Monday April 9, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Members of the nonprofit Boston-based Urban Land Institute who visited Pittsfield last week have released their suggestions on ways to improve an area of the city located between West Street and the west branch of the Housatonic River.

The panel recommended providing incentives to redevelop land at the corner of West and Edwin streets where the TD Bank building is located; the creation of a greenway along West Street from Park Square to the west branch of the Housatonic River behind the Clock Tower Business Park on South Church Street; and an expansion of art-related activities in the West Street area.

The group toured Pittsfield through the ULI Boston District Council’s Technical Assistance Panel program, which is associated with Mass Development. The panel focused on creating a short- and long-term vision to link downtown Pittsfield with the neighborhood located just beyond KB Toys’ former world headquarters building on West Street, which has been vacant since the company went out of business in 2009.

City officials along with members of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Pittsfield Inc. also attended the all-day session.

The city originally cleared a large portion of the area that includes the KB Toys building for urban renewal in 1967. That parcel remained mostly vacant for 19 years until the KB building was constructed in 1986.

Unlike North Street, which was not affected by urban renewal, the West Street area consists mostly of large disconnected commercial structures surrounded by parking lots.

Victor Karen, co-chairman of the UIL’s TAP program, said the panel attempted to provide city officials with ways to more fully integrate an area affected by urban renewal into the downtown North Street corridor.

"Our basic intention was to bring some experience with what other places have done, test it against what’s out there, and put out a menu of alternatives," Karen said. "It would not necessarily be the be all and end all, but it would get people to talk."

City Planner C.J. Hoss said the Department of Community Development was pleased with the panel’s recommendations, noting that they did not include another full-scale renovation of the area similar to what took place in the late 1960s.

"I think this department is very excited at their proposal," he said. "We asked them for ideas that were feasible. It doesn’t involve the redevelopment of the whole area. It involved new development for short-term planning. That idea seems much more plausible than extensive redevelopment."

The city is not bound by any of the panel’s recommendations, Hoss said.

"There’s nothing set in stone," he said. "These ideas were presented to the city based on the expertise of this panel. They felt these were some feasible opportunities that the city could try and move toward. It doesn’t hold us to anything."

According to Hoss, the panel recommended that the city consider redeveloping the TD Bank building parcel on the corner of West and Edwin streets by either finding mixed uses for that structure, or by developing the site so such a large parcel can be put to a better use.

"We are aware of vacancies in that building," Hoss said. "We’re not sure to what degree."

It also recommended that Big Y Foods be allowed to construct two additions to its building at the corner of West and Center streets that could be used for complementary retail uses. Victor said that recommendation is in line with Big Y’s plans to improve its site. In 2008, Big Y announced that it planned to move its West Street supermarket to the Pittsfield Plaza on West Housatonic Street, but shelved those plans two years later. Big Y has renovated its West Street building numerous times since 1985.

"We know that they have the same plans to redo that entire store," Karen said. "We thought if the opportunity was there it would be a great time to leverage that property and do a mini-grocery store retail area."

The proposed green way would stretch from North Street to behind the Clock Tower Business Park. If constructed, Hoss said the greenway would tie in with a westside riverway that the city has considered building along the river’s west branch that from Wahconah Park to Clapp Park on West Housatonic Street.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com

(413) 496-6224