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Pittsfield Continues To Pursue Redevelopment Of Former GE Neighborhood

This is an aerial map of Tyler Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Jim Levulis
During a 2015 meeting, people noted their favorite Tyler St. spots.

The city of Pittsfield is continuing to gather ideas for the redevelopment of an area surrounding the former General Electric plant.The main avenue through the Morningside neighborhood is Tyler St., a commercial and residential mix that is bookended by Berkshire Medical Center on the city’s downtown thoroughfare North St. and the William Stanley Business Park, which used to house GE. Working with a design firm since last year, city planners have been gathering input on how to improve the area. Janis Akerstrom has been Pittsfield’s community development director since August. She says affordable housing, transportation and public safety are among the focuses.

“We had visitors from the bus line speaking about having [more] stops there,” Akerstrom said. “We talked about putting in covered bus stops to make it easier for people to travel from their work to their home. We talked about affordable housing and services that are provided to area residents and how to improve those services and access to those services. We talked about community access to good food and produce and how we can make that accessible to the residents because there’s not a supermarket nearby.”

The design and architecture firm Elan, out of Saratoga Springs, expects to issue an action plan in the summer around the same time a state-funded development fellow will come to Pittsfield to boost the city’s efforts. In the meantime, Akerstrom says Pittsfield is looking into the state’s complete streets program to improve biking, walking and the overall design of Tyler St.

“Ultimately Tyler St. will have that incorporated into its final design,” Akerstrom said. “From that design we will be putting in a new streetscape and possibly new sidewalks throughout the Tyler Street district to make it a more accessible, walkable and livable community.”

Much of North St. has already been redone in a similar fashion. Akerstrom says public safety concerns were discussed at a recent open house. She’s hopeful improved lighting through the streets program can improve the situation, while Mayor Linda Tyer says the concerns are citywide, not contained to any one neighborhood.

“When areas are thriving and there’s a dynamic combination of business, homes, schools and a critical mass, some of the things that we are challenged by in terms of public safety can be mitigated,” Tyer said. “I don’t see Tyler St. as any more or less safe than any other part of our city.”

One major Tyler St. property carrying a question mark is the St. Mary the Morning Star church campus. Efforts to save and renovate the roughly 75-year-old shuttered church rose after a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee announced plans to demolish it to put up a drive-thru restaurant. In response, Cafua offered a plan to just demolish the rectory and convent buildings. But, the city council is yet to weigh the company’s special permit application as it has refused to pay for project reviews requested by the city, according to Akerstrom.

Overall, Akerstrom says the city sees Tyler St. as the next big thing following the redesign of North St.

“The beginning of a great relationship where there will be a turnaround in the economy, appearance and livability of Tyler St. to encourage more growth,” said Akerstrom.

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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