PITTSFIELD — The pandemic rewrote priorities and still looms over municipal affairs, but Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday said her agenda sets up the city to thrive when the cloud of coronavirus lifts.
“The challenges and uncertainties of this unrelenting global pandemic will be with us for quite some time,” Tyer said in her State of the City address. “Circumstances may even intensify. Our mettle will be tested. All of the priorities of my agenda are intended to ensure that, as we emerge from this public health crisis, we will be stronger than ever before and ready for good things to happen. Our resolve and tenacity to rebound will prevail.”
For the first time, Tyer delivered her annual address virtually, which was broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television and other mediums. Over the course of the nearly 30-minute speech, she touted examples of the city’s COVID-19 response and outlined projects upcoming over the year ahead.
When the pandemic arrived in Pittsfield one year ago next month, it put everything else on pause, Tyer said, and doled out challenges “reminiscent of 2016,” when, she said, the city’s financial situation also forced some tough decisions.
A team approach guided the administration both times, she said, before thanking city staff and frontline workers, then offering condolences to families of the 49 residents who have succumbed to the virus.
“Behind every number, behind every data point is a person who is loved and cherished,” she said. “We must never lose sight of this.”
On the day residents older than 75 became eligible to receive the vaccine, Tyer said 1,400 seniors will receive their first inoculation at the Berkshire Community College clinic this week. But, vaccine appointments filled up fast, and county health officials awaited a resupply of doses before scheduling new appointments.
“It shouldn’t be this way, but this is where we are for now. Production is underway to boost the federal supply, and when it’s available, Pittsfield and the Berkshires are primed to handle what comes our way,” she said.
Amid what she said were “positive trends in lower case counts and positivity rates,” Tyer listed steps taken to “ensure our schools are safe for in-person hybrid learning,” on the day that career, technical and vocational students returned to Taconic and Pittsfield high schools. The United Educators of Pittsfield condemned the School Committee for moving forward without agreement from the union.
After the controversial closure of the COVID-19 shelter at the former St. Joseph Central High School, Tyer said the city this year will focus on “expanding and improving crisis sheltering,” saying that “if all goes well, we will see a new crisis shelter open at the First United Methodist Church with room for 40 guests after COVID regulations have been lifted.” And, she said, the city will be “emphasizing development of new supportive housing” over the coming year.
“I have learned a great deal about the struggles of homelessness and the many agencies and advocates that work in this field,” she said.
Tyer said she expects the Wright Building on North Street to be redeveloped into market-rate rental units, and construction has begun to convert Reigning Love Church into 27 affordable units on East Street. On Tyler Street, work will be starting on the streetscapes project and new housing units will be coming online, while efforts continue to assume city control of the Hess gas station and redevelop the historic Tyler Street Fire Station.
Tyer called refocusing attention on a new police station a top priority for public safety.
Construction on the project to extend the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail from the Berkshire Mall to Crane Avenue will begin this year, and a master plan for creating a citywide bike network will be completed, she said, also noting proposals to offer tax incentives to Bousquet ski area and Berkshire West Athletic Club.
She said another of her proposals would allocate money from the General Electric Economic Development Fund for new water and sewer on Dan Fox Drive, which, she said, would set the stage for more development.
A few other projects are on her agenda this year.
“On the horizon is the construction of a new hotel, also supported by tax-increment financing,” Tyer said.
She said to stay tuned for details about improvements at the William Stanley Business Park’s Parcel 9, which would pave the way for redevelopment, and for news about “a possible new tenant for our downtown.”
“I can’t reveal any details at this time,” she said. “If we are successful, this new establishment will add a very unique and significant amenity to downtown community life.”
After scores protested against racial injustice and pressed for change, Tyer said she looks forward to receiving recommendations from a study group about best practices for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, which will inform city initiatives.
It’s work that Tyer said brings to mind the Rev. Samuel Harrison, the chaplain, activist and abolitionist leader who fought for pay parity for Black service members in the Union Army.
“Today, Rev. Harrison’s restored home stands at 82 Third Street. It is one of our city’s most prized African American landmarks. The principles that Rev. Harrison held true to during some of the darkest chapters of our history are relevant today,” Tyer said. “Very soon, I will announce an initiative to honor his legacy for generations to come.”