MassDevelopment

Ashland Street Initiative seeks to spruce up downtown corridor

April 16, 2019 : The Berkshire Eagle, by Adam Shanks


NORTH ADAMS — The group behind Eagle Street's resurgence has set its sights south.

The NAMAzing Ashland Street Initiative on Monday officially launched a $12,500 fundraising campaign, with hopes of installing a number of improvements from bike racks to murals along the downtown corridor.

The campaign is the latest proposal by the NAMAzing Initiative, a group of volunteers "dedicated to sharing what an amazing, lovable city" North Adams is. 

Should the Ashland Street Initiative reach its $12,500 community fundraising goal by May 30, that amount will be matched dollar for dollar by MassDevelopment, the state's economic development and finance agency.

Ashland Street is the main artery connecting the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the city's downtown.

"Home to restaurants, small businesses, galleries, and service providers, Ashland holds an inherent purpose for residents and visitors of North Adams, but remains a route that few consider an ideal path of pedestrian transit," the campaign states on its fundraising page.

The proposed improvements include the installation of pedestrian flags to make crossing the street safer, new bike racks, and a number of new benches along the sidewalks.

"The project would kind of enhance the opportunity of people coming down [Ashland Street] and beautify the area," states Mass In Motion Project Coordinator Amanda Chilson in a video appeal to donors on the campaign's website. 

Working with the team behind the O+ Festival — an arts festival slated for May 10 and 11 that features artists trading their work for health care — the Ashland Street Initiative includes a new mural this May on the building at 50 Ashland St. owned by Very Good Properties.

"Ashland Street became the focus for a variety of reasons, firstly, it's another key corridor into downtown that has seen an evolution over time, it's also been a focus of our complete streets initiative for several years in the city," said Benjamin Lamb, an Ashland Street Initiative volunteer. "With the additional fact that O+ saw great opportunity for some mural locations along the street as did those doing the new tree city planning, it congealed in a very organic way."

In coordination with an ongoing effort overseen by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, the volunteers also plan to strategically plant new trees to offer shade along Ashland Street's sidewalks.

The Ashland Street Initiative comes after its leaders found success in championing Eagle Street, another downtown street long thought of as failing to live up to its economic potential.

In 2017, NAMAzing announced the Eagle Street Initiative and quickly racked up more than $35,000 in donations from more than 200 members of the community. 

To those who donated or participated in the Eagle Street Initiative, the fundraising mechanism for the Ashland Street version will be familiar. That project, too, was matched by MassDevelopment and raised funds through Patronicity, an online crowdfunding platform that focuses on community-based projects.

By exceeding its $25,000 goal, the Eagle Street Initiative won a $25,000 match from MassDevelopment, amassing more than $60,000 altogether — not including in-kind donations.

Those funds were put to use on numerous streetscape improvements that included a small, mobile "parklet" on wheels constructed by tiny-house builder B&B Micro Manufacturing and parked adjacent to the existing Eagle Street pocket park.

The initiative also paid for numerous new overhanging signs, all constructed in the same style, for every Eagle Street business that wanted one.

"With Eagle Street we were able to turn $25,000 fundraiser into a project that included both direct and in-kind infrastructure project of about $100,000. Now that Eagle Street has moved more into the ongoing programming phase, and with O+ taking hold, it felt like a great time to move into a next phase that connects to downtown, includes a creative placemaking focus, and is proximal to Eagle Street," Lamb said.

The campaign can be found at patronicity.com/ashlandstreet.