Great Barrington hopes to shuffle around grant money for Railroad St. redo

Sam Laiz and Mika Mintz enjoy tea in the sun from Botanica on Railroad Street in Great Barrington on Tuesday.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Next spring, the entire Railroad Street area will likely get a good makeover.

And town officials know exactly how to pay for it. They'll move some grant money around — from one side of Main Street to the other.

Officials are proposing that about $1 million from a MassWorks grant intended for utility work around a brownfield on Bridge Street be shifted to repave and widen the sidewalks all the way up and around Railroad Street, as well as to repave the Railroad Street and Triplex parking lots.

The work would continue from the top of Railroad and down Elm Street, begin in early spring of 2019, and move quickly, said Town Planner Christopher Rembold.

With grant money, you use it or lose it, as Rembold explained Monday to the Select Board, and the board unanimously approved his idea to shift the funds.

"We're running out of time," he said.

The $2.1 million total state grant, which is intended to boost infrastructure in urban centers ripe for renewal and economic development, expires in June 2019. It was originally intended for work on and around Bridge St. to support several anticipated new developments there.

While one, Powerhouse Square, home to the new Berkshire Co-op Market, is about to break ground, the other two have stalled.

One of those is 100 Bridge, a contaminated 8-acre site whose owner has faced multiple delays over the years in attempts to develop it.

About $1 million was earmarked for burying utilities, which would have helped Community Development Corporation of Southern Berkshire market the parcel to a developer.

Rembold said he didn't think the town could beat the clock as it tried to coordinate that utility work with the CDC's plans — another delay to remediate the brownfield might cost the town that grant money.

But the rest of the work on and around Bridge Street will still happen, he said. That includes repaving and replacing sidewalks on Church, School and Bentley streets, part of the original plan for the grant money.

He said both sides of Main Street need work, and both fit the grant criteria. He will formally ask the state for permission, however, and said that the state will likely agree to it.

It's not hard to see why, as new ventures sprout up and Railroad Street and the parking areas crumble in places.

A new luxury apartment rental and retail complex, 47 Railroad, is about to open at the top of a street popular for shopping and dining.

And there is another possibility during construction, Rembold said — installation of an underground conduit for fiber-optic cables that will augment other plans to extend a hearty broadband service into the business district.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.