North Adams Vision Plan Offers Optimistic View
Seven priorities, 43 goals, 95 policies, and 355 actions.
This tall list makes up the master plan for the city of North Adams. The Vision 2030 Plan was launched in 2011, and just this year, Mayor Thomas Bernard and cohorts revisited the plan to check up on the progress made to date.
“We had a really good session in October where we got some interesting suggestions for setting priority areas around marketing and promotion to move the needle on some of the economic developments,” he said.
In addition to the information session in October, Bernard says another will be held in early 2020 in which the town will tackle three things: review what has been accomplished so far, identify things that five years ago may have seemed urgent but are not as pressing now, and identify issues that have changed in the last five years.
The plan’s seven priorities — economic renewal, investment in aging infrastructure, creation of a thriving and connected community, intergenerational thinking, fiscal efficiency, historic preservation, and food access — are all currently being reviewed, and Bernard says these undertakings make for an exciting time in the city.
“There are some really great developments happening in a lot of different areas,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s a good chance to work in collaboration with a lot of people.”
Some of the more prominent developments include a project to build a much-needed new elementary school, updating zoning for the town, investing in public safety, and several projects that cater to younger children.
Bernard knows that, in order to be successful with new projects, the city must still take care of the older, foundational matters, and says North Adams has done a great job keeping track of both.
“We want to double down on the things we’ve already done, both this cultural development that’s happening, but also doing the foundational work to ensure that we can be successful so that we’re championing the big developments, we’re celebrating the jobs that are coming in, but we’re also making sure that the quality of life in neighborhoods is strong and solid,” he said.
“There are some really great developments happening in a lot of different areas. There’s a good chance to work in collaboration with a lot of people.”
Indeed, he says the overall feedback from the community has been extraordinarily positive, and mentioned one feeling in the city in particular: optimism.
That optimism, said Bernard, now going into his second term as mayor of North Adams, comes amid an increasing number of investments in economic development, public safety, and other key areas.
But you can’t move forward without looking back, so one big goal is investing in the youth and education sector, which includes the renovation of a very old elementary-school building.
Just a few weeks ago, Bernard and Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas visited the Massachusetts School Building Authority and were invited into eligibility for consideration of the reconstruction of Greylock Elementary School — a building that is 70 years old.
North Adams at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1878
Area: 20.6 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $18.62
Commercial Tax Rate: $40.67
Median Household Income: $35,020
Family Household Income: $57,522
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Crane & Co.; North Adams Regional Hospital; BFAIR Inc.
* Latest information available
“If we’re able to be successful in the feasibility phase, then we’re invited to proceed forward, and we can put the funding plan together,” said Bernard. “It really will set the course for elementary education in the city for the next 50 years.”
Other investments for the youth population in the city include a splash park and a skate park. While Bernard acknowledged North Adams is an aging community and its leaders are always thinking about what it means to be age-friendly, he sees a lot of energy and — here’s that word again — optimism when it comes to investing in the younger population.
“What this splash park and the other main investment, which was a skate park, has done is create community engagement, excitement, energy, vibrancy, and a sense of optimism that comes from things that are youth-focused,” he said.
On the economic-development side, Dave Moresi, a local developer, recently embarked on a mill project that celebrated its grand opening this past June. Bernard said Moresi bought the mill in mid-2017, and it already has more than 50 businesses inside, including a financial-services office, a mental-health clinician, a coffee roaster, a gym, a hair salon, and much more.
“I think this speaks to a couple things,” said Bernard. “It speaks to the quality of work that Dave and his team do, but it also speaks to this moment that we’re in, bringing it back full circle to this energy, excitement, and potential.”
Moresi also purchased a school building the city no longer uses and is turning it into residential apartments.
Adding to that excitement are two enabling projects that have occurred over the past year. Bernard said bringing life into the downtown area continues to be a challenge, so a parking study was done to look at what assets and needs are necessary if the city were to attract additional housing and development. North Adams also updated its zoning map to reflect current conditions — a process that hadn’t been tackled since the late ’50s to early ’60s.
With all this activity going on, the city has also been investing in public safety. Just this year, Lt. Jason Wood was appointed as the new police chief for North Adams. In addition, the city added its first hybrid vehicle to the city fleet and is working on adding a hybrid cruise, which would make it the first city in Western Mass. to do so.
While North Adams still faces economic and socioeconomic challenges, like all cities do, the mayor feels optimistic that the community is on the path for success.
“We continue to be in an exciting time for North Adams, and I think more and more people are picking up on it, whether that’s visitors who are coming here or whether it’s longtime residents who are seeing some of these developments and being really excited about it,” Bernard said. “We have a lot of work to do to make sure we stay on an even keel.”
Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]