Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Sunday, October 29, 2006
  How Long is the Drive from New Haven?
I learned something remarkable today. The permanent Sol LeWitt galleries slated for Mass MoCA are already attracting a fair chunk of change from those who already fund the multi-billion dollar Yale Endowment.
The project is budgeted at $9 million. Yale and Mass MoCA have jointly raised $6.3 million, with the expectation that the remaining money will be in hand in time for the start of construction, scheduled for February. Installation of the drawings is expected in fall 2007, with the opening of the building a year later.
A good friend, who knows about such things pointed out to me that the folks who are funding this installation are also becoming enthusiatic about MoCA in, and of, itself. It's not a secret that MoCA is building an endowment to keep itself afloat for the long haul, but what is remarkable is just how well things are going.

On a related note, MCLA has recently made a huge push to raise perceptions and expectations about their future. The promised science building as well as a few of the mended political fences bode well for the next era of the city's bastion of higher education.

In a perfect-case scenario, both MoCA and MCLA will strengthen and become the driving economic engines and developmental forces within the city. It will be a pleasant change when businesses no longer have to be lured here, but rather come knocking on their own to take advantage of the many very cool things going on.

I'd bet a case of beer (or diet soda) that this "tipping point" occurs within 5 to 10 years.
 
Comments:
Greg? That's a Big 10-4
Hope you're right---chbpod
 
i'll take the case of beer...soda's always on sale at big y..it would be nice to see that happen in the next 5-10 yrs...but i think it may take a bit longer for the two to become the tipping point....busines is not lured here right now...business is hindered here...the planning board continues to hamper business and causes many delays....the city needs to accept the new expidited permitting process and desiginate a dif zone to facilitate the growth of business...not try to fight those that want to come here...moca has become a mini city...they bring in commercial tenants that could be located elsewhere in our city and they do not pay commercial taxes...they don't pay any taxes...all of the empty space in our downtown still pays the commercial tax rate...moca is part of our economic rebound...not the only piece of the pie...
 
Greg--nail right on head here, but there's another problem.

Tara had some appointments with a few realtors to look at commerical space on Main and Eagle Sts, and she ran into a problem: the deplorable condition of the downtown retail space.

The owners of some of these buildings are more than happy to lease out space that's divey, unfinished, out-of-code, totally inappropriate for retail--and let the tenant renovate on their own dime?

With the movie theatre, MoCA's expansion, and MCLA's promising to expand, downtown is really a prime spot to get in now before it breaks big.

But the reason there are so many empty storefronts is not just city zoning/planning policy: it's the commercial slumlords that are letting their property deteriorate--and their agents are just as complicit.

The mayor took a real hard line last winter with Starwood Ceruzzi. Is there anything he or the council can do to whip the owner (or ownerS...ahem...we're all pretty sure that one guy can't own ALL of downtown....can he?) into making the property more attractive to prospective tenants?
 
ross you are way off on your slumlord comment...there are a total of 7 owners of property on main st and of all the one that is in the worst condition is owned by the city of north adams...there is currently over $10 million dollars worth of work being done to downtown buildings that will only increase their value and add to the commercial tax base....commercial buildings are taxed whether or not a space is rented..they also pay commercial tax for the land they sit on...moca has drawn many of the downtown office's to it's complex....where no commercial tax is collected...starwood ceruzzi is the owner of the north adams plaza which is located on curran hgwy...not in the down town...maybe if the commercial tax rate were in line with other local communities there could be more businesses that would want to open here...and maybe if the planning board would stop demanding that all those wanting to come here conform to some sort of pleasent ville picture we could expand even further...we need expidated permitting and lower commercial taxes....
 
i should add that of that $10 million...$10 million of it is private funds....
 
Chris & Ross - I agree, and disagree, with you both. The problem of the state of Downtown real estate is not so nearly clean cut.

Ross, small towns, like North Adams, who have been through a major economic contraction really don't have the regulative means nor the commercial impetus to provide uniformly up-to-code commercial space. Time seems to stand still. You can check out offices that look almost exactly like they did in 1948 in many of the downtown buildings - 60 year old wallpaper, blinds, etc... Creepy.

I work in a 120 year old building in Williamstown that has the buliding inspector going nuts. But 15 years ago ,when the present owner bought the building, just before Williamstown got "hot", the problems were simply ignored during the sale. North Adams needs the "demand" on their side before they can decree that commercial spaces be "class-a".

Hopefully Tara and people like her are an indicator that such demand is rising. But then, as the demand goes up, so do the rents. C'est la vie.

Chris- MoCA has drawn its tenants because it has great space and is a responsive landlord. Also, the synergy of being on the "campus" is something that a lot of companies find attractive. While I understand the problem of the property being off the tax rolls, the fact is that MoCA's tenants provide a net positive to the city coffers. (Not to mention that their rent pays for the museum's operation instead of direct tax subsidies) In turn, others will want to near these business in the streets of downtown. It takes time.

To you both, the inspection and code issues in NA are wierd. The mayor insists that all exterior renovations be "pretty". OK. I'll live with that, but then some of the permiting issues seem to be arbitrary or punitive. A friend told me about the Sugar Lama Cafe which had some minor problems that cropped up long after their original plans had been approved. The city shut them down for a week. What's up with that? It is absolutely incomprehensible to me that the city would not work with a small business and let them fix the problems incrementally, while staying open, when the issue is not one of safety or health.

And the expedited permitting sounds great in theory, but wouldn't it require the addition of another inspector to sit in the office and approve permits as they come in, rather than letting them pile up until they can be looked at?

I would want details on how this would work before signing on to it.

The mayor's jones for taking on big developer/landlords is interesting. I give him props for calling Starwood's bluff. But the whole episode with the KMart plaza was bizarre. Ultimately I like the fact that the developer and the mayor compromised, but the drama was ridiculous.

Demand seems to be rising for comercial space. The Mohawk's reopening will be a psychological shot in the arm for Main Street. Things will get better, not worse. (short of a major catastrophe)

Time is the hardest part.
 
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