State Community Affairs Head Tours Downtown Pittsfield

Mar 11, 2016

Mayor Linda Tyer led Governor Charlie Baker’s community affairs director on a tour of downtown Pittsfield Thursday, showcasing bright spots and pointing out challenges for the western Massachusetts city.

With a host of area leaders tagging along, the tour included stops at the Berkshire Museum, Hotel on North and The Beacon Cinema.

“And inside are modern theaters with stadium seating,” Tyer said. “So we took a historic building and turned it into a modern use to meet the needs of a different kind of downtown experience. We’ve got some great ethnic restaurants in the downtown and we’re coming along.”

Linda Tyer is three months into a four-year term as Pittsfield’s mayor. The Democrat ran on the idea of making the city more attractive for future generations with a focus on a lively downtown. 

“We had a meeting where we spoke about our past and how we now have a new generation of leadership,” Tyer said. “We’re an evolving community moving away from being a GE town and towards being a modern, vibrant city.”

Baker’s community affairs director Hodari Cail says part of the reason for the visit is to make Pittsfield a part of the governor’s administration. The Republican has been in office just over a year.

“Before you can have any impact you have to take an interest in what’s going on,” Cail said. “Number two, you have to start the conversation about what communities need and how you can help.”

Tyer says downtown Pittsfield represents what can happen when multiple parties invest in a community. After it stopped operating as theater in the 1950s, The Colonial underwent a multimillion dollar renovation reopening in 2006. The roughly $15 million Hotel on North, a former sporting goods store, opened last year. And about a decade ago, Barrington Stage moved from southern Berkshire County to downtown Pittsfield. Still, Tyer says more needs to be done.

“We know that if we want to attract young professionals that are in a creative economy that they want to live in an urban space that’s hip and modern,” Tyer said. “So housing is a key piece of the next level of advancement for downtown.”

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn pointed out the difficulties of having no serious dedicated parking space for police vehicles at the station. The city has also cut off access to the top deck of the Columbus Avenue parking garage, located near Barrington Stage and Hotel on North, because of structural safety concerns. The city is developing plans for a new garage that would double the parking spaces from 200 to 400. Cail says his next steps are issuing a report and arranging a visit for Governor Baker.

“The development that they’re working on is right in the downtown…speaks volumes to invest in the community,” Cail said. “When it comes to trying to make sure that people are having an area to work and play is a strong commitment to a community.”

Meanwhile, Tyer is hopeful that what she calls a downtown “renaissance” can spread to other areas of Pittsfield. The city council recently approved borrowing $2 million to reconfigure and put up traffic lights at intersections around the William Stanley Business Park. One awkward intersection connects five roadways without a signal. It’s the latest effort in that area of the city. A bridge reconnecting a street that dissects the park is being built and a state transformative development fellow is working with the city to revitalize the area once home to General Electric.

“Once Woodlawn Avenue opens up again people of Pittsfield will be able to access either side of town by crossing over Woodlawn Avenue,” Tyer said. “So we want that travel to be safe. We’re going to improve the intersections and add some new signalization to make that a safe experience for the people living and working here now. We also hope that it will be an added value to marketing the park for any future development.”

Pittsfield is applying for a $1 million federal grant to partially offset the $2 million loan.