Tyler Street is an important connector route in Pittsfield. It’s a roadway filled mostly with small commercial enterprises that connects the downtown North Street corridor with larger businesses in outer areas of the city like the William Stanley Business Park, the Berkshire Innovation Center, and General Dynamics Mission Systems. The roadway literally cuts Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest areas, in half. But it contains lots of reasonably priced residential dwellings that could easily become more attractive to newer city residents, particularly young professionals interested in living in a more urban setting. City officials have long recognized Tyler Street’s potential. They’ve had their eye on redeveloping that area for a long time.
Now, the Baker-Polito Administration recognizes Tyler Street’s potential, too. On Thursday, Pittsfield received $3 million in state funding to support streetscape improvements to Tyler Street, which is one of the city’s most heavily trafficked roads. Tyler Street’s infrastructure could definitely use a makeover, and this funding is expected to provide it. The money will be used to upgrade sidewalks, crosswalks and lighting, improvements that are expected to help stimulate extensive economic and resident investment, which includes new and reuse development, according to a release by the state.
There are several reasons why this funding is important. Tyler Street is one of six federally designated economic opportunity zones in the Berkshires, a program that the Trump administration created in 2017 that provides incentives for investment in designated geographic areas in low-income communities. Although the full details of that program have never formally been developed, the program is intended to gain favorable tax treatment for investors’ capital gains by allowing them to invest through a privately created Opportunity Fund into economic activities in that area. There’s no direct connection between obtaining state money and investors participating in a federal government program. But improving the infrastructure with state money could make the area more attractive to those planning to invest in the federal program. Last year, a smart growth expert who spoke at a forum hosted by the Berkshire County Board of Realtors outlined the types of opportunities that are available for developers interested in taking a chance on redeveloping areas like Tyler Street.
Also, in 2014, Tyler Street was one of 10 areas across the state that MassDevelopment chose for its Transformative Development Initiative. Pittsfield’s vision for the TDI on Tyler Street involves creating a thriving residential neighborhood where day-to-day needs can be met within walking distance at locally-owned stores. City Planner C.J. Hoss describes the funding from the Baker-Polito Administration as “validation” for the work that city officials have done in that area for the last six years. “It validates the short-term and long-term impact on Tyler Street with positive change.” Hoss said. You need a spark to start a flame. Infrastructure improvements on Tyler Street are a positive step towards reaching that goal.