Pinpointed For Redevelopment, Lt. Gov. Tours Pittsfield Neighborhood
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito toured a portion of Pittsfield Tuesday designated by the state as a transformative development area.The Republican toured Tyler Street and the Morningside neighborhood, which is bookended by Berkshire Medical Center and the once-thriving General Electric site, with a number of business and city leaders. Pittsfield City planner CJ Hoss led the bus tour.
“For the most part a lot of these buildings are what they would have looked like when GE was up and running at their peak in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and the neighborhood hasn’t changed much,” Hoss said. “So it has a very solid building stock.”
The problem is that many of the commercial buildings are vacant and some of the residential properties that were once filled with GE workers are blighted. The state has assigned a MassDevelopment fellow to work with the city, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and groups like the Tyler Street Business Group to pinpoint and encourage investment and redevelopment in the area. Amewusika Sedzro recently began her three-year appointment in Pittsfield.
“I really was excited by the opportunities to work with a community that is open to change because that’s really half the battle,” Sedzro said. “Changing people’s minds. I think the partnership has been really successful in getting different stakeholders within the community involved in the process. All I’m here to do is build on that momentum and expand the partnership so that reinvestment and redevelopment can happen.”
Some of the goals include better engaging disconnected residential property owners and using incentives for redevelopments at a firehouse, church and gas station which all sit vacant on Tyler Street. Increasing open space and reusing a Berkshire County Sheriff’s building on Second Street are also being discussed among city leaders. The most visible piece is the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park and expected home of the Berkshire Innovation Center. Project manager Rod Jane described the two-story, 20,000-square foot space.
“The heavier and larger pieces of equipment will be out here,” Jane pointed out. “This is will be a glassed-in rapid prototyping area which will be where the 3D printers will be installed. A conferencing/classroom, in other words, it can be set up for corporate meetings and then with flexible furniture can be converted to a classroom space. So you could have a corporate meeting during the day and at nighttime you could set that up for an engineering technology class at BCC [Berkshire Community College]. We have three more of those rooms on the second floor.”
BIC’s board is working with the state to bridge what could be a $3 to $6 million funding gap as construction and other costs are higher than originally estimated. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center granted Pittsfield $9.7 million in 2014 based on those estimates. Lieutenant Governor Polito says she has to dig into the costs and determine what the next steps are. PEDA Executive Director Cory Thurston discussed the state of the rest of the business park once occupied by GE.
“For the most part the existing foundations that were left back when the consent decree and DEDA [Definitive Economic Development Agreement] were established, there was good intentions thinking that some of these might be reusable and provide an extra impetus to new construction, in reality it turns out they’re not,” Thurston said. “There is a lot of underground infrastructure that needs to be cleaned up and filled.”
Polito pointed to the administration’s economic development bill currently in the Legislature as a way to help redevelop the park.
“We have proposed $500 million in MassWorks funding,” Polito said. “That’s the highest level ever in the history of the commonwealth. We’ve always included monies for brownfields and industrial parks. So if you were to just look at those three areas of investment in our economic development bill there is potential for state dollars to be leveraged with private dollars to help transition some of these industrial areas that need a new use.”