A 52-acre “innovation district” in Pittsfield is being built at the former GE site
October 3, 2023 : BostInno, Hannah Green
Inside the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC), there’s always something afoot. Whether it’s students learning how to use 3D printers, startups working in the product-development lab or attendees gathering for an event, the 20,000-square-foot building is usually buzzing.
Outside the BIC, it’s a bit more quiet. There’s a lot of open space. About 52 acres, to be more specific. In 2020, the Berkshire Innovation Center opened as a main fixture on the William Stanley Business Park, the former site of General Electric in Pittsfield. The site is owned and managed by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA).
At first glance, it might seem like there isn’t much going on at the William Stanley Business Park. Most of the lots are empty, either covered in grass or leftover concrete from GE. But Pittsfield, the Berkshire Innovation Center and other local stakeholders have big plans for the area. They want to build an “innovation district” and reclaim the region’s history as a hub when companies like GE called it home and employed around 13,000 at its height.
“It’s like all the pieces are there and let’s be really thoughtful about how we attract and consolidate innovation-focused companies, tech-enabled companies so that layering creates that center of gravity that grows and grows,” said Ben Sosne, executive director of the Berkshire Innovation Center.
Former GE site redevelopment
General Electric had a major presence in Western Massachusetts for much of the 20th century. Michael Coakley, PEDA’s interim executive director and Pittsfield’s business development manager, said there were about 30 to 40 buildings on what is now the William Stanley Business Park, which GE largely demolished and cleaned up when it left. GE then turned the space over to PEDA.
Some of the sites within the park are shovel-ready. In addition to the Berkshire Innovation Center, Eversource and MountainOne Bank are already on the campus. But the largest space in the park, known as “site nine,” still needs some work.
“When (GE) left it to PEDA, 16.5 acres were completely covered in concrete foundations and pavement. It’s basically been un-developable for the past 20 years,” Coakley said.
In recent years, PEDA has been raising funds from different sources, including the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, to clean up site nine. Coakley said the project will cost “approximately $10 million, with the amount being raised from a funding stack of several grants.”
Coakley said they have successfully raised the amount needed and have already been working on the permitting, design and engineering for the cleanup. Soon the project will go out to bid. Coakley said the process will take about 18 to 24 months.
“We’re going to start off by cracking and crushing all the concrete. Putting in about a three-to-four-foot fill over the top, green it, put in some roadway, some infrastructure, some utilities and just prepare it for development,” Coakley said.
As this process unfolds, the effort to bring in companies to remediated areas of the William Stanley Business Park marches forward.
“Pittsfield has been working hard to get industries back into the city. And this park is a perfect place for it,” Coakley said. “There are very few places in the state that have this much industrial land that’s available. But we need to, for instance on site nine, we need to clean it up and make it ready for development.”
Berkshires business opportunities
Pittsfield is not Greater Boston. It doesn’t have MIT and Harvard graduates by the thousands or venture capitalists lunching in every cafe. But the city has its own things going for it, Sosne said.
The BIC and the future “innovation district” are in the right spot to benefit from other key players in the region, Sosne said. Berkshire Health Systems and General Dynamics, two of the largest employers in the region, are about a mile away. Many key players, including the William Stanley Business Park, are connected by Tyler Street in Pittsfield.
The area around that main street was dubbed a Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) district by MassDevelopment and received support from the organization to improve housing, pedestrian infrastructure, public spaces and the small-business ecosystem.
There’s also more land available, at a cheaper cost, in the Berkshires than in or near Boston.
The list of groups and individuals involved in creating this innovation district is long, Sosne said. It includes such organizations as MassDevelopment, the Berkshire Black Economic Council, Berkshire Community College, 1Berkshire and the city of Pittsfield.
MassDevelopment says it has provided about $2.4 million in funding to the William Stanley Business Park through grants and loans. Earlier this year, MassDevelopment gave a $15,000 Collaborative Workspace Program grant to the Berkshire Innovation Center for a feasibility study to explore the potential expansion of the BIC and creation of an innovation district.
A.J. Enchill, president and executive director of the Berkshire Black Economic Council, said there are some challenges still facing the region, including reliable and fast internet. But he said the region’s economy has been primed to support new businesses, “we just need to build the awareness of what we have to offer.”
“The Berkshires has an extraordinary way of working with one another to support businesses,” Enchill said. “And I think that is a response to the way capital gets lodged in the Greater Boston region, making us dependent and reliant on one another to accomplish fundraising goals and achieving outcomes.”