NORTH ADAMS -- The city hopes a major proposal to privatize Western Gateway Heritage State Park sets the stage for growth, tourism and future prosperity for the park's existing and potential tenants.
The new proposal, a ground lease agreement put forth by North Adams Development Trust, Inc. (NADT), passed the city's Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday, with words of strong approval from city officials, board members, Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) representatives and some city residents and tenants of the park.
"This is just very exciting news for North Adams," Mayor Richard Alcombright said at the meeting. "I think we're on the cusp of some very important growth and development. ... It's going to light a fire for so many opportunities ahead."
The proposal comprises an NADT lease of the park to a newly-created for-profit LLC -- which will work in collaboration with the nonprofit Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts -- and goes on to lay out an investment and marketing plan the new organization will be obliged to follow. It also has the city handing over the reins for the park's maintenance and upkeep to the new, to-be-named LLC.
According to the proposal, "the NADT intends to reposition and rebrand Heritage Park as a vibrant retail plaza to be called Greylock Marketplace."
Per the agreement, the developer is required to pay an up-front ground lease payment of $750,000 and invest $1.5 to $1.8
"What [the city] needs is to make this fixed asset into a liquid asset to take and use to spur other projects," Alcombright said. He suggested the Mohawk Theater as a likely candidate for receiving a portion of the $750,000 payment.
Officials believe the city stands to benefit from a revitalized Heritage Park, while enjoying an immediate financial benefit by adding the park back to the tax rolls and losing maintenance expenses.
The most recent RFP for the park was issued in April, laying out specific requirements for proposing developers to fill. These included marketing proposals, investment layouts and timelines, sought business types and harmony with the city's overall future plans.
With the Redevelopment Authority's blessing, the road forward, according to City Solicitor John DeRosa, involves receiving approvals from DCR and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and then entering into further negotiations with the developer.
"This is the way to generate community development and to create financing and private interest," DeRosa said of the NADT's role in the process. "You need to go out and engage rather than wait for people to come to you."
At the meeting, some park tenants expressed concern over the inevitable change in landlord the proposal entails.
"We can't dance around this; it's a different model," Alcombright replied. "It's going to require months of planning, but we would hope the tenants will have rent agreements as good or better than what they're at now."
Colleen Taylor, owner of the Freight Yard Pub, advocated taking "a leap of faith" to support the proposal.
"I hope this happens," she said. "It's scary to say because I have as much to lose as anyone here, but I think this could be a win for everybody, for the city and its businesses."
Alcombright said after the meeting he hopes to be at the table with the developer conducting further negotiations within 30 days.