Pragmatic move at business park

Thursday December 22, 2011

The 170,000-square-foot retail complex planned for the William Stanley Business Park should provide an economic boost for Pittsfield in general and the nearby Tyler Street commercial corridor in particular. This plan does, however, represent an acknowledgment that the original goal of making the park a manufacturing complex is no longer realistic.

Waterstone Retail Development of Needham announced at a press conference Wednesday that it is negotiating a lease with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to locate a retail complex anchored by one large building on a 16-acre parcel of the park bordered by Tyler Street and Woodlawn Avenue. Development of the park began slowly as General Electric cleaned parcels and transferred ownership to PEDA, but the retail complex is the third proposal for the park since August, following the MountainOne Financial Partners of North Adams financial center under construction and the announcement by Action Ambulance of Wilmington that it will locate its regional headquarters there.

The project is good news for the Morningside neighborhood of the city, which is struggling with the related problems of economic stagnation and crime. Tyler Street has been coming back in recent years and the presence of this development will bring more people to the area and ideally trigger development nearby. Much will depend in the years ahead, however, on the recovery of the state and national economy, as retail sales have largely been stagnant. The stores will need to be unique from those in other city retail centers or they will simply be sharing business rather than bringing in new customers.

In an editorial board meeting at The Eagle on Tuesday, PEDA board member Mick Callahan acknowledged that the original goals for the business park have shifted, observing that "The world has changed and economic development has changed." The Northeast has lost manufacturing over the decades to the South and then to foreign countries, and transportation issues make Pittsfield and the Berkshires a particularly tough sell to large manufacturers. These are harsh realities that PEDA's critics have not come to grips with.

PEDA has not given up on manufacturing but is realistically focused on finding small manufacturers who are a good fit for smaller sections of the business park. The site is evolving, PEDA officials explained, into a multi-use park that will now include, once the deal is signed, a significant retail element that was not originally anticipated, which was why GE's preapproval of the proposed use was required.

The deal with Waterstone is a pragmatic one on the part of PEDA. Everyone in the city and county wanted to see the cleaned and restored business park filled with manufacturing operations as was the case in GE's heyday. Those hopes were optimistic 13 years ago when PEDA was formed, and given local and global economic realities today they are unrealistic.


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