Adams official on Greylock Glen: 'It's our time'
ADAMS — The slender, soft-spoken man was one of the first to be recognized when introductions began.
George Wislocki smiled and nodded from the back of the room in Adams Town Hall. Wislocki had come Friday to get the latest word on something he long had opposed: commercial development of land near Mount Greylock.
But this is now.
After decades challenging Greylock Glen projects, Wislocki, founding president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, liked the illustrations and diagrams displayed on easels up front.
One showed how a big picture window in the proposed outdoor center will face the looming peak, paying homage.
"I wish you godspeed on finishing this project," Wislocki told those gathered. "The mountain is sacred."
With a smaller Glen project now defined and permitted, Adams officials, lawmakers and others paused Friday to mark a new beginning, extend thanks and gear up for a push to win the $6.5 million in funding they still need to see a building rise on the property.
The stakes are high, speakers made clear.
"The majority of people realize that the Greylock Glen is the future of Adams," said James Bush, who joined the Select Board in May and made support for the Glen central to his campaign. "It's going to be such a huge asset for the town."
A Vermont architect is on track to complete plans for the center by January, allowing the town, as developer, to seek bids next spring and start construction by late summer or fall 2019.
The town's representatives in the Legislature are working to secure some of the last elements of public funding. Future projects within the Glen's roughly 60-acre footprint will be led by private investment.
"We're going to work our butts off to make it happen," John Duval, chairman of the Select Board, said of getting the project off the ground. Duval acknowledged that past Glen projects faltered but the smaller development now envisioned can be a catalyst in bringing economic benefits to the area.
"It's our turn, and the Glen is going to happen. It's our time," he said.
For the past few years, the town has consulted with Northern Berkshires institutions on the Glen, devising partnerships of mutual interest.
Two leaders of such places came to the briefing Friday to offer support and encouragement.
James F. Birge, president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, said he expects that students and faculty will use the Glen for study.
"This is a facility ripe for opportunities to do research," Birge said.
But he also said that as MCLA seeks to expand its summer programs, the four-season outdoor recreation center planned at the Glen will appeal to visitors and help spur tourism that benefits the region in general.
Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, ticked off the reasons he is a Glen backer.
For one, it offers something more than the cultural experiences the area is known for to the south, including champagne picnics with music.
"It's a little different up here," he said of the Northern Berkshires terrain. "Hiking and fishing and biking. It takes a little more engagement. I like the profile of that."
Thompson said a key to mutual success in the tourism sector is keeping visitors longer.
"They're here already. We just need more reasons to keep them overnight. This kind of facility will do that," he said.
To laughter, Thompson observed that he has learned to be patient.
"Things taking a long time has been the single biggest lesson of my life," he said, referring to the development of Mass MoCA.
"This is a doable, finance-able, feasible project," Thompson said of the Glen. He went on to praise the work it took to shape the current plan.
"This project will bring that activity together and focus it," he said.
William R. Wilson Jr., former president and CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, recalled his work on Glen projects going back to the 1970s. He said he still believes in the power of tourism to drive economic development.
While a developer still mus be secured for a proposed lodge and conference center, a step that could take years, Wilson and others said that part of the development plan, priced at about $20 million, is crucial.
"Don't forget the `heads in beds,'" he said. "That's going to be a tremendous source of revenue for the town of Adams."
Charles Johnson, a Chicago-based consultant who has advised on Glen projects for more than 15 years, said the full build-out, including the conference center, will be important.
"It takes all the mix of uses to make this project work," Johnson said. "You're really raising something of a phoenix from the ashes. It's going to be the largest employer here in the region in Adams. This will be a center of gravity."
Johnson estimated that businesses operating within the Glen, including a camping concession, will generate $15 million a year in local spending. In time, the effort could result in 670 new jobs, he said.
"The hotel is going to be the hardest part," he said. "Inch by inch, you have to build the volume so the hotel will have the opportunity to succeed."
Other expected partners include the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which confirmed that it will bid to run programs from the new center.
Other environmentalists also have come into the fold, if cautiously.
Heather Linscott, who lives near the Glen and has opposed projects in the past, offered measured support for the new plan.
"This is the best I've seen," she said.
Though old proposals would have sprawled over the more-than-1,000-acre Glen property, the new one sticks to fewer than 60 acres, minimizing its footprint. An agreement in 2015 placed conservation restrictions on more than 1,000 acres.
Joseph Nowak, a Select Board member who has worked in the Glen area, rose to offer a kind of tribute to its wonders. With its panoramic views, the Glen changes its "mood, texture and appearance" through the seasons, Nowak said.
"The surrounding environment is an ecological gem," he said.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, a mountain-biking enthusiast, said he believes that the trails around the Glen, some already created through investments by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, will prove to be a magnet.
"I absolutely love the fact that we are doubling down on outdoor recreation as an investment," Hinds said. "When you start to dissect this as a strategy, it makes a lot of sense."
A mountain-biking destination he has visited near the Canadian border pulls visitors from 250 miles away, Hinds said.
Adapting a line from the movie "Field of Dreams," the senator said that if the Glen project is built, people will come. But he added that, rather than waiting for patrons, there will be an immediate embrace by area residents.
He and state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, plan to push for needed funding, talking up the appeal of a right-size venture in a place already well-known to fellow lawmakers.
His predecessor, the late Gailanne Cariddi, worked with Hinds to secure design money that is allowing Maclay Architects to create full project plans, due by February.
As with state investments in Mass MoCA, the returns will be real, Barrett said Friday.
"They will get their money back on this project tenfold," he said of the state. "It is going to be the catalyst that drives this economy for years to come. I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe it can happen."
When it was his time to speak, architect William Maclay stepped to the easels while holding designs. He swept his hand over the roofline of the planned outdoor center, explaining that it was designed to mimic the shape of the nearby hills.
"This whole building has been oriented around Greylock," Maclay said.
Glass on the mountain side of the center will remove barriers for visitors. Event space will allow a variety of functions, from meetings to weddings. A curve along the front entry, he noted, creates a sheltered, south-facing area so people can sit outside into the fall.
As a net-zero building, the center will produce more electricity — through solar generation — than it will consume. Over 20 years, the added cost of creating those features is reduced to nothing, due to energy savings and tax advantages, Maclay said.
Basically, it's a free lunch," he said. "It's an incredibly prudent investment for the long term."
But before shovels turn earth, proponents still have hills to climb.
Donna Cesan, who directs the town's community development department, along with filling in as town administrator and public works chief, asked backers who gathered Friday to steel themselves for a final push.
While she believes deeply in the plan, others still must be convinced.
"It will take a collective and concerted effort to assure that future," Cesan said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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