Following feasibility study, Greenfield Redevelopment Authority mulls First National Bank building’s future

  • The First National Bank building on Bank Row in Greenfield. Staff File Photo/Matt Burkhartt

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2020 4:25:04 PM
Modified: 12/10/2020 4:24:54 PM

GREENFIELD — It appears the city is back to where it began several years ago when it comes to deciding what should be done with an historic landmark — the First National Bank building on Bank Row.

The Greenfield Redevelopment Authority, Friends of First National Bank and MassDevelopment have been working together to find an answer to how feasible it would be to redevelop the long-dormant bank building, after finishing a study on the topic. Peg Barringer, director of economic development consulting and a partner of FinePoint Associates in eastern Massachusetts, presented the results Wednesday night.

When the presentation was over and discussion began during the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority’s meeting, what was clear is that the building’s renovation would be a costly endeavor and might not be possible the way it was originally envisioned.

Barringer said the market and feasibility study focused on the building becoming a multifunction cultural facility for performing arts, something the city and several groups have talked about for years.

During the study, numerous interviews and two surveys were conducted. While people would love to see the building become some sort of community venue, it would cost between $4 million and $4.6 million to make “just the ground floor” operational. Barringer said it has the potential to become a “stunning” facility, but it would take another $1.7 million to renovate the facade. The building is structurally unsound, and it was built without the seismic bracing buildings like that have included since it was built in 1929.

The Franklin County Community Development Corporation bought the First National Bank about 18 years ago, when it was close to collapsing after years of neglect, and spent almost $1 million to stabilize the building. It repaired the facade, installed a new roof, removed hazardous waste, and replaced windows and doors. The work was paid for through a combination of state and federal grants, several loans and fundraising efforts. In 2017, the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority decided to take on the vacant landmark.

The study cites that while the building is located near the municipal parking garage on Olive Street and is in the center of the historic downtown, all positives, access is a challenge — there is no place, for instance, for someone to load or unload in the front or back of the building.

“Those issues will need to be resolved,” Barringer said.

She said as the city moves forward, it should first decide how much it can spend on renovating the building. One option would be to renovate the entire building for occupancy, including its large basement, but that would far exceed the $4 million to $4.6 million and the $1.7 million for the facade, while another possibility might be to preserve the facade and tear the rest of the building down to build a new one, which would cost significantly less.

While MassDevelopment has said there would be funding available for a project like the one the city is discussing, it isn’t clear how much of the expense grants would cover.

If the Art Deco-style building were to be redeveloped as a performing arts facility, Barringer suggested the town study similar facilities in the county, Western Massachusetts and across the state to see how they are faring and whether it would be competing with some of the other venues, like Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center directly across the common.

Barringer said the city will have to consider supply versus demand. She said originally, several entities throughout the city had expressed interest in possibly becoming tenants, but since then Greenfield Community College, the Greenfield Winter Farmers Market and Silverthorne Theater Co. have said they are no longer interested.

“The cost of redevelopment will be high, operation will require annual fundraising in addition to earned revenue — it won’t be self-sufficient or ‘revenue-neutral’ like the city had hoped,” Barringer explained. “But it might be possible to develop the bank to fill a different niche.”

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner asked whether anything precludes the use of the building for municipal offices, while Greenfield Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams said the cost to renovate would be the city’s biggest challenge.

“There are some real technical issues with the building,” Adams said.

Adams and Eggtooth Productions Artistic Director Linda McInerney, who has been involved in discussions about the building, said the basement has an enormous amount of space for offices or the arts, but that’s not even included in the initial cost estimate. It was agreed by the city and other stakeholders that the findings aren’t surprising, so everyone will have to look at the “broader picture.”

“It might have to be something that grabs a market/audience in a different way than originally thought,” commented Greenfield Redevelopment Authority member Charlene Golonka.

“Maybe we should consider a mixed use for the building,” Wedegartner said.

Greenfield Redevelopment Authority member John Lunt said the city should not put the cart before the horse.

“We have to be realistic and talk about the extensive work that needs to be done there before we decide what can go there,” he said.

Barringer said after careful consideration, it is clear the city cannot bear any debt when it comes to the project, so it might consider a public/private partnership where investors could help with the expenses of renovation.

Greenfield Redevelopment Authority member Jean Wall suggested it might make sense to raze the building and build condominiums there with the help of a developer, but member Nancy Hawkins said it might not be so easy to sell condos there because there is no parking.

“Take a pause, recalibrate and don’t jump to any conclusions,” commented Christine Madore of MassDevelopment. “Be open-minded as you move forward.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or


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