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Tyer Delivers State Of The City As Election Looms

Josh Landes
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer making her State Of The City address at Taconic High School.

In her State of The City address Monday night, Mayor Linda Tyer said Pittsfield, Massachusetts is “bursting with promise and possibility.”

Tyer, a Democrat in the last year of her first four-year term, is touting some hard-fought successes.

“Pittsfield is the envy of many Gateway Cities because we have an independent movie theater right here in our downtown,” she said.

In November, the city moved to forgive over $2.5 million in debt owed to the city by the Beacon Cinema. The plan, which underwent exhaustive scrutiny by the city council, was to facilitate the cinema’s sale to Michigan-based Phoenix Theatres.

“We had to stand strong when the threat of foreclosure was upon the Beacon," said Tyer. "And I am grateful that the city council stood with me despite significant community reaction and supported this negotiated sale. It was the right decision.”

By way of disclosure, the building hosts WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau.

Placing the cinema at the heart of the city’s downtown revitalization, Tyer said North Street’s rejuvenation must now migrate northeast to the Morningside neighborhood.

“Anchored by Berkshire Medical Center and General Dynamics and with the William Stanley Business Park in the heart of Morningside, the unique character of Tyler Street is ripe for renaissance,” Tyer said.

She noted the conversion of St. Mary’s The Morning Star Church into a 29-unit market-rate apartment complex – with a $125,000 infusion from the state – as a major stepping stone for the neighborhood’s development. The mayor highlighted more investments in Tyler Street, including plans for a complete redesign of the street and a $30,000 grant from the state for façade improvements to local businesses.

Tyer also celebrated another victory that emerged out of months of contention.

“This past year, I and the city council had a hot debate over the EPA-mandated upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant,” said the mayor.

Her plan, which carried a $74 million price tag, was voted down by the city council in February before being accepted at a second vote in April. Tyer said she sympathized with those who flinched at the cost and the subsequent rise in utility rates – which still place Pittsfield far below the state average.

“At the same time, this is exactly what government is supposed to do," said Tyer. "We are supposed to invest in infrastructure for those of us who are here now, and for 50 years into the future. After all we’ve been through, environmental stewardship ought to be our new legacy.”

The upgrades are intended to meet EPA limits on aluminum and phosphorus discharge into rivers – in Pittsfield’s case, the Housatonic. Tyer acknowledged the initial cost was “heartstopping.”

“Fortunately, outstanding design, engineering, piloting technology, and independent third party review resulted in a final construction cost – we opened the bids this past week – $51,423,287," announced Tyer. "That’s $13 million below estimates.”

On other municipal projects, Tyer praised public-private partnerships.

“This past year, the pavilion at Durant Park was erected thanks to a gift of funds from Greylock Federal Credit Union," she said. "Greylock has been an unwavering partner for the resurgence of Durant Park. Berkshire Bank’s contribution facilitated the renovation of the basketball court at Lakewood Park.”

From funding for the masterplan of the city’s municipal airport to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs touring Pittsfield’s outdoor recreational facilities, Tyer emphasized the role of the state government in the city’s workings.

“In April, Secretary Alice Bonner of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs visited in support of an Age Friendly Berkshire initiative," said Tyer. "The following month, Stephanie Pollack – Secretary of the Massachsuetts Department of Transportation – toured the Columbus Avenue parking garage. Yes, it’s finally coming down this year.”

She said the city had applied for and received almost $3.5 million in grants in 2018.

Tyer said the problem of crime in the city keeps her up at night, and lauded community leaders and the police department for working together.

“In the wake of several tragic incidents, I listened to West Side residents at a community conversation," said the mayor. "They expressed their fears and shared their ideas on ways to enhance the work of the police department, and they tried to understand police protocol. One idea, embraced by many, was to establish a police department community outreach office in the West Side – and it’s becoming a reality.”

Tyer said Habitat For Humanity – located on Columbus Avenue – had offered the city free space to establish the office.

The mayor framed her administration’s first three years as leading the city out of a death spiral into a new era, holding up its 3.6 percent unemployment rate and influx of new jobs as evidence of a city-wide revival.

“It is our shared responsibility to ask each other ‘how can we?’ so that our dreamers and doers can maximize their talent and realize their highest calling," said Tyer. "Right here at home in Pittsfield. Thank you.”

You can watch the address and read the full text here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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