Pittsfield officials seek $500K for Berkshire Innovation Center startup


PITTSFIELD -- City officials are seeking $500,000 for start-up costs associated with the construction of the 20,000-square-foot Berkshire Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park.

To obtain half of that sum, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi tonight will ask the City Council to consider a $250,000 allocation from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund.

The other half is expected to come from the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, whose August meeting hasn’t officially been scheduled yet. PEDA is a quasi-public agency charged with the 52-acre Stanley Business Park’s development.

In May, the city received a $9.7 million capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center toward the construction of the BIC. But the capital grant is slated only for the building’s construction and equipment costs, not for any additional funds that will be needed to get the facility up and running.

"We’ve been given a brand new Cadillac with no gas," said PEDA’s executive director Cory Thurston.

The BIC has been proposed as an accelerator facility that will allow local companies that supply products for the life sciences industry access to advanced equipment that will enable them to improve their rate of innovation and product development. Job training in new technologies and educational opportunities also are expected to take place at the BIC.

During a press conference on Monday at Berkshire Community College, project consultant Rod Jane said the startup costs are needed to get the programs at the BIC "underway" over the next two years. Plans call for the City Council portion of the funding to be disbursed in four payments over that 24- month period.

Once the building opens, the BIC’s operating company, being set up as a nonprofit, will be responsible for all the facility’s operating costs.

"It will take about 24 months to get the center designed, constructed and open the doors for operation," Jane said. "It’s critically important that these 24 months be spent developing the programs that the center is going to offer because when those doors open this center has to start sustaining itself."

Those tasks include the formation of a membership list, fulfilling the legal requirements associated with forming the nonprofit organization, getting training programs and equipment in place, and setting up planned collaborations between institutes of higher learning and research facilities, Jane said.

"All these things really need to be put in place," Jane said. "And that will require a certain amount of effort to make sure we get it right so that we hit the ground with our feet running when those doors open."

On Monday, officials said they hope to have the BIC constructed by July 2016. The city originally wasn’t expected to receive the majority of the funding in the capital grant for another three years, but Jane said it’s possible that as much as $4 million of that sum could come the city’s way during fiscal 2015.

According to Thurston, the city plans to use the capital funding from the state as leverage to obtain short-term bonds to stimulate cash flow.

Monday’s gathering was intended to provide the public with more information about the BIC’s purpose. The city has received letters of intent from 19 firms that are interested in participating in the BIC, Jane said.

Given the facility’s potential to grow local businesses, provide job training in sophisticated technologies, and allow collaborations between several entities to take place, Bianchi said the BIC could accelerate the county’s economic growth,

"I think it’s going to be a game changer for this community," he said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

(413) 496-6224



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