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Freight Yard Owners Propose $2M Investment in Heritage State Park
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:09AM / Saturday, July 02, 2022
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Western Gateway Heritage State Park's buildings are in dire need of improvement. Baystate Hospitality is proposing to invest $2 million into the park if it can get a long-term lease.

The park has been largely dormant for years, in part because of proposals over the last decade that fell through.

the exteriors of Buildings 1 and 2, most recently occupied by the model railroad museum offices, are in poor condition.

FYP owners Colleen and Sean Taylor are estimating upwards of $2 million to rehab three of the buildings. They hope this will spark interest in the other vacant spaces.

Freight Yard Pub is the oldest tenant in the park outside the state; the owners say the building is in serious need of renovation after nearly 40 years.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There have been more than a few ideas lobbed around for reinvigorating Western Gateway Heritage State Park — including a model railroad museum and an artists market. 
But the answer may be closer to home. So close, it's already inside the park. 
Colleen and Sean Taylor, owners of Freight Yard Pub, are willing to invest $2 million into Buildings 1, 2 and 3 in the dormant park in exchange for a long-term lease that protects their stake in property. 
"Sean and I have always been committed to the park," Colleen Taylor told the Redevelopment Authority last week. "This year is going to mark our 38th year at the park. With that being said, the first decade you know there wasn't much to be done but now heading into our fourth decade, there's a lot of things that now need to be done."
The Taylors are looking for a 60- to 100-year lease from the city and anticipate having all the work done within five years.  
Mayor Jennifer Macksey asked the Redevelopment Authority to continue talks with the Taylors as her administration continues to determine how best to redevelop the park. 
"I will say that this administration intends on keeping the park, we don't want to sell it off," she said. "But we're kind of leaning toward, and researching, about doing some commercial kind of type deals. We're not ready to do that yet. We have a lot of untangling of deeds and titles and property lines to do that."
The authority members did not take a vote but were generally acceptable to talks continuing pending a concrete proposal in front of them
Taylor said she and her brother have been willing to work with the city on things within their control, and with the past plans that have fallen through. But now, she said, "we're coming to a head to where the building is costing us more money to keep it together than actually just really taking out some monies to do the whole thing."
Within days of those comments, the sewer backed up — again — and the city had to come out and unplug it and then the air conditioning failed. All three buildings need new roofs, siding repairs and infrastructure work. 
The Taylors' proposal is to begin renovating the first three buildings, which are connected by covered walkways on the first and second floors.
"Like the other buildings in the park, those three units have been just neglected," Colleen Taylor said.  "They need everything from roofs, windows, sidings, electrical, plumbing, structural, there's nothing that these buildings don't need, including the one that we're in, and heating and air conditioning."
Building 1, the old general store, would become new commercial space and Building 2, once a quilt shop, would in part be occupied by the Taylors' catering service. Over the last several years, Baystate Hospitality has expanded to include Trail House Kitchen and Bar, Craft Food Barn and the catering service.
The popular pub in Building 3 has been there essentially since the beginning of the park and it's time for a revamp — and a consideration of what's in store for the future. 
"We've always been like these short term 10-year leases and it only allows us to do so much mostly because of funding," said Colleen Taylor. 
The Taylors said they need a long-term lease to secure the amount of financing necessary to take on the project and they would sublease the rehabilitated buildings. They were also open to leasing with an option to buy. 
"What we want to do is, is to get a really, really long-term lease and then take out a large lump sum of money and get all three of the buildings up to looking beautiful, as beautiful as what we did down the street with Craft Food Barn," Colleen Taylor said. "We took an old dilapidated building and pretty much made a brand-new building."
Baystate Hospitality bought the old Dairy Queen, gutted it, replaced all its systems and reopened it as a takeout for everything from breakfast sandwiches to burgers. The Craft Food Barn was inspired by the amount of takeout food the restaurant was selling during the pandemic. 
Taylor said a project that size takes lots of planning and lots of money. 
"We do want to make this investment," she said. "What we're trying to do is take any risk off of [the Redevelopment Authority] and bring it back to ourselves, and then build all three of these buildings, basically redo them from the ground up."
Sean Taylor said he's had someone go through the buildings to see what's needed and have the rough numbers. He said they were ready to begin work as soon as possible to address the immediate needs, like roofing, by this fall with the next phases following once financing is in place. 
The Taylors said the timeline is to know by Aug. 1 what the decision is with the authority so they can begin work on the roof of Building 3. 
"Let's get that done for you. Let's figure out how we make that work so this body knows exactly what's going on, the mayor understand what's going on," said authority member David Bond. "It sounds like you're ready. It sounds like you know what you need to do."
Fellow member Ross Vivori said he wasn't ready to make a decision at this point because he felt there were still too many unknowns. He wanted to be sure they understood the Taylors' ability to obtain the financing, how long the work will take and what assurances they had it would be done, and whether the lease had to be 60 years. 
"We can't see that far down the road. None of us are even going to be here then," he said. "I mean, I don't know that we can make a decision on this thing. I don't even know that we've seen any kind of proposal." 
Chair Kyle Hanlon said the intention was to determine if the board was interested in having the mayor continue talks with the Taylors and come back with a proposal. Macksey said her administration is still working on the idea of commercial condominiums and is having the solicitor research those options. 
She and the Taylors pointed out that the city has to make repairs to several other buildings, including having to work on Building 6, the former Northern Berkshire Community Television studios, which is now being taken over by the Berkshire Academy of Advanced Musical Studies (which was approved by the authority the same evening). The other buildings are No. 4, the state's Hoosac Tunnel museum, and No. 5, which has three units, one of which had housed the North Adams Museum of History and Science. 
The mayor added that she did have some concerns about the length of the lease and that there is a need to flesh out the terms of the rehabilitation. 
"I wanted to kind of get a pulse of the commission because this is a big investment. This is more than one building. This is kind of reducing what our rental income would be but to get the investment back again with a long-term plan of down the road," Macksey said. 
Hanlon thought it a pragmatic approach and in favor as long as the details were figured out. However, he said the MassDevelopment done on the park had pointed out that segmenting the park could create problems. 
Michael Nuvallie of the Community Development Office agreed with Hanlon on the findings but said at this point they could either way. 
"I think either way works in the long run. We've tried to unsuccessfully the sale and the long-term lease of the entire park, which is why we're focusing on this different approach," he said. "I don't think they [MassDevelopment] had the history of how intense those negotiations were long ago for the sale of the whole thing."
Macksey said the park was an important gateway for the city as it will also eventually connect the bike path through to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. 
"My philosophy is I really want to have some kind of control in the park so it will be a combination of local funds, state funds, private funds to make that park come alive again," she said. 
Colleen Taylor pointed out that they can just buy another building and completely renovate it like they did with Craft Food Barn but they'd like to stay in the park. 
Richard Boulger, founder of BAAMS, said he'd found Freight Yard to already be a good neighbor before they'd even moved into the park. He and Jane Forrestal, the academy's director of development, are envisioning concerts within the park and more traffic.
"It's obvious to everybody that the space, the whole park, needs a lot of work and anything that goes toward improving it helps us," she said, adding that they hoped to make their side more attractive and be another anchor. 
Sean Taylor agreed "because if you're at the north side, and we're at the south side, and there's the middle could also spur others to jump on board at the same time to perhaps bring more money to the coffers."
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