NORTH ADAMS -- Several tenants of Western Gateway Heritage State Park asked why an $881,488 MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant would be used to improve landscaping and parking lots and not the park's deteriorating buildings during the North Adams Redevelopment Authority's meeting Monday night.
"I don't understand how this money can be put into sidewalks when the buildings are so bad," said Tala Neathawk, owner of the former Tala's Quilt Shop. "I don't think the city is deserving of this money. I have concerns about the buildings. I rented from the city for 11 years and requested many times that repairs and gutters be put on my building. My shop is no longer there. My building is contaminated and useless."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, who declined to comment on infrastructure problems with the park's buildings due to pending litigation with several tenants, said the MassWorks grant was being seen as the public investment sought by the North Adams Development Trust, a private group looking to take on the park with a 20-year lease.
"According to the proposal, the developer would bring private sector money to address the building issues," he said. "This type of grant is aimed at repairing infrastructure such as retaining walls and relaying cobblestone. I have spoken with Duncan Brown [one of the principals of North Adams Development Trust] about the delays and he remains enthusiastic about the project."
Funds awarded in the MassWorks grant have been earmarked for six specific corridor improvements, including the demolition of the former Sons of Italy building, the creation of a park and sculptural court on Route 8 and installation of new lighting under the Hadley Overpass to light parking areas.
The grant will also be used to install new fencing and improve the landscaping along the railroad tracks at the northern end of the park, improve landscaping along the small parking lot near Furnace Street and restore and resurface a 250-foot pedestrian footbridge into the park.
"We have been notified by the state via letter that we will receive a project manager and further instructions on the process by January 1," Alcombright said.
He added that now that public money had been secured for the park, he was ready to enter into negotiations with the North Adams Development Trust, which has proposed a one-time payment of $750,000 for a 20-year lease on the park. The proposal also promises an infusion of private investment in the park's buildings over a three-year period.
Historical Society member Edward Morandi questioned why the city wasn't going to reissue the request for proposals now that it had secured state funding.
"Doesn't it make sense for the city to reissue the proposal and see if there are any other interested parties now that public money is available?" he asked.
Authority member Michael Leary replied that the board had already authorized the city to negotiate and he would "like to see the outcome of that negotiation."
The Redevelopment Au thority has the final approval on the negotiated contract.
City Councilor John Barrett III questioned the city's application for the MassWorks grant, asking if it was vetted by the Redevelopment Authority and if a public hearing had been held as "stated in the grant application."
"I'm just saying I have issues with the grant, which states the city owns the Sons of Italy building," he said. "The Redevelopment Authority purchased the building. There's a claim a public hearing was held there's a claim that there has been an open process, and it appears it hasn't been an open process."
Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie replied that Barrett was incorrect and that the application does not state that a public hearing was held and that it did not need to be vetted by the board.
Western Gateway Heritage State Park is owned by the commonwealth, with a long-term lease held by the city. The buildings are owned and maintained by the city.
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