Thursday December 6, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- A long-awaited, massive $30 million redevelopment project on a blighted brownfields site near the heart of downtown took a major step forward on Wednesday with the announcement that the Berkshire Co-op Market would anchor the eight-acre, mixed-use commercial, residential and recreational project, including a two-acre Housatonic River waterfront park, at 100 Bridge St.

The project on the former New England Log Homes factory site involves a collaboration among the Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire (CDC), Allegrone Construction Co. and the Berkshire Co-op, which would occupy a 10,000-square-foot space for its natural and organic food market and cafe, more than double the size of its current location at 42 Bridge St.

If all goes according to plan, a groundbreaking would be scheduled late next fall for the market owned by its 3,500 members, said Co-op General Manager Art Ames during a briefing for The Eagle, which also was attended by CDC executive director Timothy Geller and Allegrone development director Ian Rasch. Berkshire Co-op owners invest $150 for an equity stake in the for-profit business.

"The opportunity here is to create a living, vibrant heart and hub of the community," Geller said. "It’s really the piazza [public square] of Great Barrington, which we don’t have."

Ames explained that the market’s board of directors wanted the co-op to remain downtown and last month decided to move down the street to a much larger facility rather than expand at the current location. Ames hopes the new market can open in October 2014. He projects that it could produce $12 million in annual sales compared to the current $8.3 million.

The co-op, which records an average of 800 transactions a day, is expecting to spend $5 million to $6 million for its relocation, he indicated.

"A decision like this can be somewhat nerve-racking for the board," said Daniel Seitz, co-op board chairman, in a separate interview. But he stressed that the consensus to move ahead was based on the income potential for a larger store and the organization’s major priorities -- proximity to downtown and reclaiming land along the riverfront.

Citing town board approvals required before financing is pursued, Seitz acknowledged the option of remaining in the current location at the building owned by the Dempsey family.

The market currently occupies 4,500 square feet at 42 Bridge St., so the new store would more than double the available space.

The commercial complex anchored by the co-op includes professional offices, other "health and wholeness" retailers selling mostly Berkshire products, and possibly market-rate apartments, Geller said. An assisted-care facility of 40 to 50 units would occupy the northeast corner of the land. Mixed-income rental housing of about 45 units also is projected.

As Geller explained, the CDC will retain ownership of the entire site, which is zoned for mixed-use, high-density development, and will enter a development partnership with Allegrone. He predicted that in five to 10 years, the co-op would own its space through a condominium purchase.

The contaminated property has been controlled by the CDC for 15 years; the organization became the owner in 2005, when it was determined that the former log home plant was contaminated by likely cancer-causing PCPs (polychlorinated phenols) emanating from compounds used to coat the logs as well as dioxins, a waste product from the textile factory on the site from around 1902 up to the 1960s.

Following the $1.1 million demolition of the factory buildings by Allegrone this past spring, state environmental regulators still need to approve the site after final bioremediation of the land -- cleanup and removal of the contaminants. That project is expected to be completed by next fall, Geller explained.

The CDC will have spent $3 million to $4 million on the cleanup by the time it’s completed, financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as Environmental Protection Agency grants and a $2 million commitment from MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development authority. The town has forgiven close to $300,000 in back taxes owed by the defunct New England Log Homes.

"It’s a high-priority site with an opportunity for mixed-use development that no other downtown site has," said Rasch, the development director for Allegrone.

Although nearly all of the property lies in a 100-year flood plain, heavy rainstorms in recent years did not result in a river overflow, said Geller. Stormwater management and drainage will produce an effective, protective barrier, Rasch noted, along with elevated building foundations.

"The town has been extremely supportive," Geller said, acknowledging that because of its size, the project will require a special permit from the Select Board. Applications are expected to be submitted in January or February.

Acknowledging that the question of locating a food market on a former brownfields site has come up for discussion, Ames said: "This speaks in so many ways toward fulfilling our mission despite that potential public-relations issue. We’re taking a blighted property, putting it back on the tax rolls -- it’s smart growth, bringing the river back, expanding the downtown to relieve congestion. Most of our owners are going to embrace this."

In additional to traditional bank financing as well as the co-op’s cash reserves, owners will be asked to lend the co-op perhaps a third of the project’s cost, Ames said, with preferential terms and rates for typical $1,000 loans likely to be repaid within four to eight years.

"They’ll vote with their pocketbooks, which is what a co-op is," he said.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com,
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

In brief Š

Site: 100 Bridge St., owned by Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire, eight acres formerly occupied by New England Log Homes; $3 million to $4 million cleanup of likely cancer-causing contaminants is nearing completion.

Plan: Mixed-use, high-density commercial and residential development with open space and a riverfront park, a partnership among the CDC, Allegrone Construction Co. and Berkshire Co-op Market.

Projected cost: $30 million.

Berkshire Co-op Market: Plans to relocate from its current 4,500-square-foot site at 42 Bridge St. to a new, 10,000-square-foot complex within the project.

Berkshire Co-op cost: Estimated at $5 million to $6 million, to be financed by local banks and some of its 3,500 member-owners.

Berkshire Co-op annual sales: $8.3 million (2011-12 fiscal year); projected: $12 million at new site.

Time line: Groundbreaking in late fall, 2013; market opening in October 2014.

Sources: Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire; Allegrone Construction Co.; Berkshire Co-op Market