AMHERST — A significant project that will bring up to 140 new residents — and possibly high-paying jobs — downtown took its most visible step Monday with the beginning of a full-scale demolition of the Amherst Carriage Shops to make way for a new five-story development called One East Pleasant.
With large fences installed around the perimeter of the property at the intersection of North Pleasant and East Pleasant streets, Cutler Associates Inc. of Worcester began the removal of two office buildings and the two-story building that began life as the Amherst Carriage Inn in 1962, but which later transitioned into a mix of shops, offices and living units.
Site plans for the five-story building proposed by Archipelago Investments LLC of Amherst were approved in 2014. In July, the Planning Board approved modified floor plans for the second through fifth floors to increase the number of housing units from 84 to 135, but to reduce the number of tenants from 184 to 143.
That means there will be more studio- and one-bedroom units compared to the three- and four-bedroom units in the original plan, a move business leaders say will cut down on the number of college-age tenants.
David Williams, a partner with Archipelago, told the Planning Board in July that the ground level could be retail, but also may be home to a tech company, which would provide more high-paying jobs, similar to the first floor of the nearby Kendrick Place. Mass Mutual has a center for data science in that building.
The two office buildings on the site, which most recently housed Loose Goose and the law offices of Seewald, Jankowski and Spencer, were razed, along with the entire former hotel.
Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said in an email that One East Pleasant will help create a vibrant and vital downtown.
“This project redevelops a critical site that was underutilized but will now enhance downtown and boost our economy,” la Cour said.Mural removal
Also demolished Monday was the Amherst History Mural on the side of the former hotel facing West Cemetery, completed by Cambridge artist David Fichter and community volunteers in 2005.
The mural was a centerpiece of West Cemetery, where famed poet Emily Dickinson is buried along with founding families of Amherst and Civil War soldiers, including those of a famed all-black regiment.
Fichter said Monday that he will repaint the mural on a new wall Archipelago will have up in late 2017, and finish the project in 2018.
He has documented his original work through several thousand photographs and used a giant piece of plastic to trace details from the 16-by-140-foot painting.
Without windows and air conditioners on the new wall, Fichter said he will tweak the new mural. “I will have to do a little with the design stuff because the windows won’t be there,” Fichter said.Mixed reception
Not all residents are excited about One East Pleasant. Critics of the development have argued that it has pushed out some longtime downtown shops, negatively changed the character of downtown and, once complete, will make it harder to park downtown and lead to traffic congestion.
The project was stalled for several months after a lawsuit filed by Joel Greenbaum of Greenbaum Rentals sought to overturn the Planning Board’s initial December 2014 approval of special permits. That lawsuit was thrown out in August 2015.
Geoffrey Kravitz, economic development director for Amherst, said One East Pleasant meets several municipal goals, such as providing more housing and commercial development.
And while he understands there are critics of the redevelopment, he said, there should be a benefit to downtown.
“The general sentiment is it’s a positive thing,” Kravitz said.
Demolition on site began with asbestos removal earlier this year.
Efforts to reach Kyle Wilson, another partner in Archipelago, were unsuccessful. Building Commissioner Robert Morra said work on new construction can begin as soon as demolition is complete.
“We have issued the building permit for the new building and expect construction to begin following the demolition,” Morra said.
During the demolition and construction the sidewalk that passes in front of the property is closed to pedestrians, who are being advised to follow detour signs and use crosswalks rather than walk in the road.