Our Opinion: Renovation efforts use past to build better community

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The value in preserving buildings and finding new uses for them seems obvious today but the philosophy that buildings should be knocked down once they had outlived their perceived usefulness was long in vogue, including in the Berkshires. Those who preserve and improve structures with a long history should be recognized for achievements, in part because that may encourage others to follow their lead.

The Hotel on North and the Onota 74 residences, both on North Street in Pittsfield, and Cable Mills on Water Street in Williamstown have been honored with the 2017 Paul & Niki Tsongas Awards from Preservation Massachusetts for their creative re-use of historic properties (Eagle, May 16). Paul Tsongas was a former U.S. representative and U.S. senator from Massachusetts who among other accomplishments contributed to preservation efforts that stretched from his hometown of Lowell to passage of the Alaska National Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Mr. Tsongas died in 1997 and his wife, Niki, has carried on his preservation legacy as a U.S. representative from Lowell.

Many communities lost beautiful buildings in the name of urban renewal decades ago, and Pittsfield, which tore down its train station, was a prime example. The loss of the iconic England Brothers building on North Street was painful but the consensus was that the building had decayed beyond reclamation and traditional department stores were not built in a way that lent themselves to reclaiming. The renovation of the Colonial Theatre on South Street began a trend in Pittsfield to restore its buildings, with the transformation of the Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street into the Beacon Cinema another prominent example.

The Hotel on North, Pittsfield's first boutique hotel, was a Tsongas Award-winner in the Best Main Street Project category. The $14 million project converted two former office buildings at 273-297 North Street into a high-end hotel that since its opening in 2015 has been honored by Architectural Digest and TripAdvisor. The Onota 74 residences, a six-story former commercial building, received the award for Best Use — Housing. Allegrone Construction converted the buildings into a combination of commercial and housing, the latter addressing a major need downtown.

The Berkshires are dotted with mill buildings along its rivers from the era when mills, primarily paper mills, fueled the economy. Their "good bones" defied any thought of knocking them down and many have found new life — The Berkshire Eagle is housed in the Clock Tower business park, which was formerly the Sheaffer Eaton mill complex. The three-story Cable Mills on Water Street in Williamstown, which was renovated for apartments, began its life as a twine mill in 1873. It was honored by a Tsongas Award for Biggest Impact — Rural/Suburban category.

Many renovation projects depend heavily on state and federal historic grant funding, with the $26 million Cable Mills project a particularly good example. This is money sell spent, as in giving new life to old buildings, modern needs are met and the character of a street, neighborhood or community are preserved.

On its website, Preservation Massachusetts declares that "preservation is a tool that utilizes the past to make a better future." The three Berkshire Tsongas Award winners are meeting that worthy goal.


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