Lt. Gov. Polito, North Adams officials celebrate city's acceptance into Community Compact Program
NORTH ADAMS — The city is looking for help from the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker to address its decades-old urban renewal plan.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito joined Mayor Richard Alcombright and other city officials on Friday to celebrate the city's acceptance into the state Community Compact Program, which will help it forge a path ahead as it works to update the urban renewal plan.
North Adams was one of eight Massachusetts communities accepted this week into the program, which was built by the Baker administration in an effort to assist with and address the issues that plague municipalities. More than 90 cities and towns across the state have now signed on the program, which was backed by the Legislature with more $2 million in funding this year.
"We formed this compact program so that it would be available to everyone, and what I also like about it is that it is best practices; it's raising the bar higher for your community," Polito said.
The urban renewal plan establishes the goals and constraints of development in the portion of the city controlled by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, including Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
"There are things that we may need to change within that plan to more clearly facilitate the things that we want to do under urban renewal," Alcombright said.
While the new state/city partnership was lauded on Friday, it came on the heels of the announcement that North Adams did not receive the $1.6 million MassWorks grant it sought to continue development of the park's infrastructure. If awarded the grant, the city's plans included the construction of a $1.1 million footbridge that would accommodate a planned bike path and pedestrian traffic from West Main Street into the Heritage State Park.
Alcombright has cited the urban renewal plan as a roadblock to development at Heritage State Park, which he has tried for years to turn over to the private sector. The former freight yard-turned commercial complex is currently under the control the Redevelopment Authority.
The authority had been in negotiations with a group of private investors assembled under the name Greylock Market LLC for a long-term lease of the entire park until the talks fell apart earlier this year.
While that project ultimately fell apart due to the investors' inability to fully finance their ambitious goals, the urban renewal plan is still cited by city officials as a headache. Had the Greylock Market lined up its financing and struck a deal with the redevelopment authority, its commercial development plans would've required revisions to the urban renewal plan to allow for the proposed commercial activity.
Heritage State Park, specifically, has layers of government that are cumbersome to peel back: the land is owned by the state, but the city's redevelopment authority controls the buildings. Alcombright hopes to use the program to coordinate with the multiple state agencies with an interest in the park's future to craft the urban renewal plan.
While the compact allows up to two years for a community to reach its goals, Alcombright stressed the importance of having an urban renewal plan ready as soon as possible.
And that's where North Adams is hoping the state can step in. Alcombright believes the state can provide technical assistance in navigating the old urban renewal plan.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, thanked Polito and Baker for recognizing the needs of smaller communities like those in Western Massachusetts.
"I think it's so important for you to be able to recognize these kinds of issues for all of them," she said.
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