A public-private partnership in North Adams, Massachusetts has unveiled its plan to revitalize the city’s downtown.
Created in 2011, the Partnership for North Adams brings together major players in the state’s smallest city. City government, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art as well as local economic developers have created a plan for a reimagining of the city’s downtown. John DeRosa is a founding member of the partnership.
“Develop a vision and then within that vision, develop a strategy and specific steps that would reposition North Adams as a center for creative thinking and activity and to take advantage of its culturally, educational and recreational opportunities,” said DeRosa.
The partnership has enlisted the efforts of SHoP Architects and HR&A Advisors. Kate Collignon is the project manager for HR&A, which has offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. She says the strategic plan looks at how the city’s downtown can tap into the minds and wallets of the nearly half a million yearly visitors that come to MASS MoCA, the Clark Art Institute and Mount Greylock. She says many tourists that come to the city actually don’t know where the downtown is.
“We think of them as ‘high readers,” Collignon said. “It can be sculptural, it can be signage, it can be steeples, or it can be architecture. What are the markers on the landscape that denote where one wants to walk and help you orient yourself in the downtown?”
One of the most striking pieces outlined in the presentation is a highly-visible, steeple-like building that would house the local railroad and history museums. DeRosa says relocating the museums would open up retail space at Western Gateway Heritage State Park now being rebranded as the Greylock Market.
“There would be an advantage to relocating those two museums under one roof in a signature building that would serve as what the report refers to as The Junction connecting that side of the Hoosic River and railroad tracks with the downtown side of North Adams,” said DeRosa.
The partnership helped to leverage $1.5 million in private investments collected for the Greylock Market over the past year and a half. The plan identifies $43 million in unmet spending potential in retail opportunities stemming from outdoor activities in the city’s own backyard.
Collignon says the vision also outlines plans to create a larger town common and smaller green spaces to make the city more inviting and walk able. She says success of the city’s economic revitalization relies on retaining the roughly 4,000 college students at MCLA and Williams as well as tapping into about 1,000 entrepreneurs in the area. The plan identifies a downtown “co-work space” to give business ideas a place to grow.
“So you can be there as an individual who says ‘Well, I just want to rent a desk and come in a few times a week’ to a startup company that has two to three employees in a corner of the overall space that ends up branching out into a retail storefront in North Adams or into a larger facility near downtown,” explained Collignon.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the partnership’s plan works side by side with proposals to improve the city’s usage of the Hoosic River and his administration’s Vision 2030 master plan to be released in the early part of this year.
“Without the private sector nothing is going to happen,” Alcombright said. “If government sits around and waits for government to get stuff done, particularly when you are talking about investment and growth, it really isn’t going to happen at the rate or pace that we need it to happen at.”