Have real estate, will travel
LEE -- State and local economic development officials on Tuesday welcomed Boston-area real estate professionals to the Berkshires by conducting a tour of several county sites with the hope of bringing new investment to the county.
MassDevelopment, the state's finance and development agency, and the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation combined forces to lead their 20 guests on a two and half hour bus and walking tour of sites in Lee, Lenox and Pittsfield.
The group visited several of the county's vacant paper mills, the former KB Toys administration building, and the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires in Pittsfield.
Following the tour, the group convened for lunch at the Colonial Theatre where a panel discussion of the day's events and observations took place.
"I was pretty impressed this morning," said Eden Milroy, the president of Pilot Development, a Boston real estate consulting and management firm. Pilot offers both property management and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, certification among its many services.
"The improvements that have been made here I find very attractive because it adds to the quality of life," Milroy said. "From a developer's perspective, it's what we look for."
MassDevelopment Senior Vice President Jim Lydon, who helped organize Tuesday's event, has organized similar bus tours to New Bedford, Lowell and Fitchburg.
"We're starting to see this investment in dividends," said MassDevelopment's Chief Operating Officer Nancy Howard. Agency-organized tours have led to at least three business transactions over the last two years, she said.
"Developers and their associates get to look at real estate deals they might not otherwise have seen," Lydon said.
Max Rans, the managing general partner for Montgomery Wilshire Capital, a realty capital advising firm, was making his first trip to the Berkshires.
"I've done several of the other MassDevelopment bus tours," Rans said. "It's a good way to meet people. This area is clearly beautiful, and that's an asset,"
"It's an opportunity that you couldn't get from just driving through," said Victoria Adjami, principal and creative director of the firm, Communication via Design.
Rans said developers are looking for good cash flows, good tenants, and local support when they scout for a new investment opportunity.
"Schools are important to hear about, too," he said.
Added Adjami, "it also has to be a big sell for people who are thinking city to get them to come out to live and work in the suburbs."
"Today with the Internet and technology the workplace can be anywhere," said Walter "Budge" Upton, a Williams College alumnus who is the director of project development and construction at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
"That's just a part of the new world," Upton said. "For certain businesses, if that's their niche, then a place like Pittsfield is a plus."
Pittsfield's Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer said Tuesday's tour was a grandscale gesture in networking across the state. It follows suit with the commonwealth's economic development efforts to revive the state's so-called "gateway cities", she said.
Lee Pulp & Paper Group President John W. Philpott said he hopes Tuesday's tour sparks a developer or investor's interest in the area.
"With losing all the mills, we've got to do something," said Philpott, who is also a member of the Lee Community Development Corporation. "Things like this are fantastic. The more we do this the more we can get the word out about opportunities in this whole area."
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