Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

New Director of Economic Development wants to lead Amherst into the future while preserving its character

(Economic Developer for the city of Amherst. Brendan Deady/ Daily Collegian)
(Economic Developer for the city of Amherst. Brendan Deady/ Daily Collegian)

The first floor lobby of Kendrick Place, a new apartment complex on the corner of Triangle and East Pleasant streets, acts as the standard of development to come to Amherst. Data Scientists for MassMutual, the insurance company that rents out the first floor creative commons, have access to rows of Mac computers. Power strips hang from the ceiling above communal workspaces, diagrams, measurements and equations are spread across the white board-lined walls.

On the three floors above, sleek single and double apartments with ceiling-high windows host graduates, young professionals and undergraduates from the Five Colleges. Designed by Archipelago LLC, the tech-centric structure offers working space and high-end housing catering to the individuals who are involved in the Pioneer Valley’s education industry.

It is also an indication of what Geoffrey Kravitz, Amherst’s first director of economic development, thinks is the direction of the town’s economic future. Kravitz said one of his main goals is housing development and forward-thinking companies to town that will convince students of the area colleges to remain in Amherst after graduation.

The position of economic development director was approved under the Town Manager budget and was the “brainchild” of the late Town Manager John Musante, according to Kravitz. Kravitz, 36, who was born and raised in Amherst, started his job in early January and described his role as being a representative voice within the town government for existing and potential businesses.

Based on recent demographics, Kravitz said that a lot of graduates from the University of Massachusetts tend to move out of the area, and limited housing makes it difficult to retain the valuable assets produced by the area’s main “economic engine” – UMass. Kravitz said that mixed use spaces that he’s seeking to attract mixed-use technology and living spaces that will release pressure on a housing market that is being overrun with student demand.

“One mentality is that building housing catered to students will draw them out of residential neighborhoods and prevent any further conversions of family homes to student apartments. That’s why large developments are so important: it attracts new economic activity and benefits permanent residents and the student market,” Kravitz said.

Kravitz said part of his responsibility is to market Amherst’s attractiveness to companies he believes the town’s layout is particularly accommodating to.

“I do see a lot of untapped potential here, but I’m not advocating to turn Amherst into a big city. There are a lot of strengths unique to the town, it’s an attractive place to live, and the mixed use developments appear to be attractive to the type of residents who work in those fields,” Kravitz said.

Kravitz served as the deputy chief of staff for the department of housing and economic development for former governor Deval Patrick’s administration. However, despite his job history, he still comes to his new position with excitement to take on governance at the municipal level.

“I’ve never been in the weeds of small town governance; it’s exciting. (As an intern) in D.C. and at the state level we drafted broad policies that don’t have to worry about the quirks of municipal government. We didn’t get to see the impact, and I wanted to work on policies that affect people I care about. I grew up here; these are the people I care about.”

He also acknowledged that a tension exists between shaping the town’s landscape and aesthetic with tech innovation at its center and preserving the town’s historical character.

“For the first 25 years I lived here, little development took place. That’s changed in the past 10 (years) … I don’t think the town anticipated the amount of growth at UMass and didn’t have a comprehensive plan to accommodate this growth. Everyone needs a place to live,” Kravitz said.

“My feeling is that Amherst is going to change. Change is inevitable wherever you go. It’s whether we participate and shape that change or be reactionary and have no role in this town’s future,” Kravitz said.

He said that although attracting new businesses and seeing more development in place is a priority, he likes to work with companies that reflect of the town’s environmental consciousness and sense of civic responsibility.

“Local businesses already have a sense of responsibility to the community. That’s something that I share, this is my home, and that’s already here. I want to build on that. Keep the economy healthy but also preserve the town’s identity,” Kravitz said.

“Basically what I don’t want to do is push old industries out with the new. I want to bring Amherst into the future without abandoning its past.”

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @bdeady26.

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