Councilors supportive but send $1M incentive plan to committee

PITTSFIELD - The City Council diverted Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's bid to send a $1 million economic message to help lure a major new manufacturer to Pittsfield.

However, councilors also left little doubt that, upon further (rapid) review, they're likely to approve the funding and might suggest adding to the pot.

Bianchi proposed taking $1 million from an economic development fund set up by GE as part of an environmental cleanup agreement for former company property off East Street - including the current William Stanley Business Park. A site in the park is proposed for the manufacture of new rail vehicles for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is estimated to bring with it up to 250 jobs.

The city site is one of four in Berkshire County being offered to potential bidders on the $850 million MBTA vehicle contract, who have until May 1 to file bids that include where in the state the work will be done.

If approved, Bianchi's proposal would add to the $1 million the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority - which manages the Stanley Park - already has pledged from its own development fund.

"I would like to see unanimous support for this," Bianchi told councilors, adding that he believes that will happen when the vote is taken. He said it would send a powerful signal to potential bidders.

But while the council voted unanimously Tuesday, it was to follow normal protocol under council rules and refer the request to committee - in this case, the Community and Economic Development Committee - for review. At large Councilor Churchill Cotton, the chairman of that committee, immediately announced there would be a meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m., which would allow the full council to take up the matter again on Feb. 11.

Bianchi said specific questions about the use of the funding could not be answered until after the MBTA accepts a bid from a contractor and that firm then chooses the Pittsfield site for a facility. Only then would exact details of the agreement be negotiated, he said.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont advocated a referral to committee rather than an immediate vote, so that possible restrictions on use of the $1 million could be considered and other related issues aired. However, he made it clear he agrees with the concept if such a manufacturer could be brought to the city.

City Community Development Director Douglas Clark told councilors that the $ 1 million, along with the $ 1 million PEDA has pledged, is at this point, " just trying to get us [ Pittsfield] an at- bat" in the bidding process, and striving to " send a message" to the bidders.

It is really to " pique the interest" of the firms, Clark said, adding that there " is no second step" unless a company decides to locate a plant here and then wins the MBTA contract.

In answer to questions, Corydon Thurston, executive director of PEDA, said there are also three other proposed Berkshire County sites, and that any one of those would benefit the city as well as the county. Those sites are in Lee, Adams and Dalton.

Thurston said the Stanley Park site would require new construction, unlike other proposed sites, but that a foundation in place there could expedite that process, especially given the amount of seed money offered.

He said the MBTA proposal specifies that the construction of vehicles must begin within a year of the awarding of the contract.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and other councilors indicated they would consider adding more money to the incentive from the GE development fund, which had $5.5 million in it as of Dec. 31.

" I think we need to be aggressive," he said. "If there is an opportunity, we should seize it."

To reach Jim Therrien:, or (413) 496-6247 On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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