Amherst town-gown work continues

From the Daily Hampshire Gazette (with permission)

Staff Writer

Monday, April 18, 2016​

AMHERST – Six months into its work, subcommittees of a permanent board linking the town and the University of Massachusetts are continuing to research housing, economic development and arts and culture endeavors that will improve Amherst.

But even though few recommendations have been brought forward by these three subcommittees to the University-Town of Amherst Collaborative, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, its co-chairman, said subcommittee members are creating a foundation of understanding between the town and UMass, and will soon move into a stage where opportunities can be pursued.

“The consensus is that we’re looking for a real collaborative relationship with the subcommittees, not a really heavy top-down structure,” Ziomek said. 

He added that members of the subcommittees  are doing extensive outreach, including to the Amherst Business Improvement District and the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, before bringing proposals forward.

“Subcommittees themselves will interact with the BID and chamber, and ideas may spring from subcommittees that are offshoots of ideas already percolating in the community,” Ziomek said.

UTAC was created as a recommendation from a town-gown study completed by U3 Advisers in December 2014, and is an advisory council to the Amherst town manager and UMass chancellor on topics such as identifying sites for undergraduate mixed-use development, pursuing public-private partnerships and creating a so-called anchor strategy for the university that embraces the town in its economic success. The study was jointly funded by the town and UMass. 

Ziomek said the subcommittees are examining focus areas, or locations where the town and UMass might pursue joint development, and how these public-private partnerships enhance the tax base and available housing.

Each of the three subcommittees will eventually bring plans to the steering committee, which met for the third time last week and is tentatively set to meet again May 31.

The economic development subcommittee has several working groups examining opportunities for growing the town’s tax base, with one focusing on high-value research activities, another on creative fields and activities, and others on retail and restaurants, entrepreneurship and startups, and understanding the Amherst economy.

Similarly, the housing subcommittee is also beginning working groups that will study housing types that can be built for traditional and non-traditional families associated with the university,  faculty and staff housing incentives, and analyzing how the current housing stock impacts people looking to live in town.

The culture, arts and living subcommittee continues planning for the ARTBridge grant application – a proposal approved by the steering committee in February which would bring art and performances to a section of North Pleasant Street between the town and UMass campus – as well as determining needs for marketing and communications and programming.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing is the town and university staff, faculty and administrators are talking about these areas of collaboration,” Ziomek said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at