March 09 2018 0Comment

Now fully funded, Berkshire Innovation Center poised for summer groundbreaking

BY TONY DOBROWOLSKI

The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD — After 10 years and twists and turns too numerous to mention, the project that became the Berkshire Innovation Center appears poised for construction.

With all additional funding commitments now in place, federal, state and local officials gathered at City Hall on Friday to celebrate the launch of the $13.8 million workforce training/equipment center that has been on the drawing board since 2008.

The mood was buoyant as officials took turns commending the unique collaboration among various boards, agencies and levels of government to get the long-stalled project back on the rails.

But Stephen Boyd, the BIC’s board chairman, urged those in attendance to temper their enthusiasm because the project has a long way to go.

“We very much believe that this is the starting point for something,” Boyd said as he addressed the standing- room-only crowd that gathered in the City Council chambers. “But it’s not a victory lap; it’s a battle cry.”

Officials hope to break ground this summer on the 20,000-square-foot structure, which would be built adjacent to MountainOne Financial in the William Stanley Business Park on East Street in Pittsfield. The goal is to complete the project by the third quarter of 2019, Boyd said.

Project consultant Rod Jané said it will take three to six months to put the project out to bid for a second time.

The city originally put the project out to bid four years ago, but this time the process will be overseen by the board of the nonprofit BIC. The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority last week approved a change in the lease that switched the oversight of the bidding process from the city to PEDA, the quasi-public agency charged with the development of the 52-acre business park.

The BIC is considered to be a key to the business park’s development and a way to tie the Berkshire region, which is often isolated by geography and demographics, into economic opportunities in the eastern end of the state.

The state-of-the-art facility will enable shared research, allow for early-stage production and commercialization efforts, and provide room for workforce training. The building will have room for training facilities, biotech wet lab space, clean rooms, and office and event space for small to medium-size life sciences companies to support economic growth, jobs and private investment to the region.

“This is an investment in Pittsfield’s future,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “It’s an investment in the next generation for your sons and daughters to stay in Pittsfield and get good-paying jobs.”

She said this investment will allow the innovation economy that is prevalent around the seaport area of Boston to “bookend the commonwealth.”

“We thank you for helping to close the economic disparity gap in Massachusetts that exists between both east and west,” said PEDA board Chairman Maurice Callahan.

“Thank you for your generosity in funding this bold new initiative,” said Mayor Linda Tyer, noting that planning for the project had spanned three mayoral administrations.

Funding for the project was originally contained in a $6.5 million earmark that the city received in Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion life sciences bill in 2008. When the project finally moved forward in 2014, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center provided an additional $3.2 million, bringing the total state commitment to $9.7 million.

Construction was scheduled to begin in 2015, but the project had to be put on hold after bids came in $3 million higher than anticipated.

Local and state officials have been working since then to close that gap.

In December, Boyd told the PEDA board that the state had agreed to chip in an additional $2.3 million toward the construction costs if PEDA would approve an additional $750,000 toward the operating costs. That gap was filled when MassDevelopment chipped in an additional $450,000 to complement last week’s $300,000 allocation by PEDA.

The project almost didn’t happen, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash said.

“It hung in the balance for a long time,” he said after the news conference. All of the parties involved had to “buy in” to the visions of what the BIC represented before the additional funding came together.

“A lot of people needed to step up and decide to play to pull this off,” said Gov. Charlie Baker.

“When we come together and collaborate, we do our very best work,” said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or at 413-496-6224.

Photo credit: Regina Burgio