Coop Anchors Future Development in Great Barrington
Plans are moving forward to turn an abandoned piece of polluted land in Great Barrington, Massachusetts into a marquee example of downtown revitalization keyed around fresh, local food.
The eight acres of land are covered by scrub brush, surrounded by chain link fence and blocked off by a padlocked gate. Sandwiched between Great Barrington's Main Street and the picturesque Housatonic River some two blocks north, the otherwise prime real estate has sat dormant for decades, a brownfields site rendered unsafe by years of PCB contamination and other pollution from a textile factory, and, later, a lumber processing facility.
The area's Community Development Corporation, or CDC, a non-profit organization, has long wanted to rehabilitate the site and turn it into a mixed-use development including retail, housing, and a riverfront park. The conversion from poisoned eyesore to downtown rejuvenation project will be led by a local purveyor of organic foods.
The Berkshire Co-op Market sits within sight of the dormant property, and it crams an extensive selection of specialized foods into a cramped space.
General manager Art Ames gives a tour of the bulk foods section.
"There's this whole row of about 20 different kinds of granolas for example, and six kinds of lentils up above. I always love the look of this too, because these bright orange lentils next to the black and the green really kind of make a statement. Food is really beautiful."
The Co-op plans to invest at least $5 million dollars into a new home as the anchor of the new development, in partnership with the CDC and Berkshire-based Allegrone Construction.
The site's remediation still needs to be completed, but if everything falls into line, the market's participation is seen as the necessary step toward attracting more tenants, including other local food purveyors and an assisted living center.
Ames says the Co-op is well-placed to kick-start the project.
"Somebody needs to be the anchor. Somebody needs to be first. The project was in a stalemate until somebody was ready to commit in principle to having this done."
Town selectman Andrew Blechman is a frequent Co-op visitor, and an environmental advocate. He says the planned thirty million dollar project is precisely the type of mixed use development Great Barrington needs.
"it's a site where it's been fenced off and overgrown and just been an eyesore for decades, and it's soon going to be, buy delicious, healthy food on a site that used to be polluted."
With completion of the site's environmental remediation, and successful fundraising for construction, the Berkshire Co-op Market aims for a groundbreaking next fall.