North Adams aims for official Cultural District designation

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NORTH ADAMS — The city's downtown could soon be dubbed an official Cultural District.

The city and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Berkshire Cultural Resource Center are launching an effort to earn downtown North Adams a Cultural District designation, which advocates say can be a marketing tool for businesses and the community as well as a source of funding for community events.

The Cultural Districts are designated and approved by the Massachusetts Cultural Commission, an initiative spawned by a 2010 state economic stimulus bill. The city is aiming to have the application, which has a rolling deadline, into the state in the coming weeks.

The new designation could bring in outside investment and interest into the downtown, according to the organizations, and continue to attract artists, one of the goals of the Cultural Council's program.

Williamstown and Pittsfield each have already successfully applied for cultural district status in their downtowns.

City and BCRC staff will host two public meetings for input on the proposal at 11 a.m. Tuesday and at 6 p.m. Thursday at MCLA's Gallery 51 on Main Street.

The program also can help a city promote tourism, develop the economy, increase property values and preserve or reuse historic buildings, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

"There are people who are looking for those sorts of, quite honestly, an amenity," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. "[It is] creating an environment that might help people make a decision to move here."

The designation doesn't come with any guaranteed financial reward, but Alcombright notes it could be a meaningful asset as the city works to secure grants from both government and nongovernment sources.

The city began a push to win the designation in 2014, organizing and establishing an inventory of downtown assets that could justify the designation, but a quick turnover in city and cultural leadership positions stymied the effort.

Several of those positions have since been filled by new staff, including Suzy Helme as the city's director of community events and Jennifer Crowell as the BCRC's director, who have picked up where their predecessors left off.

"One of the first things we did was talk about this," Helme said.

The organizations have compiled a list of what they say are the downtown's "cultural assets," that make an argument for the Cultural District designation, including galleries, shops, and restaurants around the Main Street area. The proposed region includes the Main Street area and stretches to North to include the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts campus and reaches south onto State Street.

After the application is submitted, the Cultural Council will send staff to the city for a site visit, which city officials hope is during the summer when the downtown is its most active.

If awarded, the designation will last for five years before it must be renewed.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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