State grants to expand, renovate local tourism destinations

  • Setting up the Franklin County Fairgrounds midway for the Freedom Fest earlier this month are volunteer and former President Fred Steiner, groundskeeper Ray Shippee and present Franklin County Agricultural Society President Mike Nelson. The fairgrounds has received a $79,000 grant for a walkway replacement project to allow all guests inclusive and safe access throughout the facility. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Milena Dabova, left, Andrew Todd, below, and Cariel Klein, top, rehearse with the Double Edge Theatre ensemble in Ashfield in July 2020. The theater has received a $40,000 grant to build an outdoor performance stage. Staff File Photo/Kevin Gutting

  • Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Diana Szynal. The chamber will receive a $27,800 grant for visitor information center improvements in Historic Deerfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 7/18/2021 11:52:29 AM

The Baker-Polito Administration announced $2 million in capital grants were awarded last week to expand and renovate 34 tourism destinations and attractions across the state, including three recipients in Franklin County.

Local recipients of funding from the Destination Development Capital Grant Program are Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin County Fairgrounds. All projects have a one-to-one match requirement and need to be completed by June 30, 2022.

The Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield will get $79,000 for a walkway replacement project to allow all guests inclusive and safe access throughout the facility.

“Since becoming president of the fairgrounds in 2019 … one thing about the fairgrounds that has really stuck out to me is the challenging accessibility we have for people in wheelchairs, people with disabilities or people who just aren’t able to get around as easily as others,” said Mike Nelson, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, which manages the fairgrounds on Wisdom Way.

He said this $79,000 matching grant will increase accessibility and inclusiveness at the fairgrounds through new paving and added walkways. The funding will be used to repave all the asphalt on the property, including covering a currently unpaved area near the Roundhouse and Fish and Game building, which Nelson said can get muddy with rain and become challenging for even those with good mobility to traverse.

“We’re going to create all new walkways to all buildings where there are currently stone dust pathways, to create universal accessibility to all buildings,” Nelson said. “It’s going to look beautiful having the fresh pavement and be significantly more user-friendly.”

Because the grounds are relatively flat, Nelson said there is no anticipated need to build wheelchair ramps for any of the buildings that do not already have them. The paving project will likely commence in spring 2022, providing time for the fairgrounds to collect its matching $79,000 for a total of $158,000.

Double Edge Theatre will receive $40,000 to build an outdoor performance stage that, according to Producing Executive Director Adam Bright, will allow the organization to fund larger capital projects, including upgrading multiple indoor and outdoor stages. He also noted the theater received a larger amount of money from the Massachusetts Cultural Council facilities grant program a few months ago for other projects, including installation of a small solar array and improving guest artist housing.

“All this state money is really important for us as we try to open again,” Bright said.

According to Bright, the theater has already raised the necessary grant match thanks to “incredible community support” from individual donors and national foundations. Bright said he anticipates work will start following the conclusion of Double Edge Theatre’s Summer Spectacle show, “Memories and Dreams,” which is running through Aug. 8.

“We’ll have a quick breather and start working on the renovations,” Bright said.

The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce will receive $27,800 for visitor information center improvements in Historic Deerfield. Executive Director Diana Szynal said travel is a significant part of Franklin County’s economy.

“Tourism benefits more people than they can imagine,” Szynal said. “We need to put a lot of effort toward business in the tourism economy.”

Szynal said the three Franklin County grants — to Double Edge Theatre, the Franklin County Fairgrounds and the Chamber of Commerce — will bolster the economy further.

“I was really about it,” Szynal said of the funding announcement, adding that it marked “a great day for Franklin County.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579. Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.


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