The project's completion also marks the retirement of Berkshire Housing President and CEO Elton Ogden, who served as the master of ceremonies on Thursday morning.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Much of the focus of Thursday morning's ceremony at 330 Cole Ave. centered on endings.
The end of an era for an abandoned mill complex that blighted the town's north end, the end of a long and complicated effort to rehabilitate the site and build 42 affordable housing units, the end of tenure of Berkshire Housing Development Corp. President and CEO Elton Ogden, whose retirement becomes official upon the project's completion.
But the director of the commonwealth's Affordable Housing Trust Fund turned the focus to the beginnings that Thursday represented.
"The other day I saw a quote on a bottle of red wine vinegar," Michelle Vinciguerra said. "I didn't know there were quotes on vinegar bottles, and I probably paid more for that. But it was by Robert Louis Stevenson, who said, 'Judge each day, not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.'
"I think it's a perfect analogy for this day. The completion of this development is planting seeds for a community to blossom and for people to grow into whatever their next phase of life is."
Starting next week, dozens of families will begin new lives in a series of brand-new townhouses that flank the four-story former mill building that has been converted to apartments. Officials hope to move people into the "cube," the converted mill, in September and October. All units in the complex are for families earning up to 60 percent of the area median income with some units reserved for families making lower percentages of the AMI.
Vinciguerra was one of several local and state officials whose agencies partnered with Berkshire Housing and who were on hand Thursday morning to celebrate the end of construction and beginning of new life on the property.
Each of the dignitaries, from Williamstown Select Board Chair Andrew Hogeland to state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, to Eileen Peltier, Ogden's successor at the helm of Berkshire Housing, took the opportunity to recognize Ogden for his years of service to the non-profit and to the region.
"He has created more affordable housing, more quality affordable housing, than perhaps anyone else," Barrett said. "Whoever follows him is going to have a tough job.
"That's you," Barrett added with a look to Peltier, drawing chuckles from the crowd gathered in the complex's parking lot.
"The cooperation that came from the Selectmen, the housing authority, the general population in this community, you reached out to the community," Barrett continued. "Everybody knew what was going on, and the limited opposition you had here was amazing in itself.
"Even though it's taken 32 years to get this site cleaned up and get something beneficial that's here today, like a fine wine, it's gotten better with age. This got better with time. This is a product we can all be proud of in the Northern Berkshire area."
Ogden was quick to note that there are a lot of people who can be proud of what they accomplished on the site.
"I just want to deflect anything that's coming to me," he said. "Everything we do is about teamwork, and, yes, I'm often the one out in the front doing the talking. But I'm not able to do this without an incredible team."
Ogden credited Mollye Wollahan-Lockwood, formerly of the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development, with helping to convince him to take on the Cole Avenue site. She returned to town on Thursday to recognize his efforts.
"Elton, I can't believe you're actually retiring," Wollahan said. "I don't believe any of us really thought it would happen. But this project is a perfect example of what you have brought to all of your work. The respect all of the industry has for you, your calm tenacity, your amazing skill at solving complex and really challenging problems, your leadership. This project needed all of those skills to make it happen and your talent to get it done."
Peltier echoed that.
"In our work, we wish for a flat, clean piece of land to develop," she said. "As you know, this site was not so much that. Elton and his team said, 'Yes' anyway."
Hogeland, who occupies the Select Board seat on the board of Williamstown's Affordable Housing Trust, called on the town to keep saying yes to projects like 330 Cole Ave.
"I've got three really simple messages for you," Hogeland said. "First, is to the incoming residents of the town, welcome to our town. To all those who made this possible, thank you very much for the work you did over the course of, depending on how you count, 10 or 20 or 30 years to get us to where we are today.
"And the third message is: We're not done. We're going to celebrate this today, but the needs of Williamstown housing are not finished. So we need to commit ourselves to do more."
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