Editorial: Making downtown more attractive worthwhile, but comes with a cost

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Slowly but surely, Greenfield seems to be getting a brick and mortar upgrade. In the past few years, the town has spent $66 million to replace its high school, and the county courthouse underwent a $66 million makeover and expansion of its own. A parking garage that has been talked about for generations is under construction on Olive Street. Two Main Street blocks, the Hawks & Reed building and the Greenfield Gallery building, have undergone significant renovations. The Weldon House senior center is being replaced with a $4.2 million John Zon Community Center at Pleasant and School streets.

There is early planning to replace the public library, fire station and police station.

Most recently, the town has facilitated development of a seven-home condominium project on Deerfield Street intended to add some modern, green, affordable homes to the town’s housing stock and to improve the look and feel of Deerfield Street, the downtown’s southern approach, which has long seemed a little run down.

The two-building project at 96-108 Deerfield St., slated to open next summer, is being called Green River Commons and lies on an acre of formerly town-owned land. The project will consist of one triplex and one four-dwelling building. Judging from the architect’s concept drawings, the highly energy-efficient buildings designed to carry solar-electric panels on their roofs will be an attractive addition to the neighborhood.

The market rate two-bedroom homes will cost $200,000, while the “affordable” two-bedroom homes will cost $174,900. The homes, which are 560- and 780-square-feet, will be professionally managed as a condominium association, which should help ensure the properties keep their curb appeal.

In past years, the town has directed federal community development grants and loans to the street to encourage code and energy efficiency improvements to houses and apartments, but as valuable as those kinds of upgrades are, they are largely invisible. The town planners are hoping the Green River Commons aesthetics will spur other improvements in the neighborhood, and we share that hope. Contributing the land to this project was a smart move by Greenfield that enabled this promising public-private partnership with Wright Builders, a local construction firm.

While improving the town’s southern approach to downtown, Greenfield planners are also looking to make heart of town greener and more pedestrian friendly — advancing the mayor’s goal of making Main Street a more attractive cultural destination.

Planning has begun for a potential plaza on Court Square. The idea is to convert the cut-off between Main Street and lower Bank Row into a civic space, with sculpture, tables, benches and greenery, allowing a more open space between Town Hall, the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center and the Common — a people-friendly magnet for farmers markets, festivals, concerts and gatherings. And when need be, planners say, the old Court Square route could be opened to vehicle traffic. There are potential roadblocks, of course. Where will the estimated $1 million budget come from? Can you really reroute Main Street-Deerfield Street traffic around the eastern end of the Common?

Those answers will come as designers gather traffic data and seek grants, and we wholeheartedly encourage following through to get those answers because the potential is great.

Mayor William Martin, his economic development team and other town leaders will have to decide whether the answers will make for a better, livelier Greenfield. From a pedestrian point of view, we’ve always liked the concept, and it’s easy to see how this might link up nicely with the new parking garage a block away.

The garage will open in another year, just in time to show planners how it might dovetail and enhance the value of a pedestrian plaza in the heart of downtown — for the entertainment venues, restaurants and shops that benefit from easy parking and pedestrian-friendly spaces.