New project proposed for Great Barrington's Bridge Street

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A new development project planned for the Great Barrington Co-Op site at 34-42 Bridge St. was presented to the Planning Board Wednesday for a discussion between the developers and the board.

"We've been working with the Co-Op as the anchor tenant for the project for some time," said Michael Charles, one of the principals of Benchmark Development Group.

Charles and his partner, Brian Cohan, were on hand to inform the board of their plans. Benchmark is a Berkshire based development company that does projects across the northeast. Gruskin Group of New Jersey, a frequent partner for Benchmark projects, will do the architectural work.

Benchmark has the entire site, all three parcels, under a purchase and sale agreement. The closing is contingent on permits, Charles said. The expected total cost for the first phase of the project is $15 million. It's the latest project along the newly developing Bridge Street downtown corridor, after the recently approved 100 Bridge St. housing development just across the river and the Barrington Hotel set to use the old Searles Middle School.

The former Laundromat building to the west of the Co-Op will be removed and a new space on the site of that building and the current Co-Op parking lot will host a four-story, mixed use retail and residential space.

The Co-Op will take the ground floor of the new building, expanding its space by twice as much. The organic food market has signed a long-term lease with Benchmark, Charles confirmed. On the second floor, four retail spaces will face the street, backed by an office.

Twenty-two residential units will be above, on the building's third and fourth floors.

The developers will add a split sidewalk to accommodate the street's downward grade and the needs of the business. The upper sidewalk will wrap around the eastern end of the new building.

"The grade expands as you head down the street," Cohan said.

In the back of the property, the developers expect to add a 51-spot parking garage topped with an additional 36 residential units. The parking garage will be lower than the parking lots to the east of the site.

The residential units will add to the downtown population. The developers will be pitching the units at the market rate. That construction will come during Phase Two, which Charles said would be "market driven" for its start date.

"We're going to be looking for tenants that fit the Co-Op," Charles said.

The current Co-Op building will be torn down. Two permit parking lots with 48 and 38 spaces will take its place.

This project coming on the heels of the 100 Bridge S.t permit for affordable housing raised some concerns from the board, in particular whether the new upstreet project would stymie business development at the lower site. The developers said everyone could work together.

"I don't think this impedes anything at 100 Bridge St," Charles said.

In fact, Cohan added, the project may end up being helpful for developing 100 Bridge St. The developers believe the timing could be perfect for the 100 Bridge St. project's push to draw retail to that site.

"We feel the gap between downtown and 100 Bridge is closed now," Cohan said.

The developers hope to begin construction in January, with the Co-Op building coming a year later, then the back garage with residential units will follow.


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