It was encouraging to see a good-sized crowd in attendance Monday at Pittsfield City Hall for a discussion of the future of the William Stanley Business Park and the presentation by Waterstone Retail Development of Needham, which proposes a large retail project for the site, was welcome. The main argument in favor of the retail project, however, still seems to be a negative one -- this is the best the city can do -- and settling for something may preclude the opportunity of doing better.
Waterstone's representatives suggested the presence of the retailer could serve as a catalyst for industrial development, but the skepticism expressed by Pittsfield Community Development Director Douglas Clark is understandable. The project would take up about half the available space in the park, and while it may serve as a catalyst for more retail development and more generally low-paying and redundant retail jobs it is difficult to see how or why it would encourage industry.
Former Pittsfield City Councilor Michael Ward observed that the refusal of the developer to identify the retailer it has lined up for the project invites concern about the reasons for the secrecy. Pittsfield cannot buy a pig in a poke, and it definitely doesn't, for example, need a Walmart superstore given that the current Pittsfield Walmart is known primarily for all of the wrong reasons, such as poor upkeep and getting caught denying a worker her rightful wages. The latter has been a problem for Walmarts around the state (Eagle editorial, July 23). No contract can be signed with Waterstone before the city has an opportunity to thoroughly vet the proposed developer.
Local educators like Pittsfield schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy made compelling arguments for staying the course on advanced manufacturing, perhaps combined with a life sciences center, the construction of which is dependent upon state funding. While this would be in keeping with Pittsfield's manufacturing heritage, the city may have to show considerable patience before these companies are brought in. The possibility of using a portion of the property for ballfields or a park hasn't generated great enthusiasm but they could enhance the center of the city for generations. That more than likely cannot be said for another big box retailer in a county that is hardly short on them.