There has been a steady trickle of interesting development news coming out of Williamstown and North Adams over the last few weeks.

First, Williamstown: This article discusses the future of Water, Latham and Spring streets, as does this one. I really like the vision here. In my view, the most successful (in terms of scale, beauty, context, and utility) recent construction project on or around campus was the B&L building on Spring Street, and I really hope future developments on Spring / Water streets employ that as a model.

Using space on Latham street to expand the athletic facilities and add parking makes a lot of sense to me. That area has the rare double of convenient location and low visibility, and therefore seems like a good place to put an eyesore like a garage. Buildings and Grounds will have to be moved in any event to make space for any expansion of the athletic facilities. I also believe that Water Street has a ton of potential (and with the demolition of the town garage, a lot of prime space for commercial development), and making it more pedestrian-friendly, in conjunction with the major Cable Mills condo conversion, will effectively double the Williamstown downtown commercial district and create a lot more residential options without changing the “village beautiful” dynamic or harming the Williamstown landscape. Overall, the impact on downtown will be as dramatic as the impact the current Williams construction boom will have on the center of campus. It is therefore crucial to involve as many constituents as early in the process as possible to figure out what types of businesses will appeal to long-time residents, students, faculty, alums and tourists alike, without dramatically altering the town’s character.

Encouraging news also continues to emanate from North Adams. The MassMoca complex continues to fill up, this time with help from the Clark. Anyone have the inside scoop on this collaboration? Sounds intriguing. The Clark, which always seemed sleepy, staid, and boring when I was an undergrad, has certainly been aggressively expanding in both Williamstown and North Adams. Of course, securing a 90 million dollar donation doesn’t hurt its cause. And as MassMoca space continues to fill up, downtown North Adams will continue to benefit.

Speaking of which, a new restaurant, Taylor’s Fine Dining, operated by the Freightyard Pub owners, just opened up in the former Gideon’s space. Restaurants are a tricky business, and some will always fail, so it is a great sign for North Adams that another high-end restaurant moved so quickly to vill the Gideon’s void. That type of turnaround would have been unfathomable as recently as ten years ago in North Adams. As would this type of condominium conversion

Why does all of this matter to Williams? Well, Williamstown already offers unparalleled natural beauty, in terms of northeast liberal arts colleges. The one area where many of its peers can claim (to prospective students and faculty alike) an advantage is in proximity to diverse social, retail, residential and culinary options. With MassMoca and the Clark rapidly expanding both physical exhibits and programming, with abandoned mill space converting to attractive condos in North Adams and Williamstown alike, with new stadium style movie theaters, minor league baseball, and a renovated Mohawk Theater providing entertainment in North Adams, and with more retail and culinary options in downtown North Adams and Williamstown, that advantage will continue to diminish, if not dissipate entirely.

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