|Groundbreaking For Innovation Center Now Eyed For Spring|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
02:13AM / Thursday, February 22, 2018
|With funding commitments in place, the Berkshire Innovation Center is expected to begin construction in the William Stanley Business Park this year.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Innovation Center is now eyeing a groundbreaking this spring.
With commitments from the state, city, and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the project's $3 million funding gap is reportedly closed. Officials from all three agencies are finalizing the legal documents and agreements.
"I'm confident, with the cooperation of the state entities, PEDA, and the city, that the capital needs of the BIC entity is being met and this project will move forward," the city's Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said. "It is a major step forward in support for applied manufacturing businesses. This is all about the members and their need to have access to innovation and opportunities to test and develop new products. This will be truly a community resource for the benefit of our applied manufacturers."
The long-awaited innovation center dates back to 2013 when the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center awarded $6.5 million for an incubator. A study performed then, however, changed the concept to an innovation center -- shifting a focus from helping new businesses start up to helping existing businesses expand into new products. The initial concept was shifted toward building research and development facilities that would give smaller companies access to high-tech equipment. That plan also includes buy-ins from educational institutes, which will use it to address a lack of qualified workers in the area.
But the concept was more costly than the original earmark. The state upped its commitment to $9.7 million for construction and equipment. PEDA and the city pooled funds together for the operational costs.
When it exceeded the price target when it went to bid in 2015, BIC officials scaled back the project but still couldn't make the numbers work. The groundbreaking that was expected in the fall of 2016 never took place.
BIC officials continued efforts over the past year to close what they saw as a $3 million funding gap. The budget for equipment was cut in half, covering $1 million worth of increased construction cost. At the same time, the operating capital dried up. In September, the City Council agreed to contribute $1 million from the General Electric Economic Development Fund solely for construction, leaving the operating capital requirement in the hands of BIC to raise.
"The city has made a $1 million contribution with a requirement that it be used for construction cost. The city has been supportive and pleased with PEDA's decision to step in and help the BIC entity meet its operating needs during this construction period," Ruffer said.
That was done with a "verbal commitment" from the state to increase its funding to cover all of the construction costs. BIC then returned to PEDA asking for additional operating funds to keep the organization afloat while construction is ongoing. In December, PEDA supported the request and on Wednesday the board approved the legal agreement -- which features certain clawback provisions should the project fail -- to provide $300,000 in operational funding.
"PEDA has been supporting this from the beginning. Our original contribution was $250,000. Our second vote and contribution was $300,000. In partnership with the MassLife Sciences, the city of Pittsfield, BIC, and PEDA, we are all talking together and looking forward to a ceremony in the near future to officially indoctorate the construction of the Berkshire Innovation Center," PEDA Chairman Mick Callahan said.
"We've certainly been passionate about the effort and we spoke with our checkbook."
Both PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston and Ruffer said they've been informed that the boards of MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center gave their OK in the last few weeks to follow through with that verbal commitment to increase construction funding. State officials are planning a formal announcement of the funding next month.
"It appears that all the necessary funds have been raised or committed," Thurston said. "We've been told they have committed additional capital monies to the innovation center."
Complicating these last few months is a concurrent change in documents. The lease, for example, currently in place was between the city and PEDA. At the time it was signed, there was no non-profit entity known as the Berkshire Innovation Center. The city would have been the developer of the project and oversee the construction.
Now, all of those documents have to be changed to cut the city out, and instead put the BIC as the grantee of the grant funds. That is also part of the funding plan as BIC officials have previously said avoiding the public procurement process the city is required to undertake could save money.
Thurston said there is no timeline for when all of those documents will be completed. But he said a groundbreaking is expected "no later than June."