NORTH ADAMS -- An online petition to protest the possible demolition of the former St. Francis Church at the corner of Eagle and Union streets is closing in on organizers' goal of 2,000 signatures.

Reports have surfaced that CVS Pharmacies is seeking to buy the St. Francis property as a new location for a CVS store, which is now located next to Big Y.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said he has had several discussions with CVS representatives regarding the idea of demolishing St. Francis and building a new CVS store on that corner.

Several sources have said that the company may be applying for a demolition permit soon. Under recent city regulations, a demolition applicant must first attend a hearing of the North Adams Historical Commission for approval.

Alcombright said he expressed reluctance at the prospect of the loss of the iconic structure and has sought some sort of compromise. He even tried showing other possible locations for a new CVS store, but the company only showed interest in the St. Francis property, he said.

St. Francis has been on the market since 2009, when the congregations of St. Francis and St. Anthony merged to become St. Elizabeth. Once vacant, the property landed back on the tax rolls, and the congregation has to pay the property tax on that structure every year, along with maintenance of the aging 1863 structure.

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, declined to comment on any ongoing negotiations regarding the purchase of diocese property.

"All I can say is that we are in negotiations with an interested party," he said.

Alcombright said the St. Francis structure is an iconic landmark in the city, especially on the Route 2 corridor, and its loss would be a blow to the aesthetics of North Adams.

Joshua Field, who helped launch the petition drive, agreed.

"It is a critical historic component of the architectural make up of North Adams," he said. "But I don't think that they (CVS) care -- it seems like for them it's just another building."

Field said a number of activists had been distributing flyers and T-shirts, and pushing the petition, for about 18 months.

He plans to send copies of the petition to all the parties involved, including CVS, the city and the diocese.

He would like to see a group composed of city officials and concerned citizens get together and solicit plans and capital to come up with a viable option to offer the diocese, but he fears there may not be enough time.

"The sight of all those steeple as you're coming down Route 2 is stunning -- to lose one of them could endanger all of them," Field said. "And it's not that I hate CVS. I don't. I want CVS in town, just not in the context of tearing down a historic structure."

"This is the ‘Steeple City,' " Alcombright noted. "So we need to preserve as many of our steeples as we can."

And having a CVS at that corner would not be a good idea because that is already a very busy intersection, he added.

"That's just not the right solution," Alcombright said. "Not just because it's St. Francis, but because there is already so much traffic congestion as it is."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford