Interview with the Mayor of Greenfield Mass
Interview with Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner Sept, 2020
In mid-September, 2020, I sat down with Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner at City Hall and we discussed a wide range of issues. I was mostly interested in the plans she has going forward and how she sees the city pivoting after COVID. But like so many things, we couldn’t really get away from the many dramatic effects that the pandemic has had on the city and the world.
What are your goals for your term as mayor after the COVID pandemic has subsided?
“You can’t take COVID out of the conversation because it flipped the conversation almost overnight. I had a lot of goals that we were working on but we have to get the point where can even believe that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“My economic development plan for downtown was to make a vibrant and interesting downtown. We have a lot to build on from the past. I was anticipating Wilson’s closing, and the hole that would leave, but our plan was predicated on boosting lively entertainment and arts scene…and COVID absolutely shut all of that down. We can’t hold events, we can barely hold events outside, so it’s not going anywhere right now.
But what about these drive-in shows? “We tried that at the Fairgrounds, but the Governor shut that down too many people, they weren’t able to make any money with the limitations.
I asked her about the shows that take place at the Mohawk Meadows Golf Course.
“They have to enforce mask rules there and it has been tough. It’s only a total of 50 people including staff.
The outdoor gathering numbers were limited, in late September and it’s made it hard.
“MJ Adams, (Greenfield’s economic development boss) and I are talking a lot about what the next steps are, and we talked today and her feeling is as part of the switch we need to figure out our path forward under the current circumstances.
“We want to use some of the second-floor areas in downtown buildings for housing instead of commercial, and we are in an opportunity zone, so there are lots of incentives but the commercial side will take a lot longer. For now, we want to shift the focus to what will be more viable over the next few years besides using this property for retail. Mixed-use has always been my plan, live-work situations.
Marijuana Dispensary Applications in Greenfield
What is up with the prospects for more marijuana shops and the resulting income for Greenfield?
“We have plenty of applications right now, they have to go through the state but there’s a whole process they have to go through. We have had three separate meetings about grow factories, retail sales, and other operations.
“The applicant at 8 Woodard Road, next to Applebees, called Herbology, has a license in process, but the house hasn’t been worked on at all. But that’s coming, along with other locations. It will be a nice new building, and they’ve made arrangements for a driveway off the Applebee’s parking lot.”
The town needs these additional sources of revenue, right?
“The town has the ability to have up to five dispensaries in Greenfield.” I asked the mayor about whether A.R. Sandri who owned the closed Enthusiasts retail vape store would turn that into a dispensary and she said no.
There was an issue with the church that’s nearby she explained, and they’ve closed so that’s not happening.
The company called the Greenerside is building a cultivation and retail location at the former Bendix Corporation on Laurel Street, and they’ve had their offer accepted on the property. Now it’s going through the licensing process with the state.
“There was another inquiry about a grow and retail operation at the Indoor Action Sports, on the Bernardston/Greenfield line. On the Greenfield side of the property, the zoning doesn’t allow for retail so they have to ask for a zone change. The last I heard they are still considering that.
“It’s a pretty important part of the mix now, we do need these revenue and traffic generators.”
Small Manufacturing in Greenfield
“The other piece of the puzzle is small manufacturing. We are working on an 88-acre expansion in the Industrial Park, it’s for sale the last piece of the Mackin operation and this would allow for a major expansion there.
The city got a $250,000 grant in 2018 from Mass Development to explore the expansion of the industrial park. Is that land developable? The grant paid for an engineering study to check the feasibility of expanding the park. And it was found that they could expand in about 10-15 of the 88 acres. The rest of the property can’t be developed. We will have four pods for sale out there. There are other vacancies at the Industrial Park after some of the machine shops moved to South Deerfield. “
Greenfield’s New Police Station
“The former Carr Hardware store on Wells Street was going to be a police station but we need a new site for a fire station first. How do we keep the fire station downtown and how do we bring the police station back downtown?
“The location on the corner of Wells Street and Main Street would have been perfect. The two locations are partially connected but it gets pretty complicated. We wanted to get control of that building and it was not possible. What happened was that when we realized the expense would be over a million dollars to buy the property.
“We would have to bond the remaining costs for renovation. But we can’t get a bond for more than $5M and we can’t build a new police station for many years out. But the owner of the Carr building didn’t respond to the city’s offer to buy his building. He never countered, just ignored the city’s offer. He owes back taxes on the buildings, but it takes a lot of time to go through the court. We don’t have the time to do that now. The Wells Street site is still viable for a fire station in the years ahead.”
What about other police station locations?
“Now the city is making an offer on the Open Air Market on Combs and Main Street where a new fire station could be located, across the street from Carr’s former location. Main and Combs is a more feasible and buildable location. Its right downtown and costs are less.”
“We have to build a temporary firehouse to accommodate the library that breaks ground on April 21, 2021. That’s their deadline to meet the terms of the state grant. We could get a few month’s extension, but there will be a point in time when the library and the fire station will have to co-exist in the same location.
“We figured that it would be about 8 months. We have a temporary location which would be at the Hope Street Parking lots, behind the courthouse, across from Hope and OIive. With the parking garage, there is no need to keep them as parking lots. The firehouse would come built and it’s a temporary fire station, it’s specially made as a temporary building that looks like a tent.
“It would take up both upper and lower parking lots on Hope Street, two buildings, one on one level and the second on the other, and a couple of trailers for firefighters and storage. It’s doable, and the fire dept has already taken their trucks up there and it all works.
The current library building will remain, and be city-owned, and the new library will be behind the current library and take up space where the firehouse is located. All of the firehouse and equipment is in the way of the library building.
If we don’t get a time extension, it might cause problems but we are going try to accommodate the timeline.”
The city is borrowing for the library, combined with the state grant, and they are well within the debt limit for the bonds, she said.
Why the five million temporary fire station? Can’t you start building the firehouse on Main Street sooner?
The answer is no, the timing wouldn’t work, because the original plan was to use a city-owned building as the temporary firehouse. One plan was to take over the FRTA garage but it turned out not to be feasible.
“The temporary firehouse needs to be built AND the new firehouse on Main Street needs to be bonded then built later. There is not enough money to build the permanent fire station for just eight million. We are the stage where we can ask for more, but we need to stick to the timetable.
What’s it Like Being the Mayor of Greenfield?
What has it been like being the mayor versus what you thought it would be like? What’s different than you thought?
“The impact on revenue for sure. COVID shut down so many businesses, and the revenues stopped. What the damage could be that turned out not to be as bad. We have been somewhat lucky in that. Plenty of people lost their jobs and had reduced income. We extended the deadline for taxes, we had no idea of what would happen.
“What’s done reasonably well are things like building permits, they were up. The hit on the meals tax wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. But excise taxes for cars boats etc were way up. There were some surprises, but our revenue wasn’t down as bad as we feared.
“The restaurants are asking for heaters,” she said. The city has ordered some of these outdoor heaters and they are already working at Hope and Olive restaurant.
“We will revisit the outdoor dining, we’d like to keep it. One of the things that’s difficult is that there aren’t that many places in Greenfield with outdoor dining. The ones who do have it have done well. We don’t have as many opportunities like this as other towns. I like the idea of eating outside. The cold is a factor for sure, but at some point, it becomes impossible to eat outside.”
When you travel you must see many things that you’d like to bring to Greenfield. What have you seen what small cities have excited you and inspired you?
“I like Portland, Maine. Their downtown is larger than ours, it’s not apples and apples, but they had some great outdoor dining. They have some great downtown hotels. I’d like to see a new hotel downtown, the motel location for the Rodeway Inn is coming along.
“Keene also has a nice downtown hotel that is something I’d like to see happen in Greenfield. This is going to happen it’s just delayed, it will hopefully be a Fairfield Hotel and Suites at that location near Applebees.”
“We are still hoping to work on Court Square, enlarging the town common that’s still in play. We need to make the decision to do it, we’re not quite ready to do it but we’d like to have more places to sit outside, maybe a bistro dining area on the common.”