Downtown Turners Falls to have first new building since ’50s

  • The vacant building at 38 Avenue A will likely be torn down and replaced with a four-story building with storefronts at street level, and offices and apartments upstairs. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2019 11:00:11 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The first new building in downtown Turners Falls since the 1950s is set to be built across the street from Town Hall, in the long-vacant lot on the corner of Avenue A and 2nd Street.

The plan is to demolish the present 2,000 square-foot cinder block building, and replace it with a 40,000 square-foot, four-story building, designed to look somewhat like the Grand Trunk Hotel that was on the property until the 1960s.

The new building will have retail spaces on the first floor, a doctor’s office on the second floor, and apartments on the third and fourth floors. The exact details of the design may still be changing, though, said Town Planner Walter Ramsey.

The lot, 38 Avenue A, is owned by the town. In August, the town put out a request for proposals to develop the property into a new, mixed-use, multi-story building.

The proposal for this four-story building came from New England Wound Care, a medical clinic at 7 Burnham St. that would be expanding into the new building, Ramsey said. The town Economic Development and Industrial Corp., the organization that legally owns the property, accepted the proposal on Oct. 16.

This proposal was one of two the town received, and was the only one that met the goals for the property as stated in the town’s request, Ramsey said.

The other proposal, the one the town rejected, came from Montague Community Television, the local public access station. MCTV’s proposal was to rehabilitate the present building and use it as a studio space.

“It didn’t meet the threshold of the stated desires,” Ramsey said.

Historically, the property was first developed in 1875 by Bernard “Barney” Farren, according to Ed Gregory, chair of the Montague Historical Commission.

Originally called the Farren House, it had storefronts on the first floor, and on the upper floors were social spaces, meeting rooms used by town committees and hotel rooms, Gregory said. The hotel drew much of its business from the seasonal logging industry on the Connecticut River.

It became the Grand Trunk Hotel around the turn of the century when ownership changed, Gregory said. By the late ‘50s, though, the building had fallen into disrepair — the retail shops had left, and local youth would break into the vacant spaces. The building was demolished in 1968, and soon after that it became a gas station, Gregory said.

Now in the space where the gas pumps once were, there is a grassy field, and nothing to indicate that it isn’t a less-landscaped extension of the park next to it. The cinder block building, set back far from the road, used to be a Cumberland Farms.

The town has owned the property for at least 20 years, Ramsey said, and this is not the first attempt to get it redeveloped.

Most recently, Crab Apple Whitewater, a rafting company based in Charlemont, had agreed to buy the building. The company was interested in the potential for this section of the Connecticut River to be opened for more recreational use, Ramsey said.

The FirstLight power company, which operates two hydro-electric dams in Turners Falls, is in the process of renewing its federal licenses, and greater recreational use of the river is not out of the question. But in the last year it has become apparent that FirstLight’s negotiations have stalled, and Crab Apple felt that it could not yet invest in the location, Ramsey said. Crab Apple withdrew from the deal in March, he added.

If this newly proposed building does come to fruition, it will be the first new building in downtown Turners Falls since the 1950s, Ramsey said. More broadly there have been other new buildings, such as the Greenfield Savings Bank, farther down Avenue A, which Ramsey said was built in 2009, and residential homes. But there has not been a new downtown-style building, with street-level storefronts and upper-level apartments.

The new building’s footprint is 20 times larger than the present building’s, so it will take up the whole space that is now grass. In their proposal, the developers said they want to break ground in 2020, Ramsey said.

New England Wound Care proposed to buy the property for $1, which Ramsey said is not unrealistic. The town’s financial incentive in selling the property is not in the sale price, he explained, but in drawing tax revenue from the property and in the extra economic activity that will come with the new storefronts, new apartments and a new centrally located doctor’s office.

“As far as the town is concerned, it’s an exciting proposal,” Ramsey said. “The town stands to benefit significantly.”

Reach Max Marcus at
mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.




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