Downtown Pittsfield releases 5-year plan to increase attractiveness of city center


Photo Gallery | Downtown Pittsfield, Inc. launches strategic plan for city

PITTSFIELD — Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has released a new five-year strategic plan designed to make the center of the county's largest city safer and more attractive to a broader range of people.

The plan, which has four central strategies, includes recommendations on how to increase the "walkability" of the city's center, and ways to improve promoting its strengths. It also calls for the creation of an economic development officer in the mayor's office.

A nonprofit organization, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., has been the recognized leader, facilitator and primary advocate for downtown Pittsfield since 1983. The group currently has 208 members.

The population in the Berkshires continues to decline — the county is currently losing more people at a higher rate than any other county in Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Downtown Pittsfield President Jesse Cook-Dubin said the new plan was developed with strategies designed to make downtown Pittsfield more appealing to the younger employees that area employers are hoping to attract.

People who tell the group they don't want to come to Pittsfield also say they are perfectly comfortable walking around New York City, which "objectively is much less safe than Pittsfield," Cook-Dubin said.

"The problems that Pittsfield has are not on that scale at all," he said. "We do think that's it's largely a perception issue, but there are some problems that are getting worse.

"While we don't spend a lot of time dwelling on them, there's currently an opioid issue, and there's youth gang issues," he said. "So there's got to be some sustained effort by the city of Pittsfield so that those issues get solved."

Kate Maguire, who chairs the public safety committee, said Downtown Pittsfield is willing to work with and support city officials as they deal with downtown public safety issues.

"I think what we are finding is that we need more police officers," she said. "We're trying to support the city in how do we create a budget for that, where do we go to. Public safety is the No. 1 issue for any government."

The new strategic plan is also designed to have the downtown area appeal to a broader range of people.

"It's not about making Pittsfield highbrow," Maguire said. "It's not about exclusion. It's about inclusion, and how do we accommodate a diverse population. That's what makes a truly great downtown."

The younger employees that major employers like General Dynamics, Guardian-Berkshire Life and Crane are hoping to bring to the Berkshires don't want to live in a "suburb," Cook-Dubin said.

"Married with no kids, or single, they want to live in a downtown area," he said. "So, what do we need to attract those people here? What are we missing?

"We've got no shortage of restaurants now, a couple of great live theaters, a movie theater, there's some nightlife, (but) there's still not a lot of day life," he added. "When you walk around North Street at noon you wonder where everybody is. What are the ways for us to meet that challenge?"

The plan's four strategies deal with public safety issues; ways to increase the quantity and diversity of everyday foot traffic to broaden the potential customer base for retail businesses; means of promoting the positive aspects of downtown Pittsfield throughout the region; and how to improve the appearance, convenience and walkability of the downtown area to create a safe, healthy environment for all.

Maguire said those strategies were based on the four areas that kept getting highlighted while the plan was being formulated. The new plan was developed through feedback from 150 stakeholders over a period of four months, Cook-Dubin said.

After the information was compiled the new strategic plan, "pretty much wrote itself," he said.

During a meeting with The Eagle this week, members said the 10-page document builds on the goals listed in the organization's previous five-year plan, which was released in 2010.

"That plan was definitely the foundation for this one," said Maguire, who is the artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group.

Downtown Pittsfield's new strategic plan is the second follow-up piece to the organization's 1997 downtown development study. The 2010 plan was compiled by a 15-member Downtown Pittsfield Strategic Planning Committee with help from a private consultant.

Cook-Dubin said the current plan was developed through feedback from 150 stakeholders that was obtained over the last four months. Deb Blatt of Group Restoration served as the project's strategic facilitator.

"What we're focused on is how does Pittsfield, especially the downtown area, become the engine that it really needs to be in order for the rest of the city and the surrounding regions to thrive," Cook-Dubin said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.

Downtown strategies

Highlights of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s new five-year strategic plan:

Strategy 1: Public safety in the downtown area

Chairwoman: Kate Maguire, Berkshire Theatre Group.

A. Advocate for significant increases in police patrols throughout the city.

• Create a task force of business and community leaders; hold quarterly meetings between task force and police chief.

B. Improve collaboration with and among law enforcement agencies.

• Strengthen roles with all agencies playing a role in central Berkshire law enforcement.

C. Encourage honest dialogue about public safety in order to convey truthful information and promote the public's trust.

• Assist merchants and other downtown stakeholders in building relationships with the Police Department.

D. Continue to improve and expand the Downtown Pittsfield Ambassador program.

• Evaluate program's strengths and weaknesses.

E. Work with police and others in city government to enact and implement enforceable ordinances for the protection of public health and pedestrian safety,

• Examples: speed limits; crosswalks; smoking; bicycles etc. on sidewalks.

Strategy 2: Increase the quantity and diversity of everyday foot traffic to broaden the potential customer base for retail business.

Chairperson: Kate Stinchcomb, Berkshire Theatre Group

A. Identify resources and implement initiatives.

• Advocate for the creation of a business development officer position in City Hall.

B. Collaborate with developers and landlords to expand safe, quality housing options.

• Create and prioritize a list of target locations and properties for housing development/redevelopment; publicize website and hotline for reporting Housing Code violations.

C. Advocate for zoning and building code modifications that support first floor retail, commercial development and increase and productive upper floor usage; aim to assist those negatively impacted by zoning changes.

• Support the efforts of Pittsfield's Department of Community Development to update the city's zoning bylaw and related ordinances.

D. Increase the frequency and range of entertainment and event options.

• Reach out to businesses to get buy-in for downtown events; research quality and nature of downtown events in other communities.

E. Create an inclusive environment

• Seek more diversity in DPI board of directors; serve as liaison between downtown business community and social service agencies.

Strategy 3: Promote the positive effects of downtown Pittsfield throughout the region.

Chairperson: Gary Levante, Berkshire Bank.

A. Develop branding and promoting to promote all Pittsfield has to offer through a targeted outreach plan.

• Seek and study similar cities' "bright spots" to identify possible branding, marketing and messaging strategies; create more cooperative marketing opportunities.

B. Develop a communication plan to promote Pittsfield's good news

• Utilize and promote as a one-stop shop or aggregator for downtown Pittsfield information.

Strategy 4: Continue to improve the appearance, conveniences and walkability of downtown Pittsfield to create a safe, healthy and attractive environment for all.

Chairperson: William Mulholland, Berkshire Community College.

A. Advocate for improvement of infrastructure

• Pursue the expansion of streetscape work to side streets and alleys; hold city government accountable for continual maintenance of crosswalks and related markings; advocate for reduction and posting of speed limit on North and South streets.

B. Collaborate with property owners, business owners, city government and others to achieve upkeep of buildings and sidewalk areas

• Update and push enforcement of ordinances requiring building owners to remove snow from sidewalks, and maintain cleanliness, etc.

C. Reduce loitering and other inappropriate behavior

• Encourage the city to re-post signs and enforce ordinances regarding skateboards, bicycles, and scooters on the sidewalk, including maintaining effective signage.


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