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In The Arena

Filled with possibilities

Why Martin has sights on bank building

I always get a little scared when government decides to get into the real estate business, but there is a big difference between a town just taking over a piece of otherwise taxable property and one that does so with a plan to put said property to use.

That seems to be what is happening with the former First National Bank building in Greenfield. Mayor Bill Martin is proposing that the town take over from the Franklin County Community Development Corp. sometime in the next year.

“There are a lot of possibilities for that property,” Martin said. “But the first step in the process is to acquire it.”

I’m not sure that’s something the Town Council necessarily wants to hear, especially in deliberating about whether to spend $1.5 million to buy the former Lunt property on Federal Street. But while there is really only a vague idea of what will happen with that site, Martin has a much clearer vision for the former bank building, that he sees as a potential site for new performing arts space — a gap that was supposed to have been filled by the GCC Downtown/Garden Theater Performing Arts project, which has since fallen by the wayside.

“The Arena Civic Theater, which has been out of Greenfield for decades, wants to come back to town, and if we can provide them with some performance space and strike a deal with them to help manage the building, that could be a potential use,” Martin said.

Martin says another option is to use part of the 7,000 square-foot space for a “governmental communications center,” with a series of computers that will allow residents to connect directly with a variety of different state and federal agencies.

“We’re seeing a lot of government agencies moving out of towns and creating more of an online and regional presence,” Martin said. “That’s not very helpful for local people who need to access services, and this could help alleviate that problem.”

Martin also proposes using the large walls of the bank’s interior to set up huge screens with stadium seating, that would allow for performances, large presentations, and maybe even the occasional community movie.

“These are all ideas which could work, but we have get the building first,” Martin said. “What I’m looking for is a bare bones certificate of occupancy. We’ll make the building structurally safe and keep it open, and then it becomes an active part of the plans for downtown.”

A lot of broad strokes and not much fine print, but at least it’s the beginning of a plan for a property for which Greenfield officials have had little to no answers almost since the day it closed.

Good work on display

This was certainly a good week for the Greenfield Fire Department.

If not for the professional instincts and well-trained nose of Deputy Fire Chief Robert Strahan, it’s quite possible that parts of Federal Street could be in pieces today thanks for an underground gas buildup near a drain system plugged by the heavy snows from last weekend. And Sunday, firefighters played a huge role in containing what could have been a potentially disastrous flood caused by a burst pipe in the upper floors of the Greenfield Community College North Building — in the process, earning the undying respect of GCC President Robert Pura.

“They really came through for us,” Pura said. “If it had not been for their quick response, things could have been much worse…it was obvious that they cared about the school and protecting it.”

Those are sentiments any department head would love to hear from a community leader heading into a potentially tight budget season.

Brown’s new gig

I hope Roger Ailes has a few extra bucks to plug into the Fox News hair styling budget, now that our former U.S. senator, Scott Brown, is about to join the ranks as a network “contributor.”

As expected, Brown is going to make every effort to boost his profile and bank account after deciding not to go after John Kerry’s Senate seat this spring. Instead, Brown is going to keep his powder dry while trading the pickup for a stretch limo as he works to rebuild his centrist profile, probably in preparation for a gubernatorial run next year.

But that may be easier said than done, with the announcement this week that Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano is considering jumping into the governor’s race. Attorney General Martha Coakley and State Treasurer Steven Grossman have also been considering a run, but aren’t exactly top-tier Democratic candidates, unlike Capuano, who is a congressman with proven fundraising ability, strong ties to both the state and federal Democratic leadership, and a voting record that is relatively moderate in comparison to other members of the delegation.

It’s almost a perfect political pedigree for a statewide race, not to mention that Capuano is a pretty tough campaigner who will be able to stand up to Brown in the debates, which we all know will be a big part of the equation next year.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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