Pittsfield takes step toward sale or transfer of Westside center property


PITTSFIELD -- City councilors have approved the first step toward selling or transferring the city-owned Westside Neighborhood Resource Center building, but most specified that they expect any new owner to continue offering community services.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi had requested that the converted house at 314 Columbus Ave., which now provides space for four nonprofit organizations, be declared surplus property as a first step toward possibly turning it over to another entity. The Community Development Department will now develop a request for proposals for a potential new owner, which will include a number of questions concerning potential uses, experience in the proposed field, information on financial resources, and management abilities.

Bonnie Galant, acting director of the city department, told councilors the idea of handing over or selling to property for similar community service uses has been discussed for several years, and recent cuts in federal Community Development Block Grant funding have provided another reason to reassess the city's ownership. She said there is reason to believe a nonprofit owner will step forward with a proposal, and that it's possible services to the community could expand during nights and weekends with a non-municipal, on-site owner.

The city manages the property and has expenses of about $12,000 annually, she said. Income from the four nonprofit tenants -- some of which is paid in in-kind services -- doesn't cover the amount, and one tenant, Berkshire Children and Families, is expected to leave the building. Pittsfield purchased it as a vacant, four-family house in 1997 and soon after rehabilitated it for office and community space with $178,000 in CDBG funding.

The city would also like to free up more CDBG funding the city receives for direct grants to human service agencies. Those funds have been reduced as a result of federal cutbacks, Galant told councilors.

Any sale ultimately would require approval by the council and the mayor.

Attending the council meeting on Tuesday, the Rev. Willard Durant, a longtime religious and community leader in the city's West Side, made a plea for consideration of the Westside organization, one of the four tenants, as owner/operator of the facility.

"I don't think adequate consideration has been given to the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center board," he said.

Durant acknowledged that the group might require time to reorganize its board and some assistance if it took over the property, but said the intent when the center was established that the organization have a central role.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol and others said they will insist that any new owner continue the center's purpose when it was established.


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