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PT II OF A PLANET EXCLUSIVE: THE BERKSHIRE CAROUSEL — ‘WILL IT GO ‘ROUND IN CIRCLES?’ … PROJECT BEGAN AS A $1 MILLION GIFT, FREE OF CHARGE, BUT A TINY HANDFUL OF CITY ‘LEADERS’ ONLY SAW A THREAT

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

Part Two of a Series

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, OCT. 31, 2012) — On all Hallow’s Eve, THE PLANET continues our investigation into the Berkshire Carousel project. We shall explain the “how” involved in the final disposition of this fabulous civic gem ending up in Lanesboro and not in Pittsfield, but the “why” remains a cause for speculation.

Picking up from yesterday’s post, THE PLANET begins part two explaining why the Town of Lanesboro won the prize. Essentially, the town offered much more to the Carousel board of directors than did the city of Pittsfield, who operated through a handful of key “players.” The Players, for whatever reason, had one objective: Find a way to keep the carousel out of Pittsfield. Yes, it sounds crazy, but that’s what happened.

The Top 10 Reasons by the Carousel Chose Lanesboro

We talked to several public officials, including from the town and city, as well as several more involved as part of the carousel board of directors. From that, we list the Top 10 reasons why Lanesboro made the winning pitch. Lanesboro promised:

10. Assistance in developing an endowment fund. Pittsfield would not agree to this.

9. Adequate space for the carousel to include a party area, educational events, exhibits, a gift shop, food concession area, and art gallery. This would be space in addition to what the carousel itself would physically require. The added elements would give the carousel a much greater opportunity to generate operating income. Pittsfield said no to the additional space, thereby dooming the carousel to financial failure.

8. Opportunity for more than a single destination visit.

7. Interest shown by Lanesboro commercial operations, including the Berkshire Mall, to join with the carousel on collaborative efforts. 

6. Adequate and easy parking. Parking for Pittsfield remains an eternal hurdle, from the lack of convenient parking downtown to actually  removing parking spaces through the “French curve” design of North Street curbing.

5. Adequate traffic for year-round operation.

4. Safety and security. With shootings, stabbings, beatings, and drugs out of control in Pittsfield and especially the downtown, Pittsfield could not and would not offer an adequate safety guarantee.

3. Accessibility.

2. Understanding and valuing the role of the volunteer community in the operation of the carousel and future carousel projects. Keep in mind that under the direction of Jim Shulman, inexperienced volunteers, not experienced professional wood workers, carved the magnificent horses.

1. Respect for and confidence in the volunteers, the carousel staff, its board, and the founders, who are together creating this magnificent work of art. Pittsfield exuded the opposite of respect for and confidence in this great team.

Again, why to all this? Why did certain Players in Pittsfield have such a problem with volunteers coming together from all walks of life and all regions of the county to get the carousel finished? Why did the Players feel threatened? What did they fear?

Make No Mistake: The Berkshire Carousel Was Intended to be a Gift for Pittsfield

To understand the fate of the carousel, one has to appreciate the nature of the project: From the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Shulman wanted to give back something monumental to the city of Jim’s youth. That’s not surprising for a man who, since he was a lad, has been a nominal fixture in the heart of downtown Pittsfield. Yes, Jim’s father named the family business after his son, and to this say, we have Jim’s House of Shoes.

“The carousel was a million dollar gift to our (yours and mine) hometown,” Shulman told THE PLANET. “It’s main purpose was to engage the lifeblood of the community that you and I knew growing up in what was a real blue-collar town. Pittsfield was a great place in which to grow up, and we did so at a great period of time, living during the optimism following World War II.”

GE in its heyday

Indeed, Pittsfield was all of that. Back then, of course, most of us were too young to understanding the risk involved in placing the city’s economy in one basket. All we knew was that GE employed more than 12,000 at its peak, and the company seemed generous with its time, talents, and treasure, as can be seen in the Hollywood-quality Halloween parades and floats, community projects, scholarships, public service, and the like. Kids back then thought we had it great, and GE — what our parents called “the shop” — helped make Pittsfield a showcase community. We didn’t know about how GE kept other industries from moving to Pittsfield. We didn’t know about the pollution the company buried in the soil, dumped in the water, and injected into the air. We didn’t know about the company’s subsequent plans to shut the plant down.

THE PLANET can remember, for instance, when we served as a high-school apprentice in the drafting program in Building 28. Much of the work by then — 1968 and 1969 — had been shipped to other parts of the country. We didn’t know anything about Hickory, N.C., except that the name kept popping up on many drawings and work orders. Those were jobs shipped out of Pittsfield, we later learned.

Here is the remainder of today’s installment. We have pieced this together from interviews with a variety of people, and attribute it to one of the great stallions of all time, The Lone Ranger‘s Silver.

 

SILVER TESTIFIES:
Pittsfield not only was a blue-collar town but the center of business and commerce for the County. The city was plumb in the middle of art and culture, midway between North and South Berkshire County, with their respective cogs of Williamstown and Lenox-Stockbridge. The Berkshires were a Mecca for big city folks to come for summer retreats, and Pittsfield was the place to shop when these folks came to experience arts.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy long ago and far away, there lived a bustling, great city called Pittsfield, Mass. It no longer exists.

Pittsfield never pretended to be an artsy place itself, at least not like Lenox, Stockbridge or Williamstown. We didn’t care, we had GE with 12,000 employees and the best shopping between Springfield and Albany. After all, England Brothers and a handful of Department Stores had all anyone needed.

After the City fought having a mall downtown — despite Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski voting twice in favor on behalf of We The People, — and GE began abandoning the city while leaving it polluted with PCBs, our community leaders furthered contributed to the demise by filling hospital beds with NYC addicts. These people were discharged into Pittsfield’s streets. To accommodate then, Pittsfield built  and an unnecessarily, oversized jail. It soon filled up with out-of-town criminals whose families moved to the city to be close and also to join the welfare rolls. In the last 30 years, we then saw downtown die, crime and poverty accelerate, and our “leaders” absolutely clueless on what to do.  Did they really seek new industry or job sources? The trend continues right to the present time.The City decided to reinvent itself by calling itself a “center for art.” The “leaders” held some successful festivals did wonderful restoration of theaters at enormous taxpayer expense when promises of private money proved to be fake. The “leaders” then gave great tax breaks to encourage new restaurants, art galleries, and a cinema. These were good things, but they were geared not to the many long-time residents but mostly to m to second homeowners, transplants, and tourists.
Despite the thrust to make downtown an art district, the economic issues, crime and related problems remained.  Local support from long-term residents for the “new arts” has been limited by the costs.  Many of these people feel that the city needed to put its energy and money into bringing in technology and potential jobs to improve the economy.
Instead of this focus, the previous administration sought state funds to do things like beautify the main street and to seed a city park (for $4 million dollars). The planner, Deanna Ruffer, was praised for doing this, but the efforts have been scattered and piecemeal, with no apparent strategic goal.
In the focus on the arts and spending money on such projects, the leadership largely forgot about the blue-collar workers from GE who built the city, the life blood, many of whom still remain here and are increasingly and justifiably cynical and negative about the city’s “new art” directions and its catering to out of towners and the well-to-do.
The local folks have not been able to contribute much financially to the theater restorations or able to afford the art galleries, theaters, and restaurants. The feeling has been that the city and its downtown were no longer for them. Shopping for them was now at the big box stores. The theaters and eateries are too expensive to frequent regularly or at all. The downtown of the 50s through 70s was now someone else’s “parade” surrounded by a sea of poverty and crime, and not something ordinary locals could  experience or value.

This account by Silver explains precisely the context on how the Berkshire Carousel came to be seen not as a great civic project but one in which a tiny handful of GOBs came to view with fear and suspicion. Those people acted as if they knew best for the city, all the while forgetting — and abandoning — The Little Guy. They were determined to sink the carousel before it had a chance.

TOMORROW, WE CONTINUE WITH PART THREE OF OUR SAGA. THE PROJECT GETS OFF AND RUNNING, BUT WHEN IT GOT SERIOUS, CITY LEADERSHIP BECAME CURIOUSLY HOSTILE. WE BEGIN NAMING NAMES.

————————————————————-

WHOSE HORSE THIS IS, WE THINK WE KNOW. HIS HOUSE IS IN LANESBORO, THOUGH. HE WILL CERTAINLY SEE US STOPPING HERE TO DESCRIBE HOW PITTSFIELD FILLED UP WITH A SNOW JOB.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

39 Responses to “PT II OF A PLANET EXCLUSIVE: THE BERKSHIRE CAROUSEL — ‘WILL IT GO ‘ROUND IN CIRCLES?’ … PROJECT BEGAN AS A $1 MILLION GIFT, FREE OF CHARGE, BUT A TINY HANDFUL OF CITY ‘LEADERS’ ONLY SAW A THREAT”

  1. maxwell edison
    October 31, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    This feeling that “downtown is no longer for ordinary people” is less about affordability and more about choices, tastes, and class. Plenty of Pittsfield residents of modest income manage to maintain a daily habit of cigarettes, coolattas, and lottery tickets. If they would rather watch Honey Boo Boo than a staged production of A Christmas Carol that’s their business, but don’t hate your neighbors who aspire to something better.

  2. Pat
    October 31, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    I completely disagree with “maxwell edison”. I have no doubt that some people fit the stereotype of what is described as people interested in so-called low class pursuits like Honey Boo Boo and smoking and lottery tickets, but most people who would like to be able to afford the cultural offerings of the city are prevented from doing so by a lack of jobs that pay a decent living wage.

    You either have the people that “maxwell edison” describes who actually represent the two income extremes of the area….the very low class and the higher income classes who “aspire to something better”. This leaves out the middle class who have traditionally always aspired to something better. I believe that it used to be referred to as “upward mobility”. This aspiration on the part of the middle class was not for most people some snooty desire to be able to show off to their neighbors, but to provide for their families a better living than what they grew up with….to go from middle class to upper class if they worked hard enough. This dream of upper mobility has been nearly destroyed for many people who live in this area due to the lack of job opportunities that would provide them with the money to send their children to college and provide a decent living for them. This is what has angered so many “middle class” people here in the Berkshires and particularly here in Pittsfield. Forget about cultural activities when you are trying to provide the basics of living.

    For those who would like to partake of the cultural activities in the area, I would give as an example the Berkshire Museum. Each year they have the Festival of Trees which I remember going to in the first year it began. At that time the price was $3.00 for admission to see the beautiful trees. Since that time the price to see the Festival of Trees last year was $12.00 or maybe even $15.00 per person, but it was a ridiculous price. Maybe it will go up even more this year. Yes, I know they have free family day each year, but that doesn’t cover many people who can’t attend on this one particular day. This is just one example of many of how prices for these types of events have skyrocketed.

    To say that only those who earn large sums of money aspire to appreciate culture is so ridiculous and outrageous as many of our greatest artists of all time began their lives in unbelievable poverty.

    • maxwell edison
      October 31, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      I made an observation about the vice habits many people in this town have which cost them more than a Festival of Trees ticket…every day. If that doesn’t apply to you, fine, but the point is no less valid.

  3. Tim
    October 31, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    I dont smoke or buy lottery tickets, nor do I spend money on anything other than survival and my children…. Still cant afford to go to a movie at beacon, or the mall, not that i have much time. Cant afford tickets for other shows either, although there hasnt been more than a handful of events that have come through anyways

  4. Scott
    October 31, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Most of the events around here are centered around vendors selling you crappy food or booze anyways. I’ll go and enjoy the carousel in Lanesborough I’m out that way to see family a lot anyways.

    • joetaxpayer
      October 31, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Don’t worry Scott there’s crappy food and booze at the mall.

      • Scott
        October 31, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

        Not for me, despite my craving for candy tonight we’re sitting here eating a bowl of fresh strawberries.

  5. Gene
    October 31, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Excellent words, Pat. You put it clearly. Tim too. Max, the people you are describing leaves out that silent middle class. You’ve done the same thing to them that the politicians have done. We need better than that.

  6. The Kraken
    October 31, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I would prefer A Christmas Carol over Honey Boo Boo anytime, but with the cost of tickets for the family, plus a babysitter, etc., I cannot go see A Christmas Carol. And I do not partake in any of the vices Maxwell mentions. Also, I will not pay 12-15 bucks to see the Festival of Trees simply because it is not worth that price. It would be like paying 50 thousand bucks for a Toyota Corolla – I don’t care if I can afford it, it would just be stupid.

    • Gene
      October 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      I am pretty much in the same position, Kraken, priced out of the “arts” and restaurants downtown. Year after year, the leadership in Pittsfield refuses or can’t see it.

    • Gene
      October 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      I am pretty much in the same position, Kraken, priced out of the “arts” and restaurants downtown. Year after year, the leadership in Pittsfield refuses or can’t see it.

  7. Tim Bartini
    October 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Where is the carousel going to go when the Mall goes out of business ? The last time I was there it was half empty.

    • CONCERNED
      October 31, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      Or half full Tim

      • Tim Bartini
        October 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

        Sorry I thought this was a intelegent conversation Too bad yo u douche bags have to bring it down Dan. This is why I said this blog is becoming like Topix. God forgive if any one has a different opinion from the Right wing!

        • danvalenti
          October 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

          TIM
          Perhaps but tell me, my good friend,how is your use of the term “douche bags” doing anything to elevate the discussion?

        • Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
          November 1, 2012 at 6:26 am #

          A bit of over reaction to a harmless joke my friend…U know is the glass half full or half empty reference?

          I do agree Tim the Mall has seen better days

      • Tim Bartini
        October 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

        Concerned the mall is over 20 years old and it’s looking pretty crappy. I just don’t think the carousel is going to revive it

        • CONCERNED
          October 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

          Tim Take it easy, that was a joke half full/half empty. Maybe you need some more R&R

    • Dave
      October 31, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

      Why don’t we have the Taconic carpentry students build a “new construction” for housing the carousel. I’m sure we could even get a sponsor for a project like that!

    • Scott
      October 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      IF it goes in the mall that will attract business.

    • Scott
      October 31, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Or The students from THS could build a house for it!

      • danvalenti
        October 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

        Not a bad idea.

  8. tito
    October 31, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    I’d like to see it go to Silver Lake Boulevard, AllendaleSchool, or The Common.

    • NBI
      October 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      A nice high visibility location would be on top of Hill 78. You could see all of the PCB related devastation as you rode round and round!

  9. Ron Kitterman
    October 31, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Tito Silver Lake, Allendale School I thought we were trying to get away from PCB’s not have our grand kids poisoned by them ? If New Jersey can rebuild afer the biggest storm the northeast has ever seen we can certainly make Pittsfield into something with or without the carousel project.

    • GMHeller
      October 31, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

      Don’t count on it, Kitterman.
      Not with civic leaders who pride themselves on how often they are able to shoot off their own feet.
      One could choose ten names at random out of any Massachusetts telephone directory and obtain more intelligent decision-making than what comes forth from the PCB-addled brains of the rubes now sitting in City Council Chambers and in Hizzoner The Mayor’s Office.

  10. just sayin
    October 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Tim, the mall is doing well….where will anybody go when Pittsfield goes out of business. Any day of the week there are more paying retail shoppers there than a whole month in downtown Pittsfield including Third Thursday. When you offer affordable retail, theaters, arts and restaurants for the working and middle classes and security then Pittsfield downtown will give the mall competition. It ain’t in our leaders tea leaves to appreciate the folks who made Pittsfield and address their needs. like Romney the power elite doesn’t care much about the 47% of us and like Maxwell just see everyone who can’t afford downtown as lowlifes. Say it ain’t so Joe.

  11. just sayin
    October 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Tim, the mall is doing well….where will anybody go when Pittsfield goes out of business. Any day of the week there are more paying retail shoppers there than a whole month in downtown Pittsfield including Third Thursday. When you offer affordable retail, theaters, arts and restaurants for the working and middle classes and security then Pittsfield downtown will give the mall competition. It ain’t in our leaders tea leaves to appreciate the folks who made Pittsfield and address their needs. like Romney the power elite doesn’t care much about the 47% of us and like Maxwell just see everyone who can’t afford downtown as lowlifes. Say it ain’t so Joe.

  12. just sayin
    October 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Tim, the mall is doing well….where will anybody go when Pittsfield goes out of business. Any day of the week there are more paying retail shoppers there than a whole month in downtown Pittsfield including Third Thursday. When you offer affordable retail, theaters, arts and restaurants for the working and middle classes and security then Pittsfield downtown will give the mall competition. It ain’t in our leaders tea leaves to appreciate the folks who made Pittsfield and address their needs. like Romney the power elite doesn’t care much about the 47% of us and like Maxwell just see everyone who can’t afford downtown as lowlifes. Say it ain’t so Joe.

  13. just sayin
    October 31, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    I only submitted once and it entered three times.

  14. skier1
    October 31, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    I was just at a mall in Rhode Island that had a carousel at the end of their food court with childrens stores next to it. Their food court (restaurants) were fully occupied and so were 95% of the stores. It made sense to have a carousel there. If the mall puts it someplace else and a store wants to move into that space, obviously a paying tenant will win out. How will the carousel be staffed? Insurance? These questions haven’t been answered no matter where it goes.
    Another point (brought to my attention by a very smart person) if the carousel goes anywhere but Pittsfield will the money be returned to the donors who thought they were helping Pittsfield grow??????

  15. ambrose
    October 31, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    dja ever get the feelin that nobody gives a shit

    • Demitrius T. Gladiator
      October 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      Yes, ambrose. Whenever you post a comment. I get that feeling.

      • danvalenti
        October 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

        DTG
        Ouch! For that display of wit, you win the Riposte of the Month Award. It comes with a hand-engraved Riposte.

    • Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
      November 1, 2012 at 6:28 am #

      lol

  16. joetaxpayer
    October 31, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Really one million dollar gift, free. No such thing as a free lunch, there would have been costs associated with this carousel. Wish things were going better in Pittsfield, then maybe I could care about the silly wooden horses. There are much more pressing issue’s to worry about. Thank you Berkshire Mall.

  17. GMHeller
    October 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Paraphrasing the brilliant Israeli Diplomat Abba Eba, it’s safe to say that, just like Middle Eastern Arabs, those who run Pittsfield City government “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
    And with this attitude, do these same Liberal Democrat City Fathers (and Mothers), in their wildest dreams, really expect to attract technology firms and start-ups to replace General Electric?
    What a cruel hoax is being perpetrated on a lot of gullible people.

  18. tito
    November 1, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    Ripost award, nice Planet. What to choose from, Gladiator with a bitch slap comment, Timmy and a douche bag’ remark, Heller and his Abba Eba refrain. So you think it’s easy sorting out the winner for the K o t S award every week?

    • danvalenti
      November 1, 2012 at 7:03 am #

      TITO
      You have my sympathy. And don’t forget about the granddaddy of them all, the Orbit Award. We should have an awards dinner, with the Orbit, Ling of the Swamp, and the coveted Riposte.