!BULLETIN! CEO OF BRIEN CENTER RESIGNS!!! … MORE ON THE PEDALS MESS: MEETING PACKS THE HOUSE … BIANCHI ATTENDS AND SCORES A WIN FOR THE PEOPLE … CORYDON GETS THE ‘KRAMDEN “HAMINA-HAMINAS”‘ … THE TRUE REASON FOR THE 8 A.M. STARTING TIME … WARD’S LETTER … plus … INTERVIEW WITH A PLANNER, PT. 1
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
ADD 1, JAN. 6, 2012
THE PLANET received word late this afternoon from a reliable source that Kate Doherty, CEO of the Brien Center, has resigned. We don’t know much more than this. We will say that we have known Katie for many years, and we found her to be exemplary in both personal and professional aspects.
On the surface, this appears to be a huge loss for the Brien Center, which is in the middle of an ambitious refurbishing of the former Mt. Carmel Church on Fenn Street. How Doherty’s resignation impacts the project is unknown at this time, nor are the reasons for her stepping down.
THE PLANET conveys our best wishes to Katie, with the hope that all is well.
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, JAN. 6, 2012) — Ten people might not sound like much of a crowd, but it’s by far the largest attendance for a PEDA meeting in anyone’s memory. Ten to 12 people showed up, not counting press (Joe Durwin of iBerkshires.com and Tony Dobrowolski of the Boring Broadsheet) or the film crew for PCTV taping. As for press, the PEDA meetings usually go by completely ignored. Former Ward 4 councilor and now citizen activist Mike Ward was among those present.
THE PLANET presents some of the color of the proceedings, based on several reports from Those in The Room (we could not attend this morning, and thus turned to Plan B, which was to tap intelligence from members of the Secret Squadron, including Agent Z-12).
* HIS FREUDIAN SLIP WAS SHOWING — Prior to the meeting, an attendee got into a private back-and-forth with PEDA board chairman Gary Grunin. The person asked Grunin if people would be allowed to speak (PEDA, unlike the city council, does not include public remarks on its agenda). GRUNIN: That’s not what these meetings are for.” Revealing, wouldn’t you say?
* HIS HONOR IS HONORED — Mayor Dan Bianchi attended, as mayor first and citizen second. He is not yet a member of the board. As mayor, he has appointment power to the PEDA board, but all his nominees must get council OK. That is expected to come at the next council meeting in a unanimous vote. Meanwhile, Grunin made a classy gesture by inviting Bianchi to sit at the table with the rest of the board members.
* NOT SIMPLE THERE FOR WINDOW DRESSING — Bianchi listened throughout the meeting, saying little to nothing, until Grunin made a motion to adjourn. Then a most interesting thing happened. Bianchi stopped him and said he had a few questions. As chair, Grunin could have shut the mayor off, but Bianchi’s request caught him unprepared, and Grunin allowed Bianchi to speak (the GOBs won’t like that). For 20 minutes, the mayor and Grunin went back and forth about Waterstone Development‘s proposed Big Box retail shopping center. Said one attendee: “It was the best 20 minutes of board meeting PEDA’s ever seen.” The back and forth elicited much helpful information for the public, and it displayed Bianchi’s command of the subject. It doesn’t look like he’s interested in being a disinterested onlooker. Fasten your seal belt, Corydon.
DOMINO EFFECT — Bianchi spoke up, and it had a salutatory effect on other board members. Three of them spoke up, the first time in memory anyone recalls hearing a peep out of the board. George Whalen, Mike Matthews, and Beth Mitchell got involved. It wasn’t so much WHAT they said but THAT they said. FYI, the board consists of Grunin as chairman, Christina Barrett, Mick Callahan, Peter Fruet, Matthews, Mitchell, and Whaling. Corydon Thurston is PEDA executive director.
ANTS IN HIS PANTS — The presence of the media and a full house (they actually had to bring in two more chairs) seems to rattle Thurston, according to more observer: “He seemed more nervous than usual,” quoth our spy. Perhaps Thurston is starting to realize that he’s not going skating in the park without kneepads and a helmet. Question: Is he ready for Prime Time. How do you think Thurston would answer THE PLANET’s call for a public debate on PEDA, mano-e-mano? We hold it in a public setting, no notes allowed, and no muzzles present. The honeymoon is over.
WHO’s WHO? AND A SIMPLE SOLUTION — Unlike the protocol of just about every board and every meeting, PEDA does not have name tags for identifying board members. Again, it’s a small thing, but it’s another sign that PEDA wants to do its business out of public scrutiny. Not everyone in the room can recognize faces. They need names. The simple solution is that henceforth, every member of the board should be seated behind a name placard. That’s not asking too much, is it?
WHAT AN ODD TIME TO HAVE A MEETING
The decision to meet at 8 a.m. began after Bill Hines took over as PEDA exec from Tom Hickey. Under Hickey, meetings were held at a more reasonable 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. One of Hines’ first moves was to move it to 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Here, for the first time, THE PLANET reveals the true reason for the odd starting time. It was to punish the Pittsfield Gazette, the only newspaper or news medium in town that tries to actually cover the news.
In Pittsfield, where political corruption is a way of life, one honestly covers the news by uncovering the poison that usually hides underneath the facade. The Gazette comes out on Thursday. On Wednesday, publisher and editor Jonathan Levine — not well liked by Mayor Jimmy Ruberto and his cohorts — is busier than a horse trader’s mule. He literally doesn’t not have time to cover an 8 a.m. Wednesday meeting and get it into the paper for the next day. The plotters at PEDA decided that 8 a.m. Wednesday was the perfect time to keep Levine away.
THE PLANET, therefore, makes this request of Bianchi, Thurston, and Grunin: set a new meeting time, preferably in the evening, when people can attend.
WARD LETTER: ‘PEDA BOARD IS WRONG; MFG. IS NOT DEAD’
THE PLANET received this letter to the editor yesterday from our Right Honorable Good Friend, the former Ward 4 councilor Mike Ward. We print it in its entirety, as written:
I disagree with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority’s decision to give up on manufacturing and pursue a big box shopping center on the former GE site. Manufacturing is not dead, as the PEDA board suggests.
A December 30th article on Plasticnews.com features a Pittsfield company called Pittsfield Plastics Engineering. This company employs 96 people. They are so busy that they operate three shifts, and they enjoyed a growth in sales of 22% this year. They produce spools, cores, and bobbins that are sold to customers all over the world.
A December 29th article in the Berkshire Eagle features a Pittsfield-based pet food company called Whole Life. The founder of Whole Life started out with a high-end pet supply retail business but saw a greater opportunity in manufacturing. Whole Life produces freeze dried meat and fish pet treats which are purchased by dog and cat owners all over the world.
These two modest-sized businesses bring new money into the community. And because of their niche markets, their success is not at the expense of other businesses in the community. These businesses are therefore are a more desirable form of economic development than big box retail, which literally siphons money out of the community.
I was relieved to read that Mayor Bianchi is also dubious about this ill-conceived change in recruitment strategy by the PEDA board. I agree with the Mayor that the William Stanley Business Park should be developed gradually and intelligently, with community-building companies like Whole Life and Pittsfield Plastics Engineering. We’ve worked too hard to settle for less.
73 Whittier Avenue
We thank our good friend for his continued involvement in the affairs of a town he obviously loves, and in some ways, we find his involvement as a private citizen more inspirational and effective than when he was one voice in 11.
The PEDALS development (the PEDA Land Swindle) to create B-level Big Box retail shopping at the PEDA site must be stopped. If PEDA succeeds in unilaterally changing the rules of the game in midstream, with little to no input from anyone outside the boards’s own incestuous bedroom, the action will officially raise the white flag of surrender. The move will be a declaration that the city has give up on reclaiming that site as a productive manufacturing center. Perhaps that’s why Thurston said at one point, “This isn’t a done deal.” Maybe he’s starting to see the light.
It would be tragic, since manufacturing is a viable option. So how does one find manufacturers, bio-tech companies, computer and high tech firms, startups, and existing companies looking either to relocate or expand? There are two simple steps:
(1) First, you DON’T DO what PEDA has done since Day 1: Sit around polishing a barstool in Schwab’s Drugstore waiting for Hollywood to discover you.
(2) You DO develop a financing plan. You DO set up Brownfield Grants. You DO start calling the customers and suppliers of existing companies (the kind you would want to move to PEDA). You DO examine similar-sized markets. You DO make cold calls, and lots of them. You DO attend trade shows. You DO pre-arrange financing with local banks that need to satisfy the community reinvestment act.
Clearly, PEDA — pre- and post- Corydon Thurston —has not done step two while unfortunately doing too much of step one’s opposite. And while looking out for No. 1 by creating a political fiefdom with little to no oversight, the PEDA board has stepped in No. 2. The aroma resembles that of a freshly soled running show stepping into a pile of dog plop.
Interview with an Urban Planner
THE PLANET recently interviewed a planning expert (by profession, by training, and by education) on the PEDALS deal. We present these excerpts:
THE PLANET: PEDA’s enabling documents had a well-defined list of allowable and prohibited uses. The Big Box retail project, which has secretly been in the works for a year, suddenly produces a prohibited use. Is that legal?
THE PLANNER: I think they can change the uses without necessarily changing the state law that created the Authority, but there is a catch I’ve found.
THE PLANET: What’s the catch? We’d love to hear it.
THE PLANNER: I’m not sure, but the whole issue is really indemnity. If PEDA is allowed to provide indemnity and hold harmless to future tenants, it has to do so within the legislation. If the “I”s aren’t perfectly dotted and the “T”s are not perfectly crossed, future parties may have liability. This law is really very poorly written. It needs a dose of practicality. … When the law is a mess like this, and successor agencies and other components lag, it [makes] any lenders who might consider finance a project VERY suspicious.
THE PLANET: Why retail?
THE PLANNER: The benefit for retail, or any deal, is that a significant portion of site costs can be monetized and applied to a bank’s lending pro forma (e.g. brownfields credits). In the past, there were what were called “conduit lenders” that provided higher-interest short-term cash that helped make up the downpayment for the loan. After the crash, these conduit lenders went away, making the PEDA’s financial tools even more valuable for ANY kind of development, if only someone there knew how to leverage them.
WE SHALL STOP OUR INTERVIEW THERE AND PRESENT MORE ON MONDAY’S PLANET. SO NOW STEP OUT INTO THE WEEKEND. BE SAFE, HAVE FUN, AND MAY THE GOOD LORD TAKE A LIKING TO YA’
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL