South County condos one step closer to reality in Great Barrington


GREAT BARRINGTON -- Eleven new downtown condominiums could be on the way for the annex section of the former Searles/Bryant School, after state funding was provided to the Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire.

The one- and two-bedroom units will be for first-time homeowners with incomes up to $64,000. Construction could start as soon as summer 2015, said CDCSB Executive Directory Timothy Gellar, with the state funding allowing for the hiring of an architect.

"It’s virtually impossible for folks who are working in South County, who have normal jobs, jobs that make our economy run, to afford a house," Gellar said. "This will provide 11 units for first-time homeowners."

While progress has been slower than anticipated, the condominiums tie into a project proposed by RiverSchool Development, LLC. The company was formed by Philidelphia-based Canus Corp. and minority partners Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics and CDCSB.

In 2009, the companies teamed up to rehabilitate the former Searles/Bryant complex after purchasing the site from the town for $800,000.

The rehabilitation of the high school is one of two multi-million dollar projects planned to transform Bridge Street into a thriving commerce center near the heart of downtown.

Nearby and across the street on 100 Bridge St., CDCSB has announced plans to build a multi-use development that would include a robust commercial and residential site, along with a two-acre public park, on the former New England Log Homes Site.

However, the project is in limbo because the anchor tenant, the Berkshire Co-Op has expressed interest in exploring other sites because of development delays at 100 Bridge St.

Berkshire Co-Op General Manager Art Ames said the Co-Op will announce by mid-February where it plans to re-locate. The search includes three locations, including 100 Bridge St., and the selection of a backup site.

"We are at the end stage of investigating all these projects and looking at the pros and cons," Ames said.

Meanwhile, CDCSB is pushing forward on the development of the condominiums. RFPs for architects will be going out soon.

Gellar declined to say how much CDCSB received because he didn’t want architects to adjust their RFP bid.

The financing, which is expected from local, state, and federal agencies, would be delivered over a multi-phase process based on progress.

Gellar stressed the need for a "really vital destination at the bottom of Bridge Street, that will connect the bottom of Bridge Street with Main Street.

"Once you do that," Gellar said, "there will be a lot of positive economic forces working together between the river and Main Street."

Permitting will likely be completed by the fall. The location is zoned for mixed use development so that the project will not need a special permit, Gellar said.

RiverSchool, LLC, originally proposed three, three-story mixed-use buildings that would include 40 housing units, 10 being affordable housing.

Paul Rabinovitch, executive vice president and principal of Canus Corp., said the project continues to make progress -- although not as quickly as originally planned.

Canus Corp. is currently refining its business plan and searching for debt and equity, he said.

"The original plan presented to the town is manifesting, although slower than we would like," Rabinovitch said. "The delay in the economy was not part of our planning."


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