NORTH ADAMS — What is the distance between lower Manhattan and downtown North Adams?
Answer: 600 feet.
At least, that's how far apart the scale models of each city will be inside the proposed model train and architecture museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
It's difficult to imagine a 32,000-square-foot museum centered in the heart of Western Gateway Heritage State Park. So Thomas Krens, founder of the Extreme Model Railroad and Architecture Museum, used a scale model as a visual aid on Wednesday in his presentation about the project to city officials and the North Adams Redevelopment Authority.
The display was coupled with a newly released concept development study that projected annual attendance near 300,000, major economic benefit to the area, and employment of dozens at the proposed museum.
Following the presentation, the North Adams Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Richard Alcombright to join forces with Krens in applying for federal and state funding. Krens expects about 75 percent of the cost of the project to be covered by the private sector, with the remainder coming from public sources.
"I'm wowed by it," said Michael Leary, a member of the Redevelopment Authority Board.
Last year, Krens outlined a vision for a massive model railroad museum that would be family-friendly and draw in visitors from the nearly 30 million people who live within 175 miles of North Adams. In total, the industrial museum building would cost $8.2 million and be built onto and contain the park's largest building, just north of the Freight Yard Pub, and contain nearly 10 miles of track used by some 50 trains.
The cost of the model installations and interior construction is estimated at $7.6 million, while preliminary operating costs would total an estimated $2.7 million.
The museum, Krens believes, would be "the best of its kind in the world. Period."
As the project moves into its next phase — development of a park master plan, architectural drawings, and a detailed feasibility study — the initial concept development study outlines a timeline that would have the massive museum completed sometime in 2018.
The museum was one of three ambitious North Adams investments proposed by Krens in 2015; he also announced plans for a global contemporary art museum at the Harriman and West Airport grounds on State Road and he put his weight behind a renovation of the Mohawk Theater on Main Street. All three remain in the planning and fundraising stages.
Krens is known locally for envisioning the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary art in the 1980s but he also served at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and gained international recognition as the director of the Guggenheim Foundation from 1988 to 2008.
The model of the museum unveiled on Wednesday included miniature models of New York City — including a 31-foot-tall replica of the Empire State Building — on one end of the building and a miniature model of downtown North Adams at the other. It featured a railcar restaurant attached to the museum and garage doors that would open to allow viewing of the adjacent freight rail line when trains pass.
The building would be constructed with an eye on preserving the historic buildings in the park — a former railyard — and with space available for current tenants, including the North Adams Historical Society and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Though initial attendance estimates are more conservative, the developers expect the building to be able to handle up to 600,000 visitors every year.
Krens' proposed model train museum, which he believes can attract top architects, would be loosely comparable to the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany. That attraction brings in more than a million visitors annually.
The museum plans were announced last year after the collapse of a proposal by a group of private investors to renovate Heritage State Park into the Greylock Market, a mixed-use commercial hub.
The new vision, which would see the redevelopment maintain complete oversight of the park, is in stark contrast to Alcombright's prior plans to completely privatize the park with the Greylock Market. The mayor said Wednesday that the frustration with the park always has been a lack of revenue, which this development would address.
Krens' vision for the entire park includes a cafe and gift shop, Mass MoCA store, and dining car restaurant that, when coupled with the museum, would bring in some $534,000 of revenue annually to the Redevelopment Authority. Under the current plan, the museum itself would pay $294,220 in rent annually.
The museum would be expected to bring in some $12 million to the local economy in its first two years, according to an analysis by Williams College economic professor Stephen Sheppard's Center for Creative Community Development.
Once operating, it would have a positive effect of $15.37 million every year, assuming it receives 150,000 visitors. At that level, the museum also would generate more than $2 million annually in federal, state and local taxes.