The address was attended by past and future councilors and other officials or their representatives.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — One year into his first term, Mayor Thomas Bernard is positing North Adams as a small city that can do big things.
"Let's make being the smallest what we all know it is: A competitive advantage," he told viewers on Thursday night in his second state of the city address.
A year ago, Bernard laid out some goals he hoped to address in his first year. Now halfway through his term, the mayor is building on themes of investment and leveraging partnerships and regional initiatives to move the state's smallest city forward.
The mayor said he's told the story of the state's smallest city from high school groups to statewide conferences.
"My central message to these groups, and to you tonight, is consistent and clear: people are investing in North Adams. It is a place where they see potential and where they want to do business."
North Adams, he said, "is strong and getting stronger" in part thanks to a "culture of development flourishing" within its borders.
"We know that change can create excitement or discomfort but that it's rarely easy," Bernard said. "It takes time and patience and plenty of communication to get it right. When it's done with purpose and focus it can be powerful. However it happens, it's a process that comes with deep and necessary learning."
One of those exciting and uncomfortable decisions will be about the Mohawk Theater. The right fit for the historic but vacant theater has been almost impossible for the municipality to pin down despite attempts over the past two decades.
Bernard's proposing to let the private sector or nonprofit organization try its hand by issuing a request for proposal for the theater. He'd planned on holding a community conversation on the structure last year but noted that a grassroots group took the initiative and wants to tap into that energy.
"Government can help support development efforts," he said. "[But] we also have the opportunity to explore how the private sector might write the next chapter for the Mohawk."
He's hoping that the flourishing culture of development that has surfaced in the redevelopment of an old motor lodge into the trendy Tourists hotel and the plans for residential units at the refurbished mill that's now Greylock Works will resurrect the downtown theater in some form.
The mayor also pointed the "entrepreneurial incubator" at the thriving Norad Mill and manufacturing growth at Crane Stationery, Deerfield Machine, B&B Micromanufacturing and Tog Machining.
"One thing that hasn't changed -- and this is something I talk about every chance I get -- is the
fact that manufacturing is alive and well in North Adams and in Berkshire County," he said, pointing to the $2.75 million investment and 28 jobs slated for Tog under new owner Stanley Black & Decker and the Mohawk Paper's purchase and retaining of Crane. He championed a tax incentive financing agreement to allow Tog to transition its investment over five years.
There's also the reconfigured Airport Commission and its just moved terminal and work moving ahead by Cumberland Farms on Ashland Street and the boutique hotel in the Porter Block on Eagle Street. He touted the coming openings of new stores on Main Street and the restaurants like the Trail House on Route 2.
"However, as we have seen, not every project will succeed and not every promising idea will pay off," he said. "That can be disappointing, but the fact that North Adams is seen as a place to imagine possibilities, invest in ambitious dreams, and take risks is a positive sign of progress for our city."
The mayor is hoping the federal and state designation of two Qualified Opportunity Zones will aid in development in the downtown and along the Route 8 corridor. The zones were one of the goals set out in his first address.
"This promising new program provides tax incentives to investors who direct capital gains into funds designed to support job creation and development projects like the Extreme Model Railroad Museum and the Hoosic River Revival," he said.
Also the last year has seen $15,000 in grant funding for technical assistance to existing local businesses on Eagle Street, plans to update the city's 60-year-old zoning and use maps and a $50,000 technical grant toward updating zoning ordinances to better reflect current usages. The airport's received a $90,000 federal grant toward a master plan.
Bernard also wants the city to be able to benefit from the under-construction Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield and that city's location for a call center for Wayfair expected to bring in 300 jobs. And the ability of Lever to be a business incubator and a connection to regional industries as well as provide internships to help develop needed skills.
"The challenge lies in ensuring residents have the skills and access to the training opportunities they need to compete for jobs throughout the county," Bernard said. "We're fortunate to have a phenomenal workforce agency, MassHire Berkshire, as a resource and partner for job seekers and businesses."
Both McCann Technical School and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts have proven their abilities in creating "a pipeline from classroom to career," he said.
MCLA, with its $15 million economic impact, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, with a regional economic impact of $51 million, are attracting people to North Adams to visit and stay, he said.
The mayor also pointed to the branding of Eagle Street and the continued development of the municipal parks through grant funding. Bernard was able to obtain a $30,000 state grant to study climate-related hazards and to use as a basis for applying for further Climate Vulnerability Preparedness Program.
Mayor Bernard speaks with state Sen. Adam Hinds and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer after his speech.
The city also added its first hybrid car and will see 800 trees planted as part of a federal grant through the Franklin Land Trust.
"The cost of investing in clean and renewable energy systems can be prohibitive for many businesses, nonprofit and multi-unit residential property owners, " he said. "That's why I worked with MassDevelopment and the City Council to enact property-assessed clean energy -- or PACE -- resolution. PACE will enable property owners to fund energy-efficiency projects by tying loans to a betterment assessment on their tax bills."
There are still challenges ahead: the city will work with new District Attorney Andrea Harrington and state police assigned to her office to address the opioid crisis and domestic abuse, along with partnering with local human service organizations.
"In many cases, it is a disease with clear and identifiable vectors: deceptive marketing by pharmaceutical companies leading to overprescription of legal opioids by physicians that too often create a cycle of dependency that ends up in the misuse of illegal narcotics," he said. "That's why I joined over 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts by signing on to the class action lawsuit that aims to hold the drug manufacturers responsible for their role in this epidemic."
A major factor in the city's battle against crime will be the appointment of a new police chief, expected to occur in the coming weeks, as well as the construction of new public safety facility suitable for the city's first responders. North Adams is in line for $1.1 million for engineering and design from the state that is not yet available. The mayor said it's time to move ahead and determine where the facility should be located.
He's also calling for the massive Vision 2030 plan to be reviewed to close out completed priorities and see where the plan is still viable. And the new year will also see more changes with the relocation of the School Department's Central Office and appointments of a new library director and information systems assistant director, along with the new police chief and recently appointed city clerk.
Bernard said he's going to institute a series of public conversations each month to fulfill his goals to better hear what the community has to say.
"These conversations are open to the public. There is no set agenda, just a chance for informal
conversation. I invite you all to join me to share your hopes and concerns," he said, stating the first will occur on Saturday at 9 a.m. at Empire Cafe.
"Here's to knowing that our best days are ahead of us. And to recommitting ourselves to a shared purpose: to sticking to it, to sticking together, and to making that possibility a reality for our beloved City of North Adams, and all its residents and visitors."
Bernard joked with the audience as he waited to go live and his speech drew some chuckles and applause, with a standing ovation at its conclusion.
The address, made in City Council Chambers and aired live by Northern Berkshire Community Television and on the mayor's Facebook page, was attended by a host of officials including current and former city councilors, members of boards and commissions, state Rep. John Barrett III, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, District Attorney Andrea Harrington, MCLA President Jamie Birge, state Sen. Adam Hinds, and representatives state and federal officials and city department heads.
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