Thursday update: I live-blogged this last night and participated as an ARA member so please excuse the quirky writing style.
7: 30 PM
First meeting in forever: All 5 ARA (Amherst Redevelopment Authority) members are present, four members elected one appointed by the Governor, a quasi state agency with the power of eminent domain. Aaron Hayden, Jeanne Treaster, John Coul, Margaret Roberts and me (or is it I?).
First up election of officers: John Coull Chair, Larry Kelley Vice Chair, Clerk Jeanne Traester (the Governor's appointee who's term is up soon.)
Town Manager Larry Shaffer making a presentation: Concept of a "Gateway Redevelopment District" near the University of Mass. He's been approached by two large corporations who wish to build large upscale student housing projects ($80 million worth) and a luxurious Hotel project ($25 Million worth.) Umass is talking about increasing student population by upwards of 3,000 students.
Downtown is split up between a few heavy hitters. These new folks require 2 to 5 acres of contiguous property for their projects. UMass may convey property to the town (or ARA) the former "frat row" on North Pleasant Street, now just level open space.
ARA could bundle or assemble these properties for the developers. We want the property to be taxable, and close to the downtown so they provide business for our merchants. Grow our tax base (currently 2 billion) by 10%.
7:40 PM Town Manger wants ARA to be "lead agency". Actually had 2 developers talking about hotels--each requiring about 2 or 2.5 acres of property. Frat Row is 1.8 acres. Construction costs are at historic lows. He's been in touch with all the local heavy hitter (Jones family, Barry Roberts etc) but just can't "puzzle our way" through it. Too many property owners each with too small a piece of the overall pie.
Umass would give up Frat Row to the ARA, with conditions (about the projects undertaken). Umass thinks it will not be a problem to convey the property. Looking at taking a Sorority just north of Frat Row and the University Lodge (20 unit hotel owned by former ARA member Curt Shumway) just south, both contiguous with what once was the 4 rowdy frathouses to make for a larger contiguous property.
Private developers need the help of the town (to keep the NIMBYs at bay).
7:55 PM: Rezoning would be required: two thirds vote of Amherst Town Meeting...ouch!
8:20 PM: Jonathan Tucker (Planning Director): In order to go forward you need a plan and the state has to approve it.
8: 30 PM Unanimous vote of the ARA to "prioritize the Gateway Redevelopment District" as a near and present project.
ARA would shape the project and then put it out to RFP (Request For Proposals bid) and let the private sector do the actual project.
Next Meeting March 10 with Umass officials (some of it will be in Executive Session)
Big green spot in middle is former Frat Row: church and commercial hotel immediately below and sorority above.
Previous post on Frat Row.