Behind the PEDA Meeting: More tidbits on the agency’s most interesting meeting in years

Everyone who was present (and some who weren’t) has been talking about PEDA’s (Pittsfield Economic Development Authority) truly unusual meeting yesterday morning- unprecedented in its attendance, amount of public input, and extensive post-meeting rap session covering a wide range of concerns about the newly proposed retail project at William Stanley Business Park. One in-the-know Pittsfielder said “This is the most discussion I’ve seen at one of these meetings in a year and a half.”

If you haven’t yet read the full story on the main news of the meeting, you probably want to do so before reading further here.

The following are some additional thoughts from an admittedly ignorant party, in that I have attended or watched only about a half dozen PEDA meetings in the past.

PROJECTIONS PARTLY BASED ON BJs.

BJs was mentioned a couple of times in discussion of the newly emerging retail deal.

Thurston pointed to BJs “and other examples” as a basis for the assertion that this proposed 170,00 square foot development could result in as much as $500,000 new tax revenue for the city.

Regarding BJs, I asked Gary Grunin after the meeting regarding a rumor I’d heard that BJs might have laid off as many as 60-90 people last week, and if in light of something like that (if true) he thought the previously stated 150 jobs projection for the Waterstone site was realistic. Grunin said he’d heard the BJs layoff was on the lower end of those figures, but he believed one issue to be considered was that to his recollection, BJs had opened later than originally anticipated and therefore may have required more strictly temporary employees. BJs is only 85 thousand square feet, whereas the proposed new Waterstone development is 170,000.

A source in the management of BJs tells me this figure is “wildly exaggerated”; I haven’t yet spoken to the store manager to confirm the exact number of current employees. BJs was to create an estimated 120 new jobs, according to a 2009 press release from City Hall.

WOULD THEY MAKE IT WORTH OUR WHILE?

One additional side point that came up in discussion was the implication that there might be a financial incentive to the City, or at least to the business park, to make it easier for Waterstone to go forward with this development.

Exec. Director Cory Thurston mentioned in passing that companies like this are generally prepared, budgetarily speaking, to go through a certain amount of resistance to proposed projects in new territory. “If they were to not have to spend $500,000 in legal, they might be inclined to invest that money into Pittsfield,” he added. I didn’t get a chance at the time to ask if this was purely speculative on the Director’s part or if the developer himself had intimated as much in their negotiations.

WHEN/HOW DOES PEDA VOTE?

After I left the building, it occurred to me that I don’t actually know much of anything about the rules of order for a “quasi-public agency.” At one point in the meeting, George Whaling asked if he could nominate Michael Matthews to chair and himself to vice chair a subcommittee to help with marketing efforts, and Grunin and Thurston basically nodded and said ‘go ahead’ … a notation was made, and someone, I think it was Beth Mitchell, asked if the board needed to take a vote on it….

So I guess it doesn’t require a vote to create a subcommittee of the PEDA board, complete with a chair and vice chair, and I’m not saying there’s necessarilly anything wrong with that, like I said, I don’t really know much about what the rules of order are or should be for a unique quasi-public agency. It’s just interesting, and if anyone has any more knowledge about this I’d love to have some input on this. I’d like to know more about how PEDA reaches concensus on things like initiating new projects and committees, and on what issues it votes and how. I will be doing some research on this and hopefully find some time to ask some more questions from members soon.

CAN I GET A STOOLEY, YO?

I was disappointed to once again not have the opportunity to meet the imfamous Dan Valenti, who was slated to attend. This makes the umpteenth time I have missed the chance to meet our own One Man Planet.

Valenti said later, “Slept in this a.m. my sources said 8-10. I went with the high number.” I’m sure Planet Dan isn’t implying that he showed up closer to 10, or was anywhere near meeting location during that time window, because he would have stumbled upon the PEDA board going over maps of the property with Mayor Bianchi, Mike Ward, another interested citizen and myself until well after 10 AM; 10:40 by the time we stopped chatting with Mike about commercial prospects and cyclocross races in the parking lot.

In fairness, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed to drive from Stockbridge for an 8am meeting if I could just get tidbits from Terry Kinnas and Josh Cutler later and run that as though it was news coverage. Sadly, I don’t have that option…. do I? Can I get myself a Stooley? It sure would be easier than going to things, with all the droll talking-to-people, note-taking, and being spotted in public that entails.

NEW RETAIL BOX STORES WILL HAPPEN, JUST A QUESTION OF WHEN AND WHERE.

One of the sometimes overlooked bottom lines here is that Waterstone Retail Development, and more importantly any of its unrevealed potential tenant stores, aren’t primarily going to come- or not come- to Pittsfield because the William Stanley park is the such an amazing opportunity they fell out of their chairs. It’s not out of some homage to the name of one of the great minds of electricity, or because the way the sun glinted over Silver Lake touched them deep in their hearts. They’re going to come or not because they decide it makes financial sense for them to do so, because their research tells them to do so. Keep in mind, any of these major chains can afford to do more research on Pittsfield demographics in six months, without even blinking, as any local media outlet could afford to cumulatively in a decade.

Where McDonalds opens up, a Burger King or Wendy’s or Jack-in-the-Box follows. Everyone gets that, I think. Where’s BJs goes, often as not, Costco follows, and vice versa. At this point these businesses see themselves as primarily in competition with each other. They want to be in a cluster with other box stores, and/or stimulate and create a new cluster. PEDA members themselves pointed out that these big retailers do better around each other, in their defense of the contention that other types of commercial businesses will too. Whether any given store location succeeds or not is the result of a thousand different factors, many of them occuring on a national level, and is an entirely separate issue.

If they want to come here, they’ll come here. Unless their name is literally, Satan’s R Us they’ll get approval to build somewhere, they can’t really be denied it in a purportedly free market society. So the evolving side discussion of whether a Lowes or a Kohls or a Trader Joe’s (though it won’t be a food store at the PEDA site, they have said repeatedly) is good or bad for the local economy overall is somewhat moot.

The discussion MUST stay centered on whether such a development is acceptable or desired on the geographically, historically, environmentally, legally and financially unique site that is William Stanley. This piece of property is unlike any other in the city, on so many levels, that any new construction there must, necessarily, be subject to more involved public scrutiny than the ordinary permitting process for a development on some other, privately owned, land.

…By the way, most past PEDA meetings can be viewed online, courtesy of the dedicated volunteers of PCTV. ┬áJust type ‘economic development’ into the search bar to see a list of archived dates.