|PEDA Waiting On BIC, Walmart Plans to Progress|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
05:45PM / Wednesday, May 10, 2017
|PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston said not much has changed in the last month or so on either project.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — PEDA is in a waiting game for the two most highly publicized efforts to redevelop the William Stanley Business Park.
The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority officials say they've done their part in bringing in Waterstone Realty and the Berkshire Innovation Center, but both projects had faced delays. PEDA is now waiting for the state to help fill a funding gap for the innovation center, and Waterstone is still waiting for Walmart corporate to approve the latest redesign of the proposed supercenter.
"The BIC is where everybody knows it is at, looking for money. We formed a partnership with the city and BIC, formed a lease agreement, and established everything this board needed to do to get that initiative off the ground. Then it was the BIC board's responsibility to design and implement a plan to get it built," said PEDA Chairman Mick Callahan.
"We are all looking forward to a ribbon cutting and shovel ceremony. But in the meantime, everybody is working at trying to close that funding gap."
The BIC is a planned research and development facility to assist businesses with access to equipment, technology, and provide higher education opportunities to local institutions. It is headed through a collaborative of those businesses and institutions and the construction the facility itself stems from a 2014 grant from the Massachusetts Life Science Center.
However, the price tag for the building was more than the $6.5 million in construction dollars available so officials scaled the building back somewhat. Even then the bids in 2016 came in too high. The BIC is now seeking state support to the tune of $3 million to build what was envisioned for the site on the park, off East Street.
PEDA had agreed to grant a quarter of a million dollars to help fund startup costs for the organization, which was matched by the city. And the City Council had approved a tax increment financing agreement. PEDA also still holds onto a $236,000 grant to assist with any environmental issues presented during construction.
"We've been reassured that grant will remain in place as a grant," PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston said.
While construction on the building has been on hold, the BIC has been continuing its operations. The organization had already ordered equipment for the building, which is being used at Taconic High School right now and has organized a number of training courses and seminars.
"It is not like the BIC is standing still but we've got to have that bricks and mortar soon," Thurston said.
According to BIC member Douglas Crane, the BIC is rolling out 10-week training courses on the advanced technical equipment for the business community. He said those are "high-level" courses to help advanced the existing company's workforce skills.
Callahan said some of the manufacturing prospects interested in the William Stanley Business Park note the BIC as a reason to do so. He said it will help address company's workforce needs.
"This is a domino effect. Let's get a couple of them up in the air and start making them happen," Callahan said.
Meanwhile, the ball is in Waterstone's court when it comes to the planned Walmart project. Waterstone and PEDA have previously reached a lease, and a purchase-and-sales agreement for the parcel known as the teens. The company wants to construct a 190,000 square foot Walmart Supercenter and had put down a $20,000 deposit on the land.
It has been almost a year since Waterstone was first approved by the PEDA board. A month and a half ago, Don Harr from Atlantic Retail Properties, which is part of the development team, told PEDA that there was a delay because Walmart had asked to increase the project. Harr said the company reviewed previous plans and decided to add a grocery pickup, which in turn changed the parking plans.
That new site plan then had to be reviewed by a significant number of engineers from Walmart and Waterstone. Those changes have yet to be approved by Walmart headquarters, Thurston said.
"As I understand it, they are still waiting for corporate approval of the new elevations and renderings as part of the new site plan which has to be presented to the city," Thurston said.
The delays may have created some uneasiness among supporters of the project. The project had faced opposition and debate at the City Council level already. The town of Lanesborough is making calls to see if the developers would rather build there — as of Monday, the Lanesborough town manager said he had not been in contact with either Walmart of Waterstone yet.
And in October, Walmart announced that it was significantly scaling back the number of new stores it is opening. The corporation is expected to open about half as many, which includes relocations like this one, as it did the year before. That level of decrease was expected to continue into the future.
"I think it is just a timing issue. I don't sense there is any rush to another community or rethinking this decision," Thurston said.
PEDA may be waiting on those two projects, but Thurston said a third potential prospect took a turn for the positive recently. In what he has been calling "project 40" to have a manufacturer develop along Kellogg Street, Thurston said he is now in the process of putting together a specific proposal for the company to consider.
"We're continuing to move forward and putting some financial numbers together and figuring out how fast to potentially construct a factory over here on the slab," he said.
The unnamed company had its chief executive officer and executive vice president visit the site and meet with the mayor recently. The company is looking to construct a 120,000-square-foot factory with rail access. Not only is PEDA currently looking to craft a financial package, it is also seeking grant funds to improve the rail access.
"We'll keep our fingers crossed. There are still a number of hurdles to go over and get through," Thurston said.
Thurston said a financial package should be delivered to the company within six months and then the company will have to decide where to go from there.