PITTSFIELD — Wahconah Park is in need of saving after a survey last year revealed that the iconic grandstand is structurally unsafe.
For the last year, the city’s Wahconah Park Restoration Committee has reviewed park conditions and plans and proposals from project designer, S3 Design. Earlier this month, a set of numbers was put to the committee’s chosen plan — $30 million.
To date, the project has found a strong advocate in Mayor Linda Tyer. Tyer’s administration coordinated U.S. Rep. Richard Neal to secure $3 million in federal funds for the park’s next chapter.
With the end of Tyer’s term approaching, the mayor likely won’t see the Wahconah Park project for the big decision days ahead. That will be the responsibility of the city’s next mayor: either City Council President Peter Marchetti or former City Council Vice President John Krol.
According to the timeline set by S3 Design, bidding for work on the next iteration for the city landmark wouldn’t happen until May and construction wouldn’t begin until the end of the 2024 Futures League baseball season.
The Berkshire Eagle's third and final video debate between Pittsfield mayoral candidates John Krol and Peter Marchetti. In this episode, the candidates answer questions about Wahconah Park, the cultural economy, a recent audit of ARPA funds and more.
In its third sit-down with mayoral candidates, The Eagle asked where Marchetti and Krol stand on the project and its costs. To watch a full video of the meeting, visit tinyurl.com/tcbc5tr5.
More questions and answers from The Eagle’s final sit-down with the candidates will be published in the coming days.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
THE EAGLE: Earlier this month, the Wahconah Park Restoration Committee voted to support the “elevated option” of the Wahconah Park. That option came with a $30 million price tag. Where do you stand on this plan? What would be your plan to come up with the money to fund the new park?
MARCHETTI: Several months ago, we were afforded the same question about Wahconah Park and it was easier [to] answer [how] to come up with [the funds] when that price tag was only $15 million compared to $30 [million].
I think before I commit to a $30 million stadium — which is the most important question of where you're going to get the money — we need to set some priorities and what do we need? I continue to look at City Hall at the basement that can't be used because of radon levels and we're outsourcing to 100 North [St.]. We have a police station that is in need of desperate repair or actually just a new building. So for me, Wahconah Park goes on pause until we explore funding options and other city buildings that need to be redeveloped.
KROL: I think we have to look at Wahconah Park as a public-private partnership. It wasn't that long ago that we renovated the Colonial Theatre and that's exactly what that was. And really when it's a public project, publicly owned land, but there are a lot of private uses for Wahconah Park and there is a lot of desire in the community — also in the business community — for Wahconah Park to be renovated.
So when we go back to 2005, you recognize that it's more than just baseball. We get Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson [to] come to Wahconah Park — 10,000 people. So there is great value, not only on the public side and just for baseball, there's a lot of value for economic development.
So I would look at it that way, that this is a community project. It can't just be $30 million of public money. It has to be a combination. So I'll look at this more like a Colonial Theatre project, bring the banks on board, bring the business community on board, bring the state and federal government on board and ultimately then we can get it done that way — reducing the cost to the Pittsfield taxpayer.
MARCHETTI: For me, it becomes a setting [of] priorities. And I agree with a lot of what John says, in terms of it being a multi-purpose stadium, but I think it's time that Pittsfield starts to make priorities. I'm hearing loud and clear from the residents about taxes and water sewer rates. So it's really difficult to commit to saying $30 million — whether it's any city money — at this stage of the game.
KROL: I think Peter’s missing the point on what I'm saying. So the Colonial Theatre was not a big burden on the taxpayer because we did make an effort — and when you have a mayor who is able to lead the charge on a particular project and bring everyone together in that way for a common goal, then all of a sudden we can do a lot better without being a burden on the taxpayer.
Of course, there are tons of priorities in the city. We're going to have to — every mayor will have to look at that. But in this particular case, this is the direction that I'm headed to reduce the burden on the taxpayer.
MARCHETTI: I don't think I've missed the point at all, John. The Colonial Theatre was a private entity, it was a private building. It was an organization that the city worked to help. Wahconah Park is public land, it's a public park. So are you saying that we're going to unleash the park to a private entity to be able to make that happen? I didn't miss the point at all.
KROL: That's exactly what we've done in the past. There were conversations and — of course, there are all kinds of legalities in regards to bidding — but there were proposals in the past for private entities to come in and improve Wahconah Park. There's a history there. This is nothing new. So we should be thinking about that, along those lines, to see who are the investors who can come in and support it. So it's a reduction of any kind of burden on the taxpayer. This is not reinventing the wheel; this is just being more creative.
Up next: Candidates talk about what they'd add to the city's cultural economy and how to keep the sector afloat.
Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at email@example.com or 413-496-6149 Click here to read the original story