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Montague looks to new year

Holly Givens of the Montague Business Association was part of an impromptu parade over the re-opened Turners Falls-Gill Bridge in November. (Recorder file/Beth Reynolds)

Holly Givens of the Montague Business Association was part of an impromptu parade over the re-opened Turners Falls-Gill Bridge in November. (Recorder file/Beth Reynolds)

MONTAGUE — The town enters the new year with a bridge reopened to two-way traffic into and out of its most populous village, with plans to re-illuminate the downtown and with entrepreneurs working to open several new businesses around town.

On the whole, longtime Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio saw the half-full or half-empty glass as fuller than it has been in recent years.

“In general, I’d say it’s a whole lot more full than it was four or five years ago. Our financial condition is good, which we were a little bit concerned about a few years ago,” Abbondanzio said, attributing this in part to cooperation between the town and Gill-Montague Regional School District in producing affordable budgets, and new growth in the tax base from the power utility and other industry.

Mark Fairbrother, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he hopes for financial stability and no further sewer line breaks in the coming year.

Fairbrother said he also hopes the town will find somebody to show interest in the former Strathmore Paper Mill complex, town-owned and largely vacant.

The town plans to seek federal Community Development money to replace the Avenue A streetlights in the coming year, and other priorities include seeking interested developers to take the former Strathmore Mill and a cluster of downtown Millers Falls buildings off the town’s hands and returning them to the tax rolls.

Re-submission of a historic battlefield grant application to study the battle or massacre that gave Turners Falls its name is also under way, in hopes the study could pave the way for a Native American history center and historical tourism.

In Montague Center, Abbondanzio said, the developer of a planned apartment building is still engaged in due-diligence calculations, but the former Montague Center School may be conveyed to the developer in time for the spring construction season.

Elsewhere, town planners are working on securing funding for the planned Turnpike Road Industrial Park through state and federal grants, although construction is not anticipated for several years.

The Greenfield Road re-construction project should go out to bid in the spring, Abbondanzio said. The project, controversial with abutters, some of whom stand to lose land, will re-pave and in places widen or straighten the road at state expense.

Abbondanzio hopes a new bill before the state Legislature will provide funding to expand broadband Internet access in town, particularly to the under-served Chestnut Hill area, and if it does not he said the town will look at ways to find other funding.

The volunteers of the ad-hoc Unity Skatepark Committee have a design for a concrete skate park on the edge of Unity Park, have the support of the Board of Selectmen and are working to raise money for a grant match. The committee is in the process of applying for a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation, and may also pursue a state grant with the help of the town government to make the park a reality after more than a decade of temporary parks and permanent dreams.

The Montague Public Libraries and the village-boosting Turners Falls RiverCulture Project enter the new year with new directors, and a feasibility study is set to begin in 2014 with an eye to doing something about the small, old Montague Senior Center.

The Franklin County Technical School has begun planning for a new roof, and the Gill-Montague Regional School enters the new year freshly emerged from Level 4 or “underperforming” status and with a superintendent on a long-term contract for the first time in years.

In business, 2013 was a mixed year in Montague. Shops and restaurants have closed, others opened and more are set to open in the new year.

Artists have taken up occasional residence in the empty portions of a wholesale bakery on Bridge Street in Millers Falls, with plans to open a cafe and studio and classroom space for visiting artists. In Montague Center, the Night Kitchen closed in the fall of 2013 but a neighboring renter plans to open a “gastro-pub” in the former restaurant’s river-front location this March.

In Turners Falls, the fine-dining establishment Ristorante DiPaolo succumbed in 2013, with the owner citing the long-term semi-closure of the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge among the deciding factors.

In its place, a different kind of dining should be available in January: the owners of Kali B’s Wings and Things, a popular food cart parked opposite Stop & Shop in Greenfield this spring and summer, have been renovating the building with plans to open early in 2014.

Selectmen have signed off on a beer and wine liquor license for the new restaurant.

Also in Turners Falls, the downtown has begun to expand farther beyond Avenue A, with a fabric arts shop and a glassblowing studio and gallery at opposite ends of Third Street, and a new restaurant in between.

Unity Park’s ballfields should reopen to use in 2014 after a year off to let the turf settle after a major park renovation, and the Lake Pleasant Village Association hopes to revitalize tiny Rutter Park.

“We survived the great recession and the bridge, we did lose some businesses, no denying that, but on the whole we’re coming out of that OK, not totally unscathed, but I’m very optimistic,” Abbondanzio said.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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