State awards Great Barrington $2.1 million for Bridge Steet upgrades

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By Saturday, Oct 31 News  10 Comments
Heather Bellow
Massachusetts Assistant Secretary of Housing and Community Development Juan Vega announces the award of $2.1 million in grants for Bridge Street infrastructure upgrades. Behind him, from left, CDC Executive Director Tim Geller, Great Barrington Selectboard Chair Sean Stanton, Rep. Stephen Kulick (D-Worthington), Sen. Benjamin Downing, and Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox).

Great Barrington — Bridge Street and its surrounding area, and the development projects proposed or underway there, got a boost from the state today (October 30) when Assistant Secretary of Housing and Community Development, Juan Vega, stood on the sunny Town Hall steps and told the town that the $2.1 million it had asked for through the MassWorks Infrastucture Program was granted.

Town officials were all smiles during the announcement of state awards: from left, Town Planner Christopher Rembold, Public Works Superintendent Joseph Sokul, and Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin. Photo: Heather Bellow

Town officials were all smiles during the announcement of state awards: from left, Town Planner Christopher Rembold, Public Works Superintendent Joseph Sokul, and Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin. Photo: Heather Bellow

Vega made the announcement as the sun cut through some bitter gusts, and a crowd of local and state officials, thrilled with the total $8.6 million windfall distributed to 10 western Massachusetts communities, thanked and congratulated each other for making it happen in these rural hills, where small towns can’t keep up with the high costs of infrastructure upgrades.

The MassWorks grant comes through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, for work to downtown areas that will support new jobs and housing. On Bridge Street the town will see newly paved roads, new sidewalks, improved drainage and lighting, and underground utilities. This will complement the Bridge Street bridge upgrade the state is paying for as well, as part of separate funding plan.

“It will increase the walkability on the east side of Great Barrington, and expand pedestrian access,” said Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton, who thanked local state reps William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Senator Ben Downing (D-Pittsfield) and Rep. Stephen Kulick (D-Worthington) for their help making the money flow west.

But Sen. Downing said it was the towns doing the “hard day-to-day work” necessary to put these applications in and convince the state they were worthy.

Apparently, it isn’t so easy. Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, glowing with delight, said they got the money only after a second application round in which Rep. Pignatelli “came over and pushed us to reapply.” Both he and Tim Geller, Executive Director of Community Development Corporation of Southern Berkshire, who is developing 100 Bridge, a $40 million project on Bridge Street, helped Tabakin and Town Planner Chris Rembold improve the application, she said.

Rep. Pignatelli and Sen. Ben Downing did their job. “We pigeon-holed the administration,” Pignatelli said of newly elected Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and staff.

“These are lifeline grants,” Rep. Pignatelli added. “Towns of 800 people can’t afford these infrastructure needs.”

Indeed, this $8.6 million will help fix bridges, a shameful state of rural roadways, and an area of Holly, the third smallest town in the state, still reeling from hurricane Irene.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” Pignatelli added.

Rep. Kulick, a legislator for 22 years, said his hometown of Worthington needed this $790,000 to fix a crucial bridge that had been out of commission for several years. “The administration sees what small towns are up against,” he said, praising Baker and Polito for being “sensitive to the needs of Western Massachusetts…they are responding to what real needs are…in rural communities.”

Other nearby towns didn’t do so bad either. New Marlborough is getting $1 million; Pittsfield, $890,000; Sandisfield, $991,650; Dalton, $380,000.

Geller speaks

CDC Executive Director Tim Geller speaks about the benefits of the state grants for his Bridge Street project. Photo: Heather Bellow

In Great Barrington, Bridge Street is on the cusp of a development explosion. Geller said the CDC project, 100 Bridge, with its affordable and market rate housing, retail, restored riverbanks and possibly a large anchor tenant like the Berkshire Co-op Market, will stand to benefit the most. Despite a challenging cleanup of the polluted former New England Log Homes site, that project is set to move forward, Geller says.

Geller gave the state a backhanded compliment: “Western Mass is no longer Worcester,” he said, though he said he is genuinely thrilled by the Baker administration’s attention to the area.

There is the old Dolby Florist compound on the east side of the river, where redevelopers Bobby Houston and Eric Shamie are creating a small community of homes and an edible landscape. And there is the now controversial proposal on the table to raze the former Searles Middle and High School and replace it with a 95-room upscale hotel, The Berkshire, next to the newly renovated former Bryant Elementary School, now Iredale Mineral Cosmetics’ new world headquarters.

“The grant directly supports Jane’s [Iredale] reuse of Bryant, the CDC’s effort at 100 Bridge, and the Searles School redevelopment, whatever that may be,” said Town Planner Chris Rembold. “Those are three sites where everybody in town can agree that redevelopment or reuse is absolutely critical to the future.”

Rembold said the work would start sometime in the spring, and wouldn’t be a particularly disruptive undertaking.

As the October winds died down, politicians made their cracks about the glorious weather that greeted Assistant Secretary Vega as he ventured west for the second time since he was appointed. He smiled, appearing moved by the glorious view of East Mountain, and Rep. Pignatelli did his job some more.

“If this is the weather at $8.6 million, imagine the weather at $10 million,” he said.


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10 Comments   Add Comment

  1. GMHeller says:

    Agree with Fennell.
    An $8.6 million “windfall”?
    That’s like saying money in my left pocket is a windfall when my right hand holds it.
    Aren’t we lucky to have so many Liberal Democrats on hand to give our money back to us.

  2. Heather Bellow says:

    Fair enough, gentleman. But better to get it than not, eh?

  3. MK says:

    Did you notice that Chartock wrote to the Beagle that Ms. Tabakin did not answer his phone calls? I think we’re making some real progress here.

  4. Lisa Smith says:

    This is Good news for all Bridge street development. Thank you to Town Planner Christopher Rembold, Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin and Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli.

  5. Ben Greenfield says:

    I wish this article addressed how Great Barrington is now excited to get money for upgrades meanwhile there has been of expression of grief for main street upgrades just completed.

    Will Great Barrington have a say in the lighting upgrades?

  6. Lauren Clark says:

    Please just don’t do this during July and August!

  7. Mandy Victor-Pieczarka says:

    I am, like many of Great Barrington’s Town residents, so very unhappy with the out-of-place industrial lighting on our once charming Main Street. Of late, I have been paying close attention to lighting in and on other Main streets that are also Route 7 highways. Stockbridge and Pittsfield specifically have had makeovers without the garish over-sized utility poles populating the sides of the downtowns. Stockbridge has a smaller version of utility pole in lesser quality and the metal is a dark green. Pittsfields much larger North Steet has the old-fashion replica lighting. Only with double-headed lanterns, both a much more fitting look than what we have here in Great Barrington. Surely, some reduction of height, size and color can be accommodated? This is an unexpected and unacceptable look for our community. What were they thinking? Mandy Victor-Pieczarka

  8. JP says:

    Meanwhile, Railroad street’s sidewalks are still a mess….

  9. Catherine says:

    Congratulations on the array of amazing developments in the Great Barrington down town area. If you ever need to step away to yester year and a simpler, sleepy-eyed town (save for the Great Falls at high water which is best viewed from a distance if not online..and please watch the edge of any water and practice safety outdoors and in.)
    When you need a break from all the hustle in the Barrington area, come visit us in the northwest corner of CT..one little town after the next could use more people and innovators, friendly folks and of course families with young uns to go to our stellar schools or keep homeschooling communities vibrant. We have a lovely fancy set of sidewalks (on both sides of Main Street) for your walking pleasure, a fancy and more casual set of dining venues, a new bridge going over the Housatonic River below the Falls, a regional high school (Housatonic Valley Regional HS) that serves North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon, Kent and Cornwall as well as the wee town of Falls Village, which also just got a lovely outdoor pool people may use for a small fee. It takes a village to be a village and a few big towns around the small village to have a prayer to keep going.

    Let’s team up and keep the river of love from here and above flowing strong with healing and helping efforts. We tend to be in the spotlight in wider circles and even in the country, so may as well shine bright..and yes, keep an eye on the fine details from population, health and lighting…Thanks for all the hard work to those on the dream team, the grant getters, the people in the trenches and tough weather, and the patient public. Safety is a team sport and we can all be winners with the kindness that counts in the Berkshires and beyond.

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