By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle Oct 31, 2023
PITTSFIELD — In a recent mayoral debate at the Colonial Theatre, mayoral candidates Peter Marchetti and John Krol put forth their vision for building upon the city’s cultural cornerstones.
The debate, hosted by the Berkshire Theatre Group and moderated by state Sen. Paul Mark, D-Becket, asked candidates to articulate the value they see in the arts, the lengths they’d go to support artists and their enterprises and how to give more people front row seats to what the city is creating.
In a recent sit-down with the candidates, The Berkshire Eagle followed up on the threads of that conversation asking the candidates to be specific in what they’d like to add to the city’s cultural scene and meet its needs.
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.
To watch a full video of the meeting, click here. 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 BERKSHIRE EAGLE: The creation of the Beacon Cinema and the revitalization of the Colonial Theatre were important to the economic vitality of the city. Do you have specific ideas of a project or projects like those that you would like to see through that could have a large positive impact on the city?
JOHN KROL: First of all, in speaking with our friends at the Beacon Cinema, they have the capacity in this market to actually increase to 12 screens and still be successful. So I want to work with Beacon Cinema to expand — whether it's in the building that they’re in or find a second location to actually increase screens for the cinema. So that was a great point.
I look at economic development from a family perspective. This is something that I've been talking about quite a bit and it is resonating — is that when we think about economic development, we have to think about having more fun things for families. So if we can create a district of different locations that include things like a trampoline park, things like a rock climbing park, laser tag, these types of things — if we can create a critical mass, we’ll bring more families to stay here instead of having to go to Albany or Holyoke to do these kinds of things. And also, it will be a draw. So that's the kind of projects for me, among others.
PETER MARCHETTI: So I’m going to take a slightly different take. We continue to hear that we need to expand our tax base, we need to minimize the burden on the taxpayers. So my efforts would be in the William Stanley Park.
We are well on our way to redeveloping the three parcels on Site 9. That needs to be completed as soon as possible and you know, folks have been waiting 20-plus years for this process to take place. We are really close to the Rest of the River decisions being completed and inheriting $8 million from GE to go into the [Pittsfield] Economic Development Fund.
We need to create jobs and businesses and at the same time work — I think we're going to need to be working with a Colonial Theatre and Barrington Stage to help them weather the storm that COVID has provided them.
KROL: Absolutely. So the William Stanley Business Park absolutely has to be a priority. And when those dollars come in we have to be thinking more broadly as to how do we create a better quality of life here in the Berkshires for our families.
So absolutely, as we talked the other night at the cultural debate, we need to support Barrington Stage Company, because it's not a done deal that they're going to stay here forever. We’ve got to make sure that the Colonial Theatre remains because we know that there are challenges keeping that building up and there are high costs for that. So all those things are very, very important and we need to continue that.
MARCHETTI: So it's all about finding the balance. We need to improve the quality of life. That definition has a lot of meanings for folks and we will work on improving the quality of life and providing better services.
THE EAGLE: The cultural community was hit very hard in the pandemic and has still not recovered fully. What do you see as the critical needs of the cultural community in Pittsfield? What are your plans to address the needs of the cultural organizations in the city?
MARCHETTI: As I continue to look at data, I'm not convinced that COVID is done. So I think part of us needs to be paying attention to the bigger picture and looking at the health information that's coming forward.
I think clearly, the issues for our cultural entities are the quality of life issues that we continue to talk about. We've heard from the downtown merchants and I think we hear the same things from the cultural entities: we need safe, clean streets and we need streets where people can be.
I think the bigger issue though, is we all can recognize the fact that we have a problem in our downtown and our downtown needs some serious attention. But if we paint the doom and gloom picture, rather than ‘we have some issues and we can fix it,’ we are creating our own destination [to] problems that we have, by making it sound like our downtown is not completely safe.
KROL: When you have conversations privately with the culturals, they have the same issues that the merchants in downtown Pittsfield have. I don't think there's anything wrong with being open and honest with the truth — and the truth is there is an issue in downtown Pittsfield. We have to address aggressive panhandling, we have to address the fact that our public services are not measuring up.
So there's a couple of things that we're going to do: We're going to bring downtown foot patrol — I've been talking about it since the very beginning of this campaign and we are going to enhance the police presence in our downtown, particularly when shows get out. We talked about that the other night at the debate.
But we also have to make the southern gateway more attractive and tie in to the Berkshire cultural economy. Pittsfield has never done enough to truly become the hub of the culturally rich Berkshires. We have to work more closely with our friends in Lenox, in Great Barrington and be able to tap into that market. And so that will be helpful for the culturals and that will be helpful for our downtown and our city as a whole.
MARCHETTI: Nobody's hiding from what our downtown looks like and no one is hiding from the truth. Yes, we need some police on the ground, but when we talk about aggressive panhandling, when we talk about the mental health issues, when we talk about the substance addiction issues that we have — we need to deploy mental health professionals with our police to be able to solve the problem.
You know, it's very clear that the state Supreme Court has said panhandling is legal. We need to define panhandling from aggressive panhandling and take action to put the mental health professionals there too.
KROL: Yeah, it's not good enough to say “Fall River,” and there was a decision and that panhandling is OK.
We have to make it clear that when aggressive panhandling is happening, we have to make sure we say that that is not OK because people are getting followed to their vehicles. My wife just went downtown the other day and got out of her vehicle and there was someone right behind her, aggressively approaching her and she didn't feel safe and there was no police officer in sight. These are the kinds of things that people are talking about, and it means something. So we can't just put it aside and say, well, it was a court case, there's nothing we can do about it.
Up next: A question of the quality of life for Pittsfield’s senior citizens turns to talk of city budgets, fiscal responsibility and a recent audit.
Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at email@example.com or 413-496-6149.