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Pittsfield To Consider Further Support For Innovation Center

Pittsfield Economic Development Authority

The Pittsfield City Council will consider tonight whether to designate a quarter-million dollars to help fund start-up costs for the Berkshire Innovation Center.Mayor Dan Bianchi is proposing the city use $250,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to support the launch of a nonprofit that will manage the Berkshire Innovation Center. The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, or PEDA, is the quasi-public agency in charge of redeveloping the William Stanley Business Park. In May, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center awarded PEDA $9.7 million for a life science innovation center. It’s part of a $1 billion state initiative to invest in the industry that began in 2008. Cory Thurston is PEDA’s executive director.

“So that they can hire staff, we can get organized, we can begin to do programming in anticipation, we can plan for the equipment that’s necessary for the building once the building is about ready for occupancy, plan the educational programming that will be part of this facility,” Thurston explained. “So that hopefully on day one, we open the doors and activity and revenue streams begin immediately.”

Thurston says PEDA will also provide $250,000 to fund the nonprofit which could consist of up to 21 board members representing those organizations using the center. Although she said she is unable to speak for her fellow councilors, Pittsfield City Council President Melissa Mazzeo says this would be one of the wisest uses of city money.

“But I feel that if we’re all on the same page and we really look at this…I think to me it’s a no brainer,” said Mazzeo.

The state’s capital grant will fund building design, construction and equipment costs for the proposed 20,000-square-foot Berkshire Innovation Center at the 52-acre former GE site. But the timetable on the release of the money is uncertain, so city officials and PEDA consultants have identified a need for bridge financing to get the project rolling. Thurston says the state has ensured PEDA construction work will be fully reimbursed and some money will be available this fiscal year.

“We may have to bridge financing some of that construction cost just based on the time lag so that we can pay contractors on time and they don’t have to wait for the reimbursement process,” Thurston said. “So we may need a little bit of cash flow management or bond anticipation notes, but those will be easy because we’ve got the state pledge.”

Once opened, the economically self-sustaining center is expected to serve as an incubator for companies in the research and development stages. Before the state grant was announced in May, Pittsfield-based Nuclea Biotechnologies dropped plans to lease space at the innovation center, interested in a larger work area via a faster timeline citing the company’s expansion over the past year and a half. Construction of the Berkshire Innovation Center could begin by this spring setting up a potential opening date of summer 2016. PEDA has secured membership commitments from 19 private sector companies and five institutions including regional players like General Dynamics, Berkshire Community College [BCC] and SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany.

“BCC is going to be managing a very large portion of our educational focus at that center with clean room training programming and the like,” Thurston said. “They’re working on some grant applications to fit up the space and they’ve already developed some curriculum goals for utilization.”

Councilor Mazzeo says while the companies that lease space at the center may not do big hires, the location between Boston and New York will allow for partnerships and growth.

“When somebody is in New York at Global Foundries and they are looking for something specific and we’ve got a company here that could possible market that, but they need a little more equipment than they actually have on site…this is where this innovation center is going to be able to help and do,” said Mazzeo.

The city, PEDA and other area financial institutions have also come together to offer $2 million if the manufacturer chosen by the state to construct MBTA railcars decides to do so at the William Stanley Business Park. Massachusetts isn’t expected to make that announcement until January.

Tonight's city council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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