On the Park Square common, city and state officials celebrated the $1.2 million Public Works Economic Development grant for roadway and sidewalk improvement work leading from Park Square north to Columbus Avenue.
The city will begin work along North Street between Park Square and Depot Street this summer, and hopes to have it completed in time for the opening of the $22.6 million Beacon Cinemas in December, according to Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer. The rest of the job will take place next summer.
Besides the Beacon Cinemas, that section of North Street includes restaurants, small businesses, the Central Block, the Berkshire District Attorney's office, and Ernie Jordan, Pittsfield's lone hot dog vendor.
"This is all about thinking ahead," said state James A. Aloisi Jr., the state's transportation secretary, who was at Friday's ceremony.
Aloisi said investments in infrastructure improve the quality of life for Massachusetts residents.
"If we don't make these investments now, if we allow ourselves to decline now, especially during an economic recession, then we'll never catch up," he added. "So, it's our duty, and our obligation, to seek out these projects and support them."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said transportation projects that benefit Pittsfield, which he referred to as the region's "capital city," benefit Berkshire County as well.
"I think it's a wise investment," Pignatelli said.
Mayor James M. Ruberto thanked Aloisi for his support, and listed a series of projects involving state and local partnerships that have been completed in Pittsfield during his tenure.
The North Street improvements are phase two of Pittsfield's three-part $10 million "streetscape project," which is intended to give the city a more welcoming feel by slowing traffic and improving pedestrian safety along the downtown corridor.
The first phase, which includes improvements from the Housatonic and South street intersection north to Park Square, and within the rotary itself, began a few weeks ago. Those two projects, along with the installation of a new traffic signal system at the Housatonic and South street intersection, contain $3.4 million in state highway funds.
The improvements along North Street will be similar to those along South Street, Ruffer said. They include sidewalk upgrades, the narrowing of one lane of the roadway to slow vehicular traffic, the installation of new streetlights, and a series of areas described as "pedestrian bumpouts" that will provide places for people to gather and cross the street, Ruffer said. One of those areas will be located in front of the new cinema center.
"It's kind of like redecorating your living room," Ruffer said. "This is Berkshire County's living room."
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