Developer James Scalise's defensive assertion that he is "not trying to pull a fast one" aside, the harsh reaction of Pittsfield city councilors to his request that a warehouse building be razed to make way for a retail project after earlier indications the building would be saved is understandable and appropriate. Mr. Scalise's assertion that Pittsfield does not appeal to the kind of large retail tenant that would be interested in restoring older buildings raises a larger point that the city should consider as it assesses future proposals.
In December, the City Council approved a zoning change to facilitate business use specifically because the brick warehouse at 999 Dalton Avenue would be reused as part of the project, and the six councilors present at Monday's Historical Commission meeting were plainly unhappy with the request of Mr. Scalise of SK Designs Group, LLC that the building be razed for the project to go forward. The roughly 75-year-old building was made to last -- unlike much of what is built today -- and while Mr. Scalise doesn't regard it as historic, Mary Ward, a Crane & Company retiree who was involved with Crane's on-site museum, told the commission that the building has ties to the historic paper-making company's history. Her experience gives her considerable credibility.
The Historical Commission recommended a six-month delay to consider other reuse plans. A six-month delay, Mr. Scalise stated, would cause him to ask "...at what point do I look at other alternatives?" He can probably do so now.
Mr. Scalise told the commission that marketing research had shown that because of Pittsfield's low median income level the large retailers who spend time and money on restoration will not develop here, and while we don't know the specific nature of that research the assertion is revealing. When asked last month by The Eagle's Tony Dobrowolski if the much-ballyhooed plan announced in December 2011 to build a large retail shopping center at the William Stanley Business Park was still in play, PEDA Director Corydon Thurston replied that "I have no idea exactly," adding that "Every now and then they (the Needham developers) call and we have a conversation." (Eagle, Feb. 17). That doesn't sound as if either party is particularly energized by the project, and this is a plan that would not even call for a costly restoration.
Pittsfield doesn't need a center the developer can take or leave, in particular if it lacks prime retailers and will only shift current low-paying retail jobs from one city center to another, leaving empty stores behind. It definitely doesn't need a retail project that will cause the destruction of well-built, historically significant buildings. Pittsfield has gone that route to its lasting regret and shouldn't be pressured into doing so again.