Two-thirds of a mile of downtown streets fixed and paved. Drainage improved. Nearly a mile of sidewalks repaired and improved. New trees and decorative street lighting installed. Improved handicapped access. An improved public parking lot. Fresh line painting.
Now, after a $2.1 million state investment and four months of steady construction, the town’s downtown reconstruction project is now “substantially complete,” according to Town Planner Chris Rembold. The infrastructure project dovetailed with substantial private development investment in the downtown area, especially in the Bridge Street area, which is also nearing completion.
“Some of these streets and sidewalks had not been improved in over 40 years,” Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said. “There are still a few small items on the punch list, but we’re happy we could finish in time for the busy summer season. Local merchants, residents and property owners have been patient and cooperative.”
The work on Railroad, Elm, Bridge, Church, and School Streets was funded by a combination of state funding from Mass Works, Housing Choice and Smart Growth grants. DPW Superintendent Sean Vandeusen and Rembold oversaw the project.
“We’re grateful for funding from these agencies for their contributions to economic development and infrastructure in small towns around the state,” said Pruhenski, “and we couldn’t have done it without the leadership of Sean and Chris.”
Great Barrington Selectboard Chair Stephen Bannon added, “We’re thrilled and proud about this project. Along with the Main Street improvements completed in 2016, our investments downtown ensure our infrastructure will support economic development for generations to come.”
Crews replaced and widened 800 feet of sidewalk on Railroad Street, one of the region’s busiest pedestrian areas. And 170 feet of brand-new sidewalk was installed on Church Street near Iredale Mineral Cosmetics headquarters and around the corner to the planned new hotel site on Bridge Street, at the former Searles Middle School.
The town project supports at least $110 million in recent and planned investment in downtown mixed-use developments, including more than over 100 housing units and 160,000 square feet of commercial space.
State Rep. William J. “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said, “Kudos to Great Barrington for another great project. Mass Works is all about using relatively small amounts of grant funding to support and stimulate new jobs and new housing units in walkable locations. Downtown Great Barrington is a special place and now it’s even better.”
Betsy Andrus, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, “We thank the state and the town for investing to support business in the core of Southern Berkshire.”
The project was coordinated with the $15 million Powerhouse Square project on Bridge Street, where the Berkshire Co-Op Market relocated in June with its new 14,000-square-foot store. Powerhouse Square will add retail stores and more than 20 apartments on the upper floors, and, as part of its permit, Powerhouse developer Benchmark Development installed the public sidewalk along its portion of Bridge Street. Benchmark will also improve the baseball field at Memorial Field.
The town’s road construction was also coordinated with Fiber Connect of the Berkshires' installation of high-speed broadband internet in the downtown area.
In recent years, downtown has seen substantial private investment: Iredale Cosmetics’ $12 million preservation and renovation of the former Bryant School; the $11 million preservation and renovation of Saint James Place; the $6.5 million renovation and expansion of 47 Railroad St., and a $2.5 million renovation of the Berkshire Block at 321 Main St. A $25 million hotel is planned for the former Searles School, and a $45 million affordable housing development is planned for 100 Bridge Street including 45 units of new affordable housing.
Upcoming work includes repaving of the Triplex Cinema parking lot. Next year the town will improve roads and sidewalks on Bridge Street and Bentley Avenue, to support the housing development at 100 Bridge St.