PITTSFIELD -- The city has come a long way in recent years.
That was the assessment of a Fitchburg representative who took part in a bus tour of Pittsfield sites on Monday as part of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus.
State Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said he attended an economic summit here three or four years ago.
"I remember seeing what was left of the GE facility," said DiNatale, whose hometown also housed a General Electric plant that closed abruptly. "Coming back, the city looks great. It really does. What they've down with the downtown is the way we should all go."
DiNatale and the other members of the 19-member group, which includes two members of the Berkshire delegation, visited the Colonial Theatre on South Street, the Beacon Cinema on North Street, the Rice Silk Mill Apartments on Spring Street, and part of the William Stanley Business Park on Kellogg Street. They completed their day by attending a presentation by local educators at the Conte Federal Building on Center Street.
Pittsfield is one of 26 municipalities across the state that are known as "Gateway Cities" because they were once considered to be "gateways" to the middle class, but have been slow to adapt to the changes in the state economy.
The members of this program are eligible for specially designed state grants, tax credits and targeted programs that are designed to create jobs, spur development and improve education.
The four Pittsfield sites that the 19-member group visited all have received some sort of state funding through either grants or tax credits.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who is a member of the caucus, said the purpose of Monday's tour was to show her legislative colleagues that Pittsfield is similar to the areas they come from.
"The thinking was that while there's a great deal that all our Gateway Cities have in common, all of our communities have their strong points, and all have their specific challenges," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who is also a caucus member. "The best way to make sure that we as a caucus were meeting or advocating for all those needs was for us to get out there in the community and see for ourselves."
At the Rice Silk Mill Apartments, which celebrated its first anniversary in September, the group viewed a PowerPoint presentation on Pittsfield's urban development efforts from members of the Department of Community Development.
At the Stanley Business Park, the group visited a site on Kellogg Street that was once occupied by a large General Electric Co. building that has been demolished, and the area off Woodlawn Avenue where a new bridge is being built over the CSX Railroad tracks.
"There's rail running right through here," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who joined the group at the Stanley Business Park. "We see that as a tremendous advantage."
Pittsfield was the fourth stop on the caucus' current Gateway Cities tour, which also has visited Holyoke, Fall River and Lowell, said state Rep. Paul A. Schmid, D-Westport, who represents Fall River and New Bedford.
Asked to compare Pittsfield with the three other cities the group has visited, Schmid said, "I hope my friends in Fall River don't hear this, but downtown Pittsfield strikes me as remarkably well developed.
"We hardly saw an empty storefront, and in the three other cities we visited there were a lot of them," he said.
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