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With demolition on horizon, Montague officials embracing ideas for Canal District's future – The Recorder

A rendering of the “Remembrance Area” in the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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A rendering of the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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A rendering of a repurposed and redesigned coal silo in the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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A rendering of the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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A rendering of the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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A rendering of a boat launch in the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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A rendering of housing in the prospective redeveloped Canal District in Turners Falls, as designed by Dietz & Company Architects. Housing would be located at the former Railroad Salvage site. COURTESY IMAGE/DIETZ & COMPANY ARCHITECTS
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MONTAGUE — With the Canal District’s large-scale demolition project looming more certainly than ever in the wake of deteriorating infrastructure, town officials are embracing visions of an era-blending future.
October’s final week also marked the conclusion of the Montague Public Libraries’ “The Turners Falls Canal District: Rediscovering the Past, Planning for the Future” series. The multi-program event, intended to educate the public about the district’s past, present and future, ended with a master plan workshop and the debut of “The Genesis of a Modern Community” documentary film. The programs encouraged discussions that contrasted concerns over losing local history with concerns regarding the viability of potential preservation.
Library Director Caitlin Kelley, who said she initially expected the series to be lightly attended for COVID-19-related reasons, expressed she was pleasantly surprised by the community’s investment. The public “really blew it out of the water” with their attendance, she observed.
“Everyone worked together really well,” Kelley reflected. “They brought their different perspectives and different knowledge, and it worked out great.”
The third and final Canal District Master Plan Workshop was held inside the Great Falls Discovery Center’s Great Hall on Oct. 27. Here, Springfield-based Dietz & Company Architects reiterated the severity of the district’s deteriorating infrastructure, as well as the need to demolish most buildings along the canal. While preliminary redevelopment suggestions were also presented during the first two forums, the concluding meeting was highlighted by a more complete master plan. Dietz & Company showed renderings that included expanded green space, a patio area, a watercraft launch and housing at the former Railroad Salvage site.
“There’s really some energy to be building off of,” Assistant Town Administrator Walter Ramsey said. “It’s up to us as a community to decide how to leverage these investments that are being made, to recreate and to redefine this little corner of Montague that we call the Canal District.”
Some residents voiced fear that the area’s industrial and cultural significance would be buried with the bricks — which would be ground up and used to fill buildings’ foundations — should the Canal District’s structures be demolished. Some who are particularly involved with town redevelopment, though, expressed understanding of the situation’s gravity.
“If that building starts collapsing into the river and we don’t have a plan for taking it down, it could become a significant environmental hazard,” Town Administrator Steve Ellis said. “I think we like to dream. That’s what we do.”
“I personally think there’s no way to save these buildings,” commented Peter Chilton of Nova Real Estate LLC. “It’s impossible, knowing how much construction costs these days, the limitations of the site, and all of the research that you guys have done. … As a resident of the town, as a business owner in town, and as a property owner in town, this looks terrific to me.”
Dietz & Company Architects Principal Lee Morrissette assured the public that redevelopment could be executed with respect and remembrance of the past.
“I want to make it clear how much we hear you about the nature of the industrial heritage and the architecture being a representation of it,” Morrissette told attendees during the final forum’s public comment period.
While most of the Canal District would be demolished, Morrissette stressed that the area’s history will remain visible in a limited capacity. Concept renderings show pieces of the district’s past preserved decoratively, such as the old coal silo painted with a mural and ruin-like wall fragments lining prospective footpaths.
Chris Clawson, a Historical Society and Historical Commission member who produced “The Genesis of a Modern Community” documentary, said such selective preservation is often the goal of a good preservationist.
“In terms of historic preservation, you need to save as much as you can that can preserve a valuable narration, but you need to balance it with what you have to (remove),” Clawson emphasized following his film’s screening.
Dietz & Company Architects expects demolition to start in 2023. Community and stakeholder engagement with respect to landscape planning and design will take place prior to 2026, when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to begin three canal area bridge replacement projects.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.
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