Opinion: Brayton Point site an example of state program at work
November 28, 2018 : The Herald News, by Jay Ash
Gov. Charlie Baker often says our economy is firing on all cylinders. Massachusetts currently has more people working than at any time in our history. Businesses continue to relocate, expand and start up in the Commonwealth. And we’ve benefited from sustained job growth by adding more than 200,000 jobs since 2015.
Nearly every week, we are approached by an advanced manufacturer, a life sciences company or tech firm eager to make Massachusetts their home, and in need of the space and talent to do it. The latter of which we have in abundance.
And it seems just as often, I’m with municipal leaders looking to revitalize former industrial or commercial sites which may require a little more than elbow grease to bring them back to life. We’ve seen a number of success stories, but for every project generating new energy in cities and towns, such as the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield and Village Hill in Northampton, there are even more sites that lay fallow.
But moving from a good idea to reality, even with motivated partners in the right location, is hard. Many sites face long-standing infrastructure deficiencies, environmental contaminants and other challenges that must be addressed before a shovel goes into the ground.
This conundrum led us to take stock of the opportunities for development across the Commonwealth. Which parcels of land would be ready for a new employer to move in immediately, or where could they invest for long-term growth and future expansion? And, how could we help?
Baker created the Site Readiness Program in 2016, when he signed into law a $1 billion economic development package crafted in partnership with our state Legislature. This program is the direct result of conversations with municipalities and employers, helps communities develop pad-ready sites to attract businesses and developers to further invest and realize its potential, and fills a crucial gap in our state-administered economic development programs.
Administered by MassDevelopment, the Site Readiness Program provides grants to municipalities and other entities to fund strategic land acquisition, feasibility studies, environmental permitting, and other critical steps in any development project. Our goal is to boost the Commonwealth’s inventory of large, development-ready sites, accelerate private-sector investment in industrial and commercial projects, and, ultimately, convert abandoned sites into active, tax-generating properties. Through its first two rounds of grants, we’ve awarded $3.4 million to 26 projects, furthering the development potential for 1,885 acres.
In Somerset, the Site Readiness Program is helping the town undertake a transportation planning effort that will help accommodate new development. Long reliant on tax revenues from the now-shuttered Brayton Point Power Station, Somerset is eager to see that 300-plus-acre site be put back into productive use.
We understand many are concerned that new development at the site could create excess traffic, beyond what the community experienced when the power plant was in use. In particular, depending on the future use of the site and the number of workers employed there, redevelopment could impact traffic in the vicinity of I-195 Exit 4, the site’s primary highway access.
To get ahead of this problem, the town applied to MassDevelopment for Site Readiness funds to study potential improvements to Exit 4 and the surrounding streets. It received a $160,000 grant for the work, which is currently underway. The goal is to improve traffic conditions throughout Somerset, prepare for a more streamlined approval process for future economic development projects at the Brayton Point site and at other significant sites in the community.
In southeastern Massachusetts and across the state, the Site Readiness Program is unlocking key sites to help communities attract private development and make it easier for companies to do business in the Commonwealth. Earlier this month, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the opening of a $2.5 million funding round for the program. With complementary resources available like the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund and MassWorks Infrastructure Grants, I encourage municipalities to partner with the state to layer funding and expertise to spark economic activity in your community.
Site Readiness Program applications are available online (massdevelopment.com/sitereadiness) and are due Dec. 12.
Jay Ash is the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.