Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Umass, Town, ARA team up for development

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.


Anonymous said...


Good luck.

Anonymous said...

What exciting potential for the tax base!

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, this really could work.

The ARA is an 800 pound gorilla and Umass is King Kong. Not a bad combination.

Linda L. said...

Finally!! A way to grow the tax base in town!! I love this partnership and the location which allows it to benefit town and have the least impact on residential neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope this doesn't die a slow death. Amherst needs the increased tax base.

Ry Willey said...

This plan makes sense and that worries me and a lot of other people.
Town meeting does not have a great track record on voting for things that make sense.

We need business in this town for it would add life and energy. Currently it's pulse is weak and thready.

Linda L. said...

Finally!! A way to grow the tax base in town!! I love this partnership and the location which allows it to benefit town and have the least impact on residential neighborhood.

Great post.


Anonymous said...

ARHS Parent said...
Forget the copier...where IS the Superintendent?!

February 24, 2010 1:33 PM

Anonymous said...
Even if he's in FL, it doesn't mean he's not working!

February 24, 2010 1:48 PM

Anonymous said...
My understanding from central office staff is that he won't even respond to email when he's in FLA.

February 24, 2010 1:56 PM

Anonymous said...
Anon 1:48, if he is in Florida working, how come I was told that Maria Geryk is in charge this week? Wouldn't that imply that he is NOT working? Frankly, I wouldn't have even thought about it except for the fact that he just submitted his sick/vacation time and today onward was NOT on it!

February 24, 2010 2:25 PM

LarryK4 said...

Hey Ry,
I'm not sure how Mr. Shumway is going to feel about giving up University Lodge hotel, but it is the oldest and smallest in his fleet so as long as the price is right he probably will not mind.

Like with the Parking Garage--built on ARA land--I have a very good feeling about this, although Town Meeting is never easy.

Anonymous said...

You certanly didn't help its chances of passing with this post. All you've done is given the NIMBY's an early heads-up - before this plan has been fully formed - and you can bet that they're going to start plotting strategies to STOP it whilst they sip on their $5 lattes. Good luck.

LarryK4 said...

Bring 'em on! Make my day!

As you can see, my $2 cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee is kickin in.

bigfatdonutstomach said...

i see LK takes his business across the town line.

LarryK4 said...

Dunkin Donuts, 175 University Dr, Amherst.

I also shop at Big-Y, which is about half in Amherst and half in Hadley.


bigfatpollutinglumberyard said...

my bad

there are several LOCAL shops you could get your fix at too. come on, join cinda's failing brigade.....b'bye local

LarryK4 said...

Anything for Cinda.

Linda L. said...

whose "B-Y" is represented by the NIMBYs? My understanding is that the location is in UMass' backyard?

LarryK4 said...

Come on Linda, you know this town.

Doesn't much matter where you try to do anything, the 'Not In My Section of Town' types will still rear their ugly heads.

dominique said...

How come "executive session" is necessary for the next meeting? Which statutory reason comes in to play? Probably Exemption 6? "To consider the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property, if such discussions may have a
detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the governmental body and a person, firm or corporation."

Ed said...

Three things.

First, UMass PURCHASED the property at significant expense, so exactly why is it donating it to anyone?

Second, anyone told that sorority that they are going to loose their house? How is this different from what happened in Connecticut?

Third, exactly where is UMass going to find the warm bodies to expand the student body into when they can't fill the dorms they have???

This is going to be a boondoggle that makes Chery Hill look affordable....

Anonymous said...