By Andy McKeever
August 19, 2015
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Daniel Bianchi remembers growing up in a vibrant Morningside neighborhood. And he wants that back.
“This was just an incredibly vibrant area. Anything a working family would need was right here in Morningside,” Bianchi said.
But then General Electric closed up shop putting many in the neighborhood out of work. The once hopping neighborhood became a shell of itself and businesses struggled, storefronts emptied, and residents moved away.
But, “there are hundreds of people who still live here, who grew up here, who still believe in Morningside. I still believe in Morningside,” the mayor said.
On Wednesday, those who “believe” in Morningside gathered to start planning the steps to bring the Tyler Street community back to life. The city is part of a Transformative Development Initiative, through <a href=”http://www.massdevelopment.com/” target=”_blank”>Mass Development</a>, with the goal to restore economic vibrancy to the neighborhood through a partnership of community groups, the city and private businesses.
The first step in the process is to develop an action plan envisioning what the community will eventually look like and how to get there.
“We’re passionate about community development. It is our job to stitch these [stakeholders and ideas] together,” said Lisa Nagle, a principal with the planning, design, and architecture firm Elan. “We want this to be an action plan people can use.”
Over the next eight months, the firm will be holding public meetings, open houses, meeting with stakeholders, identifying funding sources, and crafting what Nagle calls a “roadmap” for redevelopment. The plan will identify specific properties for redevelopment, who could do it, and where the funding will come from.
“We’re looking to have a draft in early winter,” Nagle said.
The identified district is anchored on each end by Berkshire Medical Center and the <a href=”https://williamstanleybp.com/”>William Stanley Business Park</a>, which will soon be home to the Berkshire Innovation Center. Through redevelopment of certain properties — such as St. Mary’s the Morningstar Church — along with a streetscape reconstruction, the hope is to bring more jobs and housing to Tyler Street.
<a href=”https://williamstanleybp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/1440003098.jpg”><img class=”size-medium wp-image-2052″ src=”https://williamstanleybp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/1440003098-300×225.jpg” alt=”Photo by Andy McKeever” width=”300″ height=”225″ /></a> Photo by Andy McKeever
“We’re trying to get away from suburban sprawl and build compact neighborhoods,” said City Planner C.J. Hoss of the currently envisioned future of Tyler Street. “This was pitched as a connection from downtown to the William Stanley Business Park.”
Morningside’s future is seen as one where somebody could live, work, and play all within walking distance.
The state is bringing an array of additional tools to make that happen, according to Anne Haynes, director of the Transformative Development program. Those tools include loans for small businesses or even equity investments into properties.
Haynes said Pittsfield is the “front door” of the state and stood out among the applications.
Hoss said outside of the TDI program, the city has set aside money to start planning a streetscape project, is working with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on revamping commercial design and zoning, and embarking on a survey of endangered historic properties. All of those, coupled with the TDI, conforms with the city’s master plan adopted in 2009, he said.
Meanwhile, the <a href=”http://tylerstreetpittsfield.com/” target=”_blank”>Tyler Street Business Group</a> is envisioned to play a major role in the planning. The group has already laid the foundations for revitalization.
Tyler Street Business Group President Diane Marcella said the group successfully got banners and holiday decor, created walking loops, launched business-to-business meetings and networking nights, is growing the Discover Tyler Street fair, hosts the Halloween Parade, and is helping small businesses grow.
The <a href=”http://pittsfieldeda.org/” target=”_blank”>Pittsfield Economic Development Authority</a> has two projects underway to set the framework for redevelopment of the William Stanley Business Park. According to Executive Director Corydon Thurston, the <a href=”https://williamstanleybp.com/william-stanley/site-3/”>Berkshire Innovation Center</a> is expected to break ground this fall and open in early 2017. That project is a $9.75 million construction of shared workspace for advanced manufacturing businesses and educational institutions.
City Planner C.J. Hoss said Tyler Street is envisioned as an area where someone could live, work, and play without every having to drive anywhere else. The Woodlawn Avenue bridge is being reconstructed now, which will link Tyler Street with East Street. Thurston said he anticipates new traffic patterns to increase visibility of the park as well as increase the feasibility of a company locating there.
“Both of these projects will bring new vitality to the area,” Thurston said.
Nagle said the planning process starts — and started on Wednesday — with finding out what is happening in the neighborhood and what people want it to be. On Wednesday, residents and groups posted notes on boards identifying ideas for property redevelopment and priority areas for focus.
Ultimately, Nagle says the company will come up with a “brand” for Tyler Street. That will then lead into focus on where the key pieces could be.
The process and concept isn’t unknown in the city. A similar plan was used for North Street. On North Street such projects as the <a href=”http://thebeaconcinema.com/accounts/100/homepage/” target=”_blank”>Beacon Cinema</a>, <a href=”http://www.berkshiretheatregroup.org/” target=”_blank”>the Colonial Theater</a>, and <a href=”http://barringtonstageco.org/” target=”_blank”>Barrington Stage </a>were elements to grow the arts and cultural economy and increase foot traffic on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Those projects were also coupled with a massive streetscape projects, which included renovation of Park Square. That streetscape project is now entering its final stages with construction planned to begin on the final section to start the first week in September.
Bianchi said the Tyler Street process is an extension of what the city has done with North Street.