The Pittsfield Gazette
Mon, Jan 09, 2017
Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday delivered her first “state of the city” address, outlining programs and progress in Pittsfield. The presentation occurred inside the Colonial Theatre, with elected officials, department heads and the public in attendance.
By Linda Tyer
In my inaugural address last January, I vowed to devote every day to protecting our neighborhoods, to creating a community where every person thrives, and to shaping a modern city where there’s access and opportunity for all. Pittsfield is a welcoming city. We value dignity for every person and the obligation of being good citizens to each other. The past year has been an energetic one – reflective of my promise to do all that I can to put Pittsfield first even when that means making difficult decisions. It is my pleasure to stand before you today and share highlights of the multifaceted work we’ve engaged in this past year. As you can see, I do not stand here alone. The work that we do each and every day on your behalf is a collaborative effort. I am joined on the stage by City Council President Peter Marchetti, Vice President John Krol, and School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon. I am grateful for their steady, thoughtful, progressive leadership. Also here with me are the dedicated professionals who lead our city departments to ensure that we deliver services the citizens expect and deserve. Thank you, ladies and gentleman, for your willingness to work with me and even, on occasion, challenge my thinking. And, finally, I must recognize the two most extraordinary women in my professional life – Catherine and Roberta. I am deeply honored to witness your brilliance, patience, and steadfast loyalty. Thank you for everything you’ve done getting us to this special day. When I took office last January, it was imperative that my administration be intentional in our service. It wasn’t enough to just know our responsibilities. Our team needed to understand the why behind the work. In the spirit of this objective, I adopted five guiding principles that I introduced to the management team: shared responsibility; asking “how can we”; planning for the long-term; universal communication; and professional development. These five tenets serve as the compass for our work, challenging us to break down silos and forge collaborations, both internally and externally, deepening our impact and reach.The effort to save Covanta, Pittsfield’s environmentally friendly waste-to-energy facility, was an exercise in to just this kind of collaboration and responsiveness. Upon hearing the news of the Covanta’s impending closure, I sprung into action and brought together key stakeholders. It was essential to utilize every possible resource and incentive in the arsenal to keep Covanta in operation otherwise we were all facing devastating consequences. It really mattered. Our work together resulted in a trifecta of factors: a last minute amendment to the state’s energy bill ushered in by former State Senator Ben Downing, a financial investment supported by the City Council from the Pittsfield’s Economic Development Fund, and a renegotiated contract between Covanta and Crane for the purchase of steam energy. By rolling up our sleeves and finding solutions, we saved 25 jobs – that’s 25 people who remained employed and are providing for themselves and their families today. We ensured the continued delivery of steam energy for manufacturing processes at two vital local companies that employ more than 400 people, and we avoided a catastrophic impact to the city’s operating budget in the amount of $462,000 per year to truck our waste and recycling to Springfield and New York. This was your government at work.Here’s why this particular strategy matters: it is a lot easier to save existing jobs than to create to new jobs from outside sources. Our local, hard-working business leaders and their employees deserve, in equal measure, our attention to their struggles and to their hopes. A historic review of Pittsfield’s economic development fund proves this theory. Every time we’ve invested in an outside start-up, like EV Worldwide and Workshop Live, we got zero return on our investment. Every time that we invested in our own local businesses, significant returns were realized for them and us. The Colonial Theater, LTI SmartGlass, Berkshire Museum, Ice River Springs, all of them still with us today employing people, driving the local economy, sustainable.Now, before you become too uncomfortable with this disruption of strategy – let me reassure you. Of course we’ll continue to pursue outside economic development prospects. In fact, there are four on my desk right now that have my attention. We can do both and we can do both at the same time. For example, Covanta wasn’t the only local business on our radar. Pittsfield, through its various business incentive programs provided assistance to an additional five businesses including the Beacon Cinema, Regions Wine Bar & Nosh, Shire City Herbals, and Café Namaste. Local businesses like these are the heart and soul of our community, drawing both residents and visitors alike to their establishments, employing people, and paying taxes. It is imperative that we utilize available resources to strengthen and expand these operations and others like them. While we continue to enhance our downtown corridor, we are also fully committed to the next best economic and neighborhood revitalization opportunity. Pittsfield is the beneficiary of the state’s attention when we were selected by MassDevelopment to be one of ten Gateway Cities to participate in the Transformative District Initiative. Pittsfield will receive enhanced technical assistance, real-estate services, and equity investments, to support our vision for redevelopment of the Tyler Street neighborhood. The Tyler Street district will become a unique, thriving, working, residential neighborhood where all of the typical day-to-day needs can be met within walking distance. The district is anchored on one end by Berkshire Health Systems and on the other end by General Dynamics, two of Pittsfield’s largest employers. The majority of the revitalization plan was completed in 2016. With MassDevelopment on our side and, together with the city’s time, talent, and treasure we can maximize resources for lasting and meaningful impact. Adding to this good news, Pittsfield was one of only 26 recipients from across the nation to receive a $75,000 Kresge grant last year. These funds are specifically designated to develop creative healthy food initiatives in the Morningside neighborhood. And, it’s got a cool name – it’s called Fresh Lo! While we’re at it – we are in the process of expanding the state’s Housing Development Incentive Program into the Tyler Street district. This housing incentive program will be an extremely valuable resource for the redevelopment of the St. Mary’s property into market rate housing for all those engineers General Dynamics is hiring. The spotlight is squarely on Morningside giving it a shine it well deserves. Pittsfield is confronted with complex fiscal challenges. With that fact always on my mind it is essential that we seek and take advantage of every grant opportunity that we’re eligible for, and in 2016, we did just that. A great deal of hard work is undertaken by your city professionals in applying for and managing these grants. The City of Pittsfield secured nearly 2.3 million dollars in grants and gifts spanning a range of purposes from the National Resource Network Technical Assistance Grant to broaden our economic development efforts in the downtown corridor to Berkshire Health Systems investment in state-of-the-art law enforcement technology, and the Mass Humanities grant which supports Mastheads – the creation of life-size writing studios that will house writers-in-residence beginning this summer. The themed studios honor a literary legacy of American renaissance authors who produced work right here in Pittsfield – Melville, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Longfellow, and Holmes. This project is being led by two phenomenal young professionals, architects Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson. I am deeply grateful that Tessa and Chris chose Pittsfield for this innovative and creative project.Pittsfield’s Community Compact with the Lt. Governor Polito’s office has given us access to municipal finance expertise at the University of Massachusetts’ Collins Center. We seek to achieve two things. The first is a comprehensive five-year financial forecast that will serve as our guide in developing annual budget priorities and matching them against projected revenues and existing and future funding obligations such as pensions, health insurance, and debt service. Annual adjustments to the financial forecast will provide greater structure and predictability to our budget process with a focus on how the decisions we make in one fiscal year will impact us in the future.The second component of our work with the Collins Center is the development of a comprehensive budget document. One that will better communicate to the city council and the citizens of Pittsfield the mission and organization of each department, a snapshot of historical expenditures, and the spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Better communication of budget priorities and greater transparency will build confidence in how government invests your hard-earned dollars. Fiscal challenges lie ahead. Many steps will be undertaken to stabilize this condition including cost containment, debt management, new revenue, and strategic investments that will prepare Pittsfield to not only survive the downturn but to thrive well into the future.It’s a great occasion when a project comes to fruition. Case in point, the completion of the final phase of downtown Streetscape. Streetscape has outfitted North Street with a new look, yielding street resurfacing, sidewalk improvements, ADA compliant high-visibility crosswalks, decorative street lighting, increased seating, and planted medians. Our neighborhood streets also saw a new look this past year thanks to the crews from Department of Public Services who resurfaced over 11 miles of roadway, using six different methods including for the first time ever in Pittsfield, Hot-in-Place Recycling, which reuses the existing asphalt materials effectively, economically, and minimizes the use of new materials. Another new addition to our city streets are new parking kiosks which were activated last Tuesday. As with any new initiative we understand that it will take some getting used to. There’s been much discussion about these kiosks so it’s important to know the facts. These parking kiosks are part of the city’s parking management plan, an initiative which started in 2013. At that time, Pittsfield received a state grant to renovate the McKay Street Parking Garage. The grant came with a serious string attached – that we would create a parking management plan including a long-term financial resource for the maintenance of our parking infrastructure. When I took office I reached out to our state resources for funding a new Columbus Avenue parking garage and the message was clear – “you’ll get no more state funding until you implement your parking management plan.” We’ve got to have a new parking garage on Columbus Avenue. It is not a small thing! The garage is needed to support our new boutique hotel, Barrington Stage audiences, downtown businesses and residents, and the Intermodel Transportation Center. Now this is not your grandfather’s parking meter. It’s solar powered and comes with a parking app called Passport that provides a simplified way to manage your parking needs. And, Pittsfield’s parking is still friendly: the first 30 minutes are free, parking is free nights and weekends, and free for everyone with handicap placards. North Street is a vibrant, lively place, so continue to shop, dine, and enjoy what Pittsfield has to offer. As we continue to modernize our city with tools that will strengthen our infrastructure, it’s equally important that we continue to aggressively and fairly address the issue of blight. Blight compromises our quality of life, diminishes property values, and limits our appeal to new businesses and residents. In the summer we demolished four vacant residential properties, including one on Third Street which stood directly across from the Samuel Harrison House. The Samuel Harrison House is one of our city’s most prized, restored, African-American historic landmarks. Having a severely blighted, vacant property right across from a standing piece of Pittsfield’s history is disrespectful and irresponsible. The city’s Code Enforcement Team, comprised of members from multiple city departments, identified six additional properties which are scheduled for demolition later this month. Down on West Housatonic Street you’ll see the old, vacant, dilapidated shopping plaza put back to good use when UHaul International renovates the building and opens mini-storage warehousing and a retail and rental facility.