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Archive for April 20th, 2009

Tell me if the picture of N. Adams, MA in the early 1990’s doesn’t sound much like the City of Amsterdam 2009. Once you digest that, look at the impact creative rehabilitation of the Sprague Electric Factory has had on that community.

Dramatic Economic Impact: Adaptive Reuse

(North Adams, MA — May 19, 2000) When MASS MoCA opened in May, 1999, its mission was not only to function as a laboratory for contemporary visual and performing arts, but to help drive the revitalization of the economically depressed town of North Adams, Massachusetts. The town had experienced a dramatic downturn in its fortunes as the national economy moved away from a manufacturing base toward information and technology services.

When Sprague Electric Company – the previous occupant on the site – vacated the complex in 1985 it left a gaping hole in North Adams. Four thousand people in a town of 18,000 found themselves unemployed. The population declined dramatically, the real estate market sank, and the unemployment rate soared.

Under the leadership of Joseph Thompson, MASS MoCA was conceived as an anchor and catalyst in the revitalization of the town. In addition to fueling tourism, MASS MoCA’s strategy was to create a campus that included office space for companies in the communications, high tech, and new media industries.

The results of this strategy include:

– the creation of more than 200 jobs in North Adams (unemployment rates are at 3.7%, the lowest the town has had in years).
– MASS MoCA originally opened with 20,000 sf of office space and has added 15,000 sf of commercial space over the past year. In response to the success of their strategy, it is now renovating an additional 34,000 sf, all of which is pre-leased.
– Rent on the MASS MoCA campus has more than doubled
– Properties adjacent to MASS MoCA have been renovated or purchased for commercial development, including office space and a hotel.

A few of the success stories, economic trends, and high points of MASS MoCA’s first year include:
– On March 28, one of MASS MoCA’s first new technology tenants, eZiba.com, announced a major investment and strategic alliance with Amazon.com. eZiba.com is a leading online retailer of handcrafted products from around the world; Amazon.com is investing $17.5 million in eZiba.com and introducing its product line to the online retail giant’s more than 17 million customers.
– Streetmail.com, which produces a weekly community newsletter delivered via e-mail, is another of MASS MoCA’s Internet business tenants. From a modest start reaching only 15 markets, Streetmail.com now serves more than 200,000 subscribers in more than 60 markets and is adding employees continuously.
– Another of MASS MoCA’s successful new media tenants is Resounding Technology, which was purchased by HearMe approximately six months ago. HearMe is the leading supplier of audio communication tools for the Internet.
– Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company, a computer animation and new media firm for the arts and the film and theme park industries, relocated its headquarters from Hollywood to MASS MoCA. Kleiser-Walczak’s recent projects include the stereoscopic computer-animated sequences for “The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman” ride for Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, and the visual effects for the Robert Wilson’s new media opera, Monsters of Grace.
– Storey Communications, a 18-year old book publishing company, has announced plans to move to North Adams and the MASS MoCA complex.

Altogether MASS MoCA’s commercial tenants have expanded North Adams’ tax base and are providing more than 200 jobs.
– Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company, 60 employees
– eZiba.com, 75 employees and growing daily
– The Advocate, Berkshire County’s weekly newspaper, 15 employees
– HealthShare Technology, a leading provider of healthcare information, 5 employees
– Streetmail.com, 40 employees and growing daily
– Geekcorps.org, 3 employees
– HearMe, 5 employees

While MASS MoCA opened with 35,000 square feet of commercial space available and is currently renovating an additional 34,000, there is a backlog of tenants who want to rent commercial space at the facility.

MASS MoCA’s success is also affecting changes beyond its campus
– Publications Resource Group, an online distributor of market research, just announced a major expansion. They will move into a currently vacant building in the North Adams’ business district and will double their workforce in the next few months.
= An investor and supporter of MASS MoCA has purchased nine Victorian houses across the street from the complex to rehabilitate these rundown properties and convert them into an inn to be run by the prominent Berkshire hotelier, The Red Lion Inn.
– The city is converting an auto repair shop and car wash adjacent to MASS MoCA into a park.
– A 15 year trend of declining population in North Adams reversed in 1998, the population been expanding gradually since.
– Current unemployment rates in North Adams are 3.7%, down from over 12% from the time MASS MoCA’s state funding was announced in 1996.
– Downtown storefront occupancy rates have more than doubled since 1996 from 35% to 78%.

Other Achievements

MASS MoCA’s attendance has already topped 100,000, surpassing the ambitious goal the institution set for itself at its opening last year.

MASS MoCA has about 2,500 members, about 50% residents of Berkshire county, the other half re from outside the area.

MASS MoCA not only offers visual and performing arts programs, but computer classes, Internet access, and job training programs at its computer center. The center has received more than 12,000 visits since it opened nearly equivalent to the entire population of North Adams. Also, more than 1,000 adults use the center to host their email accounts and web pages.

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