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Community Spotlight

Green Thumb Industries will soon begin operating a marijuana-cultivation operation in this mill building at 28 Appleton St. And it will likely be the first of several such operations in Holyoke.

Green Thumb Industries will soon begin operating a marijuana-cultivation operation in this mill building at 28 Appleton St. And it will likely be the first of several such operations in Holyoke.

Marcos Marrero says that if one were to have a machine running an optimization algorithm that would weigh a host of quantitative and qualitative factors to ultimately determine the very best spot in the region — and maybe the country — to locate a marijuana cultivation and distribution facility, it would, when done with its analysis, likely spit out two words: Holyoke and Massachusetts.

And that second word is necessary, he went on, because there is, in fact, a Holyoke in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and he’s already been asked more than a few times if he works for that small town of 5,000 people near the center of the Centennial State.

He doesn’t. He’s director of Planning and Economic Development for the other Holyoke, the one on the Connecticut River. The one heralded as one of the first planned industrial cities in the country. The one where Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (TGI) is set to open an estimated $10 million marijuana-cultivation facility in former mill space on Appleton Street this spring.

And Marrero is fielding a lot of phone calls and e-mails these days from other people wanting to know more about that Holyoke, and marijuana cultivation is usually the reason (more on those inquiries later).

First, back to that algorithm. As noted, it would weigh a host of quantitative factors, said Marrero, and they all project strongly in Holyoke’s favor. These range from the roughly 1.5 million square feet of available, attractively priced mill space within the city, much of it ideal for marijuana cultivation because of the mills’ open spaces and high ceilings, to the lowest electricity rates in the state (this is a power-intensive business), to Holyoke’s location along I-91 and just off the Turnpike.

“You can ship it east, and you can ship it north,” said Marrero, adding quickly that there also qualitative factors to consider.

Or at least one big one, anyway. That would be the city’s welcoming attitude toward an industry that most communities in the Bay State are throwing stop signs and speed bumps in front of.

“Many cities and towns are taking out the pitchforks to prevent the cannabis industry from coming in,” said Holyoke’s mayor, Alex Morse. “Given my outspoken support for the industry, we’re seeing companies from across the country come into Holyoke to meet with us and my team about locations and learn more about our special-permit process. It’s been company after company that’s been looking to invest.”

But this cannabis phenomenon, if you will, is just part of the story. And it’s only one of the ways in which the city is succeeding with filling some its legendary and mostly idle or underused mills.

There are many others, starting with the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which opened in the Cubit building (anther of those old mills) in January. There are also the market-rate apartments in the floors above that facility, and a host of other housing initiatives as well.

There are also arts-related facilities, such as Gateway City Arts on Race Street. And then, there are a growing number of startups, mentored by groups like SPARK, that are also moving into those mills.

All this, or most all of it (the marijuana law was passed in 2016), was part of Morse’s vision when he became mayor in 2012, and also why he’s still mayor today, having been re-elected to a four-year term (the city’s first) last fall. Back when he first ran for office, he explained, he saw enormous potential for the city to become home to a wide array of businesses and to become an attractive residential address as well after decades when it clearly wasn’t.

The formula called for a host of public investments — they’ve come in many forms, from a new canal walk to a new train depot to a slew of road projects — that would in turn encourage private investments (such as the Cubit building and GTI, for example). There would also be a focus on building the cultural economy, encouraging entrepreneurship, and maximizing Holyoke’s many geographic and historical assets.

In short, it’s all coming together nicely, as we’ll see in this, the latest installment of BusinessWest’s Community Spotlight series.

Joint Ventures

When asked to put all that aforementioned interest in Holyoke on the part of cannabis enterprises, or would-be cannabis enterprises, into perspective, Marrero let out a deep breath.

“The last couple of weeks have been … crazy,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s been lots of meetings and phone calls. Some of them are companies that are just shopping around and don’t necessarily know everything about Holyoke, but they may be looking in the Western Mass. corridor. But they’ve heard about us and want to know more.”

And it’s been crazy for a reason, actually several of them, as noted at the top.

“We believe we have the best competitive advantages for the industry at this time,” Marrero explained, “from the real estate to the low-cost electricity — those lights are on a lot — to the water. Holyoke has a lot of offer these businesses.

“And in Mayor Morse, you have the first mayor to come out and quite vocally support legalizing marijuana, recreationally and medically, and that certainly makes a difference,” he went on, adding that the city had one of the first ordinances in the state regulating, but also, and in many ways, welcoming the industry.

“So there’s some political stability — there’s a willingness and a desire to have this industry here,” Marrero continued, adding that all this caught the attention of GTI, which is now permitted to operate a facility on 42,000 square feet of former mill space at 28 Appleton St.

The company plans to hire about 100 people within the next year, said Morse, adding that, while not all of these are skilled positions, per se, these will be attractive positions with wages averaging $15 or more.

“When GTI held its first job fair last fall, there were more than 700 people in the room,” he recalled. “And that sends a strong message to other elected leaders in this city and also the community that people are looking for jobs, they’re willing to get trained, and they want to work.”

The Cubit building, home to apartments and the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, is just one example of how Holyoke’s historic mills are being put to new and productive uses.

The Cubit building, home to apartments and the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, is just one example of how Holyoke’s historic mills are being put to new and productive uses.

Meanwhile, there are many other entities looking to join GTI, said Marrero, adding that there are at least six businesses expressing what he called “serious” interest and moving toward the permitting stage, and perhaps a dozen more that are kicking the tires and filling Marrero’s voice mailbox.

How many will eventually land in Holyoke obviously remains to be seen, but Marrero and Morse both believe the cannabis sector could soon employ hundreds in the Paper City and bring additional benefits as well in the form of supporting businesses that will also pay taxes and employ area residents.

“Once you have a clustering effect of any industry, you have a subsequent clustering effect of any industry that supports that sector, and that could benefit not only Holyoke but surrounding communities,” Marrero explained. “If we had 10 cannabis-growing companies, not only would that translate into a large amount of jobs, tax revenue, and more, but then those 10 companies are going to be demanding services from pipe fitters, electricians, those who maintain HVAC systems, transportation and logistics companies, security companies, etc.; you have a second tier of expertise that is developed in the economy to support them.”

This is what has happened in Colorado (he’s not sure about the community of Holyoke) and other states where marijuana has been legalized, he went on, adding that the Holyoke in Massachusetts has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes made by others before it, and there have been some.

Run of the Mills

While the cannabis industry starts to fill in that section of the canvas that is a changing Holyoke, other businesses are finding the city as well, and the vision that Morse put in place at the start of this decade is coming into focus.

That vision involved embracing the city’s industrial past as a paper and textile hub, but also recognizing that this was in the past and that the community had to develop new sources of jobs and tax revenue while also revitalizing a downtown that had seen much better days.

The strategy for doing all that, as noted earlier, is multi-faceted.

“We’ve been pursuing an innovation-based economic-development strategy and coupling that with a public-investment strategy,” the mayor explained. “We’ve made a number of investments that have made the city a more attractive place for private investment and incentivising developers to come in; they’ve recognized that the city is making investments in itself to make it a more liveable, walkable community, especially in the downtown, and they’re responded to that.”

There’s been a housing strategy as part of that broader plan, he went on, adding that housing is obviously key to attracting businesses and the people who would work for them.

The goal is to create a dense, diverse inventory of housing, Morse went on, adding that the city is making strides in this regard with market-rate projects such as the Cubit building, mixed-use projects such such as a Wynn Development initiative at the former Farr Alpaca Mills on Appleton Street, and public housing efforts such as the ongoing, 167-unit Lyman Terrace project.

As for those public investments, they have come in many forms, including the canal walk and train station, but also a number of parks and neighborhoods. The effect has been to make the city a more attractive option for businesses, but also families, said the mayor.

“We’re not of the philosophy that one big corporate giant is going to arrive in Holyoke and solve all our problems — we have a much more long-term view of sustainable economic development,” he explained. “We’re focused on the innovation economy, but also entrepreneurship and small-business development, through initiatives such as SPARK.”

There have been more than 80 ‘graduates’ of that program of mentoring and education, run by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, he went on, adding that some of them are either incubating in Holyoke or have already moved into their own space within the city.

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1786
Population: 40.280
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.17
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.72
Median Household Income: $36,608
Median Family Income: $41,194
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England Inc., PeoplesBank, Universal Plastics, Marox Corp.
* Latest information available

Meanwhile, there are other forms of progress to note across the city, said Morse, listing everything from a rising high-school graduation rate — it was under 50% when he took office, and now it’s closer to 70% — to falling unemployment; from planned revitalization of the former Lynch School just off I-91 (an RFP was recently issued) to needed evolution at the Holyoke Mall.

The mall is one of the city’s important assets, he noted, adding that it brings thousands of people into the city every day. With the retail sector struggling in the wake of emerging forces like Amazon, and malls fighting to keep their spaces filled, the facility in Holyoke is responding with family-oriented tenants that are keeping the parking lots crowded, said the mayor.

“We’ve seen the mall make a number of investments in recent years and add more entertainment options,” he explained. “These include new restaurants, an escape-room place, and a new Cinemark theater that will be coming in.”

As for the graduation rate and improvement at the public schools overall, this is an important ingredient in the overall strategy for Holyoke’s revitalization, said the mayor.

And with continued progress in mind, the city will launch a new high-school model this fall, one based on four different academies focused on career readiness to create more pathways for students.

Planting Seeds

As he talked about cannabis — and everything else going on in Holyoke — Morse joked that Holyoke might soon run out of mill space to offer developers.

When told about that line, Marrero laughed, paused for a second, and said simply, “I hope so — that would be great.”

That’s not likely to happen any time soon, if ever. But that number of available square feet in the mills that gave Holyoke its nickname and its heritage keeps going down.

And cannabis is just one of the reasons. Many of the same character traits that are attracting marijuana growers — from the mills to the highways to a business-friendly City Hall — are attracting other types of businesses as well.

As noted, Morse couldn’t exactly have foreseen the cannabis industry being one of his city’s leading employers when he took office. But he could foresee a time when his staff and the office of Planning and Economic Development would be flooded with calls from people interested in maybe setting up shop in Holyoke.

And not the one in Colorado.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

The aerial map of Springfield behind Kevin Kennedy

The aerial map of Springfield behind Kevin Kennedy, taken just a few years ago, would look very different today, and that’s a good thing, he says.

To say projects are coming to fruition in Springfield is a bit of an understatement these days, with a $950 million casino opening downtown in September, following right on the heels of the $90 million Union Station renovation and the $95 million CRRC MA plant on the former Westinghouse site, which is expected to begin producing rail cars for the MBTA this year.

Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, cited those projects at the start of a recent conversation with BusinessWest because they have been, in many ways, the most prominent signs of economic momentum in Springfield. But they’re only three among dozens of moving pieces coming together to generate real excitement in the City of Homes.

“We’re calling it ‘the year of the new Springfield,’” he said.

And it needs to be, considering that the casino, if projections are correct, will draw 12,000 to 15,000 visitors per day, perhaps more at the start. Meanwhile, the Hartford rail line into Union Station may bring up to 2,000 people a day, in addition to the usual PVTA and Peter Pan bus traffic.

“A lot of people will be coming through Springfield; it will be a completely different area in terms of foot traffic,” Kennedy said, noting that restaurants, retail, and entertainment options in the area will get a boost — possibly a big one.

“Bruno Mars, who just cleaned up in the Grammys, plays MGM in Las Vegas. Lady Gaga performs at MGM facilities. There’s Cirque de Soleil … these are things that, from an entertainment point of view, Springfield could only wish for,” he said, adding that the sheer possibilities have people excited.

But it’s important, he said, not to simply let the wave of MGM visitors happen, but to pair the casino’s opening with an image campaign to let people know what else Springfield and the surrounding region have to offer. After all, it’s not every day that a business opens with the potential of bringing thousands of people into the city every day who would otherwise not be there.

And, indeed, there’s much more than nightlife afoot downtown; for example, the innovation economy that has taken root with entities like Tech Foundry, TechSpring, and Valley Venture Mentors has created a fertile environment for ideas to turn into cutting-edge companies.

Meanwhile, “I never thought we’d see the day that we were creating market-rate housing in our downtown,” Kennedy said, citing the 265 units in the SilverBrick Lofts and a planned transformation of the old YMCA on Chestnut Street into 114 market-rate units, not to mention the rehabilitation of the Willys-Overland building into 60 market-rate units.

“Developers are telling me there’s room for 300 more units in terms of demand,” he added, noting that such downtown housing tends to attract the younger demographic a city needs to remain vital — and the arrival of MGM Springfield ties into that as well. “Millennials love first-class entertainment. The pieces all fit.”

Those pieces include persuading people who visit Springfield, some for the first time, to explore what else the city has to offer.

For instance, “we have two things nobody else has — the Dr. Seuss museum and the Basketball Hall of Fame,” Kennedy noted. The latter is embarking on a major, $25 million renovation, while the former continues to smash attendance records at the Springfield Museums, drawing visitors from all 50 states and around the world (see story on page 39).

Kennedy drew on an apt analogy for the Hall of Fame when talking about the way Springfield is currently promoting itself. “We do some coaching and try to keep the team together, but the most important part is getting the players to play,” he said. “All the citizens and businesses, they’re the real stars of the show right now. Everyone wants to something — the chamber, the cultural council, the EDC, all these are partnerships, and they’ve taken the ball and run with it. Every major organization has stepped forward.”

Made for Walking

One of those downtown partners, the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD), recently signed onto the first cultural compact in the state, an agreement among the city, the district, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and state leaders that solidifies the city’s recognition of the arts as an economic-development activity.

But the SCCD has long been promoting and installing public art as a means of ramping up creative placemaking to boost the walkability and attractiveness of the downtown.

“I think that’s something we’ve focused on since the beginning of the cultural district — increasing walkability, not just to drive visitors to a destination, but for add-ons,” said SCCD Executive Director Morgan Drewniany, before explaining what that means. “Say someone is here for MGM, and they’re walking between the bowling alley there and a restaurant. If the streetscape between those places is attractive and funky and cool, you might take that extra step and keep walking, instead of stopping at the place that’s easiest.”

That’s the goal of turning the streetscape — through public art, bustling storefronts, and increased safety measures — into an attraction in itself, so if someone arrives in the city to visit MGM and maybe the Seuss museum, they might be compelled to stick around and check out more destinations.

SEE: Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1852
Population: 156,000
Area: 33.1 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.68
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.28
Median Household Income: $34,311
Median family Income: $39,535
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Medical Center; MassMutual Financial Group; Big Y; Mercy Medical Center; Center for Human Development; American Outdoor Brands Corp.
Latest information available

The city, meanwhile, has embarked on revitalization projects at Stearns Square, Pynchon Place, and Riverfront Park, and is looking into restaurants installing ‘bumpouts’ onto the sidewalk for outdoor seating. Meanwhile, a pedestrian wayfinding system downtown and a coming bike-share program will further create a sense of vitality for residents and visitors alike, Kennedy said.

Perhaps most important is a city-wide reduction in crime that officials attribute to a number of factors, from an increase in police officers to leadership classes in the department to a computer program on laptops in cruisers that pinpoint where recent crimes have occurred and allows police officers to read reports about them.

One of the most notable changes has been the expansion of C3 (community) policing in vulnerable neighborhoods where high levels of poverty, truancy, and healthcare problems exist. Special police units have been created and put in place in four areas: Mason Square, the South End, the North End, and lower Forest Park.

Downtown, that public-safety momentum will take the form of a new substation and three police kiosks, Kennedy said, adding that Police Commissioner John Barberi understands the connection between safe streets and economic development.

“The things he’s done have been nothing but supportive. The concept of police kiosks and substations will not only make the downtown safer, but will free up police in other neighborhoods when they’re not answering calls downtown. All the neighborhoods benefit.”

The police force, in fact, was one of the earliest adopters of Drewniany’s arts-is-safety philosophy and her belief that more public art can increase foot traffic, which in turn raises the perception of safety, which then actually increases safety. “Criminals aren’t hanging out doing whatever they want to do in a place that’s active with pedestrians,” she said. “It follows the same idea as the police kiosks. If people feel like it’s a safe place, it will actually be a safe place.”

Meanwhile, MGM made a commitment to spend $1.5 million annually for 15 years to create and maintain a public-safety district downtown due to the traffic it will bring to the city. The district runs from the south end of Mill Street to Union Station, and from Riverfront Park up to the Quadrangle.

All the Right Moves

As for the casino, Kennedy said the way the city handled the process of securing MGM made sense.

“We were fortunate to take the right tack in how to approach the gaming question, to not marry any individual suitor. We courted multiple suitors, created competition, and created leverage,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would deny we ended up with a top-flight company in MGM that created a perception outside of Springfield that we were ready to do business in the right way.”

He credited former Gov. Deval Patrick for sowing many of the seeds for some of the city’s recent flagship developments, including a $350,000 planning grant in 2008 to get Union Station renovated. “He was the one who said to those that wanted to provide rail cars for the MBTA, ‘look west.’ And I think we picked the right mix of things, and have been fortunate with major investments like MGM but also making a transition to the innovation economy downtown. All kinds of pieces of the plan worked.”

And it’s not just new entities creating excitement, he added.

“What MassMutual did recently, by bringing 1,500 people into their home office, really solidifies its future here in Springfield,” he noted. “They’re also bringing anywhere from 500 to 1,000 employees into Boston, which is also really good for Springfield because it gives us a footprint in the state capital.”

That, along with Big Y’s just-announced expansion of its distribution center, are two examples of how large, legacy companies remain a vital force, even with all the buzz generated by the startup economy. “Not only are we bringing in outside companies, but our existing companies are expanding. It’s all great news for Springfield.”

Kennedy also credited Mayor Domenic Sarno and other officials for not thinking parochially and understanding the value of regional connections, which include the development of more rail platforms along the north-south line that connects Connecticut and Vermont. “We can’t discount the importance of Union Station for the simple reason that rail transportation is going to become more and more important.”

As for that ‘new Springfield,’ Kennedy traces the recent resurgence in the city, and especially its downtown, to the construction of the federal courthouse on State Street in 2008. In many ways, that project launched a decade of impressive development, culminating in a 2018 that many people probably couldn’t have envisioned back then, when none of these major projects were on the horizon and the national economy was tanking.

“That gave you the confidence that you could really do something,” he told BusinessWest. “And what we’re seeing now isn’t smoke and mirrors; they’re not just feel-good things. These things are real.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Linda Leduc and Charlie Blanchard stand beside one of Palmer’s two new charging stations for electric cars.

Linda Leduc and Charlie Blanchard stand beside one of Palmer’s two new charging stations for electric cars.

In a neighborhood struggling to regain some momentum, any new development matters — no matter how humble.

Literally, in the case of Humble Pie, a restaurant with a façade as nondescript as its name and a farm-to-table ethos that has quickly won over locals since opening in December on Main Street in the Three Rivers section of Palmer.

“They’ve been getting excellent reviews, and people are literally standing in line,” said Town Planner and Economic Development Director Linda Leduc. “That’s good because it’s another catalyst to get other business owners and developers to invest in Main Street.”

It’s not the only new development in the neighborhood. The town has also transferred ownership of 2032 Main St. to South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which is renovating the top floor to apartments and the bottom to retail — a mixed-use plan that will both infuse new residents into the neighborhood while attracting more shoppers, said Town Planner Charlie Blanchard. “That rehabilitated building will hopefully attract other businesses to the area.”

Property and business owners in Three Rivers have been meeting for the past two years as part of a grass-roots revitalization effort, which includes changing the perception of the area and filling vacant storefronts. Discussions with residents have touched on ideas such as making the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, building a walking path with river access around the perimeter of Laviolette Park and upgrading the parking there, and expanding Hryniewicz Park, which is used for movie nights, concerts, and other events staged by the town’s recreation department and the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, the consortium known as On the Right TRACK (Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge) has been working for some time to build a cultural and creative economy in the village.

Meanwhile, Pinocchio’s restaurant on Bridge Street in Three Rivers installed outdoor seating last summer, which turned out to be a popular option, said Leduc, adding that the eatery stuck out a tough period when the Red Bridge, which connects that area of Palmer with Ludlow and Wilbraham, was out of service for two years; it reopened in November.

“I know that hurt the entire village, and Pinocchio’s was definitely struggling,” she went on, “but now that it’s open, the whole village will benefit.”

Three Rivers is definitely on the move, she and Blanchard told BusinessWest — and other neighborhoods in Palmer are showing signs of positive activity as well.

Health Matters

Baystate Wing Hospital’s $17.2 million project to expand its Emergency Department, which is nearing completion, will better accommodate the needs of the community by supporting the current annual patient volume of 24,000 visits.

The 17,800-square-foot space will include separate ambulance and public entryways and will feature 20 patient rooms, including trauma, behavioral health, and other dedicated specialty-care areas. Private rooms will replace curtained bays to enhance patient privacy, and a dedicated space will be created for behavioral-health patients. Once the new building is completed, the current Emergency Department space, which was built in 1995, will be retrofitted for other uses,” according to Dr. Robert Spence, chief of Emergency Medicine for Baystate Health’s Eastern Region.

While that’s the largest medical development happening in Palmer, it’s far from the only one. Others include CrossFit Ardor, which moved from Brimfield to the Allen Block in Depot Village last year; a new massage-therapy and wellness center called Peaceful Paths on North Main St.; and an expansion of Palmer Animal Hospital on Thorndike Street. Speaking of animals, a new pet-grooming business known as Rufflections Dog Spa recently opened on Park Street.

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050 (2015)
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $22.08; Three Rivers, $22.91; Bondsville, $22.75; Thorndike, $23.59
Median Household Income: $41,443
Median Family Income: $49,358
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Sanderson MacLeod Inc., Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available

Last year also saw the opening of the expanded, 4,000-square-foot Junction Variety Store in Depot Village, more than doubling its previous size. The store, which had sold beer and wine, now has a full package license, and owners Meena and Bharat Patel aim to lease some additional space for retail or office use.

In the Thorndike section of town, steampunk artist Bruce Rosenbaum and his wife, Melanie, moved into the former St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Main Street, as both their residence and the new home for Mod Vic Steampunk Design. They have created a showroom and gallery in the historic space, as well as holding steampunk workshops for families. “He’s moving ahead with his work, and has pieces displayed in the sanctuary; it’s incredible,” Leduc said.

Finally, the new rail spur installed at Sherwood Lumber Yard, in the town’s industrial park — a project that has been in the works since 2013, and funded through an Industrial Rail Access Program grant — will allow the business to bring in materials by train, which will spur significant expansion of the operation, Blanchard said.

“It actually helps the entire industrial park,” Leduc said. “When trains would come in, they’d hold up the entire line, so that other deliveries weren’t getting into the park. “By having them have their own rail spur, now a train can come in and unload without that sort of interruption.”

Green Thoughts

Other recent business developments include a few ‘green’ businesses, in more than one sense of that word. One is the move of Gold Circuit E-Cycling from Ludlow to Third Street in Palmer, Leduc said. The four-person operation will not only do business in town — picking up and recycling used computer equipment, electronics, and refrigerated appliances, as well as recycling a host of other goods — but plans to develop a relationship with Pathfinder Regional High School’s work-study program.

The town will also see its 10th large-scale solar project this year, with the owner of a property on River Street leasing space to Borrego Solar for a 4.7-megawatt system, which will bring total production among the 10 sites to 29.3 megawatts.

Leduc said she gets calls every week about potential new solar developments, but if more are to be approved, the priority is to place them in remote areas where they won’t alter the town’s rural character and natural viewscapes.

Palmer has also given the green light to a growing industry in Massachusetts, approving its first medical-marijuana facility on Chamber Road, including a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse and 3,200 square feet of retail space. Altitude Organic Corp. will move its headquarters from Colorado to a property on Thorndike Street in Palmer as part of the development. “So they’re ready to invest in the town,” Leduc said.

Blanchard said the approval was partly driven by the fact that recreational marijuana is now on the horizon, expanding the market for growers, although the town currently has a moratorium on recreational-pot facilities as it decides on what types of ordinances and restrictions to put in place around such facilities.

Even last year’s total renovation of Town Hall — which included the expansion of the public meeting room; a new conference room and additional storage space; new offices for the Board of Health, Conservation Department, Building Department, and Veteran’s Agent; and new lighting, windows, and carpeting — had an ecologically friendly component.

“The town purchased two electric vehicles and had two charging stations installed at Town Hall and the library,” Leduc said, noting that they were funded by the state Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities program. Particularly in the case of the library station, she noted, they will provide another opportunity for people, in this case electric-car owners, to explore town. “They’re probably going to charge for a couple of hours, which will give them the opportunity to explore Main Street, visit, go shopping, and grab something to eat.”

In other words, to take in a bit more of a town that’s constantly adding to its reasons to stick around.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Geoff Kravitz (left) and Paul Bockelman

Geoff Kravitz (left) and Paul Bockelman say the town is studying what types of businesses would be best suited to its emerging mixed-use developments.

Anyone who has spent time in Amherst recognizes the town’s enviable mix of cultural institutions, restaurants, academic energy — more than 33,000 students attend UMass Amherst, Hampshire College, and Amherst College — and open space.

But town officials know they need to do more than tout those offerings; they need to leverage them to create the kind of community where college graduates will want to stay, and where families and businesses will want to locate.

A number of recent developments aim to meet that need. For example, Archipelago Investments, LLC of Amherst is building One East Pleasant, a mixed-use project featuring 135 residential units and 7,500 square feet of commercial space, with plans for the building to be completed and occupied by the fall.

Meanwhile, W.D. Cowls Inc. and Boston-based Beacon Communities are laying the groundwork for North Square at the Mill District, another mixed-use development in North Amherst, which will feature 130 residential units — including 26 affordable units for people at or below 50% of the area’s median income — and 22,000 square feet of commercial space. Construction on the project, which tapped into local tax-increment financing, is set to begin this spring.

Archipelago is also developing a third mixed-use project for the downtown area, at 26 Spring St., which will feature 38 residential units and 1,000 square feet of commercial space. That was recently permitted, as was Aspen Heights, on Route 9 at the former Amherst Motel site, where Breck Group Amherst Massachusetts LP plans a residential development that will include 115 units, 16 of them qualifying as affordable housing.

“There is a master plan which has focused development on the village centers, while taking tangible steps to preserve open space,” said Town Manager Paul Bockelman, noting that municipal leaders want new development to occur downtown, in the North Amherst Village Center, in South Amherst, and East Amherst so the town can preserve existing neighborhoods and open space.

Amherst at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1759
Population: 39,482
Area: 27.7 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $21.14
Commercial Tax Rate: $21.14
Median Household Income: $48,059
Median Family Income: $96,005
Type of Government: Select Board, Town Meeting
Largest Employers: UMass Amherst; Amherst College; Delivery Express; Hampshire College
* Latest information available

“Things are happening on campus, too,” said Geoff Kravitz, Amhert’s Economic Development director. “UMass opened its design building, they’re renovating Isenberg School of Management, and Amherst College is doing a big, new, quarter-billion science center.”

“That’s an interesting one,” Bockelman said of the latter. “At one point, they were saying 200 tradespeople were coming into town every day to work on one building. These sorts of investments from the colleges and university are making a spillover effect on the town. Clearly, as these institutions grow, it benefits the town.”

Meanwhile, the University/Town of Amherst Collaborative has been working since 2015 to create better connections between UMass and the town, from addressing student housing needs to leveraging opportunities related to university research, entrepreneurship opportunities, cultural opportunities, and retention of graduates.

It’s a town, in short, that is ripe for opportunities that spring out of such connections — and a place whose cultural profile makes it a true destination for visitors and transplants alike.

Speaking of Culture

The Amherst Central Cultural District is another connection-maker of sorts, a state designation issued in 2016 that aims to leverage the offerings of the Emily Dickinson Museum, Jones Library, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the Yiddish Book Museum at Hampshire College, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, and other cultural institutions.

“They can cross-promote; for example, the Emily Dickinson Museum has a poetry week, and Amherst College has a literary festival,” Kravitz said, adding that the Business Improvement District also presents an arts festival downtown that brings together artists of all kinds who normally work independently. “We have a lot of people who do their artwork at home, and this gets them out of the woodwork and shows a strong artistic presence downtown.”

Meanwhile, the Amherst WinterFest, an array of cultural and recreational offerings slated for Feb. 3-10, has been expanded this year from a weekend to a full week, due to popular demand.

The downtown district continues to attract new businesses — the Red Door Salon, Bart’s Ice Cream, and Ichiban are a few recent notables — but with a low vacancy rate, growth is limited until those mixed-use developments come online. And the town has streamlined its downtown parking options as well, making it easier for people to pay by phone, for instance, and issued maps showing where visitors can find parking, bathrooms, and other amenities.

Through it all, officials hope the new mixed-use developments downtown create more business growth, energy, and tourism.

“We’re looking to fill that commercial space, and that requires breaking out the crystal ball and looking into the future,” Kravitz said. Specifically, the down has engaged with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to develop an economic-development plan which will examine the market, local economic indicators, and the town’s so-called SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — to determine what types of businesses may be most successful, including but possibly going beyond the restaurants, retail, and entertainment options that have long thrived downtown.

As for housing, the new residential developments are welcome, as there hasn’t been much residential development over the previous couple decades, Bockelman said, noting that a 2015 study determined that Amherst could use some 4,000 more units. “People have been trying to fill that gap.”

But young people aren’t the only ones interested in the Amherst lifestyle. “Older people are retiring to college towns; it’s very attractive, between the cultural benefits and the 80 miles of hiking trails here and the access to nature,” he added, referring to the K.C. Trail, the Robert Frost Trail, and the Norwottuck Rail Trail. “Not everyone is going to Florida to retire. Some people grew up here and want to stay here; they’re not fleeing to warmer climes.”

The Kayon Accelerator, which opened last year on the second floor of the AmherstWorks co-working space downtown, can play a role in retaining people who grew upin Amherst and went to college here, Kravitz said, by attracting people trying to turn innovative ideas into businesses and may be looking for venture capital and other resources.

“If they like the lifestyle here, why not stay where they have friends and have a life already?” he said. “That’s one thing we’re trying to build — that 22-to-44 age group, people starting their families here. That’s really valuable to us.”

Green Thoughts

There is one other economic-development opportunity that towns have grappled with in myriad ways, but that Amherst is embracing. That’s the marijuana trade — both medicinal and recreational. Considering that the town’s voters favored the 2016 ballot measure legalizing recreational pot by a 3-to-1 margin, officials here are taking seriously how best to respect their wishes while emphasizing safe use of marijuana.

“This recreational use, or adult use, is something our residents want to see, and even if the town doesn’t think it’s a good idea, it’s going to have an impact on the town anyway, so it’s a good idea to have the businesses located here so we can take advantage of the tax revenue, and do it in a safe, responsible manner,” Kravitz said.

However, with a population that’s constantly changing — thousands of freshmen report to UMass Amherst, Hampshire College, and Amherst College each fall — the town is planning a significant educational component as well. It has also passed a number of marijuana-related regulations, including a 3% local-option sales tax, a ban on public consumption, and capping at eight the number of recreational-marijuana establishments in town.

“We thought that would create enough competition without overwhelming them,” Kravitz said. “The town is now looking at zoning that will help refine that.”

It’s just one more way a town with much to offer residents and businesses is working to weave those amenities into a tapestry that keeps people coming — whether for school, to live, or simply to enjoy the scene.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Linda Tyer

Linda Tyer says the city has taken several steps to support business growth.

When she issued her annual state-of-the-city address recently, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer spoke at length about issues ranging from schools to public safety; from recreation to housing, and much more.

But she summed up many of her feelings early on, with five simple words: “Pittsfield is good for business.”

As an example, she cited the creation of a new municipal position, business development manager, a yet-to-be-named appointee who — under the guidance of the newly formed Mayor’s Economic Development Council, comprised of Tyer; Mick Callahan, chair of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority; and Jay Anderson, president of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp. — will promote and foster economic development, job growth, and capital investment by working to retain and grow existing businesses and by attracting new businesses.

“Another key feature of this collaboration includes the creation of a ‘red-carpet team’ made up of city and state officials whose purpose is to develop strategies and explore incentives to support business expansion or startups,” Tyer said, noting that the team was deployed several times last year, assisting local businesses such as Modern Mold and Tool and LTI Smart Glass with their expansion efforts.

She said the next step in supporting businesses is building the Berkshire Innovation Center, which recently received a $1 million pledge from the City Council. “This commitment has opened up more dialogue with state officials, and I anticipate that soon we will have a complete financing package that will secure all the necessary funding for construction and two years of operations.”

The Berkshire Innovation Center, she explained, will be a state-of-the-art facility located at the William Stanley Business Park, featuring cutting-edge equipment available to advanced manufacturers for research and development of new products. In partnership with Berkshire Community College, the center will be a place of teaching and learning, creating a pipeline of trained employees that area companies desperately need.

“It will revolutionize how we support advanced manufacturers here in Pittsfield and the Berkshires and how we build a skilled workforce,” she explained.

At the same time, Tyer noted, the city has seen the opening of several new small businesses, including floral-arrangements outfit Township Four, Red Apple Butchers, and the Framework co-working space, all on North Street, as well as Hangar Pub and Grill on East Street.

The city has seen movement on the residential front as well, said Tyer, who noted that Millennials want to live in locations with hip housing, convenient access to work, and work-life balance amenities. She cited the former St. Mary the Morningstar Church on Tyler Street, which was acquired by local developer David Carver and his company, CT Management Group, and will be redeveloped into 29 units of market-rate rental housing and include campus-style pathways and inviting common areas.

Pittsfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 44,737
Area: 42.5 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $20.01
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.98
Median Household Income: $35,655
Median family Income: $46,228
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Berkshire Health Systems; General Dynamics; Petricca Industries Inc.; SABIC Innovative Plastics
* Latest information available

“Our neighborhoods deserve our efforts too,” she was quick to add, “and while we seek new market-rate housing, we also want to help shore up our city’s older housing stock.”

To that end, she will soon announce the details of a city-sponsored home-improvement initiative in collaboration with MassHousing, which seeks to provide funding to improve the exterior of owner-occupied dwellings who qualify under relaxed eligibility guidelines. The program will allow for the repair or replacement of features such as windows, doors, porches, siding, and roofs. “Giving our residents the resources they need to enhance the value of their homes and to improve their quality of their life is the primary objective of this initiative,” the mayor noted.

Multi-pronged Approach

Tyer said the issue of community housing, along with parks, open space, and historic preservation, are the four designated categories that will comprise a formal plan developed by the city’s Community Preservation Committee, and $420,000 in Community Preservation funding will be invested in one or more of the four categories. Creating the plan will include public input to make sure the community’s priorities are considered.

Still, Pittsfield has moved ahead with a number of municipal quality-of-life projects. A permanent pavilion will be installed this spring at Durant Park with the support of Greylock Federal Credit Union, while Clapp Park will benefit from a $400,000 state grant.

“Clapp Park is truly a four-season destination in Pittsfield, and this funding aligns two strong community partners, Rotary International and the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee,” Tyer said. “Both will partner with the city on Clapp Park improvements, including the construction of a splash pad, enhancements to the playground and fields, and increased accessibility.”

Elsewhere, 75% of the design is complete for the bike path extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail from Mall Road to Crane Avenue, and construction on the path is expected to begin this spring. “This is great news for many in our community who relish the outdoors and enjoy hitting the trails on foot or on bike.”

Finally, due to a growing interest among active seniors for the game of pickle ball, the city striped four pickle ball courts at Reid Middle School for their use.

Meanwhile, an emphasis on neighborhood revitalization can be seen in the Tyler Street Transformative District Initiative, a partnership between Pittsfield and MassDevelopment. A streetscape-improvement program on Tyler Street will include more lighting, landscaping, bike lanes, and improved pedestrian accommodations.

In addition, a storefront-improvement project there allows businesses to apply for funding for exterior improvements. Hot Harry’s, Panda Garden, Goodwill Industries, and Quillard Brothers Garage are among the operations taking advantage of the program.

Finally, the Tyler Street Pilot LED Light Project, a collaborative effort between the city, Pine Ridge Technologies, and Eversource, aims to improve lighting, environmental stewardship, and cost savings. Two LED streetlight fixtures were incorporated into existing banner poles on Tyler Street at Grove and Plunkett streets, and will be monitored throughout the spring.

Speaking of power, the city’s electrical aggregation program allows local government to combine the purchasing power of residents and businesses to provide them with an alternative to the existing basic service costs offered by Eversource.

“Considering the increases in Eversource’s delivery rates, we wanted to ensure that residents had an ability to offset those increasing costs,” Tyer said, adding that, beginning this month, the Community Choice Power Supply program will provide city residents and businesses with a collective savings of more than $780,000 over the next six months.

In a similar vein, the city officially launched its newest 2.91-megawatt solar-power-generation facility at the former landfill located off of East Street. Ameresco will operate and maintain the project at no charge to the city. In exchange, the city entered into a 20-year agreement to purchase the power generated by the solar array.

“Combining the reduced utility costs and the personal property taxes paid by Ameresco, this project is estimated to save the city up to $140,000 annually,” Tyer noted. “That’s $2.6 million over the duration of the contract.”

Safety and Numbers

On the public-safety front, the Pittsfield Fire Department grew its ranks with the addition of eight new hires made possible through a federal SAFER grant, helping to reduce the city’s overtime costs by 60%. The department also recently purchased a 2014 ladder truck in mint condition at 60% of the cost of a new truck, as well as new hydraulic rescue tools.

The Police Department saw an even bigger change, hiring Police Chief Michael Wynn after a decade with no one in that role. Meanwhile, 14 officers completed field training in 2017, and the department recently hired six additional officers who will begin their training this year.

At Pittsfield Municipal Airport, reconstruction of two runways will begin this spring, enhancing overall safety by eliminating potential hazards caused by deteriorating runway pavement, Tyer said. The state Department of Transportation Aeronautics division also identified the airport for a rebuild of its terminal starting in 2020.

“The airport is also a perfect landscape for environmental stewardship,” she added. “Underway is the planning and development of a solar array that will provide revenue for the airport and cost-saving energy for municipal facilities.”

Even amid all that progress, Tyer said the city is challenged by serious fiscal constraints.

“Pittsfield is at its levy ceiling, and our ability to provide services that the community expects and deserves is impacted by diminished financial resources. This year our revenue growth remains limited, and we do not foresee dramatic increases in state aid or local receipts. This is a serious matter that requires a lot of difficult decisions, persistence over time, and sheer determination.”

She added, however, that “I view this circumstance as an opportunity to sharpen our thinking about the role of government and to access expertise at every level. We’ve already tapped into the state’s community compact program to develop a model for financial forecasting and to produce an improved, more informative budget document. And there’s more work to do.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

At last week’s inauguration of Chicopee officials

At last week’s inauguration of Chicopee officials, Mayor Richard Kos (center) is flanked by, from left, state Rep. Joseph Wagner, City Council President John Vieu, Elms College President Harry Dumay, and D. Scott Durham, Airlift Wing commander at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Mayor Richard Kos is fond of pointing out that Chicopee is alone among Western Mass. communities in having two exits off the Mass Pike — and now it has a third ‘beacon’ of sorts, as he calls it, with the new Mercedes-Benz dealership lighting the night as it overlooks the Pike at exit 6.

“One of the benefits of Chicopee is its convenience, as well as being a great place to do business,” Kos told BusinessWest. “That’s why Mercedes chose to build in that location. Having two exits on the turnpike is unique in Western Mass., let alone being close to four interstates — 90, 91, 291, and 391. As time goes by, society changes, especially in terms of technology, but being able to get places quickly is always a priority.”

In that vein, the mayor is gratified by a number of businesses choosing to locate or expand in Chicopee, as well as a raft of municipal projects and public-private partnerships that continue to raise the quality of life in this multi-faceted community of more than 55,000 people.

“Last year’s announcements have become this year’s ribbon cuttings, and Mercedes is one of them,” he said. “They’re a beacon advertising quality and prestige for everyone who enters the city off the turnpike or 291. That’s a major investment in the city — $12 million for acquisition, demolition, and construction. And Tru is another $15 million investment in our community.”

That would be Tru by Hilton, another major project, this one bordering the Mass Pike at exit 5. The owners of a Days Inn demolished the outdated hotel on Memorial Drive to make way for the new structure, and the property will include a fast-foot restaurant, a gas station, a coffee shop, and a sit-down restaurant.

“For people coming to Western Mass. from the eastern part of the state, these projects send a nice message,” Kos said — that message being that things are happening in Chicopee. “We’re a community that has always been responsive to businesses, with the conveniences we afford, while still being a very competitive community in terms of electric rates, taxes, and fees.”

Chicopee
at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,298
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $18.31
Commercial Tax Rate: $34.65
Median Household Income: $35,672
Median Family Income: $44,136
Type of Government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; J. Polep Distribution Services; City of Chicopee; Callaway Golf Ball Operations; MicroTek
* Latest information available

Other success stories involve long-time businesses like Callaway Golf, which sits on the Meadow Street property synonymous with Spalding for many decades.

“Callaway not only chose to remain here and expand here, but with their Chrome Soft ball and all their other high-end balls, they’re running a 24-hour, seven-day operation to keep up with demand,” the mayor said. “That’s one of the fastest-growing balls in use on the tour, and we’re proud that it’s made in Chicopee.”

One key, he went on, whether dealing with new businesses or existing ones that want to expand and invest, is streamlining the permitting process.

“We’re trying to be responsive to business needs and timing,” Kos said. “A lot of times, government has a pace that leaves a little bit to be desired, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in our city. Chicopee has a history of being extremely business-friendly and responsive. You come in and meet all the boards at once — fire, electric, building, water, all the various departments you need — to have your ideas vetted and see what issues might arise, and to make sure your project goes smoothly. Time is money.”

Downtown Rise Up

At the same time, money is an investment — at least, that’s the way municipal leaders see it as they continue to raise the profile of Chicopee’s downtown. Those investments range from a $2.6 million MassWorks grant to improve water and sewer infrastructure to Mount Holyoke Development’s housing project at Lyman Mills, set to open this spring with 110 market-rate units — specifically, loft-style work/live spaces designed to appeal to young entrepreneurs.

Kos hopes that development and others like it — such as Valley Opportunity Council’s renovation of the former Kendall House into 41 affordable studio apartments — spur further restaurant, bar, and retail development and create a more walkable, active downtown. Community events, such as the city’s holiday tree lighting, Halloween spectacular, and the late-summer Downtown Get Down, just add to that effort.

“We want foot traffic and to get more people down there, which is why we’re investing time and effort to get people to live down there, and make it safer, too,” he added, noting that the City Council recently approved $300,000 to add more cameras downtown and throughout the city to fight and, more importantly, deter crime.

“Our cooperation with the City Council has been remarkable. And the city leaders and the state delegation have worked together to solve problems, come to a consensus, and move forward.”

Meanwhile, at the former Facemate site, David Spada from Lawrence is building a $21 million, 92-room assisted-living facility on a West Main Street parcel across from the Chicopee Falls Post Office, situated off a new road which leads to the RiverMills Senior Center. Ground will be broken this spring.

“So we’re providing opportunities for Millennials to live and work in lofts on one end of the city,” Kos said, “and assisted living on the other.”

Other innovative reuse of property includes a three-megawatt solar farm on a 26-acre site off of Outer Drive and Goodwin Street, near Westover Air Reserve Base. In 2016, the city razed 100 units of military housing units on the site, which had sat unused for two decades and become problematic.

Once a solar farm was approved by neighbors and city leaders, Chicopee was awarded a $1 million MassDevelopment grant to remediate the property, and with money came from the state’s grant program to support the Clean Energy Assessment & Strategic Plan for Massachusetts Military Installations, the housing was finally torn down. Finally, a lease agreement was signed with Chicopee Solar LLC, a subsidiary of ConEdison Development, to build a solar farm.

The city’s investment will be recouped in 10 years through tax revenue and income from the lease agreement, and the government will also benefit because Westover will receive a 5% discount each year on electricity, amounting to $100,000 in annual savings.

“Those properties were deteriorating and vagrant,” Kos told BusinessWest. “This was a win-win for the neighborhood as well as the city.”

Hometown Appeal

Other recent quality-of-life developments in the city include a $225,000 investment in Sarah Jane Park, a grant to the Valley Opportunity Council to support a culinary-arts program and expand nutrition programs in Willimansett, and grants to Porchlight, the Boys & Girls Club, and Head Start to improve infrastructure and programming. For the latter, the city helped leverage more than $600,000 in building improvements to the former Chicopee Falls branch library so Head Start can expand programs for hundreds of children in that neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the city’s public-safety complex recently saw $9 million in improvements, including a new training facility, central dispatch, and locker rooms. “Both chiefs agree that facility will last multiple generations in terms of the improvements made there,” Kos said, adding that other additions include a new ladder truck and an expansion of the police K9 program.

Not all these developments have the splash of a well-lit Mercedes-Benz dealership making a dramatic impression on Mass Pike motorists, but they are all beacons in their own way, testifying to a city on the move, and also a community with plenty of hometown pride.

“We’re the third-largest city west of 495,” the mayor concluded, “but it’s the old Cheers bar mentality — everyone seems to know your name.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Danielle Fillio says recent projects will boost Stockbridge’s cultural and tourism draws.

Danielle Fillio says recent projects will boost Stockbridge’s cultural and tourism draws.

The Elm Court Estate in Stockbridge was constructed in 1886 as a summer cottage for William Douglas Stone and Emily Vanderbilt, completed a series of renovations in 1919, and evolved into an inn in the ’40s and ’50s, hosting dinners, events, and overnight accommodations. It was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nowadays, it’s getting a big boost from Travaasa Berkshire County, which plans to renovate, preserve, and add to the complex in order to create a new resort — and bring in the jobs and tourism that comes with it.

“Elm Court was approved three years ago and held up in land court in Lenox, but now it’s done and moving forward with development,” said Danielle Fillio, Stockbridge’s recently appointed town administrator. “It’s a big resort with a restaurant on site.”

The property sits on the border of Stockbridge and Lenox on Old Stockbridge Road and fits well into the destination marketing of both communities, smallish towns that rely heavily on visits from outsiders to grow their tax base.

“We’re excited about bringing some jobs here, and we’ll have the meals tax, room tax, and more tourists,” Fillio said.

Meanwhile, the Boston Symphony Orchestra broke ground over the summer on a $30 million construction project at Tanglewood, a four-building complex that will house rehearsal and performance space for the Tanglewood Music Center as well as a new education venture known as the Tanglewood Learning Institute — the first weatherized, all-season structure at Tanglewood, which the BSO plans to make available for events beyond the summer months.

“Those buildings will be used year-round, which will help extend tourism through the offseason,” Fillio said, noting that Tanglewood is one of Stockbridge’s main summer draws, but the colder months could use a tourism boost.

Indeed, those two projects are indicative of how much Stockbridge relies on tourism and visitorship for economic development. With a population of just under 2,000, the community doesn’t have a deep well of residents or businesses from which to draw tax revenue, but it does boast a widely noted series of destination attractions, from Tanglewood to the Norman Rockwell Museum; from the Berkshire Theatre Festival to Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The goal, Fillio said, is to complement those regional draws with the kinds of services and municipal improvements that will best serve an older population that values the town’s rural character. And town leaders are striving to do just that.

Full Speed Ahead

Although the issue has been a contentious one, the Select Board, earlier this year, approved the hiring of Fillio, who had been assistant to the previous town administrator for a decade, to her current role. She had been serving in an interim capacity while town leaders mulled a number of options, including partnering with neighboring Lee and Lenox on a shared administrator.

We want to preserve our natural resources while bringing more people here and helping businesses.”

In her now-permanent role, she’s involved with many critical areas of town administration, from budgeting to planning, and she’s pleased with some of the recent progress to improve municipal infrastructure and attract new business.

On the former front, Stockbridge has been successful winning grants to repair a number of bridges in town, including $500,000 from the state’s Small Bridge Program and $1 million from its Small Town Rural Assistance Program to replace the deteriorated, heavily traveled Larrywaug Bridge on Route 183, just north of the state highway’s intersection with Route 102. The project will commence in 2018.

The town’s voters had previously approved a $2.6 million, 20-year bond to finance repairs to eight bridges and roadways in need of restoration. Among them are the Averic Road twin bridges off Route 183, which were closed by MassDOT in the spring of 2016.

Meanwhile, the town is looking to replace its highway garage, which is “currently falling apart,” Fillio said, and is also considering options for the quirky intersection of Routes 7 and 102 at the Red Lion Inn. “We’re going to see if we can raise funds to be able to get an updated study to see what may help us with the traffic there. The last traffic study in that area was in 2004.”

Stockbridge at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1739
Population: 1,947 (2010)
Area: 23.7 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $9.59
Commercial Tax Rate: $9.59
Median Household Income: $48,571
Median Family Income: $59,556
Type of government: Town Administrator; Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Austen Riggs Center; Tanglewood; Red Lion Inn
* Latest information available

On the planning front, a visionary project committee was formed several years ago to develop recommendations that could be implemented over the next 20 years. The committee issued a report in 2016 titled “Planning a Way Forward.”

That report noted that residents value the town’s cultural institutions and historic buildings; its open space, recreation sites, and walking trails; and its downtown (although many would like to see additional shops and services, as well as more parking). Meanwhile, they want to see smart housing growth that takes into account the community’s aging population, as well as additional transportation options and better accommodation of walkers and bicyclists.

As a result, the document envisioned a Stockbridge in 2036 that mixes the traditional strengths of tourism, culture, and creative economy with green- and technology-based businesses, food production from local farmers, and agri-tourism. The ideal community would also be less auto-reliant, expanding pedestrian networks, bicycle infrastructure, and regional bus and ride-sharing services.

The report also predicts a socially and economically diverse population that provides equally diverse housing options, from apartments and condominiums to smaller single-family homes, co-housing projects, and historic ‘Berkshire cottages.’ These include a mix of sustainable new construction and repurposed buildings, including the preservation of older homes, along with an increase of people living close to the town center, including mixed-use buildings with apartments over shops to support downtown businesses.

While the overall vision may be ambitious, it encompasses the sorts of goals a town of Stockbridge’s size can reasonably set when looking to move into its next era. To help bring new businesses into this plan, the Planning Board has formed a bylaw-review committee tasked with examining all the zoning bylaws to determine what needs to change to make the town a more attractive place to set up shop.

“We want to preserve our natural resources while bringing more people here and helping businesses,” Fillio said.

Positive Signals

Businesses are certainly cheering the cell-phone tower that Verizon erected on the southern end of the town landfill earlier this year. Previously, half the town had no cell service, and downtown tourists were surprised by the lack of a signal.

“The tower is up and running, and it makes a great difference — if you have Verizon. If you have AT&T, it’s still not a huge help, but there have been talks about possibly having AT&T go up in the tower,” Fillio said. “But you can actually get service at the Red Lion now, which for years was never the case.”

It’s just one way a small town is taking small steps to preserve its cultural character while adding the kinds of amenities demanded by a 21st-century population.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Karl Stinehart (left) and Doug Moglin

Karl Stinehart (left) and Doug Moglin say Southwick is an ideal spot to live, work, and play, with plenty of opportunties for all three.

Many communities, Doug Moglin notes, tout themselves as a great place to live, or an ideal spot to do business, or a haven for recreation.

“But we have all three,” said the chair of Southwick’s Board of Selectmen. “I’m one of those people who do all three in town, and we still have room for more of all those things.”

On the residential front, for example, work continues on 26 homes at the new Noble Steed subdivision off Vining Hill Road. Meanwhile, the Southwick Country Club site is being sold to Fiore Realty, which intends to develop more homes and perhaps some mixed-use properties along College Highway.

Golf enthusiasts in town shouldn’t fret, though, said Karl Stinehart, the town’s chief administrative officer, noting that Southwick boasts three other golf courses, including the PGA-level track at the Ranch. The community’s recreational offerings run far deeper than that, actually, from the Congamond Lakes and the boating opportunities there to a fully developed rail trail; from motocross events at the Wick 338 to the 66-acre Whalley Park.

Southwick at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1770
Population: 9,502
Area: 31.7 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $17.50
Commercial Tax Rate: $17.50
Median Household Income: $52,296
Family Household Income: $64,456
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Big Y; Whalley Computer Associates; Southwick Regional School District
*Latest information available

On the business front, meanwhile, the town’s industrial park continues to thrive with its mix of high-tech, light-industrial, and other types of firms, while a series of major infrastructure projects ease the path for motorists seeking out those aforementioned opportunities to live, work, and play in this community of just under 10,000 residents.

“It’s just a great place,” said Stinehart, Southwick’s chief administrative officer. “People who live in our community have all the right pieces — access to recreational opportunities, good schools, business, and commerce. We also have the ability to have more capacity — more business and commerce here.”

And plenty more fun.

Great Outdoors

Indeed, Southwick has long prided itself on its recreational opportunities, and they have only grown in prominence over the past several years.

Take the lakes on the south side of town — featuring two boat ramps, a fishing pier, and a town beach — which provide an array of activity for residents. A planned $275,000 project will renovate the south boat ramp on Berkshire Avenue, and the beachfront was recently renovated as well.

Ongoing efforts to preserve open space nearby are also gaining ground, as the town hopes to acquire a 144-acre parcel for sale on North Pond at Congamond Lakes. The Mass. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife awarded Southwick money to help purchase it, and the Franklin Land Trust has embarked on a fund-raising effort to make up the difference in price. The parcel is abutted by two areas owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Connecticut.

Outdoors enthusiasts can also enjoy access to the natural scenery of the Metacomet/Monadnock Trail, as well as a 6.5-mile-long linear park, or rail trail, that runs through town, from the Westfield border to the Suffield border. “It gets a ton of use on weekends during spring, summer, and fall — even the winter, before the snow flies,” Moglin noted.

Bikers can park in a number of spots along the trail to start their ride, and, in fact, expanding parking is one of the challenges the town is studying, he added. But the fact that the trail skirts close to several commercial areas of town is a benefit to stores and restaurants when bikers take a break to enjoy a meal or shopping.

People who live in our community have all the right pieces — access to recreational opportunities, good schools, business, and commerce. We also have the ability to have more capacity — more business and commerce here.”

“People can take advantage of these businesses,” Stinehart said. “I often see people riding off the trail to make use of these commercial areas.”

The Wick 338, the motocross track behind the American Legion, is another major draw. “They’ve put a lot of investment into the track, which abuts the Southwick Recreation Center and Whalley Park, so the spinoff benefits are significant,” Stinehart said.

The complex hosts the annual Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship — which is broadcast live on NBC and draws close to 20,000 people to town — as well as a host of other events, including Rugged Maniac New England, a challenging, mud-splattered 5K obstacle course.

“People of varying levels of capability can do that, from people who can do it in 20 minutes to those who take four hours — we’re somewhere in the middle,” Stinehart said with a laugh and a nod to Moglin.

The selectman agreed, again noting that more than 10,000 people may show up. “That’s an economic driver as well as a great recreational opportunity.”

As for Whalley Park — which was donated to the town by the prominent Whalley family and developed using municipal and Community Preservation Act funds — it includes a full-size soccer field, baseball field, and softball field, lighting for the fields, a huge kids’ play area, and a pavilion.

On the Right Road

Speaking of kids, a recent $69 million project was completed two years ago at the complex on Feeding Hills Road that houses Woodland Elementary School, Powder Mill Middle School, and Southwick Regional School, all of which enjoyed additions and renovations.

Meanwhile, the town just finished the total reconstruction of a half-mile stretch of Route 57 that runs by the school complex, including new turn lanes, synchronized signals, drainage, and road widening. That’s important, Moglin said, because businesses access the road from the industrial park, and parents and bus drivers appreciate the safety upgrades where the school lots dump out onto 57. “It makes for improved public safety and better flow of people and goods.”

It’s not a standalone project; stretches of College Highway, or Routes 10 and 202 — the main commercial artery in Southwick — were similarly widened and reconfigured within the last five years, and Congamond Road, a key entry into town from Connecticut, is next on the docket, with a project commencing in the spring to improve the roadway and drainage, with a possible sewer component as well, which will help attract new business ventures to the busy neighborhood.

“That’s all serviced by septic today, which limits potential for pad sites,” Moglin said. “It would be a job creator if we can get sewer lines in there.”

Overall, though, the town offers plenty of incentives for businesses, both he and Stinehart noted, ranging from proximity to Bradley International Airport to a singular tax rate of $17.50 per $1,000 for both residential and commercial properties. “That’s an overreaching goal of the Board of Selectmen,” Moglin said of the rate. “We have really tried to keep that reasonable and competitive.”

The town has also streamlined its permitting process, bringing together planning, zoning, and other officials to work together with prospective businesses, rather than fragmenting the process.

“We’ve got capacity for small, medium, and large employers to come to Southwick,” he continued. “We’re working collaboratively with employers in town who want to expand or who want to move to Southwick, and we’ll put together a partnership to go through the process.”

Stinehart emphatically agreed. “Southwick is open for business,” he said — and open for much more, as well.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Jennifer Tabakin

Jennifer Tabakin says Great Barrington is making important progress in efforts to attract young people and young families to the community.


Jennifer Tabakin acknowledged that, figuratively speaking, at least, City Hall in New York and Town Hall in Great Barrington are much more than 125 or so miles apart.

In most all ways, they’re worlds apart, and she should know, because she’s worked in both settings, and is firmly entrenched in the latter as town manager.

In New York, she worked for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for several years. To be more specific, she worked under the deputy mayor for Economic Development after a stint in state government with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority working on capital projects.

“I did construction and operation coordination in lower Manhattan, and worked on parks, waterfront parks, and other projects in the Bronx, as well as being a general policy advisor,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, while she greatly enjoyed that work, she decided to leave Manhattan for a different kind of challenge, that of managing a small community — and a much different kind of lifestyle — in the summer of 2013.

“From my perspective, being able to have a career first in city government and then transitioning to local government in a town has been a great opportunity to add another chapter to a very interesting career,” she explained, adding that she chose Great Barrington for this transition, as she called it, for several reasons.

For starters, she was familiar with it — her parents have long lived in nearby Lenox — and she admired its mix of rural beauty and a bustling downtown and vibrant arts scene. But there was more, in the category of professional challenges.

“It had a diversity of really interesting projects and issues, and an engaged and active community,” she noted. “It had enough challenges so that I thought it was a great place to be a town manager.”

And while she acknowledged the many differences between Gotham and the region within the Berkshires known as South County, she said that, overall, the basic principles of economic development are pretty much the same in both settings — primarily, it comes down to making the community in question a better one in which to live, work, play, and start a business, and using public investments to do all that and spur private investment.

Tabakin said she saw that formula work in New York, and she’s seeing it bring progress in Great Barrington, as well. Indeed, a number of public investments, including a huge reconstruction project in the city’s already-thriving downtown as well as road upgrades, two bridge-reconstruction initiatives, and upgrades to the wastewater-treatment plant, have coincided with, and in many ways inspired, a host of private investments.

These have come in many forms, including new restaurants — the town now boasts more than 77 of them — additional housing developments, mixed-use projects, and a host of arts-focused initiatives.

At or certainly near the top of that list is an ambitious undertaking known as St. James Place. Opened in 2017 as a home to small and mid-sized Berkshire County arts groups in need of performance, rehearsal, and office space, it was, as the name suggests, created out of the historic St. James Episcopal Church on Main Street by Sally and Fred Harris, parishioners who wanted to do something to preserve the deteriorating landmark.

Today, billing itself as “a place for art,” this facility is living up to both that tagline and its significant promise as a setting for many forms of artistic expression.

It recently hosted an intriguing seminar called “Close Encounters with Music: The Politics of Opera,” and on Dec. 9 it will host a performance of the Berkshire Children’s Chorus. Later next month, it will be home to the Great Barrington Holiday Arts Market and a performance by the group Crescendo called “Three Wise Kings Follow a Star.”

SEE: Great Barrington at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 7,104 (0000)
Area: 45.8 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $14.60
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.60
Median Household Income: $95,490
Median Family Income: $103,135
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Fairview Dialysis Center; Fairview Hospital; Kutscher’s Sports Academy; Prairie Whale
* Latest information available

Meanwhile, several of the office spaces for lease have been filled by arts-related groups such the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, Flying Cloud, and the Berkshire Opera, and the facility is home to the People’s Pantry.

“The idea is to have a place that supports the community, and we do that in a number of ways,” said Fred Harris, adding that the nonprofit, like most, operates as a business would and is making strides it its efforts to be successful economically.

There are many other inspiring stories like the one that has unfolded at St. James Place, said Tabakin, adding that, while there are many issues to contend with, including an aging population, there is a great deal of momentum and positive energy in this jewel of southern Berkshire County.

Progress Report

Getting back to the circumstances that brought her and her family to Great Barrington, Tabakin said familiarity and quality of life were certainly big factors. But there was also that chance to put the considerable experience she accumulated in New York to work addressing an intriguing set of issues and challenges that sold her on the job she’s now in.

“It’s extremely busy and its very active,” she said of the community. “But there’s an enormous amount of interesting projects and land-use issues and policy issues, and budget issues … there was and is a lot going on.”

Indeed, while there are many priorities, one of the biggest is attracting more young families to the community. Like other towns in rural Berkshire and Franklin counties, Great Barrington has seen the average age of its residents rise in recent years, said Tabakin, noting that the community has always been a popular spot for retirees, and there are a number of New Yorkers with second (usually summer) homes in town.

But unlike many other communities, Great Barrington seems to be making great strides in attracting young people and especially young families, she went on, adding that it has many of the necessary ingredients, including attractive housing, quality schools, a vibrant downtown, a burgeoning cultural community, outdoor activities, and more.

Including perhaps that most important ingredient: jobs. They come in a number of sectors, including education (Simons Rock of Bard College is located within the town); healthcare (Fairview Hospital); technology (perhaps a dozen IT companies call the town home); the arts and tourism, the nonprofit community, and even special effects — there are a few such studios located in Great Barrington.

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen more young people move to certain areas of town,” she explained. “It’s observable, and there are reasons for it; we did a renovation of a new playground, we have cultural events that appeal to different generations, and we have a lot of people moving here who are committed to the school system.”

The opportunity to work with a broad team of officials to build this portfolio of attractive qualities is big part of what brought Tabakin to South County, and she noted that there are some new chapters to the story being written.

They include a project to build a new home for the Berkshire Co-op on Bridge Street, new construction that will also include space for smaller retail outlets, said Tabakin, adding that the co-op’s current location will be razed to make room for a condominium project. Overall, this project will achieve a number of ends.

“What this will do is open up the entirety of Bridge Street to additional development,” she explained. “And it’s adjacent to Berkshire Community College’s South County campus, an area that has already seen a lot of activity, so that’s exciting. And this will help us maintain a mixed downtown, where you have residential, working places, shops, and restaurants.”

Also in the works is an ambitious project in the village of Housatonic, an old mill town within Great Barrington populated by art galleries and people who have stayed there long after the mills closed.

The town had issued an RFP for redevelopment of the century-old elementary school in Housatonic, said Tabakin, and a local group of partners has come forward and is now working on the planning phase for the project. Preliminary plans call for business-incubator space and some commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.

As for St. James Place, Harris said the facility is, as he noted, making great strides toward meeting its broad mission and breaking even financially.

While doing so, it has become an important component — one of many, actually — in an emerging story of a community now hitting a lot of high notes, both figuratively, but also (especially in the historic church building) quite literally.

“The town has a great deal of depth,” said Harris. “And it has a great audience base, and it has more than enough vitality to attract people. There are a lot of good things happening here.”

Optimistic View

Looking back on what has transpired since she arrived as town manager, Tabakin said that, beyond the new developments, restaurants, and capital projects, maybe her biggest accomplishment has been to inspire others to get involved with the community and be part of the many forms of progress taking place.

Indeed, there has been plenty to get involved with, including everything from ‘green’ initiatives such as a ban on plastic bags and sustainable-energy initiatives to work in the schools, neighborhoods, and amply green spaces the town works diligently to preserve.

“One of the things I’ve done is to share my passion for local government, and I’ve gotten a group of people enthusiastic about being involved,” she told BusinessWest. “And I’m proud of it, because it’s so critically important at this period of time that we all do what we can to make sure we’re actively participating in making our place, our home, our community a wonderful place to live.

“It’s a wonderful learning opportunity and brings people together,” she said of this heightened involvement. “And from that, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot and serve as a model for other places.”

And while a great deal has been accomplished, there is a general sense that, that when it comes to forward progress, this community is just getting started.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

 

Denise Menard

Denise Menard says low taxes, streamlined permitting, and quality of life are all factors in making East Longmeadow an attractive landing spot.

When East Longmeadow switched from a town-meeting style of government to a Town Council and town manager, Denise Menard said the change wasn’t meant to be simply cosmetic.

Rather, noted Menard — who came on board as interim town manager in 2016 before shedding the ‘interim’ title earlier this year — creating her position and replacing the three-member Board of Selectmen with a seven-member, elected Town Council provided the momentum to launch several new municipal departments aimed squarely at improving quality of life.

That included East Longmeadow’s first-ever Human Resources department; a new director of Finance and director of Planning and Community Development; and a three-member Board of Health overseen by a full-time director.

That latter division has launched two successful vaccination clinics — to prevent flu, shingles, tetanus, and other maladies — while the town has also boosted recycling efforts, launched an innovative 911 database that collects resident information to be used by first-responders, and is looking to begin town ambulance service.

“We don’t sell widgets; we only provide services,” Menard told BusinessWest. “So we try to provide the best service we can. That’s really paramount in my eyes. I’ve had people come in and say they’re very happy with the way things are going.”

The health, emergency, and recycling services all target healthier or greener lifestyles for residents, she added, and the town’s new charter has given municipal leaders a strong foundation from which to further expand programs to benefit citizens.

East Longmeadow at a glance:

Year Incorporated: 1894
Population: 15,720 (2010)
Area: 13.0 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $20.77
Commercial Tax Rate: $20.77
Median Household Income: $62,680 (2010)
Median Family Income: $70,571 (2010)
Type of Government: Town Council, Town Manager
Largest Employers: Cartamundi; Lenox Tools; Redstone Rehab and Nursing Center

“I think we’ll see more great things in the years moving forward,” she said. “People need to know they’re valued and that their tax dollars are going to good things.”

There’s a strategy to those quality-of-life efforts that do more than make residents happy, however. A town’s amenities and services speak directly to its ability to attract new business, and so does how many barriers a town throws into their path.

“People coming into the community have a much more streamlined process now,” said Don Anderson, one of the Town Council members and a business owner in East Longmeadow for 28 years with the Cruise Store.

“We have a full-time town manager in office as opposed to a part-time board of selectmen with a town administrator who has no real power,” he went on. “Also, in terms of permitting, we now have a Building Department and Planning Department and Zoning Department under one umbrella.”

At the same time, he added, the town was wise to keep certain things intact, like taxing businesses and residents at the same rate. “That policy did not change, so that’s also a welcoming sign to outside businesses wanting to come into East Longmeadow.”

From the Ground Up

As for companies setting up shop and expanding, a few big projects have given a shot of energy to the town’s economic-development landscape.

Last year, L.E. Belcher broke ground on a 6,500-square-foot convenience store on a lot at 227 Shaker Road that was empty for many years. That project stalled when Atlantis Management Group bought out the property, but after a second round of permitting and approvals — the proposed hours will shift from 24/7 to 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. each day — “they seem very anxious to get started,” Menard said.

Also underway is an 18,000-square-foot medical office building at 250 North Main St. being constructed by Associated Builders for Baystate Dental Group, which will have 90 parking spaces. The dental office will occupy the first floor, and the second floor will be rented as medical or office space.

Another, more complex project in the health realm is a joint venture with the town of Longmeadow — a medical complex that will add to East Longmeadow Skilled Nursing Center at 305 Maple St., cross town lines, and provide benefits to both communities.

The project includes four structures on a 20-acre site: a 50,000-square-foot medical office building in Longmeadow that would be occupied by Baystate Health; a two-story, 25,000-square-foot office building in East Longmeadow; and an assisted-living facility and expansion of an existing skilled-nursing facility run by Berkshire Health.

One of the most exciting current projects, to hear Menard tell it, is the Planning Board’s discussion of an overlay zone for the former Package Machinery building at 330 Chestnut St.

“The building is in pretty poor shape, and the planning proposal is to create a mixed-use site which would have commercial, retail, and possibly small offices in the front part of the building, and above will be some residential apartments or condos,” she explained.

We don’t sell widgets; we only provide services. So we try to provide the best service we can. That’s really paramount in my eyes. I’ve had people come in and say they’re very happy with the way things are going.”

With sensitivity to the environment, the proposal includes preserving green space around the property and creating walking trails to encourage outdoor activity, she added. “There will be a real New England feel to it, and it’s going to be be a pretty upscale development. It’s shaping up to be a good project.”

Anderson noted that East Longmeadow has been home to a number of retail and restaurant ‘firsts’ in Greater Springfield, including the region’s first Boston Chicken franchise, its first Homegoods store, and its first 99 Restaurant.

“If they’re picking East Longmeadow, that says East Longmeadow has the economic range to support businesses,” he told BusinessWest. “People like the fact that the tax basis goes beyond just housing, that we can generate taxes through business as well. There’s a good balance there. When they look at a community that gives a clear message of supporting business, then businesses feel welcome. Personally, I haven’t been disappointed.”

Menard hopes others feel the same way. “People are coming to live and work and develop businesses here. We strive to be business-friendly, and I think we’re getting there.”

Spreading the Word

Change has been positive in East Longmeadow, Anderson went on, but it takes more work than just changing the charter and streamlining processes. One challenge has involved the various town departments and the Town Council learning how to work together. “People coming in fresh don’t always realize how matters before the Planning Board affect the council. Something the Board of Health might be doing may impact the Town Council as well, and we have to be aware of that.”

Another challenge has been spreading the word about how the municipal changes and new services benefit people, as local media haven’t always been diligent about covering the town’s day-to-day business.

“There has been a lack of interest in the government by the media,” Anderson said, “I saw that was happening, so I’m chairing a new commission on media relations. We’re working on strategies to find more organized ways of getting messages out to people, such as through social-media methods. We need to find modern ways to get the message out when the media is not covering us the way they used to.”

And East Longmeadow does have news to share, he went on. “Things are happening. You can drive through and see the construction going on, see properties that have been vacant for a number of years come to life, how the old Vanguard Bank on North Main Street is going to be a dentist’s office, or the interest in the old Package Machinery area. Obviously, people are attracted to this community.”

It’s a civic-minded community as well, he noted, evidenced by the 32 people who ran for the first Town Council seats last year.

“We have beautiful housing, some of the best schools around, some beautiful parks, and we have a healthy mix of commercial and residential,” Menard added. “It’s a well-rounded town with a reasonable tax rate, and people just seem to be amenable to coming here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]