George Whaling ’84, president of Whaling Properties LLC of Pittsfield, Mass., was featured in an article in the Berkshire Eagle for the impact he has made on Pittsfield. Whaling has been, according to the article, “a major contributor to the revitalization of the city’s downtown.”
“I think it speaks for itself that every building that George buys becomes a beautiful showpiece,” the article quotes Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc. “This office is always excited when he buys a new building. The Greystone Building, Crawford Square. He’s very business-savvy. When he puts his hands on something, he makes it beautiful.”
Whaling earned a B.A. in economics from Hobart College.
The full article about his career and his impact on the city follows.
Developer Whaling changing face of North Street
Tony Dobrowolski • Berkshire Eagle Staff • May 8, 2011
PITTSFIELD — When Brenda Torchio moved her restaurant/catering business into the Crawford Square building seven years ago, the two-story structure on the corner of North and Depot streets needed repairs.
So four years ago, Torchio decided to renovate her spot. When she finished the project, she said: “Our space was the best-looking space in the building.”
“Now our space looks ratty,” she said. “It’s a big, big change.”
The reason for the change?
George Whaling bought the building.
Whaling, 50, is the president of Whaling Properties LLC, a Pittsfield-based real-estate development company that has been a major contributor to the revitalization of the city’s downtown.
Last month he joined the board of directors of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency charged with developing the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, but downtown is where Whaling has made his mark — the vast majority of it positive.
Exhibit A: the Crawford Square building, which he bought for $450,000 in November 2009.
He took a drab, non-descript office building that was only half-occupied, redid the interior and exterior, and turned it into a modern retail/office complex. He also hired designer William Caligari to upgrade the building’s facade, lobby and retail storefronts.
The occupancy rate has gone from 50 percent to 92 percent.
“It’s a long-term investment,” Whaling said. “It’s not my business model to buy it and put it on the market to make a quick $50,000.”
The six other buildings Whaling owns on the North Street corridor — part of his Pittsfield real-estate portfolio — appear to mirror the vision he had for Crawford Square.
The Greystone Building, on the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue, has become a residential and commercial hub on upper North Street. And although a smattering of businesses have either closed or moved recently from the other side of North Street, where he also owns property, Whaling helped bring condominium living downtown when he developed the upper floors of 433 North St. (He since has sold all of the condominium units in that building.)
Whaling has impressed people involved in the renovation of downtown Pittsfield.
“I think it speaks for itself that every building that George buys becomes a beautiful showpiece,” said Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc. “This office is always excited when he buys a new building. The Greystone Building, Crawford Square. He’s very business-savvy. When he puts his hands on something, he makes it beautiful.”
“From the first time I met George [in 2001], he believed in making downtown a destination location that was critical for the city of Pittsfield,” Mayor James M. Ruberto said. “As a private investor he can bring that vision to reality.”
Most of Whaling’s current and former tenants describe him as a good landlord.
“He’s a great guy,” said Emporium co-owner Carrie Wright, who moved from a Whaling-owned building on North Street to a bigger place on South Street in January. “He’s really trying to bring Pittsfield back to life.”
‘Tenancy at will’
Landlords and tenants don’t always live in harmony, of course.
Whaling said he had a rocky relationship with Jimmy Tran, who owns Lucky Nails, which last May moved to the Allendale Shopping Center from a building Whaling owns on North Street.
Whaling said the shop’s lease reverted to “tenancy at will,” a legal term that refers to a tenancy that can be terminated by either the owner or the tenant provided the statutory requirements for notice are met.
“I didn’t force [him] out,” Whaling said.
Tran said there were problems with the ceiling and that the two had disputes over several issues, including the odor from the nail process, and parking and snow removal.
Tran said the shopping center is a better fit for his business because it contains more parking than North Street, but he said his issues with Whaling are what caused him to move.
“Part of the challenge with a nail salon is the odor,” Whaling said. “If you think about what’s upstairs, it’s a dance studio with little ballerinas. There were concerns … I think it got to a point where we both decided [to move on].”
Whaling said landlords normally evict a few residential tenants each year.
“It hasn’t happened on the commercial front,” he said. “It’s the ebb and flow of the real-estate commercial world. Tenants come and tenants go, and there’s a number of reasons why they come, and there’s a number of reasons why they go.”
The early days
A native of Carthage, N.Y., Whaling originally came to Pittsfield in 1990, to help grow and manage the Sampco Companies, which designs and manufactures samples and displays for the global building materials industry.
Owner Michael Ryan founded Sampco in his Denver apartment in 1986 before moving the company to Pittsfield, and Whaling said the company was still a start-up when he joined.
“I wanted to develop a situation in which I could build some equity,” Whaling said. “I was treated very, very well at Sampco, but the opportunities to invest in that company were not present at that time.”
An economics major in college, Whaling made his first purchase in 1996, when he bought a two-family house in Pittsfield.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I walked off a golf course after a good 18-hole round at the Country Club of Pittsfield, went to an open house on a two-family on Elizabeth Street, ran some quick numbers in my head, and decided to go after it.”
Whaling purchased a couple of two-family homes the following year, then bought a few more.
“I just continued to do that,” he said. “I was very, very lucky in the timing, because that’s when you could buy two-families for under $40,000 in nice areas.”
Whaling didn’t buy his first commercial building until 2001, but he entered that market in a big way. He closed on the Greystone Building, the Livingston Building on East Street, and an adjacent structure on Second Street, all on the same day in January.
“That’s what put me in a situation where I wasn’t in Kansas anymore,” he said. “Dorothy, this isn’t a two-family.”
Whaling said his decision to pursue structures that have mixed commercial and residential uses “just evolved,” and that he tends to look for structurally sound buildings in nice or upcoming neighborhoods that need “professional management and cosmetic repositioning.”
Whaling said a turning point came in 2002 when Beverly Dubiski opened Bellissimo Dolce cafe, a combination bakery, cafe and tea room in the first floor of the Greystone Building. The owners of several other commercial ventures, including a tattoo parlor and a variety store, approached Whaling about using that space before he settled on Dubiski.
“Bev was starting to attract [people] from South County and North County that typically would not have gone to North Street because there was no reason to go to North Street,” Whaling said. “You want to talk about a milestone or a threshold — that was one of them.”
Dubiski sold Bellissimo Dolce in 2007 to Jessica Rufo, who now operates Dottie’s Coffee Lounge at that spot.
City officials say Whaling’s ventures downtown have paralleled their own redevelopment efforts.
“Because he was creative and outgoing and willing to use new opportunities, he was a natural ally for the city,” Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said. “He’s never been afraid to invest his own dollars. He became an investor and a key stakeholder in all that we are trying to achieve.”
As for PEDA — Whaling’s latest venture — the 13-year-old organization is in the process of signing a lease that would bring its first commercial tenant, MountainOne Financial Partners, to the Stanley Business Park.
PEDA’s new executive director, Corydon “Cory” Thurston, said he’s looking forward to working with Whaling, who will attend his first meeting as a board member on May 18.
“He has experience in the development business and real estate, and has some marketing savvy,” Thurston said. “He certainly knows Pittsfield and its development needs. I think he’ll be a great asset to the board.”
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George Whaling bio
Hometown: Carthage, N.Y.
Title: President of Whaling Properties LLC of Pittsfield.
Education: 1984 graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges; economics major.
Professional affiliations: Board member, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.
Downtown Pittsfield properties: Greystone Building, 440 North St.; 417, 441, 391 and 344 North St.; Crawford Square Building, 137 North St.; 34 Depot St.
Marital status: Single.