State officials celebrate Community One Stop for Growth grants in Turners Falls

Massachusetts Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao, left, speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

Massachusetts Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao, left, speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Massachusetts Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

Massachusetts Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Massachusetts Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

Massachusetts Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais speak at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais speak at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

MassDevelopment Deputy Director and Senior Executive Vice President Theresa Park speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

MassDevelopment Deputy Director and Senior Executive Vice President Theresa Park speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Massachusetts Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

Massachusetts Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi speaks at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

State and local officials pose for a group photo at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

State and local officials pose for a group photo at the Community One Stop for Growth awards ceremony at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 12-05-2023 5:19 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Representatives from the state Executive Office of Economic Development and MassDevelopment took to the village on Tuesday to celebrate $8.5 million in awards made through the 2024 Community One Stop for Growth program, including $132,700 to advance the design for the Turners Falls Canal District riverfront project.

“It is nice to be here in the holiday season bringing gifts,” said Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi, referring to the grant funding coming to western Massachusetts.

Those in attendance at the Shea Theater Arts Center on Tuesday included Gobi, Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao, and MassDevelopment Deputy Director and Senior Executive Vice President Theresa Park.

“It is special to be in the Legislature with an administration that is nimble, passionate, wants to say yes, believes in rural communities and understands the unique opportunities and challenges here,” state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said about working with the Healey-Driscoll administration. “It is another world right now in Massachusetts.”

Tuesday’s event celebrated awards made through the Site Readiness Program and Rural and Small Town Development Fund, two grant programs under the umbrella of Community One Stop for Growth.

The Site Readiness Program, administered by MassDevelopment, was established to help municipalities and nonprofit economic development entities advance prime sites for large-scale industrial and commercial use.

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This program allocated roughly $3 million for 10 projects across the state, of which Montague received $132,700 to advance the design for the Turners Falls Canal District riverfront project, which pertains to demolition of the former Strathmore mill complex. The complex, built in 1874 as one of the first mills in Turners Falls, has been vacant since 2007 when a fire, determined to be caused by arson, destroyed Building 10 and damaged two other buildings. The town is faced with having to demolish the remaining structures due to their unsalvageable structural degradation.

The Rural and Small Town Development Fund is available to communities with populations equal to or less than 7,000 and/or a population density of less than 500 people per square mile. The fund supports a wide range of projects, including the design and construction of physical infrastructure, the rehabilitation of existing structures, site preparation, community planning and zoning projects.

For this application round, Gobi said there were 97 applicants and $77 million worth of requests for the Rural and Small Town Development Fund. She explained the state was able to give out $5.4 million to 17 projects, which shows there is a great need and the administration has ‘to do more.” She said this fund is in its infancy, only being around for a couple of years, and has potential for growth.

Many of the projects focus on sewage systems.

“Our rural and small town awards are doing incredible work for sewers,” Hao said. “It is not the most sexy and exciting, but it is so fundamental to economic development.”

Last month, the Healey-Driscoll administration announced $164 million for 338 grants to support local economic development projects in 161 communities across the state through the fiscal year 2024 Community One Stop for Growth. The overarching program provides a streamlined process for cities and towns to apply for 13 state grant programs that spur economic and housing development. To learn more about Community One Stop for Growth, visit mass.gov/guides/community-one-stop-for-growth.

Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis noted that this celebration of grant awards took place at the Shea Theater, a historic building saved because of grant money from state and federal agencies. He said this location signifies how state grants, like the ones celebrated, can transform communities.

“This funding is going to unlock untold opportunity for us,” Comerford said, “which I know is the vision.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.