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An artist's rendering of the completed 47 Railroad Street redevelopment at the top of Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, that will include new retail spaces and apartments.

New concept, new look, new life for top of Railroad Street in Great Barrington

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By Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016 News 22

Great Barrington — As a handful of businesses continue to re-shuffle around town and the dust has settled after Main Street was torn apart and reconstructed last year, very quietly, at the top of Railroad Street, two experienced, successful developers are making plans that may create a radical shift in downtown dynamics.

Ian Rasch and Sam Nickerson of Benchmark Properties I, LLC purchased 47 Railroad St., the former location of two restaurants: Mario’s, Fiori, and Pearl’s.

Sam Nickerson.

Sam Nickerson.

Ian Rasch.

Ian Rasch.

Rasch and Nickerson, both Great Barrington residents, are taking their combined experience in development and venture capital work in New York to turn the historic and handsome building into a retail and apartment complex that will further enliven the top of Railroad Street.

Here’s how: Rasch said the plan for 47 Railroad St. is to open up the brick wall on the alley side of the building and turn those into five retail spaces. “The alley between Castle and Railroad streets is a dead alley,” Rasch said. “So how do we foster pedestrian-level street activity?”

“We’re essentially gutting it,” Rasch said of the building.

47 Railroad as it is now. Benchmark Properties I, LLC plans a historic renovation of the property that will add retail and apartments by late fall 2017. Photo: Heather Bellow

47 Railroad as it is now. Benchmark Properties I, LLC plans a historic renovation of the property that will add retail and apartments by late fall 2017. Photo: Heather Bellow

And don’t think, as a landlord, Benchmark will allow yet another bank or real estate brokerage to set up shop there. Rasch says tenants will be “curated,” and he said Benchmark wants those who will “enliven” the area, noting how things have turned a bit sleepy since Martin’s shut down after a kitchen fire and how, before stores open at around 10 a.m., there’s not much happening.

Rasch says something like a juice, wine or coffee bar added to the retail mix might be just the way to perk things up. He is getting “a lot of calls” from interested retailers, he said. But he and Nickerson are in no hurry to do this, he added. They want to find just the right kind of tenants.

The 12 “well-appointed” apartments on the second and third floors, for which Benchmark will build an addition that will double the size of the building, sound like a millennial’s dream with sleek fixtures, shops, and restaurants a stone’s throw away. Benchmark will also build a flat-roof deck on top for tenants, one that can also be rented out for parties. The apartments will be priced on the higher end for one- to two-bedroom rentals, with a dedicated parking space for each apartment in the lot behind the Triplex Cinema. And such apartments, Rasch said, may appeal to those locals who are fed up with the upkeep of the big and old houses in neighborhoods that surround the downtown here.

Benchmark plans to open up the alley-facing wall for five retail units with tenants chosen for their ability to create lots of pedestrian activity. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Benchmark plans to open up the alley-facing wall for five retail units with tenants chosen for their ability to create lots of pedestrian activity. Photo: Heather Bellow.

“I hear, over and over again, interest from people who like the idea of being downtown without the giant house.” Rasch said it was perfect for people who want more “flexibility.”

He said other projects in New York, for example, have appealed to “young professors or empty nesters.”

Rasch and Nickerson have researched the new phenomenon of a rental market with “walkability,” and Rasch says, in Great Barrington, there is “a demand for a small amount that.”

Rasch said baby boomers and millennials — ages 18 to 34 — are “geared toward renting in small urban centers.”

An artist's rendering of the completed 47 Railroad St. building.

An artist’s rendering of the completed 47 Railroad St. building and its retail spaces, as viewed from the Castle Street side of the alley.

And, according to Benchmark, the same factors that attract these groups also makes such mixed-use developments less risky for investors and lenders.

What pulls in tenants are the “pedestrian-oriented traditional downtowns, walkability, green certification, design excellence, proximity to open space, and access to transit.”

47 Railroad could see tenants by late fall 2017, Rasch said, with construction starting this fall. Benchmark has begun weaving its way through the town’s permitting process with design architect Adam Rolston from Incorporated NYC and local architect, Pittsfield-based SK Design Group.

Rasch grew up in Columbia County, New York, and went to the Rudolf Steiner School in Great Barrington. Before starting Benchmark, he was vice president at Pittsfield-based developer Allegrone Companies. Nickerson moved here several years ago, Rasch said, to send his children to the Steiner School. Before forming Benchmark, Nickerson founded Fairfield, Connecticut, commercial real estate development company Ecos Properties.

Both Rasch and Nickerson have a “passion” for “adaptive reuse” of historic buildings, Rasch said, and decided to pool their resources and experience to up their game of applying “renewable and high design” to their projects.

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22 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Dana says:

    Sounds like a wonderful addition to a wonderful town!

  2. Tim Newman says:

    An exciting project. It will be a great addition to downtown Great Barrington. I wish Ian and Sam great success.

  3. Tim Lovett says:

    It looks fantastic!

  4. Lynn says:

    Will be interested to see what kinds of provisions for parking those twelve units might have.

  5. Sherri says:

    Agreed. Love the proposed new addition to the top of Railroad Street. But isn’t it time for GB to think about redoing the sidewalks on Railroad? They are extremely dangerous to pedestrians and a terrible eye sore.

  6. Diane Alexander says:

    Brava in Lenox is a terrific wine bar. Maybe they would like to open a 2nd location in GB. Also, perhaps someone could add a piano bar/cabaret with lounge venue that also offers open mile nights so we can hear our local talent. Good luck with the new space, which had also housed Fiori, one of GBs better restaurants.

    1. Heather Bellow says:

      Thank you, Diane. I completely forgot about Fiori’s. I added it to the story.

      1. diane alexander says:

        sure, and no longer having that upscale Italian restaurant is a loss. Maybe that can be “replaced” too. And of course I meant to write open mike (not mile!) night.

  7. Jared Kelly says:

    Looks like a wonderful project and innovative use of space!

  8. Donna Brainone says:

    So exciting for GB. Now for some more innovative parking to go with it!

  9. Claudia D. says:

    Progress is often positive, and stagnation benefits no-one. However, a(n older) customer last week bemoaned the “Hampton-ization’ of Great Barrington. And we have noticed a marked decrease in local support (so many locals tell us they now ‘avoid downtown’ at all costs). Local 20-somethings often cannot afford to live here, and few can aspire to owning a business here. At what price, progress? Who will pay it? We will reap what we sow.

  10. Shawn G. says:

    Nice to see many positive comments here:-)
    (Seems like ‘change’ in GB often meets a lot of negativity.)

  11. Brian says:

    It will be great to have some life back at the top of Railroad Street. Hopefully the commercial space will be more than just retail that only visitors will patronize. Food and drink for locals at affordable prices would be welcome.

  12. Terry Rosen says:

    Just wanted to learn whether the alley will be filled by a building, or whether there will still be pedestrian access between Railroad and Castle Streets? Thanks.

  13. Tom says:

    I might be able to afford an olive.

  14. laura says:

    Don’t get too excited, the way this town operates it will never happen. 12 dedicated spaces behind the Triplex for the tenants???? what happens when they leave…someone going to the movies will take the space. The parking on Railroad Street and above are already taken up by people who work in that area. After 10 in the morning try and find a space to park without going around the block twice.
    If this comes to light by the fall of 2017 I will be surprised.

  15. Christopher H. L. Owen, A.I. A. Architect says:

    I’m sorry to see this, proposal but with a NYC professional involved it’s exactly what one might expect. Loss of individual identity for each of the various buildings, all now with standard, uniform, and mediocre urban storefront facades all obliterating the Street’s unique charm . What next, roll down chain link shutters?
    Very important and said by several individuals above, is to include at the very least one affordable restaurant with seasonal outdoor seating. Life at night as one looks up to the end of The Street is a must and can become a pedestrian magnet. Conversely the view down Railroad street should be enjoyed by restaurant and cafe patrons not only storefront mannequins!
    I’m quite amazed at all the positive comments. Every one of these contributors should revisit the site and note that our sightlines rarely rise above the first floor. Let’s keep this level in character with each of the buildings it supports.

  16. Kayemtee says:

    Great! Another row of pretentious, overpriced stores selling nothing I want. I’m old enough to remember buying fish hooks from the original Kenver on Railroad Street, ten cent cruellers from the Star Bakery (Martins), and bicycle parts from Western Auto (Pearls, Marios et al). You can’t go home again.

    1. Martin Albert says:

      You should buy Martin’s and start selling 10 cent Krullers! It’ll be great!

  17. Anne Legene says:

    Those buildings were beautifully and tastefully restored not very long ago, and really enhance the town. To see them stripped of their shutters, ripped open to make place for glass store fronts hurts.

  18. David R. says:

    Here come the Hamptons!

  19. Rob says:

    This space is only going to be as valuable as what we do with it. It’s a very large responsibility for our community to properly utilize this space and focus on diversifying what we have to offer, (Something we are currently not doing). Antique and boutique isn’t cutting it. As a suggestion; how about an actual music venue that doesn’t predominantly cater to the 60 + crowd? On that note, we also shouldn’t be afraid of any change taking place here. It’s ridiculous to think this town possesses some kind of “unique” charm. It looks like every other small town in in New England. Not opening up and evolving would mean the death of this place. There is a reason people often need or want to leave here. How about creating a reason to stay?

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