PITTSFIELD

It's no secret that fixing downtown Pittsfield's parking issues will go a long way toward alleviating the problems that merchants face along the North Street commercial corridor.

Several small businesses that had hoped to thrive on a revitalized North Street have struggled and/or closed because it's difficult for customers to find places to leave their vehicles.

If you're interested in learning more, the Department of Community Development will hold a public hearing next week to discuss the findings of a study compiled by the city's Boston-based consultants.

The hearing was originally scheduled to take place in City Council Chambers on Thursday, but has been moved to Wednesday where it will take place in the basement auditorium of the Berkshire Athenaeum on Wendell Avenue.

In my opinion, this would be a worthwhile event to attend, because public hearing's allow for public input. If you're frustrated at the lack of parking downtown, or think you know a way to fix it, this is your chance to have your say.

And, if you don't go, don't complain. You've squandered the opportunity, OK?

The city's consultant, Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates Inc., has already compiled a great deal of information on the city's downtown parking problems. The final report won't be released until public input is considered -- another reason to attend -- but a draft version I've seen shows the consultants have done their homework.


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They conducted an online survey of parkers in downtown Pittsfield, and did interviews with business owners, developers, arts venues and city employees who included city maintenance department and parking control officers Frank Anello and Pete Sondrini, Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood and Police Chief Michael Wynn.

At an open house held in December, participants were asked to vote for the parking-related priority that was of greatest use to them. The greatest number of votes, 26 percent, were from people who said they would be willing to park a little farther from their destination in downtown Pittsfield if there was guaranteed free parking. The lowest number, 2 percent, said they sometimes avoid shopping in Pittsfield because they know parking will be hard to find. To me, that figure indicates that the lack of parking opportunities in downtown Pittsfield doesn't mean people wouldn't be willing to shop, attend shows or just visit here.

Last Thursday, two Nelson/Nygaard representatives gave a preview of what they plan to discuss at this week's public hearing by conducting a power point presentation of their study at Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s annual meeting.

Without going into a lot of detail, my impression of their findings was the traditional way of managing parking in downtown Pittsfield doesn't jibe with the new uses for that area.

Now, that's nobody's fault. Downtown Pittsfield is changing, finally, and the regulations and the management for this area have yet to catch up. This situation is not unusual. As consultant Jason Schrieber pointed out, the cities of Haverhill, Salem and Nashua, N.H. experienced the same problems as their downtowns changed, but were able to find solutions to them.

Schrieber's fellow consultant, Lisa Jacobson, said fixing the parking woes would have a "ripple effect" on the vitality of downtown Pittsfield for years to come.

"Getting this right is important," Jacobson said.

There's no reason to believe that the parking issues in Pittsfield can't be worked out, too, as long as people are willing to work together. Unfortunately, in this city, coming together for the greater good is often the hardest part.

Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com.