Meet the woman forging a 'unified vision and plan' to revitalize Pittsfield's Morningside neighborhood

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PITTSFIELD — Amewusika "Sika" D. Sedzro says her first goal as the state-funded Tyler Street Transformative Development Initiative fellow has been to thoroughly familiarize herself with the Morningside section of Pittsfield and with the needs and aspirations of its business and residential stakeholders.

Working in the city through MassDevelopment's TDI program, Sedzro began full-time in May on the long-term revitalization effort — along with project partners, the Tyler Street Business Group, the city Community Development Department, and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

"I am trying to make myself accessible throughout the neighborhood," she said, adding that an important component of that effort has been the informal sessions she schedules Monday mornings at Dottie's Coffee Lounge on North Street and on Wednesdays at Hot Tomatoes on Tyler Street.

MassDevelopment is a state finance and development agency that works with businesses, financial institutions and communities to stimulate economic growth across the commonwealth. In 2014, the agency accepted Pittsfield as one of the first 10 of the state's 26 Gateway Cities to receive grant-funded development planning assistance for the Tyler Street area.

Later, MassDevelopment selected Pittsfield, Brockton and New Bedford as the three cities to receive a full-time economic development consultant during the second round of funding for the Transformative Development Initiative program. Sedzro will work in Pittsfield for three years on the local initiative.

The overriding goal of TDI project in Pittsfield, and similar MassDevelopment-funded initiatives in other Massachusetts Gateway Cities, is to "basically, bring on the conditions" that lead to revitalization efforts, Sedzro said. Her prime role, she said, is to help coordinate or "set in motion" development activities or projects and ensure the necessary financial and other supportive systems are in place.

She said that involves helping to foster "a unified vision and plan" for the Tyler Street/Morningside area, and also connects it to the city's downtown along North and South streets, which was revitalized in recent years as an arts and entertainment district.

Right now, Sedzro said, her focus in on gathering input and information from residents, business owners and the other stakeholder groups. In the fall, however, a consultant's report on the area will be released and discussed publicly, she said, with the goal of further broadening the discussion and participation.

Elan Planning, Design and Landscape Architecture, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was hired last year with state funding. Their report is expected to provide data upon which city planners, business owners, developers, institutions and property owners might base redevelopment plans.

"We will be testing out ideas, seeing what will work," Sedzro said, as well as gauging investor interest in projects and providing potential investors with the information they require to make those decisions.

In addition to considering infrastructure improvements, such as street lighting or park or open space enhancements or business development, the TDI will also focus on housing in the Morningside section, she said.

Housing options there are limited, Sedzro said, in that much of the housing stock is older and in need of expensive rehabilitation work, or aging rental housing structures owned by absentee landlords.

In that regard, she said, the TDI proposals could have implications for the downtown and for the West Side section of Pittsfield, both of which have similar housing conditions and problems.

"We want to know what market conditions and incentives need to be put into play to revitalize the neighborhood," Sedzro said.

While she said it is too early to discuss specific revitalization projects, such as proposals for the reuse of the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church and other buildings on its Tyler Street campus, Sedzro noted that a proposed Dunkin' Donuts with a drive-thru recently was rejected for a key zoning variance based on a negative report from a consultant.

A report to the city from John Mullin, a planning consultant with Mullin Associates Inc., of Pelham, determined that a Dunkin' Donuts with drive-thru would "change the character of the neighborhood" in a negative manner. And Mullin said the restaurant proposal for what he labeled a key historic and cultural center of the Tyler Street area would not fit with the city's master plan for revitalizing the area — emphasizing pedestrian-friendly activities.

The fate of the Dunkin' Donuts project remains uncertain at this point. Developer Cafua Realty Trust has held an option to purchase the 2.6-acre former church campus from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. Meanwhile, a citizens group hoping to save St. Mary's for reuse for housing or as a community center, arts venue or similar purpose has said other potential developers are considering projects but have been blocked by the diocese's agreement with Cafua.

Sedzro comes to her current post with experience supporting diverse initiatives around the world. She helped develop web-based tools to help Massachusetts communities in their workforce and development planning, and collaborated in developing land use and community development plans for municipalities in Essen, Germany and in Brooklyn.

She has also served as the project manager for a chain of clinics facilitating access to health care in Kenya; provided technical assistance to a biorecycling firm in Guinea, and worked for a network of business accelerators funded by the National Science Foundation. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Hampshire College and a master's degree in urban planning from Columbia University.

Sedzro can be reached at ssedzro@massdevelopment.com or through the PEDA office on Kellogg Street or the 1Berkshire office on Allen Street.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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