration, through multiple efforts, we've come up with a plan that will take that scar which is that reminder of the wonderful past, and transform it into a beautiful future."
Green said there will be a "wonderful beautiful space" revitalized between East Street and Tyler Street that will make people proud of where they live and work.
Site 9 received an $880,000 Site Readiness Program grant from the state's Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development last year to fund the cost to complete a design, an environmental permit, and bid-ready documents for the construction of an internal site roadway, utilities, and stormwater facilities.
Managing Director of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Rebecca Brien said the bill will help the city support and address the unique challenges in the downtown, create a look and vibe that honors its history and capitalizes on the creativity of cultural diversity.
"Our downtown community remained resilient, adapting their businesses despite the changes that were going on, we now see how their dedication has created a new look and feel for the district. We were thankful for our mainstay retailers who every day continue to support the economy during the pandemic. We watched as our restaurants bustled as they reopened and even some have expanded in the meantime. We celebrated the return of our festivals or events and gatherings that have created a new vibrancy to downtown Pittsfield," she explained.
"And we are now happy to see new businesses being welcomed into the fold but our continued redevelopment and growth is dependent on the funding to make significant investments to attract and support small businesses and entrepreneurs that have blossomed during this time of strife."
State Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Douglas Rice pointed out that the legislation allocates $1.2 billion for energy and environmental initiatives.
He explained that it is important for the city to have proper resources to address algal blooms in its lakes and waterways and that removing the abandoned Bel-Air dam will make that area safer for the public while eradicating potential climate change concerns.
"The FORWARD act not only invests in Pittsfield but in every Massachusetts city and town, strengthening state infrastructure and creating jobs by providing $230 million to address our state parks system and associated infrastructure such as trails and campground expansions, $60 million for water and sewer projects that address combined sewer overflows and lead service line separation projects, and $750 million in our clean energy sector," he said.
"Significantly, critical funds will be utilized to advance the administration's efforts in achieving the Commonwealth's emissions goals, including net-zero by 2050."
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