Restarting Railroad Street's engine: Construction continues in downtown Great Barrington

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PHOTO GALLERY | 47 Railroad Street

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Standing inside the gutted brick shell of what was once Martin's Restaurant and a series of other watering holes here at the top of Railroad Street, it's hard not to feel wistful for all those coffee dates, eggs Benedict and wine-fueled gatherings of yore.

But by next March, maybe sooner, new memories will be born here at 47 Railroad St., as two developers push ahead with a project that will radically shape Great Barrington's future and create new dynamics at the top of the street.

People will be living above, shopping and eating below.

Framework Properties' Ian Rasch and Sam Nickerson bought the early 1900s building that had a NAPA Auto Parts shop on its lower level before a succession of restaurants moved in: Pearl's, Fiori and Mario's. Mario's closed last year.

Martin's was next door, but the owner's couldn't recover from losses after a catastrophic kitchen fire last summer, and eventually sold to Framework.

The top floors of the building and an addition in the rear will have 13 sleek rental apartments with pricing likely on the higher end. Five commercial retail spaces will be at street level, and even on the alley side of the building, which is right now being opened up and tended to by masons.

"Everything was gutted," Rasch said.

Architect Michael Valenti of SK Design said during Framework's town permitting hearing that that firm is working with history.

"We're trying to keep the rhythm and historical value, but in a new and innovative way," he said.

Workers are busy at the site, as they have been all winter. Work to the addition out back and mechanical systems begins next week, Rasch said.

Rasch, who is on an informal town broadband task force to bring high speed internet to the downtown core, said Framework will also string fiber-optic wires from a state-installed hub at nearby town hall to 47 Railroad.

Both experienced "adaptive reuse" developers, Rasch and Nickerson said they decided to take on the project when they saw an opportunity to cater to the millennial lifestyle approach of living in town, or to those residents who live in big old houses and want to lighten their load.

Great Barrington Select Board member Ed Abrahams is thrilled.

"Having more places to live downtown means the streets are alive longer and later," he said.

Abrahams said this is another exciting mixed-use project in a town that will soon see a groundbreaking on Bridge Street for a similar but much larger development that will include an expanded Berkshire Co-op Market. Both projects, he said, fit into the Great Barrington Master Plan, which strives for redevelopment in the town core rather than sprawling outward.

Abrahams also said the increased tax revenue to the town from the improvements to 47 Railroad can't hurt, and that more retail is good for business, and will create new options in a town with high downtown rents. He said he hoped Framework wouldn't rent to yet another bank or real estate office, however.

Rasch said absolutely not, that he and Nickerson would curate interesting stores and add some sort of eatery.

"We've been talking to a lot of restaurant people," Rasch said, noting the number of sentimental requests he gets for keeping the former Martin's location a place to eat.

"When Martin's shut down, everything got quiet up here," he said.

Rasch said he felt that perhaps the spirit of Martin's could return there.

"I want it, too," he said.

Reach reporter Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.


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