Home Posts tagged Creative Economy
Cover Story

Working in Concert

Executive Director Susan Beaudry

Executive Director Susan Beaudry

As the Springfield Symphony Orchestra prepares to kick off its 75th season on Sept. 22 with “Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein,” it faces a host of challenges shared by most orchestras its size, especially a changing, shrinking base of corporate support and a need to make its audiences younger. Susan Beaudry, the SSO’s executive director, says the way to stare down these challenges is through imaginative responsiveness — and especially greater visibility through stronger outreach. And she’s doing just that.

Susan Beaudry says there’s a great deal of significance attached to the fact that the Springfield Symphony Orchestra turns 75 this season — starting with the harsh reality that fewer institutions of this type are reaching that milestone.

Indeed, several orchestras, including one in New Hampshire, have ceased operations in recent years, and many, if not most, others are struggling to one degree or another, said Beaudry, executive director of the SSO for more than a year now.

The reasons have been well-documented — the decline of many urban centers where such orchestras are based, falling attendance, declining corporate support, ever-increasing competition for the public’s time and entertainment dollars, and an inability to attract younger audiences are at the top of the list. The SSO is confronting these obstacles as well, Beaudry told BusinessWest, as well as the additional challenge of not knowing who will manage its home (Symphony Hall) after the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp. announced last week that it will no longer manage that venue and CityStage, leaving the immediate future of those venues in doubt.

But while the institution is not as healthy financially as it has been in the past, it embarks on its 75th season on solid footing (there’s been a 20% increase in the annual fund since Beaudry’s arrived, for example), with determination to stare down the challenges facing it and seemingly all arts institutions, and optimism that an improving picture in Springfield and especially its downtown will benefit the SSO moving forward.

And Beaudry is a big reason for all of the above.

The former director of Development for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Beaudry was recruited to the SSO three years ago to lead development efforts for the institution. When Peter Salerno retired in the spring of 2017, she became interim executive director and later was able to shed that word ‘interim.’

“If you’re always doing your product behind closed doors, then it’s easy for other people to decide who you are and to give you an identity in the community. So it’s our job to open those doors, to get out, and to be playing.”

She brings to her role experience with not only fund-raising but business management — she’s a graduate of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, began her career as a national and international product marketing manager for Gardner-based Simplex, and operated her own restaurant.

She’s calling on that wealth of experience to create a new business plan for the orchestra — figuratively but also literally — that focuses on raising the profile of the SSO, introducing more people to orchestral music, and taking full advantage of what is, by most accounts, a rising tide in Springfield and its downtown.

Summing it all up, she said the orchestra has to do much more than what it’s done through most of first 75 years — perform about once a month, on average, at Symphony Hall.

“One thing that I’ve recognized since I’ve been here is that we can and must do a better job with our outreach and education and sharing the good work that we do with the community,” she explained. “If you’re always doing your product behind closed doors, then it’s easy for other people to decide who you are and to give you an identity in the community.

Principal percussionist Nathan Lassell

Principal percussionist Nathan Lassell was one of the SSO musicians featured at a recent performance at the Springfield Armory, an example of the orchestra’s efforts at greater outreach within the community.

“So it’s our job to open those doors, to get out, and to be playing,” she went on, adding that there have already been some good examples of this effort to move beyond Symphony Hall and creating more visibility. There was the SSO string quartet playing in the renovated National Guard Armory building at MGM Springfield’s elaborate gala on the eve of its Aug. 24 opening. There was also a sold-out performance of percussionists at the Springfield Armory on Sept. 1, a performance that Beaudry described as “the coolest chamber event concert I’ve ever seen in my life,” and one that did what needs to be done in terms of changing some perceptions about the institution.

“People were cheering and laughing, and it was so engaging,” she recalled. “People walked out literally moved; they now have a new perception of what orchestral music can be like.”

There will be more such performances in the future, including 4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince, an MGM presentation featuring the SSO, on Sept. 18, said Beaudry, adding that, overall, the orchestra, at 75, must create the opportunities and support system it will need to celebrate 100 years and the milestones to follow.

It’s a challenge Beaudry fully embraces and one she’s essentially spent her career preparing for. And she believes the timing is right for the SSO to hit some very high notes moving forward.

“We’re sitting at the pinnacle place,” she said. “We have a chance to hit it out of the park.”

Achievements of Note

It’s called the League of American Orchestras.

That’s the national trade association, of you will, for symphony orchestras. The group meets twice annually, once each winter in New York and again in the spring at a different site each year; the most recent gathering was in Chicago.

At that meeting, as at most others in recent years, the topics of conversation have gravitated toward those many challenges listed earlier, and especially the one involving lowering the age of the audiences assembling at symphony halls across the country.

“Every arts organization is looking to lower the average age of its patrons,” she explained. “That’s the only way to secure your future — having people joining you at those lower ages, at a lower ticket price, and eventually that will filter upwards and be your replacement audience.”

Chicago and New York are only a few of the dozens of cities Beaudry has visited in her business travels over the course of her career, especially when working for Simplex, maker of the time clock, among many other products, as divisional senior marketing director — specifically, a division devoted to a fire-suppression and alarm product line.

“This was a job where you on a plane every Monday, and you didn’t come home till Friday,” she explained, adding that this lifestyle — especially eating out all the time — helped inspire what would become the next stage in her career, as a restaurateur.

“As a result of all this travel, I became very interested in regional cuisine,” she explained. “When you’re the marketing person visiting from headquarters, they want to take you to what they’re proud of — their symphony, their museum, their opera, and their best restaurant; after a while, those meals start to grow a little thin, as do your pants.

“So I would say, ‘instead of going to a big, fancy meal at yet another steakhouse, let’s find a little hole in the wall that’s a representation of what the cuisine is in this area,’” she went on. “So I became really interested in food.”

So much so that, when she became a mother, and that ‘get on a plane Monday, return home on Friday’ schedule wasn’t at all appealing anymore, Beaudry, after staying at home for a few years, opened her own restaurant, Main Street Station, in Chester, not far from her home and where she grew up, and just down the street from the Chester Theater Company, which her parents ran.

She described the venture as a hobby, one she pursued for three years, before “returning to work,” as she called it, specifically with the Boston Symphony as director of the corporate fund for Tanglewood. She stayed in that job for seven years before being recruited to South Florida to set up the annual fund for Junior Achievement, before returning to this region.

She said she was approached by David Gang, president of the SSO (he’s still in that role) and encouraged to apply for the open position as director of Development for the orchestra. She did, and came aboard nearly three years ago.

Beaudry said she welcomed the opportunity to succeed Salerno, and for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there was the opportunity to lead an orchestra, one of her career goals. But there was also the opportunity to orchestrate (no pun intended) what would have to be considered a turnaround effort for the institution.

And as she commenced that assignment, she did so knowing that she had a number of strong elements working in, well, harmony.

“People were cheering and laughing, and it was so engaging. People walked out literally moved; they now have a new perception of what orchestral music can be like.”

Starting with the conductor, Kevin Rhodes, who has been with the SSO for 18 years, remarkable longevity in that profession, and has become in ways a fixture within the community.

“He’s such a high-energy, high-profile person,” said Beaudry. “And he’s so willing to jump in to help promote the SSO. In the commercials on TV, he’s willing to dress up in costume, be in character, and be light and silly. And that goes a long way toward changing the perception of what’s happening at Symphony Hall, that it’s not stodgy and stuffy and only for a certain demographic.”

Another strong asset was the board, Beaudry went on, adding that many of the 30-odd members have been with the institution for many years and thus bring not only passion for the SSO but a wealth of experience to the table.

“We’ve been lucky to have board members who have stayed with us for a very long time,” she explained. “So you have institutional knowledge and history and some people who have been through the ups and downs of the organization and can give new leadership like myself feedback about things that have been tried in the past, things we haven’t done in a while that might be successful, and more. To have that kind of leadership has been very helpful.”

Sound Advice

But a well-known, community-minded conductor and a committed board are only a few of the ingredients needed for success in these changing, challenging times, said Beaudry.

Others include imagination, persistence, and a willingness to broaden the institution’s focus (and presence) well beyond what would be considered traditional.

And this brings us back to that list of challenges facing the SSO and all or most institutions like it, starting with the development side of the equation, where the corporate landscape is changing. Elaborating, Beaudry said that, in this market and many others, fewer large companies remain under local ownership, and thus there are fewer potential donors with keen awareness of the institution, its history, and importance to the city and region — a reality far different than what she experienced in Boston.

“The corporations have left or merged — you used to be able to hit five banks in a week and take care of half your season in corporate sponsorships,” she told BusinessWest. “Now, you have to call long-distance; running into the bank president on the street corner just doesn’t happen anymore. You’re taking to someone who doesn’t have any idea what you are or who you are to the community or what the giving history or the relationship history has been, and, sometimes, not interested in learning about it.”

Then, there’s the growing competition for the time and entertainment dollars of the public, she noted, especially the young professionals that comprise the constituency the SSO — and all arts institutions, for that matter — are trying to attract.

“You need people that have discretionary income and time,” she explained, adding that the latter commodity is becoming the more difficult for many people to amass. “Busy parents who are running to soccer games and ski races and cross-country matches are exhausted come Saturday night. Not only are we competing with how busy family lives have become, we’re also competing with the ease of entertainment right in your home. Come Saturday night after a really busy work week and really busy Saturday taking care of your life, do you have the energy to get dressed up on Saturday night and go out when you can order a pizza, open a bottle of wine, and order any movie you want on Netflix?”

In this environment, which, she stressed again, is not unique to the city and this symphony orchestra, greater outreach, and making more introductions, is all-important.

“If the environment’s changed and you’re still doing the same things, eventually you’re going to see your own demise,” she said. “So you need to be reactive and responsive. One of the things I’ve done is increase the number of events that we have. Events are a nice way to introduce yourself to the community, shake a lot of hands, and meet a lot of people in one evening — and from there you can build further relationships and start meaningful relationships around giving.

This was the case at the Armory concert and the performance at MGM’s grand opening, she said. Hearkening back to the former, she said it’s clearly an example of what the SSO needs to do more often — partnering with other organizations and institutions within the community and putting itself in front of before new and different audiences.

“The Armory had a concert series, and we contacted them and said we wanted to participate,” she recalled. “As a mission-driven community partner, we need to be doing more of that; we need to be out in the community.”

And the performance resonated, she said, not just in enthusiastic applause for the performers, but, perhaps even more importantly, in pledges for all-important financial support.

“I literally had people telling me, as they were leaving, that they were going to be giving us more money — they were so impressed, they wanted to increase their gift to us,” she recalled. “And in the end, that’s what keeps us playing — people loving what we do and becoming excited to support it.”

While adding more events, the SSO is also adding more family-oriented performances to its lineup, said Beaudry, adding that, in addition to the annual holiday celebration in early December, there will be On Broadway with Maestro Rhodes, featuring songs from Oklahoma, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, and other Broadway hits, and also a Movie Night with Maestro Rhodes, featuring music from Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, and many other timeless hits.

Moving forward, Beaudry said the opening of MGM’s resort casino and the coming of big-name acts like Stevie Wonder, who performed on Sept. 1, and Cher, who’s coming to Springfield on April 30, will bring more people to Springfield and, hopefully, expose them to more of its assets, like the SSO, CityStage, and others.

“As they say, a rising tide lifts all ships,” she noted, adding that the SSO could certainly be one of those ships, especially if works to become more visible across the area and even more of the fabric of the community. “When people are checking out a new place, sometimes they’ll open themselves up to new experiences.”

The Big Finale

Taking in a performance by a symphony orchestra would be a new experience for many, and moving forward, it is Beaudry’s goal — and mission — to make it something … well, less new.

It’s a challenge facing all those attending meetings of the League of American Orchestras, and one that can only be met, as she’s said repeatedly, by being imaginative, responsive, and reactive.

Beaudry and the SSO are working diligently to be all those things, and because of that, and to borrow a term from this industry, things are more upbeat.

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

Creative Economy

Dramatic Effect

the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006

Following a $21 million renovation, the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006 after more than 50 years of inactivity.

Kate Maguire was out shopping recently, wearing a shirt that proudly celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge.

“The young girl at the register — she was probably 18 — was stunned. She said, ‘that theater is 90 years old? I had no idea!’ For her, it was ancient history. But she made me realize that, yes, 90 years of theater is a long time.”

As artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Group, which puts on performances at venues in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, Maguire has witnessed quite a bit of that history first-hand since joining the organization 25 years ago.

“The facilities represent two iconic sites,” she said. “The Colonial Theatre is the center of Pittsfield — the center of the county.” As for the playhouse in Stockbridge, also known as the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, “considering that culture is the heart of the community in the Berkshires, that is as iconic a structure as any in Berkshire County.”

But while the buildings themselves are iconic, more importantly, each campus has brought countless people to see some of the most remarkable names in the history of American theater, as well as up-and-coming talent, Maguire noted. “It has created a sort of cultural destination for artists and audiences. That’s what the buildings represent.”

They’re also an economic driver, she added, currently drawing about 75,000 visitors a year and contributing almost $4 million to the local economy annually — as well as employing some 600 people in some capacity each year.

Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) was created in 2010 by the merger of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, housed at the main stage in Stockbridge, and the Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 in Pittsfield. One of the largest arts organizations in the region, BTG oversees the development, production, and presentation of theatre, music, and various other performing arts.

Kate Maguire says involving hundreds of children in productions each year is key to securing BTG’s future.

Kate Maguire says involving hundreds of children in productions each year is key to securing BTG’s future.

The Stockbridge campus presents work at two venues. The 314-seat Fitzpatrick Main Stage, designed by famed architect Stanford White, is a summer-only venue where classical theatre and world premieres are produced. Meanwhile, the 122-seat Unicorn Theatre, open year-round, is home for new and emerging artists, and a space where more experimental, provocative works often finds a receptive audience.

Meanwhile, in Pittsfield, the 780-seat Colonial Theatre — built in 1903 and re-opened in 2006 following a $21 million restoration — hosts family entertainment, comedy, live music, and other events year-round.

Located in the lobby of the Colonial is the Garage, a name that pays homage to its former owner, Berkshire Auto Co. This newest BTG venue, complete with a stage, lights, and sound system, is a dedicated space for local and regional music, comedy performers, and more.

In short, Maguire said, there’s something for everyone.

“I want people to know they’re welcome here,” she told BusinessWest. “They can listen to acoustic musicians or hear a really funny comedian in the Garage, sit with friends, have a drink, then go into the majestic Colonial Theatre and have a completely different experience. Or they might see a rock band on stage, and the following week see an opera performed. It’s a space where people come together from all strata and all walks of life.”

Rich History

The Colonial Theatre opened its doors on Sept. 28, 1903. Built in five and a half months, it boasted pristine acoustics and classic Gilded Age architecture. As was sometimes the custom in that day, the exterior of the theater was designed by a respected local architect, Joseph McArthur Vance, who also designed Pittsfield’s Masonic Temple, the Christian Science building, the superstructure of the Wahconah Park Stadium, Mount Greylock’s Bascom Lodge, and the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington.

“I want people to know they’re welcome here. They can listen to acoustic musicians or hear a really funny comedian in the Garage, sit with friends, have a drink, then go into the majestic Colonial Theatre and have a completely different experience. Or they might see a rock band on stage, and the following week see an opera performed. It’s a space where people come together from all strata and all walks of life.”

From its early days, the space played host to some of the most notable lights in theater, including Maude Adams, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Eubie Blake, Billie Burke, George Cohan, Irene Dunne, Grace George, William Gillette, Walter Hampden, Helen Hayes, Al Jolson, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Julia Marlow and E.H. Sothern, Will Rogers, Lillian Russell, Ted Shawn, Noble Sissell, Ruth St. Denis, Laurette Taylor, and Ed Wynn.

the Colonial Theatre

Following a $21 million renovation, the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006 after more than 50 years of inactivity.

To the south in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Playhouse was founded in 1928 when Mabel Choate sold the Stockbridge Casino to financier Walter Clark. An organization called the Three Arts Society remodeled the casino’s interior by adding a stage and seating for 450 people, and christened the new theatre the Berkshire Playhouse.

In 1937, the Colonial was renovated with a new marquee, projection room, and two retail stores added to the front of the building. With cinema on the rise, the venue operated primarily for the next decade and a half as a movie theater, although some community performances continued. In 1951, the Colonial closed due to the rise of TV and the decline of touring theatrical companies — and would remain closed for more than a half-century.

Down in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Playhouse was reorganized as a nonprofit organization in 1964 and renamed the Berkshire Theatre Festival. In 1976, the playhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, the Unicorn Theatre was reopened after a lengthy renovation and became BTG’s official second stage.

To the north, meanwhile, efforts to restore and reopen the Colonial were picking up in the 1990s. And organization called Friends of the Colonial Theatre Restoration was formed in 1994, and public tours in 1997 led to increased community awareness of the venue’s potential. A $2.5 million appropriation in state funding followed, and designation of the facility in 1998 as a National Historic Treasure by the Save America’s Treasures Program of the National Park Service only increased the momentum.

After years of design, planning, and community fundraising, the rehabilitation of the historic theater — and the extensive renovation of the adjacent Berkshire Auto Garage — were undertaken. In 2006, the $21 million restoration was complete, and the theater reopened. The 22-month construction process preserved and reinstalled all historically significant architectural and design features — from the vaulted, gilded entrance to the elaborately decorated boxes and balcony to the custom plasterwork — while creating a modern performance center.

“I feel it’s very important to make sure that the community recognizes the theater as their own,” Maguire told BusinessWest. “The doors were closed for 50 years, and the community got together and put in a lot of hard work and money renovate that theater.”

In a year when the Berkshire Theatre Festival marked its 90th summer season and the Colonial Theatre celebrated its 115th birthday, the community continues to show its support, she added. “We’ve been successful in fund-raising, and certainly a lot of people coming to our shows — we’re very grateful for the attendance.”

Kid Stuff

Maguire might be even more proud, though, of the way BTG engages with children, reaching about 13,000 students with cultural programs each year and putting many of them on stage in any given year; this past summer, about 100 Berkshire-area youth performed in Tarzan of the Apes at the Colonial.

“Imagine how many other kids are coming to these productions,” she said. “We are ensuring the vitality of the future of these buildings. Those 100 kids in Tarzan in the summertime — those kids are going to remember that experience, and make sure that building is here for the next generation.”

She believes that because it’s her own story. Growing up in Lowell, she used to attend performances of Boston Children’s Theatre.

“I was amazed at the quality of work, and it looked like an army of kids were working on these produtions,” she recalled. “Little did I know that, many years later, I’d have the opportunity to create such programming in the community I live in now. Every single doorway I’m walked through has been opened because of theater.”

Maguire wants to open those doors for others today — not just children who might feel a spark to follow a passion for theater, but area residents and Berkshires visitors who become part of a long, rich history every time they buy a ticket.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy

Behind the Curtain

Debra J’Anthony says the Academy of Music

Debra J’Anthony says the Academy of Music’s history speaks to the commit-ment of its community to the arts over the decades.

During a decade of renovations at Northampton’s Academy of Music, few proved more surprising than the sailcloth canvas that lined the theater’s century-old curtain.

“We’ve put a lot of attention on maintaining the historic integrity of this building,” said Debra J’Anthony, the facility’s executive director since 2008. “There’s a lot of mindfulness and thought in this space. We’ve tried to get state-of-the-art technical equipment and at the same time preserve the historical integrity of the space.”

The sailcloth, as it turned out, was actually a massive landscape painting of nearby Paradise Pond. It was restored by a Vermont company called Curtains Without Borders, which specializes in preserving historic stage scenery, and now hangs high in the Academy’s rafters upstage.

As historical fragments go, it’s actually a relatively minor one in the 127-year-old facility’s rich story. Edward H.R. Lyman opened the theater in 1891 as a building “suitable for lectures, concerts, opera, and drama for the public good.” Remarkably, the Academy’s priorities have changed very little since then.

“There has been a mix of activity, but depending on the year, there has been a weight toward one medium or another,” J’Anthony said. “In the beginning, it was just performing arts and lectures; then, starting in the 1930s, it was weighted more heavily toward film. We actually had a film distributor out of Boston that leased the building for about 10 years, so the Academy actually did quite well during the Depression because they had a renter in here.”

During the first few years of J’Anthony’s tenure, she led another transition, from what was largely a first-run film house, with occasional live performances, to what it is today, a performing-arts venue that hosts scores of shows — national touring acts, presentations by local companies, and sometimes the Academy’s own productions — throughout the year.

Efforts to fill that calendar have been boosted by a series of renovations to the theater, from shoring up the envelope of the building — including new roofing and replacement of leaky windows and doors — to launching the organization’s first-ever capital campaign to pay for a major renovation of the theater space itself.

“There were seats upstairs dating from 1947, and there were seats downstairs that were bought used during the 1960s,” J’Anthony said, noting that the Academy worked with Thomas Douglas Architects to re-establish a period look, and received a Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for its efforts. “We’re hoping to continue to renovate, finish the renovations in the hall, then go out into the lobby areas. We’re hoping to receive some Community Preservation Act funds soon to complete the opera boxes and add architectural lighting.”

In addition, because the Academy had mainly been a film house during the tenure of Duane Robinson, who ran it for more than 35 years before J’Anthony’s arrival, there wasn’t much modern theatrical equipment on hand. So the theater recently installed a new sound system, replaced some outdated theatrical lighting with LED lighting, and installed new flooring for theatrical productions.

Those efforts have helped make the Academy of Music a more attractive venue for national touring acts. The theater’s relationship with Signature Sounds led to a relationship with Dan Smalls Presents, which represents many of the the national touring bands that come through Northampton.

“We’ve got the attention of AEG and Live Nation as well,” she added. “The model is definitely working. There’s usually somebody in here most days. We have a wide range of offerings, from hip hop to ballet, from opera to Americana music, film, comedy, dramas, musicals — so there’s something for everybody.”

Rich History

Looking back to the beginning, Lyman had the foresight to purchase a lot of land on Main Street that would eventually be one of Northampton’s main crossroads. Working with well-known architect William Brocklesby of Hartford, Lyman had the two-story Academy built for $100,000, plus $25,000 for interior decoration and equipment.

It opened in 1891 with a sold-out concert featuring four solo artists backed by the Boston Orchestra. But Lyman’s fondest interest, opera, never really caught on at the center.

He eventually gifted the theater to the city, and it remains the only municipally owned theater in the U.S. — and a largely self-sufficient one. Aside from occasional help from the city to make needed repairs, the facility has never had a line item on the Northampton budget, surviving on box office and donations.

Throughout its first 15 years, the Academy became a popular stop for drama troupes and traveling road shows, attracting some of the top talent of the day, including Sarah Bernhardt and Ethel Barrymore.

With the economy shifting and top acts harder to come by, the Academy’s trustees went in a different direction in 1912, establishing a resident dramatic company, the Northampton Players. Although their shows were popular, especially with the Smith College crowd, they didn’t make enough money, and the group was disbanded a few years later. Various efforts to revive resident theater were reattempted throughout the 1920s, but none of the companies survived for long.

the Academy of Music’s iconic building

Opened in 1891, the Academy of Music’s iconic building has been a prominent fixture at one of Northampton’s busiest intersections.

That era saw visits to the theater by the likes of Frank Morgan and William Powell, among other names who later made the transition into motion pictures — which would be the Academy’s direction as well.

In fact, it had presented its first moving picture in 1898, shortly after the ‘projectiscope’ technology was introduced to the world. By 1921, the Academy was showing films three times a week, and by 1930, the facility was run primarily as a moviehouse. The trustees made the sea change permanent in 1943 by spending $40,000 to modernize the theater.

During that period, the Academy had a falling-out with the film distributor who leased the building through the 1930s, J’Anthony noted. When theater manager Frank Shaughnessy was called to military service, he recommended that his clerk, Mildred Walker, who had been working alongside him for 16 years, mind the shop while he was serving in the military.

“And the board agreed,” she went on. “She was a local resident and known entity to the organization. However, the film distributors were upset that the board would allow a woman to run the theater. So they took the Academy to court — and the Academy lost. That’s why their relationship discontinued; they didn’t re-up the lease.”

Walker, in the meantime, proposed a new governance model whereby the board would run the building, but would hire a manager. “And she recommended herself,” J’Anthony said. “They agreed to her governance model; however, they hired Clifford Boyd to run the theater.” Decades later, in 2014, following the spate of renovations, the Academy commissioned and presented a new work, Nobody’s Girl, that told Walker’s story.

Boyd, a veteran of the theater industry, oversaw a shift at the Academy of Music to live performing arts. Later, under Robinson’s tenure, from 1970 through the early part of the new millennium, the facility reverted to mostly film, as well as undergoing a series of needed renovations in the ’70s and ’80s. But that business model, too, was set to change.

“Film distribution changed in the 1980s with the rise of the megaplex,” J’Anthony said, “so one-screen venues across the nation had to make changes. Either they turned into megaplexes or became performing-arts centers.” The latter, of course, continues to be the Academy’s path today.

Into the Future

When J’Anthony came on board in 2008, the Academy was primarily renting the hall to community-based organizations, but soon established a series of resident companies and partners that supply regular programming.

“However, we needed to look at producing our own shows during the recession, when many of the opera companies folded, and so we started producing our own shows here, which led us into youth programs.”

Those include three sessions of summer musical theater workshops for ages 7 to 14, and in January, the Academy conducts rehearsals for a youth production in March.

“In addition, we have been producing plays,” she continued. “We started focusing on women’s works — being in Northampton, and being connected to Smith College, that just made sense. And we’ve been adding more presentations and productions each year.”

The theater, with a capacity of just over 800, welcomes some 60,000 visitors each year for performances, so it’s still a cultural force in the city after so many decades of change.

“Certainly, there’s a sense of place within this community for the Academy of Music. It is a place of gathering, of sharing ideas,” J’Anthony said, adding that its blend of big-name attractions and community-based productions make for an intriguing mix. “Somebody can be out in the audience and see a national touring show one night and be on stage the next night.”

That said, the Academy also strives to be sensitive to its market, she noted. “We do things that are a little more edgy than other venues. We keep our ear to the ground in regard to the values of our community, what is relevant to them, and making sure we bring art forms that can engage them in further discussions and offer new perspectives.

“A building like this is a valued asset, and it takes a large community to maintain this building and the programming we have here,” she went on. “So we’ll keep working with the city, the state, and Community Preservation Act funds, as well as individual contributions, to keep this space going. It’s all hands on deck.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Downtown Greenfield may look the same as it did decades ago, in many respects, but it has evolved considerably and morphed into a true neighborhood.

Downtown Greenfield may look the same as it did decades ago, in many respects, but it has evolved considerably and morphed into a true neighborhood.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin acknowledged that it isn’t exactly a scientific measure of either his downtown’s vibrancy or the efficiency of his long-term strategic plan for the central business district. But it certainly works for him.

He’s being told there’s a parking problem downtown. Actually, he’s been told that for some time. Until recently, the commentary involved the east end of that district by Town Hall, and the chorus was so loud and so persistent that the community is now building a 272-lot parking garage in that area, due to open in the fall.

But now, he’s also hearing that complaint about the east side of downtown, and he’s expecting to hear it a lot more with the opening of the Community Health Center of Franklin County on the site of the old Sears store on Main Street, a facility that will bring more than 100 clients and employees to that location every day.

In the realm of municipal government, parking problems generally, but certainly not always, fall into that category of the proverbial good problem to have, said the mayor, adding that a far worse problem is to have no parking woes — not because you have plenty of parking, but because no one is coming to your downtown.

And that was more the state of things in Greenfield for some time, Martin intimated, putting the accent on ‘was.’

Indeed, while Main Street may look pretty much the same as it did a few decades ago, at least at a quick glance, it is vastly different, and in some very positive ways, said the mayor, adding that his administration’s broad strategy has been to bring people downtown for goods and services and let this critical mass trigger economic development on many levels. And it’s working.

“We thought that, if we can bring people downtown and provide what they need, the free market will take care of people want,” he said, adding that the theory has been validated with everything from new restaurants to live entertainment to offices providing acupuncture and cardiology services.

Jim Lunt agreed. Now the director of GCET (Greenfield Community Energy and Technology), a municipal high-speed Internet provider, and formerly director of Economic Development for the community, he said the downtown has evolved considerably over the past decade or so.

Getting more specific, he said it has morphed from a traditional retail district, as most downtowns are, into more of a combination entertainment district and home for small businesses and startups.

“We’ve focused on small businesses that we can bring in, and we’ve worked a lot to build up the creative economy; our downtown, like many downtowns, looks a lot different now than it did 10 years ago,” Lunt told BusinessWest. “There are a lot more restaurants, a lot more opportunities for more social gathering, as opposed to what people would think of as traditional shopping.”

In addition to social gathering, there is also vocational gathering, if you will, in the form of both new businesses and also a few co-working spaces that are bringing a number of entrepreneurs together on Main Street.

To get that point across, Lunt, sitting in what amounts to the conference room in Town hall, simply pointed toward the window, a gesture toward the building next door, the Hawks & Reed Entertainment Center, which, in addition to being a hub of music, art, and culture, is also home to Greenspace CoWork.

That space, on the third floor, is now the working address for writers, a manuscript editor, a few coaches, a social-media consultant, and many others, and has become, said Lunt, maybe the best example of how Greenfield has put the often long-unoccupied upper floors of downtown buildings back into productive use.

MJ Adams, who succeeded Lunt as director of Economic Development, agreed, and she summoned another term to describe what downtown has become: neighborhood.

She said it has always been that to some extent, but it is now even moreso, with more living options and other amenities in that area.

“We’re starting to look on downtown as more of a neighborhood,” she explained. “We’ve always looked at it as the civic and service center for the county, but people are starting to perceive downtown Greenfield as a neighborhood that has a mix of housing styles, is attractive to a wide range of people, especially young people, has a lot to offer, and is very walkable.”

Greenfield didn’t get to this state overnight, said those we spoke with, noting that the process has been ongoing and more strategic in nature since the official end of the Great Recession and the arrival of Martin in the corner office (both of which happened in 2009).

Mayor William Martin says his broad strategy since being elected a decade ago has been to transform downtown into a hub for a wide range of services and make it a true destination.

Mayor William Martin says his broad strategy since being elected a decade ago has been to transform downtown into a hub for a wide range of services and make it a true destination.

That strategy has involved a number of tenets, everything from creation of GCET, which gives downtown Greenfield an important asset in a county where high-speed Internet access is a luxury, not something to be taken for granted, to a focus on making downtown a destination for a wide gamut of services, from education to healthcare.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest examines how these pieces have come together, and also at how they have positioned Greenfield for continued growth, vibrancy, and maybe even some more parking issues — the ‘good-problem-to-have’ variety.

Hub of Activity

To explain his broad strategy for Greenfield’s downtown, Martin essentially turned the clock back more than 200 years. Sort of.

Back in those days, he explained, Greenfield, anointed the county capital, was a supplier of goods and most services to the many smaller communities surrounding it.

Small steamships and rail would bring goods north on the Connecticut River to Greenfield, he explained, and residents of surrounding towns would make their way to the center of Franklin County to get, well, pretty much whatever they needed.

“I consider that a tradition and also a responsibility,” said Martin, now serving his fourth term. “And that’s what we’ve based our downtown on — providing what people need.”

It also has always done that with regard to government functions, he said, citing everything from the county courthouse, post office, and jail to Greenfield’s library, the largest in Franklin County. But Martin’s goal was to broaden that role to include education, healthcare, and more.

And specific economic-development initiatives, technology, societal changes, the community’s many amenities, and some luck have helped make that goal reality.

In short, a large number of pieces have fallen into place nicely, said those we spoke with, enabling downtown Greenfield to become not only a destination, or hub, but also a home — for people and businesses across a diverse mix of sectors.

These pieces include:

• A burgeoning creative economy that features a number of studios, galleries, and clubs featuring live music;

• A growing number of restaurants, in many categories, that collectively provide a critical mass that makes the city a dining destination of sorts. “There are 13 different ethnic restaurants, there’s some really good bars, several places for live music that weren’t here just a few years ago, and art galleries,” said Lunt. “I think that’s the biggest change downtown”;

• Greenfield Community College, which has steadily increased its presence downtown with a campus that brings students, faculty, administrators, and community leaders to the Main Street facilities;

• The community health center, which will bring a host of complementary services, including primary care, dental, and counseling for emotional wellness together under one roof in the downtown, where before they were spread out and generally not in the central business district;

• Other healthcare services. In addition to the clinic, a cardiologist has taken over an old convenience store downtown, said the mayor, noting that there is also an acupuncturist, a holistic center, a massage therapist, and other healthcare businesses in that district; and

• Traditional retail, of which there is still plenty, including the landmark Wilson’s Department Store.

Actually, these pieces haven’t just fallen into place by accident, said Martin, noting, again, that they have come into alignment through a broad strategic plan and specific initiatives designed to make the downtown more appealing and practical for a host of businesses, as well as number of existing qualities and amenities.

“We decided that we should do everything we can to provide the infrastructure necessary to attract people and entities when the economy turned,” he explained. “And we worked on a number of things that were real problems.”

High-speed Internet access was and is a huge component of this strategy, said Lunt, noting that it has been directly responsible for a number of businesses settling in the city.

Meanwhile, other parts of that strategic initiative include renewable-energy projects that have helped bring down the cost of energy; creation of a Massachusetts Cultural District, which has made the community eligible for certain grants; a façade-improvement project that has put a new face on many properties downtown, and many others.

Destination: Greenfield

The community already had a number of strategic advantages when it came to attracting both businesses and families, said Lunt, noting that, overall, while Greenfield’s location in rural Franklin County is limiting in some ways — contrary to popular opinion, there are actually few available parcels for large-scale developments, for example — it brings advantages in many others.

From left, MJ Adams, Mayor William Martin, and Jim Lunt all see many positive signs in Greenfield’s downtown.

From left, MJ Adams, Mayor William Martin, and Jim Lunt all see many positive signs in Greenfield’s downtown.

Elaborating, he said that many younger people prefer a rural setting to an urban one — for both living and working — and can find most of what they’re looking for in Greenfield.

That list includes a lower cost of living than they would find in Boston, Amherst, or Northampton; outdoor activities ranging from hiking to whitewater rafting; culture; a large concentration of nonprofits serving the county; and, yes, high-speed Internet access, something people might not find 20 minutes outside of downtown.

“It’s a beautiful area, and real estate is quite affordable compared to much of the rest of the state,” said Lunt. “And the Springfield-Hartford metropolitan area is now 1.2 million, and that’s not that far down the road; a lot of people would happily commute for 45 minutes to live here and get to jobs there.”

This combination of factors has attracted a number of young professionals, many of whom may have gone to college in Boston or another big city and started their careers there, but later desired something different, said Adams.

It has also attracted entrepreneurs, said Lunt, including several video-game developers, many of whom now share a business address — co-working space known as Another Castle.

Located on Olive Street in space that until recently housed the Franklin County registry of Deeds, it became home to the video-game developer HitPoint, which was located in Greenfield, relocated to Springfield, and has now moved back. And it has created a co-working space that enables other small game designers to take advantage of shared equipment and facilities, effectively lowering the cost of doing business.

Moving forward, the town’s simple goal is to build on the considerable momentum it has created through a number of initiatives. These include work to redevelop the former First National Bank building, vacant for decades and the last of the properties on the stretch as Bank Row to be given a new life.

The town’s redevelopment authority has site control over the parcel, said Lunt, adding that the next steps involve working with the state, private grant writers, and the city to acquire funds to convert the property into a downtown cultural center to be used for everything from a farmers’ market to perhaps a museum of Greenfield history.

If all goes according to plan, all the properties on Bank Row will be back in productive use for the first time in 40 years, he told BusinessWest.

Another initiative is the parking garage, which has been years in the making, noted the mayor, noting that it took several attempts to secure funding help from the state for the project.

The facility will ease a well-recognized problem, exacerbated by the new county courthouse in that area, and provide yet another incentive for people to come to downtown Greenfield.

As for parking at the other end of Main Street … well, that’s a good problem to have. For now, anyway.

George O’Brien 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

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]

Creative Economy Sections

A Dream Home for the Arts

By Kathleen Mellen

An architect’s rendering of the new facility on Hawley Street in Northampton.

An architect’s rendering of the new facility on Hawley Street in Northampton.
Thomas Douglas Architects

It’s been four long years since the Northampton Center for the Arts had a place to call home. But that’s about to change.

In September, the center will become the first tenant of a building at 33 Hawley St. in Northampton, purchased in 2013 by Northampton Community Arts Trust, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve space for use by artists. It was conceived on the principle of a land trust, in which land is purchased with a particular intention, such as preservation.

“The arts trust’s mission is to preserve, in perpetuity, spaces for the use of arts,” said Penny Burke, executive director of the Center for the Arts, who has been involved in the development of the trust since its inception. “We need a multi-purpose, multi-functioning community place for the arts.”

The need for such a space became abundantly clear in 2013, when the nonprofit Center for the Arts lost its home of nearly 30 years at the former D.A. Sullivan School complex in downtown Northampton, after its non-renewable lease expired.

As Burke searched for new space that could accommodate the center’s programming of music, dance, theater, and visual arts — a process that took far longer than she had anticipated — she was forced to mothball much of its equipment and programming, and run the operation out of a small office on Strong Avenue, or, at times, from her home.

After a number of disappointing false starts, Burke said, the center entered into a collaborative search for space with interested city residents and other arts organizations, including Available Potential Enterprises, Ltd. (APE), which, in 2006, had moved out of its 10,000-square-foot home in Thornes Marketplace after the building was sold. APE has since relocated to a much smaller space on Main Street, which doesn’t accommodate many of the performances that had been a major part of its programming.

interiorstairs

The spacious interior of the new facility in Northampton provides ample space for artists.

The spacious interior of the new facility in Northampton provides ample space for artists.

“Our interest is not in occupying the space,” said Gordon Thorne, the founding director of APE, “but we want to have input into programming in the building. We were looking for a way to replicate what we had in Thornes, to replace our performance capacity. This is really completing that goal for us.”

Northampton has long had a reputation as a premier arts town. It is home to scores of visual and performing artists who have been flocking to the city since the mid-’70s, when an economic downturn resulted in storefront vacancies and cheap rent. That was like a siren call to artists, who typically have limited economic resources.

With the resulting influx of creative individuals, by the early 2000s, the arts had become integral to the personality, character, and economic health of the city. Not only has it been dubbed one of the best small arts towns in the country, it has also been named one of the nation’s top 25 arts destinations.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner says artists need affordable space, and the new facility created by Northampton Community Arts provides it.

But all that has come at a price to the artists, says Richard Wagner, president of the Northampton Community Arts Trust’s volunteer board of directors. As the arts have helped propel the city’s renewed economic vibrancy, vacancies have been filled, and prices for space have exploded, leaving many of the artists to discover that they have unwittingly helped price themselves right out of their artistic homes.

“The end state of any creative economy is going to be where creativity has been pressed out of the market,” Wagner said. “Artists need space, and if you want to keep artists, if you want to keep the creativity, you’ve got to lock in affordability, or they go somewhere else. That’s what’s happening in Northampton.”

The Northampton Community Arts Trust aims to stem that tide.

Planning a Reboot

To be sure, Burke’s organization has not been dormant during the past four years, but programming has been minimal; she has continued to present the center’s annual chalk art, ice art, and en plein air painting festivals, as well as hosting Northampton’s First Night Celebration — a venture the center will turn over to the Northampton Arts Council this year after running it for 32 years.

Now, Burke says, she’s excited to have a home where she can reinstate the plethora of arts and community activities that have been the center’s hallmark. “It’s been a huge hole,” she noted.

The Center for the Arts will serve as an operational and managerial tenant of the Hawley Street building, and will facilitate much of the core programming. With that slated to begin right after Labor Day, Burke explained, she’s hustling to get her ducks in a row, reaching out to the center’s resident companies, including the Lisa Leizman Dance Co. and the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, and booking space for classes, rehearsals, and, eventually, performances. Other organizations are expected to follow the center into the space shortly, including Northampton Community TV, which will have an education and media center there.

We wanted to create a building with minimal operating expenses, where artists can actually afford to work, and that meant not borrowing money. I had the capital, so I paid it.”

The center’s move to Hawley Street is one step in a long journey that began in earnest with the $1.5 million purchase in 2013 of the former site of Northampton Lumber, a 25,000-square-foot building on 1.5 acres of land. Money for the purchase was initially raised through private donations and a short-term loan, but was ultimately paid in full by Thorne, who reimbursed the trust for the cost of the building.

“We wanted to create a building with minimal operating expenses, where artists can actually afford to work, and that meant not borrowing money,” Thorne said. “I had the capital, so I paid it.”

While some events were held in the building for several months after it was purchased, all that was put on hold in 2015, when construction began to build the trust’s dream home for the arts.

The $6.5 million project (which includes the purchase of the building) is being done in three phases, under the guidance of Thomas Douglas Architects. Phase one, with a cost of just over $1.86 million, is nearly complete, and has included an overall renovation of the building and indoor framing.

“We had to do basic development work because of the shape the building was in,” Wagner told BusinessWest. “We framed out the spaces, added an elevator … we took a beat-up box of a building and gave it a new skin.”

That work also included the addition of energy-efficient features, such as a highly insulated shell and roof, as well as a solar array, donated by Thorne, which should provide the building with essentially free electricity. “Our HVAC costs should be minimal,” Wagner said.

Phase 2 will be a complete build-out of the building’s interior, including a lobby and mezzanine, an 800-square-foot exhibit gallery, and space for performances, events, and workshops, as well as site work and landscaping. With an estimated cost of $2.5 million, that phase will have to wait while the trust secures further funding, but Burke and Wagner say they hope it will be completed by the end of 2018.

In the meantime, in order to accommodate an initial, limited public use of the building, the city awarded the trust a limited-occupancy permit to utilize space on the lower level of the two-story building, including a 1,200 square-foot multi-purpose studio for rehearsals, classes, and small performances, events, and meetings.

Burke has already booked some art classes and is working with local choreographer Kelly Silliman to create a dance program that will utilize a 900-square-foot dedicated dance studio that will be available for use on the upper level.

There will also be a series of outdoor events this summer, dubbed “Outside the Box,” that will feature film, music, and poetry presentations.

Looking Ahead

The current plan for phase 3 will be the creation of a 3,800-square-foot black-box theater on the lower level, capable of seating more than 200 patrons, as well as ancillary space, such as dressing rooms and a green room. That will be undertaken when the rest of the building is complete, Burke said, but only after members of the local theater community, including APE, have an opportunity to weigh in on its design.

We want to create a separate body of people who will take on the design and management of that space. We need to take into consideration not only technical aspects of theater, but to ask where that whole realm of creative work will be in the future.”

It’s a concept that still needs a lot of thought before a budget and timeline can be established, Thorne told BusinessWest.

“We want to create a separate body of people who will take on the design and management of that space,” he said. “We need to take into consideration not only technical aspects of theater, but to ask where that whole realm of creative work will be in the future.”

To date, the trust has raised roughly $4.38 million through gifts from individual donors, as well as government and institutional grants, including $50,000 from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, $35,000 from the Beveridge Family Foundation, $25,000 from C&S Wholesale Grocers, $180,000 from the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance, and $140,000 and $300,000 in separate grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The Center for the Arts contributed $400,000 — money that had been saved over the years from First Night revenue specifically to pay for a new home.

While what Wagner calls the “quiet” phase of the capital campaign continues, focusing on individual donors and other grant opportunities, he said a public capital campaign will be launched at a future date.

As those plans move ahead, Thorne said, it will be incumbent upon the trust to articulate its plans and its mission to the public. “We need to educate the community about what this is, our bigger mission.”

To that end, Wagner hopes the programming that will take place under the partial occupancy allowance will generate public awareness, and interest in supporting the space and the trust.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is to get the building back into use,” he said. “We want to open it up to the public, so they can feel and taste the possibilities.”

Sections Technology

Banking on Breakthroughs

 

Three UMass Amherst campus research initiatives are among nine projects across the five-campus system that are sharing $735,000 in grants from the President’s Science & Technology (S&T) Initiatives Fund.

Announced by UMass President Marty Meehan, the projects showcase a range of cutting-edge faculty research being conducted across the UMass system, from enhancing clean-energy technologies to developing materials that can autonomously release drugs and precisely target tumors.

The Amherst campus projects include:

• The Center for Autonomous Chemistry, an initiative with UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School, and led by chemistry professor S. Thayumanvanan. The project will develop the molecular design fundamentals for autonomous chemical systems, inspired by the immune system. Fully developed, this will form the basis to develop materials that can autonomously release drugs in response to a specific trigger and precisely target tumors. The grant of $140,000 will be used to facilitate one or more proposed projects to federal research agencies.

• The UMass Unmanned Aerial System Research and Education Collaborative (UASREC), led by Michael Knodler of the UMass Transportation Center. A collaboration with UMass Dartmouth, UASREC is established to advance unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones, to advance interdisciplinary and collaborative research and education. With research already funded through the state Department of Transportation, $100,000 in S&T funds will help position UASREC to become the New England Transportation Center and develop other proposals to federal funding agencies.

• The Center for Smart and Connected Society (CS2), a project with UMass Medical School, is being led by Prashant Shenoy in Computer Science at UMass Amherst and David McManus in Cardiovascular Medicine at UMass Medical Center. The project, as part of the creation of the new interdisciplinary CS2, will focus on the advancement and application of smart and connected technologies. The smart-application domains include smart health and smart living, smart buildings and energy, smart and autonomous vehicles, and smart agriculture. The one-year, $25,000 S&T grant will advance the planning for CS2 and coordination with the medical school’s Center for Data Driven Discovery and HealthCare, which also received an S&T award.

Amherst campus researchers are also involved in another of the funded projects, the UMass MOVEment Research Center, which will explore the mechanics of movement and muscle function. Led by Matthew Gage of the UMass Lowell Chemistry department, the researchers will use the $25,000 grant to plan for a UMass system-wide research center for movement mechanics, focused on understanding movement in the aging population. Faculty from Lowell, Amherst, and the medical school will explore how to combine existing research strengths at all three campuses into a comprehensive program designed to approach research questions in the biomechanics of aging from a molecular to an organismal level.

“These funds empower our faculty, strengthen our research enterprise, and spur breakthroughs that boost the economy and improve lives,” Meehan said. “I’m proud to support our faculty while advancing our critical mission as a world-class public research university.”

Now in its 14th year, the S&T fund accelerates research activity across all five campuses, drives partnerships with state industry, and positions researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects.

Since 2004, the fund has awarded nearly $12 million to faculty, helping to generate additional funding of more than $240 million in areas such as medical devices, nano-manufacturing, clinical and translational science, bio-manufacturing, data science, robotics, and personalized cancer therapy.

S&T awards have also helped to establish important research and development centers across the state, including the Center for Hierarchical Nanomanufacturing at UMass Amherst, the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston, the Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research at UMass Dartmouth, the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation Center at UMass Lowell, and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Medical Center.

“Since 2004, these grants have generated a tremendous return on investment to our campuses and to the Commonwealth, strengthening our engagement in key areas, including the life sciences, data science, climate science, and advanced manufacturing,” Meehan said. “This program underscores how critical a strong public research university is to the future of the state.”

The President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund is one of three sources of support that help advance the work of faculty members, along with the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and the Technology Development Fund. u

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Linda Leduc, Meena Patel, and Charlie Blanchard

Linda Leduc, Meena Patel, and Charlie Blanchard say the new Junction Variety store will include 1,800 square feet of space suitable for retail or office use.

A dozen years ago, Meena and Bharat Patel purchased Junction Variety store in Palmer. They established a loyal client base, but several years ago, the cost of operating the antiquated building, combined with the need for extensive repairs and inadequate parking, forced them to make a decision about whether to remain in town and build a new structure or move their business elsewhere.

“We decided to stay here; I love Palmer,” said Meena. “The people are very supportive, and we have good relationships with our customers.”

Last June, ground was broken on a new, 40,000-square-foot facility. It is expected to be completed within a few weeks, and once the store is moved, the old building will be demolished, and a parking lot with 20 parking spaces will take its place.

Junction Variety will occupy 2,200 square feet of the new structure, which will almost double its current size, and the remaining 1,800 square feet will be available for lease as office or retail space.

The project is part of a flurry of commercial activity that began last year and is rapidly accelerating, creating momentum in this community.

“It’s definitely a sign of the recovering economy. Things are happening a lot faster now than they did in the past, and we are very busy,” said Town Planner and Economic Development Director Linda Leduc, who explained that, a few years ago, projects were permitted that never moved forward, but today construction often begins months after the permitting process is complete.

The list of developments, moves, and expansions nearing completion or underway is lengthy, as Leduc and Town Planner Charlie Blanchard explained during a lengthy interview with BusinessWest. It includes four new solar farms (last year the town had five, which brings the total to nine), construction of a $17.2 million Emergency Department at Baystate Wing Hospital that will begin this year, a $2 million expansion of an advanced-manufacturing company that was recently finished, grassroots efforts in Three Rivers that are leading to change, and churches in residential neighborhoods being reused in creative ways.

Construction is also underway at Town Hall. A $400,000 heating and air-conditioning system was installed over the past two years and paid for with funds from the Green Community Act. And this year, renovations are being made to the entire building to make better use of space vacated by the Police Department when it moved into a new, $7.4 million facility several years ago.

Specifically, the public meeting room will be expanded and gain a new entrance; a new conference room and additional storage space will be created; the Board of Health, Conservation Department, Building Department, and Veteran’s Agent will move into larger offices; and new lighting, windows, and carpeting will be installed throughout the building.

“We have a lot of activity taking place for a town this size,” said Blanchard, attributing it not only to renewed confidence in the economy, but to the willingness of officials and the Town Council to work with businesses and make changes to accommodate their needs.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes a look at projects that were recently completed, underway, or on the drawing board throughout the four villages that make up the town of Palmer.

Diverse Undertakings

Change continues to take place in Depot Village, the first commercial district travelers pass through after they exit the Mass Turnpike.

Last year, Mark Baldyga of Baldyga Inc. stopped selling travel trailers and made the decision to focus on autobody work and used-car sales, which necessitated a move, because his 1221 South Main St. location didn’t provide the frontage and exposure he needed.

Finding a suitable property proved difficult, but he hoped to remain in Palmer because he grew up in the town, has spent more than 30 years on the Fire Department, and has an employee who is also a firefighter.

“I have a good reputation, and people here know me, which is one of the main driving forces for my business,” Baldyga said, adding that he has close ties with the community.

His search led to a two-acre parcel on Route 20 with the frontage he needed. However, before he purchased it, he petitioned the town to change the area from general zoning to highway business so he could move forward with his plan.

The petition was accepted, and Baldyga split up the acreage, which was needed because the rear portion of the plot contained a multi-family home.

Ground was broken last spring for a new, 5,500-square-foot building that is nearing completion; he expects to reopen in a few weeks.

He told BusinessWest that the neighbors were not only accommodating, but supported the zoning change, and it has worked out well for everyone involved.

“The town will get more taxes, businesses of a similar nature can move here now, and my tenants are happy because I made improvements to their apartments and cleaned up the property,” he noted, adding that, if the zoning change hadn’t been approved, he would have had to leave Palmer.

Michael’s Party Rentals purchased Baldyga’s former location, and President Michael Linton said the company moved from its Ludlow locations and did a substantial renovation of the 20,000-square-foot building, included the addition of a showroom, design center, and state-of-the-art tent-washing machine.

Other moves have occurred in Depot Village. Last year, the Fire Service Group purchased the former American Legion building on 1010 Thorndike St., which allowed the company to expand from a smaller location, and construction plans have been approved for a Dollar General store on the corner of Breckenridge and Park streets that will be built after the single-family home on the site is demolished.

Progress has also taken place at Detector Technology, a precision-manufacturing firm located in Palmer Industrial Park.  Blanchard said the company needed room to expand and purchased a building from Wayne Buxton, who was using it to house his ShedWorks Inc. business.

“Wayne needed to downsize but wanted to stay in Palmer, so he kept half of the lot and is building a new, smaller structure on it,” Blanchard noted, explaining that Detector Technology recently finished a $2 million renovation of the former Shedworks.

Baystate Wing Hospital is also building a $17.2 million, 37,000-square-foot Emergency Department on its Palmer campus. Ground was broken in November, and the institution is meeting all its timetables.

“They are a major employer and are making a big investment that will be beneficial to our residents as well as the region,” Leduc said.

The town’s capped landfill on Emery Street is another property that has been given new life. Leduc said a request for proposals was issued for the site several years ago, but nothing came to fruition until Syncarpha Solar, which owns and operates a solar farm on the adjacent former Palmer Metropolitan Airport, made the decision to build a second facility on the landfill.

“We were happy they were interested in generating additional solar power on the site,” Leduc said, adding that the town had five solar farms, and, in addition to the new one on the landfill, Nexamp, Nextsun Energy, and Beaumont Solar also built solar facilities last year.

“Two are operating, and the other two are waiting to be interconnected, but once that happens, Palmer will be generating almost 25 megawatts of electricity on its nine solar farms,” she noted.

The facilities will bring in new revenue and result in energy savings. Palmer will receive $121,000 annually for the next 25 years in lease payments from the solar farm on the capped landfill, and will begin getting net metering credits this year from Blue Wave Solar on Baptist Hill in Three Rivers, which Blanchard estimates will save the town 30% to 40% of the generated cost of electricity.

New Life

Two other projects Leduc describes as “exciting” involve the conversion and reuse of former churches.

Artist Bruce Rosenbaum and his wife, Melanie, recently purchased St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Thorndike. It had been vacant for several years, and will become their residence and the new home for Mod Vic Steampunk Design when the couple moves from Sharon.

“It was a perfect situation,” Leduc said, explaining that churches often are located in the middle of residential districts, and although the town is willing to rezone whenever it makes sense, it’s not always possible.

The Rosenbaums created the first functional steampunk house in the world, and their business repurposes and infuses modern technology and gadgets into period, relevant antiques and salvage objects.

“We work with clients in the U.S. and internationally to design one-of-a-kind pieces, creatively combining eras and ideas to transform the ordinary into incredible steampunk functional art,” Bruce said, adding that the couple has clients all over the world and looked throughout the Commonwealth and in Connecticut before deciding that St. Mary’s Church was a great place to expand their business.

The 1876 gothic structure, with 30-foot ceilings and tall stained-glass windows, three wooded acres, and 30 parking spaces in the middle of a residential neighborhood appealed to them, especially since they have clients in Amherst, Holyoke, Northampton, and Springfield, including MGM.

They worked with the town to get a home-occupation permit before purchasing the home earlier this month, and are looking forward to relocating and creating a showroom and gallery in the historic space, as well as holding steampunk workshops for families.

In addition, Amherst Railway Society purchased the Crossroads Christian Church on South Main Street in Depot Village and plans to move there on June 16.

“It’s a nostalgic reuse of a historic church and very fitting since Palmer is known as the Town of Seven Railroads,” Leduc said.

Collaborative efforts to revitalize Main Street in Three Rivers are also bearing fruit, thanks to work by the consortium On the Right TRACK (the acronym stands for Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge), which has been working to build a cultural and creative economy in the village.

The Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. was awarded a $13,500 Adams Art Grant for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and the town completed a market-assessment and business-recruitment tool as well as a feasibility study showing that a building on 2032 Main St. obtained through the tax-title process has potential for redevelopment.

“The town will put out a request for proposals as soon as we have grants in place for the building,” Leduc said.

A number of property and business owners also began meeting 11 months ago in a grass-roots effort to help the revitalization effort, which includes changing the perception of the area and filling vacant storefronts.

Community Development Director Alice Davey said Nancy Roy, of Interactive Schoolhouse, was instrumental in starting the group. The agency received $35,000 from MassDevelopment and used the money to hire Union Studio in Providence, R.I. to design a conceptual plan for the center. The consulting firm held a public presentation several weeks ago to get input from residents, and the final report is expected in the near future.

Davey said suggestions put forth during the meeting included making the downtown 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.

“It’s an exciting time for Three Rivers,” she noted. “The public meeting was well-attended, and residents and property owners eagerly anticipate the final plan and development of a course of action to implement some of the recommendations.”

Forward Movement

Bruce Rosenbaum says steampunk is more than just art: it’s a way to creatively problem-solve, learn how to adapt to a situation, and be resilient.

“You look at an object, know the purpose it was designed for is obsolete, then find a way to give it new life and make it beautiful and functional,” he said, adding that the idea translates to people and cities, and he is excited to work with Palmer “as the town re-imagines itself.”

That certainly applies to Three Rivers, and progress is indeed underway that will put the Town of Seven Railroads on the map as it moves forward on a fast track that is attracting new businesses and helping existing ones to expand and grow.

 

Palmer at
a Glance
Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050 (2015)
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $21.57; Three Rivers, $22.25; Bondsville, $22.06; Thorndike, $23.01
Median Household Income: $51,846
median family Income: $68,200
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE

www.1berkshire.com

(413) 499-1600

• Feb. 22: Good News Business Salute, 4:30-6:30 p.m., at Country Curtains, 705 Pleasant St., Lee. Good News Business Salutes recognize major milestones including anniversaries, expansions, and new product lines. This salute is part of 1Berkshire’s Creative Economy Month celebration during the month of February. This event’s honorees include Annie Selke Companies, Pittsfield; Boyd Technologies, Lee; Big Elm Brewing, Sheffield; and Winstanley Partners, Lenox. Cost: $35-$45.

• Feb. 24: BYP Back in Time Bash, 7-11 p.m., at Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield. Berkshire Young Professionals is kicking off another great year with its annual museum party this February. Enjoy a dance party with DJ BFG, sing your favorite karaoke tunes, sample food, snap a picture in our photo booth, play some indoor lawn games, and much more. Cost: $10-15.

• Feb. 28: Spark! Creative Economy Networking Event, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Kripalu Yoga Center, 57 Interlaken Road, West Stockbridge. Get to know others in the creative industries at our February Spark! creative economy networking event. Hear from Kripalu about all it has to offer as part of our Sparkplug speed-speaker series, then dive deep into icebreaker engagement with mini-workshops offered by key staff members of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Cost: free.

• March 15: Chamber Nite, 5-7 p.m., at Community Health Programs, 71 Hospital Ave., North Adams. Join us for this popular event and remember to bring your business card so you can enter to win a door prize. Cost: free.

• March 29: Career Fair, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Berkshire Community College, Paterson Field House, 1350 West St., Pittsfield. Get in front of Berkshire-based businesses at this annual event. Connect with employers looking to hire someone like you. This event is open to the public and is free. No registration is required.

• March 29: Brown Bag Fundraising, noon-1 p.m., at 1Berkshire Central Station, 66 Allen St., Pittsfield. Cost: Free

Register online for events at www.1berkshire.com.

EAST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.erc5.com

(413) 575-7230

• April 27: The Feast in the East, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse, 128 Wilbraham Road, Hampden. This event is open to the public. The ERC5 is preparing to host 30 of the finest restaurants in our area to serve delicious and decadent signature dishes to guests. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at www.erc5.com. Call Nancy Connor, executive director, at (413) 575-7230 with questions.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• March 3: Shining Stars Gala, 6-9:30 p.m., at the Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Honoring Business of the Year: Polish National Credit Union; Citizens of the Year: Werner and Chris Maiwald/Renaissance Advisory Services, LLC; Volunteer of the Year: Michael Epaul/Michael Epaul Photography; Nonprofit Organization of the Year: Holyoke Medical Center; and a Tribute to William Wagner/Westfield Bank. Cost: $60 per person. To register, please go to www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 8: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., at the Delaney House, 3 Country Club Road, Holyoke. Salutes include Berkshire Bank/165-year anniversary; Chicopee Industrial Contractors/25-year anniversary; Chicopee Colleen and her court; and a Bow of Recognition to Clear Vision Alliance for a 10-year anniversary. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 16: CEO Luncheon featuring Raymond Berry, president and general manager of White Lion Brewing Co., 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Collegian Court Restaurant, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 22: Business After Hours with the Springfield Regional Chamber, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Springfield Thunderbirds main office, 45 Bruce Landon Way, Springfield. Networking, raffle prizes, shoot-the-puck contest on the ice, Plan B Burger, and a cash bar available. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• April 12: Business Expo, 4:30-7 p.m., at the Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke. Sponsored by Florence Bank, Williston Northampton School, and Green Earth Energy PhotoVoltaic. The Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the chambers of Holyoke, Chicopee, and Northampton for a Business Expo. The chambers are now accepting reservations for tables. The cost is $150 if reserved by March 29, and $200 after that date. Table fee includes a 6’ x 30” skirted table, two entrance passes, a light supper, and free parking. Sponsorships are also available. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414 or e-mail [email protected]

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• March 6: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., at Armbrook Village, 551 North Road, Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. Free and open to the public. Call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 to register for this event so we may give our host a head count.

• March 8: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., at Shaker Farms Country Club, 866 Shaker Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Camp K-9 Doggie Day Camp. Refreshments will be served, and there will be a 50/50 raffle to benefit our CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. Cost: free for members, $10 for general admission (cash/credit paid at the door). Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the Chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, 6-10:30 p.m., at Tekoa Country Club, 459 Russell Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Westfield Bank, platinum sponsor; Savage Arms, gold sponsor; A Plus HVAC Inc., silver sponsor; NorthPoint Mortgage, beer sponsor; and Mercy Continuing Care Network, dessert table sponsor. Join us for our St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, 6-6:30 p.m.; cocktails and networking, 6:30-7:30 p.m.; dinner and program, 7:30-10:30 p.m.; music and dancing. Cost: $38 for singles, $70 for couples, and $300 for a table of eight. Featuring Band O’Brothers, an Irish/American band. For sponsorship opportunities, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618. To register for this event, visit www.westfieldbiz.org.

• March 24: Employment Law Workshop, 8:30-10 a.m., at the Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Topic: “Managing Employee Appearance and Religious Accommodations in the Workplace.” Join attorney Karina Schrengohst for a roundtable-style seminar to discuss appearance in the workplace and religious accommodations, including an overview of religious-discrimination law; dress and appearance standards; body modification (tattoos and piercings); an workplace culture, individual self-expression, and employee retention. Cost: free for members, $30 for general admission paid in advance.

Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• March 22: Professional Women’s Chamber Headline Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Location to be determined. Cost: $30 for PWC members, $40 for general admission.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• March 1: [email protected], “The 8 Languages of Money,” with Liz Dederer, 7:15-9 a.m., at the Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield Cost: $22.50 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for general admission in advance ($35 at the door).

• March 2: Leadership 2017 session 4, “Leading with an Entrepreneurial Focus,” 1-4:30 p.m., at the TD Bank Conference Center, Springfield.

• March 6: Outlook 2017, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. Cost: $50 for members, $70 for general admission. Reservation deadline: Feb. 22. No walk-ins accepted. No cancellations after RSVP deadline.

• March 8: Lunch ‘n’ Learn, “Apprentices and Internships: The Real Deal,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Presented by David Cruise, president of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $25 for members in advance ($30 at the door), $35 for general admission ($40 at the door).

• March 14: Speed Networking, 3:30-5 p.m., at Lattitude, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for general admission in advance ($35 at the door).

• March 22: “Power Play” After 5, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Springfield Thunderbirds, MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for general admission. Special event presented jointly with the Springfield Regional Chamber and the Greater Chicopee Chamber.

• March 28: Pastries, Politics & Policy, 8-9 a.m., at TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Cost: $15 for members in advance ($20 at the door), $25 for general admission in advance ($30 at the door).

Reservations for all chamber events may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• Feb. 22: Legislative Breakfast, 7-9 a.m., at Springfield Country Club, West Springfield. Attendees will include state Sens. James Welch and Donald Humason, state Reps. Nicholas Boldyga and Michael Finn, and Mayors Richard Cohen (Agawam) and Will Reichelt (West Springfield). Sponsorship opportunities are available. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members. Register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com. For more information on ticket sales, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• March 1: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Hosted by Music Speaks Feeding Hills. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants. that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• March 16: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., at Crestview Country Club, Agawam. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately that day. We cannot invoice you for these events. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• March 23: Business 2 Business Meet and Greet with West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt. 7:30 a.m., hosted by Fathers & Sons, 989 Memorial Dr., West Springfield. A casual meet and greet with local businesses and the mayor.