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Developers and Real Estate Professionals from Greater Boston Saw Much to Like on Franklin County Tour with Local Officials

May 13, 2010

Kelsey Abbruzzese, MassDevelopment, 617-330-2086

As part of a first-in-its-kind charrette on wheels showcasing real estate development opportunities in Franklin County, 55 developers and real estate professionals from the Greater Boston area joined local officials, along with staff from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) and MassDevelopment, for a tour of sites in Orange, Turners Falls and Greenfield. The natural beauty of the region, commitment of residents to their towns and development opportunities left a deep impression on many who attended and the four expert panelists recruited to share their impressions after the tour.

Throughout the day, FRCOG Economic Development Planner Jessica Atwood provided valuable details on the towns, their demographics and available development opportunities.

After boarding the bus in Boston and traveling to Orange, the group saw the Orange Town Hall auditorium, available properties along Main Street, and Riverfront Park on a tour led by Orange Town Administrator Rick Kwiatkowski and Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Bob Andrews.

From there, it was on to Turners Falls, where Montague Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio and Robin Sherman, Executive Director of the Franklin County Housing & Redevelopment Authority, led groups along the Canalside Bike Path. The two officials discussed opportunities at the Strathmore Mill, a priority development site, and introduced the group to the Hallmark Institute of Photography and Gallery, which graduates about 200 students a year.

The last stop was Greenfield, the largest town in Franklin County, where Mayor Bill Martin welcomed the real estate professionals to Bank Row. The group saw several revitalization efforts that are underway, including at the former First National Bank & Trust building. Lunch was at the Greenfield Grille, where Dickinson Development President Mark Dickinson, ADD Inc. President Fred Kramer, The Architectural Heritage Foundation President Sean McDonnell, and Weld Management President Denis Walsh offered insights on potential for real estate development in Franklin County.

MassDevelopment President and CEO Robert L. Culver began by saying Franklin County had “good bones.” “The planning efforts and commitment of the people in each of these towns make the area ripe for development,” Culver said.

Dickinson, who heads a commercial real estate/project management consulting firm that has developed more than three million square feet of commercial property, had similar thoughts. Dickinson said he thought it was “very smart” the towns had queued priority development sites through permitting and other initiatives.

As the president of a design firm that also does architecture, planning, interior design and branding, Kramer said he was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the towns' layouts. He also praised the opportunities for creative economy ventures and officials' commitment to green practices.

McDonnell, whose private not-for-profit real estate development company specializes in high-profile preservation, said he saw real possibility for development in Franklin County thanks to the technical skills of the communities and the energy of their residents.

And Walsh, a real-estate developer and redeveloper who specializes in working in smaller cities, said the natural beauty of Franklin County and the public-private partnerships already at work give the area an obvious advantage.

The event was a twist on MassDevelopment's ongoing series of developer conferences occurring in Gateway Cities across the Commonwealth. By expanding the tour to several towns across a county, developers received a fuller explanation of the region's dynamics and demographics, worthwhile knowledge when it comes to economic opportunities in Franklin County.

MassDevelopment, the state's finance and development authority, works with businesses, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth. During FY2009, MassDevelopment financed or managed 229 projects statewide representing the investment of nearly $1.2 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are supporting the creation of 1,488 new housing units and 8,232 jobs: 3,362 permanent and 4,870 construction-related.