Pittsfield City Council approves $1 million to lure rail car manufacturer


PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has unanimously approved offering $1 million to a manufacturer interested in locating a facility here to build rail cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The incentive was proposed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi with the hope one of the nine firms expected to bid on an $850 million MBTA contract for rail cars would consider a parcel in the William Stanley Business Park off East Street.

Money for the offer will come from a development fund set up by GE as part of an environmental cleanup agreement for former company industrial property that encompasses the 52-acre business park.

"I think this is a great opportunity for the city of Pittsfield," Bianchi said after the council vote. "This shows that we are serious about wanting to attract industry and jobs."

The state is asking firms bidding on the contract this spring to specify in their proposal where the rail cars will be manufactured. The assembly at least must be done at a Massachusetts site, and a number of communities around the have sought to interest bidders in sites. That includes Dalton, Lee and Adams.

In answer to questions from councilors, city Community Development Director Douglas Clark said any firm coming to the Pittsfield site would have to develop the parcel and construct a new building, which he estimated could cost up to $20 million, The incentive, he said, is intended to help put the parcel on a par with those in other communities with existing structures.

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which manages the Stanley Business Park, also is pledging $1 million in development funds it controls for a rail car manufacturing operation there.

The payoff, officials have said, would be in the up to 250 jobs estimated to be created from the manufacturing operation.

"The whole purpose is to put this money on the table," Clark said at one point, which he said might convince one of the firms to consider Pittsfield.

He said the city will know when the proposals are submitted which, if any, of the firms has named Pittsfield as a site. And, if so, the city would have to wait for the state to award the contract later this year to learn whether some or all of the contract work will be done here.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont proposed amendments to the conditions under which the city would provide the $1 million.

Councilors approved voiding the $1 million offer one year after a contract with the manufacturer is signed if there is no progress, and approved requiring the manufacturer to only provide access to payroll records for Pittsfield jobs to show compliance with the employment aspect.

The council's Community and Development Committee had reviewed the proposed agreement last week. The committee approved the conditions but specified that the minimum 100 jobs that must be provided in Pittsfield must pay $35,000 or more per year before benefit costs are added.

Councilors on Tuesday also rejected speeding up payment of the $1 million from three equal payments at specified points in the building and manufacturing process.

Bianchi said at one point that he believed the amendments unnecessary, adding, "You have the ability at any time to file a [council] petition and rescind this [agreement] ... You don't have to get it 100 percent tonight."

Clairmont also indicated he would favor adding more to the incentive if Bianchi wanted to return to the council with a higher figure. Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and other councilors at the board's previous meeting also indicated they would vote for more money from the GE development fund, which had $5.5 million in it as of Dec. 31.

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