After a year unlike any other, what is next for Pittsfield?
Mayor Linda Tyer’s recent State of the City address, delivered virtually for the first time ever, amid the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, laid out Pittsfield’s potential path forward, filled with challenges as well as opportunities.
Mayor Tyer acknowledged the “uncertainties of this unrelenting global pandemic,” expressing gratitude to city staff and frontline workers, as well as condolence for the 49 city residents who have succumbed to the virus. The mayor talked vaccine plans, saying that the arrival of Phase Two of the state’s distribution plan will mean 1,400 75-and-older seniors will receive their first inoculation at Berkshire Community College this week.
The mayor also discussed the city’s education plans, with a focus on getting students back into physical classrooms with a hybrid-learning plan. She said she hopes to see all city students return for in-person hybrid learning by the end of winter break. The mayor acknowledged concerns with kids returning to school while potential for contagion remains, underscoring the difficulty of such decisions for communities with grave worries over both community infection spread as well as the negative effects on kids from prolonged time away from the classroom.
Mayor Tyer cited downward local trends in case counts and the initial arrival of vaccines, as well as thorough masking, cleaning and distancing protocols in addition to upgraded school air-filtration systems as parts of the city’s moves to get kids safely back in school. It’s good to see a holistic and data-informed approach on the part of the city; transparency and communication with students, families and educators alike will be key to seeing that this transition goes smoothly.
In many ways, the mayor’s address was a testament to the city’s relative resiliency, even amid a once-in-a-century deadly pandemic. Updates on the city’s efforts to increase its market-rate and affordable housing stock are important steps toward maintaining housing stock for low- and middle-income residences and attracting young and working-class families.
The Tyer administration’s bid to attract more business and economic development to Pittsfield has also apparently continued — key to bolstering the city’s tax base and adequately funding essential services like our schools.
She floated a proposal to put some General Electric Economic Development Fund money toward new water and sewer service to Dan Fox Drive to help spur development. She also teased some potential new arrivals to the city landscape — construction of a new hotel, improvements at William Stanley Business Park’s Parcel 9 and “a possible new tenant for our downtown,” the details of which she said she could not yet reveal.
The hotel project is getting off the ground with a helpful push from a tax-increment financing deal, a tool in the city’s kit that’s also being put to use for Bousquet Mountain ski area, purchased last year by Mill Town Capital. The mayor has shown a willingness to embrace both tax-incentive packages and a judicial use of the city’s GE development funds in an aggressive push to attract new business and reinvigorate the city’s economic footprint. While some have critiqued the mayor as a bit too aggressive in dangling tax incentives and dipping into the GE fund, it underscores the urgency of a hopeful push for transformative development and revitalization in Pittsfield.
Mayor Tyer did not mince words about the challenges facing the city. “Our mettle will be tested” — undoubtedly true as Pittsfield and the nation at large aim to defeat a deadly pandemic and weather the resultant economic crisis. But, while the state of the city is fragile, it is not defeated.
To the contrary, with a bit more of the grit for which our city in the woods is known, we might emerge “stronger than ever before and ready for good things to happen,” as the mayor’s address hopefully predicted. We hope that the mayor’s administration remains transparent and vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 and keeps the city’s sights set high, even as we’ve been brought low.