Step Taken in Lee to Build Parking Lot Behind Main Street
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Via The Berkshire Eagle
Saturday July 17, 2010
LEE — A significant step in redeveloping an anchor building downtown was taken Friday, as a state official announced a grant for $735,000 to build a 61-space parking lot behind Main Street.
The announcement by Gregory Bialecki, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, came at the end of a whirlwind day in which Bialecki also attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sheffield Senior Center several miles to the south.
The Lee grant is a linchpin that will facilitate the restoration of the so-called Baird and Benton block at 40-50 Main Street, according to Richard Vinette, executive director of the Lee Community Development Corp.
The College Internship Program, a Massachusetts-based organization with branches throughout the country, has already purchased the Baird and Benton block, and plans a $2.9 million renovation of that historic structure.
But what has traditionally been a major roadblock for the development of the block has been a lack of downtown parking, Vinette said. The funds provided by the state will generate the parking behind Main Street.
“This is the kind of public-private partnership that we are always on the lookout for,” said Bialecki. “By improving the parking, we’re creating infrastructure that will enable CIP to renovate the building and move its operations here. And kudos to that organization for investing in the community.”
The ceremony was attended by a host of town and state officials for which the restoration of the Baird and Benton block has been a priority and an aspiration for many years.
The three-story structure was built in 1879 on vacant land between Town Hall and Franklin Street. The block is also known as the Bookless block.
Over the years, the structure has housed a grocery, a five-and-ten cent store and a bowling alley. But the top two floors have been vacant since the 1950s.
Heather Greene, executive director of the CIP, said her organization plans to have classrooms on the third floor, use the second floor for office space and house a gallery on the first floor that would showcase students’ work.
The College Internship Program provides individualized, post-secondary, academic, internship and independent living experiences for college age students with Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit disorder, high-functioning autism and other learning issues, Greene said.
The organization provides services for about 40 students, but by expanding into this building the hope is to be able to accommodate more students, she said.
The organization has offices and classrooms scattered around the downtown area. The development of the Baird and Benton block will enable CIP to consolidate both classrooms and offices in one spot.
Vinette estimated that the parking lot work would take about a year, given that the construction would have to cease in the winter. The restoration work, said Greene, is expected to take about 10 months.
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