Amherst forms town-gown collaborative to address housing, economic development

Last modified: Tuesday, September 01, 2015

AMHERST — A newly appointed group of residents, University of Massachusetts students and UMass and Amherst officials will work together on housing and economic development initiatives aimed at improving both the town and campus.

Town Manager John Musante and UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy on Monday announced the creation of the University/Town of Amherst Collaborative, known as UTAC, and the members who will be on the steering committee and three subcommittees.

In December, the Town-Gown Steering Committee, following an 18-month study by a Philadelphia consultant, recommended to Musante and Subbaswamy that this permanent board be created to link UMass and the town, and which could be vital to the success of future housing and economic development initiatives.

“This is another important step toward cooperation and coordination between the university and its host community of Amherst,” Subbaswamy said in a statement. “It also builds on the recognition that we aren’t separate entities inhabiting the same space, but rather complementary and interlocking parts of the same community.”

This advisory council to Musante and Subbaswamy will provide leadership on items such as identifying sites for mixed-use development, creating a so-called ”anchor strategy” that encourages UMass spinoff businesses to locate in town, creating public-private partnerships that lead to taxable housing on state-owned land, and creating incentives for faculty and staff housing to be built in Amherst.

One part of the anchor strategy is already coming in the form of MassMutual, which is leasing space in Kendrick Place, the mixed-use building nearing completion at the northern end of downtown, and will hire as many as 50 data scientists — many of them graduates from UMass — to work there.

“With the support of the Select Board and the committed and forward-thinking leadership at the university and in the state Legislature, we are seizing this historic opportunity to pursue economic development and strengthen our neighborhoods in a most collaborative and mutually beneficial way,” Musante said in a statement.

Musante told the Select Board Monday that the UTAC steering committee should begin meeting sometime during the fall semester.

The steering committee members from the university include Nancy Buffone, associate vice chancellor for university relations; Katherine Newman, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs; Shane Conklin, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services; Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life; and an undergraduate and graduate student to be named.

Representatives from the community include David Ziomek, assistant town manager; Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer; John Kuhn, senior principal of Kuhn Riddle Architects and board member of the Amherst Business Improvement District; Carol Ross, coordinator of Amherst Together; Maurianne Adams, residential neighborhood representative and emerita professor at UMass; and Eric Nakajima, director of the Mass Broadband Institute.

The economic development subcommittee will look at opportunities where the town and the university might be able to leverage university research, and entrepreneurship and retain graduates for the innovation economy. Members from the university are James Capistran, executive director of the UMass Innovation Institute; Natalie Blais, senior assistant to the chancellor; Bill Woolridge, director of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, and David McLaughlin, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Community members are Nakajima; Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst BID; Don Courtemanche, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce; David Webber, chairman of the Planning Board; Tripp Peake, general partner of Long River Ventures; and Clare Bertrand, from the Amherst Office Park and a Town Meeting member.

The housing subcommittee will look at issues facing housing in Amherst and ways to address housing needs and increase the number of faculty and staff living in Amherst. University members include Dawn Bond, director of student services for Residential Life; Sally Linowski, associate dean of off-campus student life; Doug Marshall, project planner/manager for facilities and campus planning; Nate Whitmal, associate professor of communications disorders; and Jeri Baker, director of transportation services. Community members are Kuhn; Andy Churchill, executive director, Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative; Greg Stutsman, co-chairman of the Housing and Sheltering Committee and member of the Planning Board; Ken Rosenthal, neighborhood residential representative and a Hampshire College retiree; and Paul Vasconcellos, president of the Ann Whalen Tenants Association and a retired assistant dean of students from UMass.

The culture, arts and living subcommittee will look at collaborations on cultural economic development opportunities. University members include Shawn Farley, director of marketing for the UMass Fine Arts Center; Marilyn Blaustein, assistant provost for institutional research; and Sandy Litchfield, assistant professor, architecture. Community members are Ross; Kate Lockhart, development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters; Jane Wald, executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum; Carol Johnson, executive director of the Amherst Cinema Center; and Rene Theberge, chairman of the Amherst Public Art Commission.

Other members, including undergraduate and graduate students, will be added at a later date. Tony Maroulis, the university’s director of community relations, and the town’s economic development director, who is yet to be hired, will provide staffing for the steering committee and three subcommittees.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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