The developer proposing to site a Walmart Supercenter at Pittsfield’s former General Electric facility held a community meeting on its plans Tuesday. Those attending shared a range of opinions.
About 100 people showed up for the open house hosted by Waterstone Retail Development. The company is looking to build a roughly 200,000-square foot Walmart Supercenter on 16 acres of the William Stanley Business Park. It’s Waterstone’s third proposal for the site, but the first one in which Walmart is known to be the interested party. Pittsfield City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo has been dead set against retail locating at the park.
“It’s really prime industrial land,” Mazzeo said. “I know we’ve waited a long time and there are a lot of issues that are going on, but now we are coming so close with having the Berkshire Innovation Center going in which I think is going to span off more things for that park. We’re this close and we’re going to turn around and go back to the retail issue? I’m not in favor of it.”
Permits needed to build the store are likely to come before the Pittsfield City Council. Peter White, a councilor who grew up in the surrounding Morningside neighborhood, says this is one of the better proposals he’s seen.
“The site is not favorable in its current condition to many developers,” White said. “Waterstone is the only one who keeps coming back saying they want to do something. So I think that when we look at the money that needs to be put into this site that we need to at least keep an open mind. I’m not trying to convince anyone to love Walmart. I’m just trying to get people to look at this as a project that can be good for the area. We can still choose to support our local businesses even with this here. It gives more options to people for jobs and a place to get inexpensive goods in an area where people need to be able to get inexpensive goods.”
Waterstone’s $30 million project includes about $12 million of foundation work to remediate site contamination. The company says an estimated $6 million of that is required by the EPA, which would likely waive earlier restrictions placed on the park under a consent decree signed by the city of Pittsfield, General Electric and others. One of those restrictions was selling food. Anton Melchionda is a principal with Waterstone.
“Once this is complete there would absolutely be no concerns whatsoever about the sale of food within the store,” said Melchionda.
The plans call for closing the city’s current Walmart near the Dalton line, with the new location about 2.5 miles closer to downtown Pittsfield. The 200 employees would move to the supercenter and 100 additional workers are expected to be hired. Ron Marcella III lives on Tyler Street near the 52-acre business park. He calls the proposal a “no-brainer” for Pittsfield.
“Having development and something going on in the park itself is the kind of thing we need to show that this is a spot that people want to go to,” Marcella said. “This is a place that needs to be developed. The longer that stays vacant the costs are just going to go up to construct on that site and it’s going to look a lot less viable of an option.”
Pittsfield State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier says she is not a fan of Walmart, but will support the community in its decision on the proposal. Her Democratic challenger Mike Bloomberg is against the plan. Independent candidate and Pittsfield City Councilor Chris Connell says this proposal is more inviting than past ones because the company intends to cover remediation costs.
“I think it’s something that needs to seriously be considered,” Connell said. “I think it will seriously help the Morningside area.”
Retiring State Senator Ben Downing says he is not commenting on the proposal at this time. In the race to replace him, Democrats Andrea Harrington and Rinaldo Del Gallo oppose the plan, as does Republican Christine Canning. Democrat Adam Hinds seems to be keeping an open mind.
“My starting point is I’m not a fan of Walmart,” Hinds said. “I don’t like what they do for suppressing wages, I don’t like what they do for benefits for their employees and the Walmart effect is something we should all be concerned about in terms of taking money out of an economy or having a negative impact on local businesses. My feeling right now is its early in the process and I want to talk with as many folks as I can to understand what we’re talking about precisely and so I’ll be meeting with city officials soon.”
In a statement, Walmart spokesman Chris Buchanan says the company is eager to strengthen its relationship with Pittsfield’s citizens with this project.