The Debut of 47 RR
More space opens up in Great Barrington
Photo by Ogden Gigli
The south Berkshire County town of Great Barrington has seen a good amount of change in recent years, as demonstrated by the renovation of Main Street in 2014 and 2015 and the arrival of at least a dozen new downtown businesses. This spring, a new project—entitled 47 RR—will add significantly to the town’s evolving landscape.
Located at the top of Railroad Street, 47 RR creates up to five street-level storefront spaces and 13 apartments. The “new” building that has been emerging there over the past year is actually a new structure and three historic ones that housed, most recently, a number of now-defunct restaurants (including Martin’s, Fiori, Pearl’s, and Mario’s Tuscany Grill). This huge renovation, executed by Great Barrington’s Alander Construction, pieces the four buildings into a single one, totaling almost 20,000 square feet.
The ambitious, seven-million-dollar project is the brainchild of Ian Rasch and Sam Nickerson, and the company they started together, Framework Properties. “What attracted us to the project was not only the historic buildings and location,” says Rasch, “but the chance to have a positive effect on Great Barrington’s living opportunities, pedestrian activity, historic preservation, and economic revitalization.”
Both men have local ties. Rasch grew up in neighboring Columbia County, N.Y., attended school in Great Barrington and lives in Great Barrington. After false starts in pre-med and music, he enrolled at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, eventually becoming director of development for Lenox-based Allegrone Companies, the Berkshire’s premier building and construction company. Nickerson lives in Housatonic, with family roots in the Berkshires going back over a century. His background is in investment and commercial real estate, and he is the founder of Ecos Properties, which acquires and develops distressed commercial property. He has an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Nickerson and Rasch see the selection of first-floor merchants as key to the 47 RR project—and are seeking ones that will diversify the town’s shopping opportunities, and also appeal to the tenants of the new apartments above.
Business spaces run from 700 square feet to 2,500 square feet, with monthly rental fees ranging from $2,500 to $6,000, depending on size and location. The final number of retail tenants will depend upon whether tenants choose to combine more than one space.
The 13 apartments also range in size and rental rate (from $1,800 to $3,000), ten of them with one bedroom and three with two bedrooms. They are all modern and high-ceilinged with abundant, oversized windows and state-of-the-art amenities. Residents will have access to an outdoor, third-floor roof deck that affords a dazzling panoramic view of Railroad Street. Not surprisingly, over 40 people were already on the waiting list for the apartments by early February.
“Making four buildings into a cohesive whole,” says Nickerson, “with a consistent design and fitting into the architectural context around it was quite a challenge. Our team did a great job with that, and we are really pleased with the result, which is both new and modern and respectful of tradition at the same time.”
All of the apartments are Energy Star–certified and were built with sustainable building methods. “Some people ask us why we would go to the effort of building this way for a rental project,” says Nickerson. “The answer, besides it being the right thing to do for the environment, is that it is good business. A well-insulated building with lots of natural light and a healthy indoor environment is a place people want to stay, and that creates value.” In the renovation of the building, much of the material that was removed was donated to a charity rather than sent to a landfill.
The project also creates a new pedestrian walkway, the alleyway that connects the top end of Railroad Street to Castle Street, with storefront businesses running the length of the walkway. Rasch and Nickerson anticipate that it will have a significant effect on pedestrian-traffic flow and be especially beneficial to those businesses on Castle Street, including the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
But 47 RR represents more than just a series of new businesses and dwellings—it is designed to appeal to the kinds of people that Rasch and Nickerson see making up Great Barrington’s future. “Nationally,” says Nickerson, “more and more people want to live in walkable, downtown neighborhoods. This goes not only for big cities, but towns like Great Barrington. Currently, there are limited living opportunities in Great Barrington, but this project will make way for upwards of 30 new downtown residents.” The trend applies especially to millennials, but also to retirees who are migrating back to downtown centers for easier access to shopping, restaurants, cultural venues, recreational facilities, and healthcare options.
Local businesses have been quick to recognize the purchasing power that the building’s tenants will bring. “Any downtown housing is a good thing,” says Ben Downing, co-owner of 20 Railroad Public House. “To do it in the modern, progressive stylings that Sam and Ian have chosen will definitely be a benefit to commerce and community.”
47 RR also will be the first mixed-use building in Great Barrington to offer fiber-optic cable service to all its tenants. Fiber-optic technology dramatically increases the performance of telecommunications and is seen as being critical to economic development and attracting professionals whose work depends on telecommuting. “It’s unlikely that we are going to attract businesses that employ a hundred or more people to the Berkshires,” says Nickerson. “However, we can attract individuals, small groups of people that are willing to relocate from urban centers for the quality of life that the Berkshires offers. But they can’t do it without the fiber infrastructure that allows them to stay connected.”
The old Great Barrington fire station, which has been vacant since the new fire station opened in 2008, is being rented by Rasch and Nickerson as a workshop and staging area for 47 RR’s construction. They hope to acquire the fire station and add it to the project, which would allow the pedestrian corridor to extend all the way to Castle Street. Negotiations related to their acquisition of that site are underway.