Mayor William Martin recently acquired a book about Greenfield that was published in 1912. He keeps it in his office, and during a recent visit by BusinessWest, he culled through it and pointed out initiatives integral to the town’s economic development that mirror historic advances in the book that were considered progressive in the early 20th century.
They include increasing density downtown, attracting businesses where growth is occurring, and developing town-owned energy companies, while continuing to meet the needs of residents.
“We have taken ideas from the past and brought them into the modern day, which is very, very exciting,” Martin said. “Greenfield is a unique, progressive, and supportive community whose roots go back centuries in time; although people have come and gone, the spirit here remains the same.
“We were called a progressive community 150 years ago and are being called that again today,” the mayor continued, as he spoke about how the town is keeping pace with change through major projects and investments that will serve future generations.
They include the new, $70 million Franklin County Justice Center which opened its doors about a month ago after two and a half years of planning and construction. “It brought people back downtown and consolidated the county’s judicial system into one building,” Martin said, adding that, although some downtown businesses suffered when the old courthouse was closed and the offices were temporarily moved, there has been a revival of vibrancy due to an increase in traffic from courthouse employees, attorneys, and people who visit the justice center to resolve legal issues.
“In addition to housing the Franklin County court system, the center is home to preventive and social-justice offices for the afflicted and the addicted,” Martin said.
The increase in visitors created an immediate need for more downtown parking, which is being addressed. Construction will begin in July on a new, $10 million, four-story Olive Street Garage that will have a solar canopy on its upper floor and offer 355 parking spaces, charging stations for electric vehicles, and spots designated for bicycles and motorcycles.
It is being built on the site of a former parking lot and is expected to alleviate traffic congestion since it is located a block from the courthouse and across the street from the John W. Olver Transit Center, which serves Franklin County Transit Authority bus routes and provides inter-city bus service, as well as a train station that houses Amtrak’s Vermonter line.
“Greenfield is the capital of Franklin County and has always been an active transportation center. Our history dates back to the time of steamboats and stagecoaches which brought supplies to the hilltowns,” Martin said.
He noted that Robert Cartelli, who owns Ford Toyota of Greenfield and recently built a new, $8 million dealership, preserved several historic bas-relief caricatures of stagecoaches, planes, and trains that were on his old building and donated them to the town. One will be mounted on each floor of the garage, and the floors will be named after the sculptures.
A large monitor will also be installed that will serve as an educational showcase for the town’s transportation history and allow visitors to learn about its importance in Franklin County.
For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the many initiatives and projects taking place in Greenfield that are adding to its vitality and ensuring the town keeps pace with the future.
Healthcare is an industry that is experiencing rapid growth, and projects in Greenfield reflect that trend. The Lunt Silversmiths property, located about 1.5 miles from Main Street and downtown, has undergone substantial reconstruction, and phase 3 is being completed by the developer 401 Liberty Street, LLC.
One of three buildings slated for redevelopment has been converted into a residential medical treatment center with 65 beds that is operated by Behavioral Health Network. That structure also houses two residential clinics that opened last fall, and Clinical & Support Options will soon move into a 15,000-square-foot renovated space in another building.
When the renovation is finished and the remaining 15,000-square-foot space is occupied, the property will have generated several hundred new jobs and increased taxes from $2.2 million to $11 million.
“The former brownfields site has been put to good, productive use,” Martin said.
He explained that the town purchased the property after Lunt Silversmiths went bankrupt, and the acquisition included a number of ballfields on 6.62 acres of the 11-acre parcel that had been used by youth baseball teams for more than 50 years.
“During negotiations that were associated with the sale, the developer agreed to create a mini-Fenway Park that will contain three playing fields for youth in the community that will open in August,” Martin said.
Health services and businesses in Greenfield are on the rise, and the Center for Human Development plans to move its Clinic for Behavioral Services and Community Health Clinic into 104-106 Main St., the former home of an antique and used-furniture business.
“The health clinic serves several thousand clients each month, which will help us reach our goal of increasing density downtown,” Martin told BusinessWest.
In addition, the First National Bank and Trust building downtown, which has been unoccupied for more than two decades, is being acquired by Greenfield Development Authority.
Martin said the state approved the town’s application to establish a cultural district last fall, and plans for the structure include creating a flexible space that could be used for plays, theater productions, an international marketplace during the winter, and an indoor seasonal farmer’s market in the spring, summer, and fall, as well as a gallery and museum to house the city’s antiques, including a Concord coach, an original pump from the Fire Department, a liberty bell, and a golden cane.
“This is a magnificent space in the center of Greenfield that will be used by the community and serve the interests of many residents,” the mayor said.
The Abercrombie Building, another structure downtown in the buildings along Bank Row, will also be put to new use when the state takes over 15,000 square feet and turns it into the Franklin County Public Attorneys’ Office. Martin noted that the building has been unoccupied for about 20 years, and its reuse fits in well with the idea of increasing foot traffic downtown.
Greenfield has also taken a proactive stance toward energy and technology because these sectors will play a vital role in ensuring its independence as well as its ability to attract new businesses.
Greenfield Light and Power began operating as a municipal aggregation plan more than a year ago, and brought lower-cost electricity to the community and measures to procure it from renewable sources.
Since it went online, all electricity used in the town is 100% green and is priced at $8.02 per kilowatt hour, which is less than the cost of electricity supplied by Eversource.
“Greenfield Light and Power was started by the town in the 1880s, then sold to Western Mass Electric in the 1930s. But today we have our own power company again,” Martin said, as he continued to outline the town’s history.
Another major initiative was born last year when the Town Council approved a $5 million bond to create a municipal broadband network that includes Internet, phone, and data services.
Greenfield Community Energy and Technology, commonly known as GCET, will pay for itself now that it is up and running. The mayor said the town will begin taking subscriptions within the next 60 days.
“We’re taking ideas from the past and giving them new life. It’s exciting that things done 150 years ago are the same things we want to do today. Our generation is replacing institutional landmarks, and we hope our Internet service and electric company will continue to operate into the next century,” the mayor noted, explaining that the goal was to provide the most current, fastest service for businesses in Greenfield at no cost to the taxpayer, which is part of the town’s strategy of making investments in capital projects to satisfy needs in the private market.
The town recently issued a request for proposals to demolish the former Bendix Corp. building and draw up a plan for the 17-acre brownfields site. The project is in the final stages of cleanup, and Martin said the city is working with Honeywell Corp., which is responsible for site remediation.
International Container Co. has also announced plans to move from Holyoke and build an 80,000-square-foot building in Greenfield. “We have been meeting with them for eight months, and they hope to start construction in August and hire 65 new employees after they open,” Martin said.
Eye to the Future
Improvements to the public-school system are ongoing. The new, $66 million Greenfield High School opened its doors in the fall of 2015 and sports new playing fields, a concession stand, and a track.
“The first track meet was held behind the building several weeks ago,” Martin said as he outlined other educational investments: Greenfield Community College’s establishment of a downtown campus; the Mass. Virtual Academy at Greenfield on Main Street, which was the Commonwealth’s first virtual K-12 public school; and the recent completion of $1.8 million of work at Federal Street School.
In addition, Greenfield’s Math and Science Academy, which serves grades 4 through 7, is being moved from the Federal Street School to Greenfield Middle School so more students can take advantage of its advanced curriculum.
Progress is also being made on the new 10,000-square-foot John Zon Community Center, which will be designed to meet the changing expectations and needs of seniors in the community.
Forish Construction in Westfield is in charge of the $4.5 million project and began demolition of a 15,000-square-foot brick building at the intersection of Pleasant and Davis streets several weeks ago. The town-owned structure was built as a school in 1908, operated as a hotel and apartments in the ’80s, then used as the public-school administration center.
“It’s an exciting project,” Martin said, explaining that the school’s administrative offices have been moved into the bottom floor of Greenfield Middle School.
Greenfield has also reorganized its Veteran’s Service Department that is the hub for all towns in Franklin County. In addition to a downtown office, it has a van that serves disabled vets in their homes.
“They deserve to get the care they need and also bring in between $7 million and $10 million a year in benefits, which affects our economy,” Martin said, noting that the town recently held a symposium for veterans at Greenfield Community College that dealt with Agent Orange and 43 diseases presumed to originate from exposure to the deadly chemical that was used during the Vietnam War.
In another part of town, the Eunice Williams Bridge has been restored. The historic covered structure was knocked off its abutment during Hurricane Irene and downgraded to a pedestrian bridge. But thanks to $9 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover damages in the town resulting from the storm, the abutment was replaced, and the bridge has been upgraded for vehicular travel.
Martin said Greenfield has received a number of awards in the past few years. Green River Park was feted with the 2017 Design of Facility Agency Award from the Massachusetts Recreation and Park Assoc. for major renovations that include a new basketball court, pickleball court, playground, pavilion, dog park, parking area, and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements.
And in 2016, Greenfield was designated as a Crossroads Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and honored by American City & County magazine as a Crown Community for pioneering locally generated renewable-energy certificates into the Greenfield Light and Power Program.
A LEED Gold certification was also awarded at completion of the new Greenfield High School, and the town was recognized for the fifth time as a Playful City USA by the national nonprofit KaBoom!, which honors cities and towns that ensure that all children, particularly those from low-income families, get the balanced and active play they need to thrive.
The mayor said these accolades and Greenfield’s continued progress has not come about by accident; rather, they are a result of action that has been taken with an eye to the future.
“I have dedicated myself to making Greenfield a city that is on the precipice of inventiveness, always moving forward while maintaining a dedication to fiscal responsibility,” he said. “We will continue to look for private investments that will enhance long-term development, generate revenue and jobs, and add to our tax base.”
This is a recipe from the past that should yield equal success in the future.