WILLIAMSTOWN -- After visitor traffic to the Clark Art Institute slowly dwindled to nothing when the museum and galleries completely closed temporarily to allow the completion of its multiphase expansion and renovation, local merchants had been awaiting the reopening with optimism.
The drop in foot traffic was noticeable during the Clark’s "outage," some have said, and the expected boost in visitors to local shops and eateries after its reopening is widely anticipated.
According to Michele Gietz, co-owner of Where’d You Get That?! on Spring Street in Williamstown, when the Clark started closing its galleries for the expansion project and sent the permanent collection on a world tour, it had a noticeably chilling effect on foot traffic in local stores.
The reopening, she added, "will be huge."
"I don’t think people realize how important the remastering of the Clark is to the art world," she said. "The permanent collection is a worldwide attraction, and now I think the ambiance of the museum and the grounds will be as well. So we are very gratified by the reopening -- we have a very positive outlook."
Barbara Prey is a Williams College graduate and owner of the Barbara Prey Gallery on Spring Street. She also serves on the National Council on the Arts and the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Arts. Prey noted the National Council is in the process of studying the effects of culture on the economy.
"One of our projects is looking at how important the arts are in economic development," she said. "So I will be watching carefully. But I am hopeful [the Clark’s reopening] will impact the economy locally and on Spring Street."
Sharon Sutter, co-owner of the A-Frame Bakery at the corner of Routes 7 and 2, said the Clark "definitely has an impact."
She estimated that on a busy summer day, when The Clark is open, nearly a third of her customers are on their way to or from The Clark.
"I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they’re looking forward to the reopening," Sutter added.
Dan Rhodes, owner of Saddleback Antiques on Route 7, said the reopening will be a "welcome addition" to traffic going by his store.
"We’re all optimistic that this is going to be a good summer," he said.
A sales associate at Nature’s Closet on Spring Street, Sam DeMatteo, noted that he is training as a part-time retail associate at the Clark’s new gift shop.
Among the Spring Street merchants, he said, "there is a lot of excitement about the reopening -- it’s going to be a whole new thing. Most of the tourists that come here have been to the Clark, when it was open."
The final phase of The Clark’s expansion project, completed earlier this week, involved 523 new construction jobs with an economic impact on Massachusetts labor income of $20.7 million -- one of the conclusions of an economic study commissioned by the Clark and conducted by Boston-based Economic Development Research Group (EDR) in 2012.
Other conclusions indicated that local and state tax revenues will increase by $529,000 per year after construction is completed.
The first phase of the 10-year expansion -- eight of which was construction -- was completed in 2008 with the opening of the Stone Hill Center. The second phase, an underground infrastructure, security and shipping/receiving dock, was completed in 2011.
The final phase includes a 44,400-square-foot visitor and exhibition center, featuring glass walls that bring reflected light into the building and allows visitors to better connect with the natural surroundings.
The project includes a total renovation of the original museum building as well as the Manton Research Center. Then there is the installation of new landscaping that includes a one-acre reflecting pool.
After completion, the expanded museum and research center is likely to generate an additional 80 jobs related to the tourism industry, according to the EDR study.
Figures provided by the Clark show an average annual attendance of up to 200,000 people.
Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard said in 2012 that year-to-year, the Clark has a total impact of roughly $39 million on the local economy, and generates about 440 jobs -- about 70 of them in the food service industry and 125 in hotels.
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