Greenfield hopes to create cultural district

GREENFIELD — Talk of creating a cultural district in the heart of Greenfield’s downtown is taking root.

The town will hold a public meeting on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to begin discussing what town leaders, residents and those interested in the arts and culture would like to see if Greenfield were to create such a district.

Economic Development Director Robert Pyers said such a formal district would allow Greenfield to apply for grants and other types of funding.

“It’s really timely that we do this now,” said Pyers. “The town has just started reviewing its Master Plan, so part of that review could be discussing a way to attract tourism and create venues for dance, music, theater and other arts. We can all talk about how to make the downtown more vibrant during evening hours.”

He said discussions about a cultural district will also coincide with talks about what can be done with the vacant former First National Bank building on Bank Row.

“The town has been talking with the Franklin County Community Development Corp. about being co-developers of the building,” said Pyers.

He said between the town, the CDC and others, about $1 million has already been invested to secure the structure and update the facade. Pyers said that money, for all intents and purposes, is “just sitting there.”

“I think we’re looking at scaling down the construction that would be done on the building and making it more of a ‘flex space,’” he said. “People could hold meetings there, art exhibits, theater productions, food fairs, you name it.”

Pyers said not having to redevelop the entire building would mean it could become a public space that didn’t need to depend on commercial rentals for its existence.

The town is holding the public meeting as part of the process of applying to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for a cultural district designation.

Pyers said the meeting will allow people to talk about what they’d like to see the building used for and how they would like to see it managed.

It is too early to talk about how it would be maintained and who would do it, he said. but added that town leaders and others involved believe that if events were held there, a percentage of ticket sales could be used to maintain the building and hire janitors for events.

“The town feels it is its obligation to create a venue that draws people downtown so that private businesses are more successful,” said Pyers. “We want to do this to support other businesses.”

The CDC owns the building.

Pyers said the town has the support of the local cultural council.

Pyers said it will also include the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority, local theater companies, the college, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the Greenfield Business Association, the town’s Master Plan Advisory Committee, local boards and banks, and anyone else who wants to be involved.

“Eventually, we believe the bank building will become the heart or keystone of a cultural district,” he said. “This meeting is the first step toward that happening.”

The public meeting on Wednesday will begin in the former First National Bank building on Bank Row at 5:30 p.m. After a brief tour, the meeting will move to the Arts Block on the corner of Main Street and Court Square.

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