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Great Barrington Turns State Grants Into Downtown Upgrades

Anc516 on Wikimedia.org
A view of Railroad Street in Great Barrington, MA

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is using millions of dollars of state aid to improve its downtown. 

Like other municipalities across the state, downtown Great Barrington is undergoing a renaissance, with millions of dollars going toward upgrades to the town’s infrastructure. In 2015, Great Barrington received a Mass Works grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing And Economic Development.

“So the $2.1 million grant we received a few years ago would help us repave Bridge Street and School Street and Bentley Avenue in downtown Great Barrington to support about $70-$80 million of private investment that is occurring in that corridor,” said Town Planner Chris Rembold. 

At the February 26th Great Barringon Select Board meeting, Rembold convinced the town to reallocate some of that grant away from an effort to move heavy electrical and utility lines on the east bank of the Housatonic River underground.

“The cost and timeline of burying those lines is really excessive, and so what we’re proposing to the commonwealth is to shift that budget that was going to be used for undergrounding, to shift it to adjacent streets to support additional housing and economic development on Railroad Street, Church Street, and Elm street,” said Rembold.

“It means that we’re able to make investments in our core downtown," said Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin. "We have a beautiful downtown, we have areas of Main Street which people are enjoying because the sidewalks are accessible now and they’ve been renovated and we’re able to expand those improvements to the other adjacent streets and the shopping areas.”

She places the improvements in the context of other projects the town is undertaking to encourage development.

“One was the Searles School, which was planned to be a hotel. The other one was 100 Bridge Street, which was planned to be initially a commercial development and now a residential development, and then the third development was Powerhouse Square, which is in construction now,” said Tabakin.

The town of roughly 7,000 still has to secure approval from the state secretary of Housing And Economic Development. Town representatives say they expect to get it.

“Once we do, we’ll finalize the plans and we'll get them all out to bid," said Rembold. "We have some work to do on Railroad Street, meeting with the businesses and property owners, just making sure that they understand what we’re doing as well. We’ll finalize the designs, get them out to bid this year, and hopefully we’ll be constructing Bridge Street and School Street this summer and fall of 2018, and then we’ll be doing the bulk of the work on Railroad Street and Elm Street in very early 2019, in the spring.”

The grant funds expire in June 2019.

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