Turners Falls looks ahead to more development

  • Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey discussed past and future development in Turners Falls with residents at the Great Falls Discovery Center Saturday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

  • Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey discussed past and future development in Turners Falls with residents at the Great Falls Discovery Center Saturday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

Staff Writer
Published: 2/2/2020 4:51:54 PM

TURNERS FALLS — A new four-story building for businesses and residences, electric car charging stations, a reworked Spinner Park — this is just some of what the future holds for Turners Falls. 

The Montague Planning Department held a public forum Saturday morning at the Great Falls Discovery Center to discuss the Turners Falls Livability Plan, a 2013 document outlining economic and community development plans for Montague’s busiest village. 

Of course, not everything’s gotten done since that plan was drawn up seven years ago, but there’s been some successes and some promising upcoming projects, said Town Planner Walter Ramsey. 

“Turners Falls has great bones,” Ramsey said. “The recipe for success has always been there.”

Successes

The Planning Department’s goals for Turners Falls development are increasing access to the Connecticut River and canal, while improving infrastructure and honoring the “industrial foundations” of the village. 

Most of the advancement since the 2013 Livability Plan has been done with grants, primarily Community Development Block Grants through the state.

In 2014, the town began work on redoing 3rd Street, which is now “more pedestrian friendly and more handicapped accessible,” Ramsey said. The “highly visible” part of town has more seating, public arts displays and upgraded street lights. 

Parking in Turners Falls has also been expanded, especially the 23-space public parking lot installed at the corner of 3rd  and Canal streets. While parking maintenance is limited in Turners Falls because parking is free, Ramsey called parking a “publicly subsidized resource” and one of the “largest economic development tools” the village has. 

Permits have also been given out recently for people to side-step the winter parking ban in certain areas. 

Since 2013, the Unity Park skate park has also opened — the only skate park in the county. The town also hired Suzanne LoManto as cultural coordinator within the Planning Department. 

LoManto said when she started the job, there were 11 vacant storefronts in Turners Falls. Now, there are none. Investment in the Shea Theater Arts Center — a town-owned theater — has “spurred” artistic events in what is now called the Turners Falls Cultural District. 

“We have a strong February and we have a strong March, and we go right through the spring with a lot of interesting programming,” LoManto said. 

A MassCultural grant also paid for Turners Falls signs to be placed along Route 2, directing travelers to the area, but the town is focusing on advocating for more signs, including along Interstate 91, in the future. 

Future

The Planning Department intends to revise the Livability Plan this spring to add three new priorities for development: the “Canal District” between the Connecticut River and the power canal, the southern part of Avenue A, and public art. 

Electric vehicle charging stations, owned by the town, will be installed downtown this year to “not only support residents with electric vehicles, but also possibly tourists, people traveling on Route 2 stopping off in Turners Falls to charge their cars,” Ramsey said. 

The sidewalk from 1st Street to 7th Street will also be redone as part of a project to narrow the roadway to slow cars entering this “gateway” to the village, Ramsey said. 

A Community Development Block Grant is paying for Spinner Park to be upgraded, with the planters being replaced with taller, granite ones that people can sit on. 

A $2.17 million state project will replace the closed 5th Street pedestrian bridge in the Canal District. That area will also see new sidewalks. Ramsey said the Canal District’s seven bridges are all a priority for repairs or replacement in the future. 

A new building, 38 Avenue A, is expected to begin construction this year, with estimated completion in 2021. The building will house a medical clinic, New England Wound Care, and potentially other medical services and offices, as well as market-rate residential units on the upper floors. 

The 40,000-square-foot, four-story building is designed to look somewhat like the Grand Trunk Hotel that was on the property until the 1960s.

The town is also creating “opportunity zones,” a zoning framework to incentivize people with capital gains to invest in the area. 

Much more is yet to be done, Ramsey said, and there is much in the works. One priority, in addition to revitalizing the Canal District and downtown areas in general, will be finding a purpose for the Department of Public Works’ building on Avenue A, which the department is leaving.

Ramsey said he is preparing a report on Saturday’s forum, which will be released to the public in the next month or two.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268. 




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