Open house offers first look at proposed Pittsfield Walmart Supercenter


PITTSFIELD — Politicians, business people, community activists and ordinary citizens were among the many who gathered at Hotel on North Tuesday night to get a first glimpse of the proposed Walmart Supercenter at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

The occasion was a three-hour community open house held by the developers, Waterstone Retail Development of Needham. It was the first time plans for the development, known as Woodlawn Crossing, had been made available to the public.

Besides Waterstone, the project's broker, a representative of its engineering firm, and a spokesman for Walmart were in attendance. They came equipped with aerial maps, site plans and fact sheets that were set up on wooden stands placed around a large room known as "The Hall" on the hotel's second floor.

At least 60 people indicated on Woodlawn Crossing's Facebook page that they planned to attend the open house, said Al Maiorino of Boston-based Public Strategy Group, which helped put on the event. Another 90 people indicated on Facebook that they might attend, he said. Dozens of people filtered into the event to learn more about the proposed Walmart.

First-hour attendees including several members of Pittsfield's City Council who stopped by before their own meeting took place later on Tuesday night.

"This is the first time we've seen anything in a public setting," said Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas J. Caccamo, who was one of the first councilors to arrive.

Waterstone has yet to file plans with the city, said company principal Anton Melchionda, adding he didn't know when that will take place.

Waterstone's proposed $30 million project includes the construction of a 190,000 square foot building that would house a Walmart Supercenter on a 16.5 acre parcel known as "the teens" at the Stanley Business Park.

The supercenter is billed by the developers as the centerpiece of a larger mixed-use development in the city's surrounding Morningside neighborhood that would eventually feature medical offices, life sciences, retail, light manufacturing and research and development.

The proposal — Waterstone's third for that same site with the same anchor tenant during the last five years — has created a stir both pro and con throughout the county, particularly on social media.

A representative of a community organization known as Pittsfield W.I.L.L. (We Innovate, Live, and Love) handed out pamphlets containing questions that they hoped participants would ask project representatives. A representative of Public Strategy Group politely asked the man to leave the meeting room if he wanted to hand out pamphlets and the man complied.

On Tuesday night, Downtown Pittsfield Inc. President Jesse Cook-Dubin and three other members of DPI met privately with the development team before the open house started. Following the private meeting, Cook-Dubin said it was still too early for him or the group to take a position.

"No, we're exactly where we expected to be — trying to learn as much as we can," Cook-Dubin said. "We've encouraged all of our (208) members to come to the open house. And we're asking a lot of questions.

"I think every piece of information that we heard advances the process we set out on," Cook-Dubin said. "In terms of closer to forming an opinion, it's not so much an opinion for anyone of us personally but the view of our members as a whole.

"They're professionals," he added. "We didn't show up with our pitchforks and they weren't there to argue with us. They shared a lot of information about the PEDA site and were very, very tolerant of the many, many questions we asked them." PEDA is the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, a quasi-public agency charged with the business park's development.

"I think there are question that they don't have answers to in all fairness either, that I think we're waiting to get answers for," said DPI member Scott Kirchner, the owner of Mad Macs on North Street who has been a vocal opponent of the project on social media.

"I haven't been a fan, but I'm speaking individually — I'm not speaking for the organization," he said. "Maybe they can get me to change my mind but I want to see the facts."

Kirchner said he'd like to see an economic impact study performed.

"That would be telling," he said. "I'm not saying that would change my opinion either way, but I think it's something important to the process whether or not it's important to the question."

Regarding the presentation in general, Kirchner said:

"It's a nice presentation that states their case and I think it's what I expected to see. It was very accommodating, but it also was accommodating to obviously the end result they were looking for.

"That doesn't necessarily mean I don't want that result, but that I'm just not ready to formulate a full opinion even though I've been anti-Walmart in the past."

Those both for and against the project said Tuesday's presentation had not changed the way they felt about the proposal.

"It was a professional presentation, but it's just a presentation," said Ann Kronick of Pittsfield. The two significant questions she had about the project were answered in a "vague manner," Kronick said.

"I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid," said Donna Walto of Pittsfield.

David Potts of Pittsfield, who is in favor of the project, said the presentation was well-done.

"Everyone I talked to was very informative, and they answered all my questions," Potts said.

Downtown Pittsfield businessman Steven Valenti said he is keeping an open mind about the project. He owns a North Street clothing shop.

"I wanted to make sure the information I have is accurate before I pass judgment," Valenti said, when asked why he decided to attend.

"To me, this is more fact finding," he said. "I want to learn as much as I can."

Walmart has had a presence in Pittsfield since 1995, and has been in Berkshire County since its original North Adams store opened in 1993.

In a statement, Walmart spokesman Chris Buchanan said the more than $12 million in private capital being invested in the project will also benefit the city of Pittsfield through upgrades to the stormwater and traffic systems, and the remediation of the teens' site.

"In addition, Walmart looks forward to helping to stem the tide of unemployment in Pittsfield with the addition of approximately 100 new jobs, while providing grocery services in what is an acknowledged 'food desert,'" Buchanan said.

"We value our relationship with the citizens of Pittsfield and are eager to continue and strengthen it with this project," he added.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at (413) 496-6224.


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