NORTH ADAMS -- Could the city’s economic revitalization come in the form of investments built around health care and wellness initiatives? Local gallerist Ralph Brill, a former architect, believes so.
Brill will present his vision, "The North Adams City Centre Project," as part of a panel, "Healthy Economies, Healthy People: Strengthening Relationships between Public Health and Local Economies," at the state Department of Public Health’s "Ounce of Prevention 2012" Conference in Marlborough today.
Brill’s vision, which he says would create 3,000 high-paying professional jobs, includes the development of a multistoried medical center complex on the south side of Main Street and the creation of a 800,000-square-foot sculptural structure spanning Route 2. The span would include a new hotel, luxury housing, professional offices, a sky-high restaurant and a museum focusing on Chinese culture in the Berkshires.
"For the last four years, I’ve studied this from head to toe, trying to figure out what will get North Adams into the future," Brill, who lives in the Eclipse Mill, said Monday. "I really think the city is in a state of paralysis -- that it’s stuck. I think the city has always had a mindset that it needs some master -- an Arnold Print Works or a Sprague Electric Co. -- to tell it what to do next. It’s part of the DNA around here that someone will come along and make a plan for the city."
Over the last year, he’s had several conversations, both privately and publicly, to flesh out the idea.
"The idea that the arts community will save this city is in a dangerous place," Brill said. "The economy can’t sustain it. People aren’t buying second homes, so they aren’t buying paintings for their walls."
His vision brings North Adams Regional Hospital into the downtown with the development of a six- or seven-story medical arts center, which would include doctors’ offices and feature specialized care -- a world-class wound-healing center and joint-replacement program. He also envisions the current hospital campus becoming home to specialized programs like a world-class birthing center and a hospice center for end-of-life care. Traditional hospital services, not included in the new building, would be available at Berkshire Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
"I’ve spoken with numerous pre-med students at Williams College who would love to come back and open a practice here, but it’s not sustainable," he said. "By creating world-class specialties, we could attract doctors and patients to the area."
He also sees wellness-based programs creating educational programming needs, such as art therapy, expanded nursing classes and degrees around nutrition, at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and McCann Technical School. Opportunities also lie in the tech fields and in alternative medicine and spa services, he said.
By creating additional opportunities, the need for housing with technological comforts would be needed, which is where the 800,000-square-foot building comes into play.
"It would connect the 120,000 visitors to Mass MoCA with the downtown," Brill said. "One entrance would be in the parking lot behind Big Y. It would span across Route 2 and have another entrance in the parking lot behind 85 Main St."
He sees the building as an attraction itself, with its skyline views and conference center being key attractions. It also includes plans for a museum.
"Not only is this a way to bring people to the city and create an economic driver, but it’s also a way to create a healthier city," Brill said.
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