Editor's note: This is the first article of a two-part series examining the year ahead with North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.
NORTH ADAMS -- The city will have a few challenges to face in the coming months, but Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said he believes every challenge is an opportunity.
"Everything we talk about is a challenge, because there are so many moving parts that need to come into place," he said Tuesday, during an interview with the Transcript. "We have some very exciting opportunities, but they are all challenging at the same time."
Some of the upcoming challenges include the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, finding the "right" developers for the city's vacant churches and growing local events.
His first big challenge will take place at Tuesday's City Council meeting, where he'll present a proposed bond agreement for renovations to the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School. The state School Board Authority has agreed to pay for 80 percent of nearly $30 million in renovations.
"I don't think it will be a hard sell," the mayor said. "I think the council understands the importance of this. What I need to do is present them the fiscal picture and show the city can handle this debt. Administrative Officer Michael Canales and I have put together a debt schedule that will show the city's position through 2020."
Although the city's budget will be "tight" for the next five
"They understand that we have two elementary schools that are in pretty bad shape and that it's much more fiscally responsible to go this way than to keep funneling money into these schools to keep up with reoccurring maintenance and repairs," he said.
As for the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, the mayor hopes to see a lease signed within the next six to eight weeks and work begin at the park by late spring or early summer.
"I've asked Duncan Brown [one of the principals of North Adams Development Trust] to come before the Redevelopment Authority before the end of January and begin negotiating a lease," Alcombright said. "We've done everything we can on our end to do with public sector investment. We've secured an $880,000 MassWorks grant and we have continued commitments from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to continue the [Ashuwillticook] bike trail to McCann. We've also purchased the Sons Of Italy, whether it was a popular decision or not. There's also the possibility of scenic rail between the city and Adams -- which is in discussions. I don't think we could be better positioned on our end."
While the city securing an $881,488 MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant for the park, as opposed to the city's Redevelopment Authority, has been questioned, the mayor said he's clarified those details with state officials.
"In their minds, it's not an issue," Alcombright said. "In the broadest sense, the city is the fiscal agent. We're pushing forward with design plans."
Once the Heritage State Park project is up and running, the city will turn its attention to the Mohawk Theater renovations.
"We have a great partner in MCLA for our discussion," he said. "I'm not going to shy away in using any funds that we can from [lease negotiation for] Heritage State Park that we can use. We're in discussions right now on whether or not that can be done."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email