Published in the August 27, 2015 edition
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town would like to turn the former Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department office building at 9-11 Albion St. into a cultural arts center and the Board of Selectmen this week approved the formation of a committee to pursue that end.
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio stressed that the building has always been town-owned, but since the MGLD moved their business offices to their new Mark A. Delory Facility at 480 North Ave., the town has been seeking public opinion on what to do with the Albion Street building.
“The overwhelming support has been for retaining that building for a cultural arts center,” Maio said.
He said that he viewed forming a committee as a first step toward turning 9-11 Albion St. into a centerpiece for attracting both residents and visitors to downtown Wakefield.
“We’ve been talking about how to bring people to our downtown and how to get them to come and spend money in our specialty shops and restaurants,” Maio said. “We need to give them a little more reason than just going out to dinner.”
Maio said that for lack of a better term he was calling the concept the “Albion Cultural Exchange” or the “ACE Center.”
The charge of the “Albion Cultural Exchange Committee” would be to “promote arts and culture in downtown Wakefield,” Maio said.
Maio suggested approaching it in a manner similar to the Americal Civic Center model, which he called “very successful and positive over the past 30 years.”
However, instead of an independent board as with the Civic Center, Maio advocated a committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen so that they have some input.
Maio said the he anticipated minimal carrying costs involved with turning the building into a cultural arts center. He said that he had spoken to Greg Liakos who works for the Massachusetts Cultural Council who advised that there are grants out there to do any needed upgrades to the building. Maio said that he has toured the building with Building Inspector Jack Roberto, who thinks it may be possible to get waivers for certain handicapped accessibility requirements.
Maio said that he saw turning 9-11 Albion St. into an arts and culture center as “part of a multi-point plan to reinvigorate downtown Wakefield.”
He said that he saw the building as a place where works of local artists could be displayed and the upper floor might also be suitable for loft space. He said that it could also be a place for groups like Wakefield Cultural Council and the Event Planning Committee to meet.
Maio pointed out that this concept for the building fits in with the town’s Master Plan, which contemplates Albion Street as an arts district.
Selectman Tiziano Doto supported the concept, noting that all successful downtown invigoration plans include a cultural component.
Selectman Patrick Glynn was also supportive, saying that it would “add a little flavor to the downtown.”
Selectman Betsey Sheeran also supported the idea but expressed concern about the name ACE Center.
“When I think of ‘ACE,’ I think of a hardware store,” Sheeran said.
The board voted unanimously to endorse forming a committee to pursue making 9-11 Albion St. into a cultural arts center.
In other business this week, the Board of Selectmen:
• Approved an intermunicipal agreement with the town of Reading related to the School Department’s POST program for the continuing education of special education students after graduation from high school.
• Approved a request from Library Director Sharon Gilley to accept and expend a gift or gifts in the amount of $2,706.42
• Referred to the Planning Board several zoning articles for the Fall Town Meeting.
• Approved the issuance of a no-interest $67,155 sewer bond to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
• Renewed the Taxicab Licenses of City Taxi and Transportation, Inc.