Mayoral candidates Gilmour, Wedegartner tackle downtown issues at forum

  • From left, mayoral candidates Sheila Gilmour and Roxann Wedegartner answer questions from moderator Insiyah Mohammad Bergeron at the Downtown Greenfield Neighborhood Association’s forum at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2019 11:01:41 PM

GREENFIELD — With topics ranging from the role of downtown and economic development, to a hole on Chapman Street, the Downtown Greenfield Neighborhood Association hosted its first mayoral forum at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.

Greenfield mayoral candidates Sheila Gilmour and Roxann Wedegartner answered questions submitted to the association.

The forum was moderated by Insiyah Mohammad Bergeron, of Amherst. Mohammad Bergeron holds a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has worked as a cooperative developer at the ICA Group and as a mass development fellow for the Holyoke Innovation District.

When asked about the role of downtown in Greenfield’s economic future, Wedegartner answered first.

“What we’re going to do going forward is to build on our successes, our fabulous internet service that will allow us to attract new businesses, in all sectors, but especially in software,” Wedegartner said. “We’ve been talking about our position at the intersection of Route 2 and I-91, which I think is a great way to also attract more businesses. This is in addition to our relative affordability, growing transportation and some very creative people coming downtown to open new businesses.”

Following up, Gilmour said she believes downtown is also Greenfield’s cultural center.

“By nurturing the downtown, we’re not just taking care of businesses there, we’re taking care of our way of life — what makes Greenfield such as great place to live,” Gilmour said. “All of the things wrapped up together as an ecosystem, and we continue to treat it as that bigger system where it’s not just about bringing in whatever kind of business at any cost. We want to preserve the character of the town. We want to make sure they’ve treated their employees with respect.”

Candidates were also asked which cities they look to for successful downtown models.

Gilmour said she looks to Turners Falls and Brattleboro, Vt.

“They’ve (Turners Falls) started off as not necessarily a place where you wanted to go and spend a lot of time and live with your family, but they’ve got really neat stuff going on downtown,” Gilmour said. “I also look a lot at Brattleboro. I know their landscape is different ... but I love that feel they have. It’s a working class town, it’s not ritzy, it’s got some grit to it, but they’re hardworking people and they’ve done a lot to take care of their downtown.”

Wedegartner said she looks to Turners Falls, too, as well as Easthampton.

“Turners Falls is wonderful. They have done a very good job of starting their creative economy and focusing on that. We, too, will do that,” she said. “I also like the city of Easthampton. They have done a great job of adaptive reuse of their buildings and I want to focus on taking some looks at creating adaptive reuse overlay districts for our downtown area, so we can reutilize some of our buildings.”

Both candidates supported a position in the city to market Greenfield, its culture and attractions.

When asked about the first projects she’d prioritize for the city, Wedegartner mentioned infrastructure.

“Our sewer and water — making sure we do fund upgrades for water and sewer,” Wedegartner said. “It’s not sexy, it isn’t above ground, but it is absolutely critical to economic development, to downtown or anywhere else in town.”

Gilmour said the capital project she would prioritize first would be the Greenfield Fire Station.

“They’ve been in there for way too long,” Gilmour said. “That’s a problem. They need to move. They’ve been making do with what they have way too long. After that, I’m hoping the next one is the library, but voters are going to decide that one.”

Write-in candidate Brickett Allis was not invited to the forum, but was seen outside Hawks & Reed prior to the event.

“A little note on how we chose our mayoral candidates — they won the preliminary election,” explained Downtown Greenfield Neighborhood Association board member Genevieve Lawlor. “It’s pretty cut and dry there.”

The Downtown Greenfield Neighborhood Association was formed in January by Precinct 8 City Councilor Otis Wheeler and a volunteer board of directors. It is a non-governmental, citizen-driven grassroots organization with a mission to perpetuate and strengthen downtown Greenfield’s position as a traditional New England town center, and to envision and realize meaningful change by fostering collaboration.

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