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MassDevelopment Funds Art & Programming in Downtown Pittsfield Parklets
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:17AM / Wednesday, July 07, 2021
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The parklet in front of the Marketplace Cafe has been adorned with plants and is often used by diners. The grant will allow for enhancement of the parklets.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — MassDevelopment anticipates funding Downtown Pittsfield Inc. with $39,000 in grants to enhance up to 10 parklets with art and programming throughout the downtown corridor.

The finance agency has so far awarded DPI with a $10,000 grant. Over the summer, DPI will crowdfund for the project and if the organization reaches its $29,000 goal, MassDevelopment will contribute a matching grant of an additional $29,000.

"Here is where we actually have a couple of different commonwealth and MassDevelopment resources working together,"  Laura Christopher, the agency's real estate innovation officer, said.

"The parklets themselves, the structure, the term that just means really mini-park, and a lot of times it means specifically outdoor space in a parking space, and so it can be built out a lot of different ways but what these parklets are, are structures that were purchased and they're movable, and they were purchased with funding from MassDOT's Shared Streets and Spaces Program. MassDevelopment funding is not being used to purchase the parklets, but to improve them with art and programming."

The project is called "Painted Parklets and Indoors Out!" and will use funds for artist stipends and supplies to paint the parklets, stipends for two youth ambassadors, wayfinding signage, marketing, and translation materials, and an additional outdoor gathering space in front of Phoenix Theatres' Beacon Cinema and Marketplace Cafe.

Funds are awarded through MassDevelopment's Commonwealth Places COVID-19 Response Round: Resurgent Places grant program that assists local economic recovery efforts as communities prepare public spaces and commercial districts for residents and visitors.  

MassDevelopment announced that $390,000 in funding was available for a second Commonwealth Places COVID-19 Response Round in December 2020, allowing nonprofits and community groups to apply for grants between $250 to $7,500 for inclusive community engagement, visioning, and local capacity building that will support future placemaking efforts.

Implementation grants of up to $50,000 were also available to execute a placemaking project. For those grants, up to $10,000 per project may be awarded as an unmatched grant, and awards greater than $10,000 must be matched with crowdfunding donations.

Last fall, the city of Pittsfield installed six of the 10 parklets being used in the downtown corridor with funding from the state Department of Transportation's Shared Streets and Spaces Program.

MassDOT developed this program during the pandemic to provide grants as small as $5,000 and as large as $300,000 for cities and towns to quickly implement or expand improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, on-street parking spaces, and off-street parking lots in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce in their communities.

Much of the efforts were used to support outdoor dining and will continue to be used for dining with the addition of other programming.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealychair of MassDevelopment's board of directors, said in a press release that in the pre-pandemic world, vibrant centers of cities and towns were a driving force of local economies and places people gathered to dine, shop, and be entertained.

The Commonwealth Places program, he said, is one way that these areas can be helped to bounce back stronger than ever.

"This grant program is being offered in, I would say coordination and meant to be complementary to Shared Streets and Spaces, MassDOT's program," Christopher explained.
"Commonwealth Places has been in place since 2016, MassDOT's program launched during the pandemic as a response to help people find safe spaces outside and support businesses, so the missions are very much aligned but what we did when that program launched we said, 'how can we be complimentary and not duplicate?'"

One of the key differences between the two is that MassDOT's program is for capital improvements only, meaning hard physical assets, and the grants can only be made to the cities themselves.

MassDevelopment's program has a little bit more flexibility to give to nonprofits and community groups such as DPI. This reportedly helps keep the momentum going in activating the spaces provided by other grants and getting the word out about them.

Christopher began speaking with the project team about the Painted Parklets and Indoors Out initiative early in 2021. Since the structures were already in place, they wanted to keep them as permanent residents of North Street and build upon their use.

"It feels very much like momentum for it started last summer," she said. "And that institutional partners and Downtown Pittsfield are really thinking about 'how can we continue to improve this to provide value, how can we respond to the positive feedback we've gotten in the use and keep that going for the businesses?'"

She said what stood out to the reviewers in making this award was how the cohesive design and wayfinding experience can benefit the downtown and the creativity and playfulness of the programming that DPI put together for these spaces.

"And for what we know about local recovery and the ground that small businesses are trying to make up this summer, that seems really important to encourage people to explore and find new places," Christopher added.

In accordance with the program guidelines, the project team has up to six months to raise the matching funds to receive the additional $29,000 to round up the total funding to $39,000.  Following this, the team has twelve months to fully implement the project.

Reportedly, the goal is to work even quicker than the timeline and to begin events this summer.


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