NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two big initiatives are launching this summer and next to promote elements of North Adams downtown area.
It's a year away, but the $60,000 NAMAzing Eagle Street Initiative, or NESI, will reinvigorate the city's historic byway with new signs, social spaces, art installations and clearly marked entrances for pedestrians and motorists.
City Council President Benjamin Lamb, who spearheaded the effort over the last few months, laid out the plans for some two dozen or so supporters to at a launch celebration on Thursday night at the former Sleepy's on Main Street.
The initiative has 18 months to spend the money but, said Lamb, "we have lofty goals, we are planning are being ready for spring 2018 so this will all be active for summer 2018."
The effort grew out of conversations between business, residents and supporters of Eagle Street and is being funded with $35,871 in donations and a $25,000 matching MassDevelopment grant. The fundraising effort, done online through Patronicity, raised about $10,000 above its $25,000 goal.
Lamb said he was impressed with how much people were willing to donate. The benchmark was hit two weeks ahead of the deadline.
Pittsfield's recent Patronicity raised $50,000 with 138 donors, but North Adams raised with $35,810 with 225 mostly small donors.
"I joke about this ... we're kind of like the Bernie Sanders of fundraising in that people showed they're support with their dollars," he told the group. "These people are just as invested and their part of this community so this has become more of a community-based project than ever could have happened."
So the initiative is keeping to that community spirit by soliciting for an Eagle Street logo from within the community. The logo will be prominently featured in signage and promotional material and the winning submission will earn the creator a named bench to placed on the street.
Donor benches were at the $2,500 level in the campaign, Lamb said, and creating the logo will be just as important a contribution.
The group will also be accepting applications for "parklet" designs that will not only revamp the current pocket park where the Tropical Gardens had been but also extend into the street to provide depth and act as a traffic slowing mechanism. The vision is seating for 15 to 20, room for small concerts, and electricity and wifi so people can hang out.
The third applications will be for impactful art that will attract visitors, such as bright, bold mural that "will make people want to take an Instagram photo in front of it." The extra $10,000 raised will fund the handful of art pieces that may also include a solar light installation and sculpture.
"The one thing we're very adamant about is artists should be paid for their work," Lamb said. "So these are going be commissioned after they are submitted. ... We're looking to get a full budget from everybody."
The funds will also pay for trash/recycling receptacles to ensure the street remains clean and gateways appropriate to each end so that "whether you're in a car or you're walking, you're going to be excited to enter Eagle Street," he said.
Another attraction will be letting visitors know that there are businesses on Eagle. So every storefront — filled or not — will be get a very visible hanging sign.
"Every single storefront that has insurance for an awning with be provided with a bracket and a sign to go in front of that storefront," Lamb said. "Even those that don't have content will use the Eagle Street logo ... so the entire street is going to look full, it's going to look occupied, it's going to be activated, it's going to showcase that there's a lot of places to check out."
Every effort will be made to use local vendors for the work as much as possible, he said, and the initiative will visit their shops to show donors where they are in the process.
The North Adams Exchange is also looking to showcase local business this summer, starting with the opening of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's 130,000 expansion on May 28. The city's events coordinator Suzy Helme said the idea was formed last July when a representative from the Mellon Foundation came to speak to museum and local officials.
She told them, Helme said, that "the grand opening of Mass MoCA was a missed opportunity to really connect museum visitors with the downtown and the city in general ... let's not miss that opportunity again."
The city, Mass MoCA, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the North Adams Partnership, local officials and interested residents have been putting together plans to entice museum visitors to walk past their cars and head for Main Street — which, Mass MoCA Joseph Thompson recently pointed out may be closer to their cars and the museum entrance.
Some of the events have already been reported — rotating retail and food trucks at the former Mohawk Center parking lot on the weekends, and a new pathway to get there; music, sound and light installations designed to keep visitors around; wayfaring signage and brochure with points of interest, restaurants and retail around North Adams.
"It really highlights what makes North Adams so cool and so great and why they'd want to come back and stay and explore beyond the doors of Mass MoCA," Helme said of the brochure.
The city will also open the Mohawk Theater from 4 to 8 on Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 4 on Sundays. Inside is the 37-foot tall Empire State Building that will be the centerpiece for the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum being planned for Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
"For the first month, it will just be the Empire State Building, but beyond that you'll start to see other pieces come in and testing of the track," she said as Thomas Krens' model makers begin their work. Even if people are not interested in the trains, many may be curious about the interior of the historic theater.
The Mohawk Theater will be open for limited times on the weekends to see some of the models being prepared for the model railroad museum.
At 87 Main St., local entities such as Storey Communications and Crane & Co. will have wares for sale, A Better Chance of Williamstown will operate a boutique secondhand clothing shop, along with vintage items and some furniture. Other items may be for sale including a soft serve ice cream.
"The hope is there will be something to kind of fill this retail desert that happens once you get past the alleyway [by Shear Madness]," she said.
And the empty 8,000 square feet in the former mattress store will be turned into an analog recreational spot with ping pong, darts, board games, corn hole and children's activities. People will be able to come in, play games, or bring in food or drink and sit at the cafe tables during the weekends; the space will be staffed.
Helme and Lamb more recently lead the city's efforts toward a $500,000 downtown boost in the Small Business Revolution competition. The city lost, but it seems to have led to more interest in other community efforts, including the push that raised $10,000 extra for the Eagle Street Initiative.
"I think it's that galvanized community spirit we've seen in the last few months and it keeps percolating up," Lamb said. "Whether their time or their money, people are ready to be in engaged in their community in some way, shape or form."
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