Famed architect Frank Gehry to design Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum

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NORTH ADAMS — Thomas Krens is leaning on a familiar partner to design his proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum.

Famed architect Frank Gehry agreed earlier this summer to design the Krens museum, the fifth such project they've worked on together.

Gehry will be in North Adams for a site visit on Friday along with Krens, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, and North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

Krens, who is credited with conceiving of Mass MoCA before leaving to serve as the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation until 2008, first proposed a model railroad and contemporary architecture museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park in 2015.

In the months since, the 83,000-square-foot museum plans have shifted to the adjacent Sons of Italy parcel on Christopher Columbus Drive, but still incorporate the Western Gateway Heritage State Park. Both properties are publicly owned.

Krens has proposed the creation of a Massachusetts Museum of Time and a distillery in the park.

The museum is just one component of an 11-part revitalization plan Krens issued for North Adams, including the renovation of the historic Mohawk Theater and construction of a luxury hotel on Main Street.

Other designers already involved include architect Richard Gluckman and architect Jean Nouvel.

Gehry was the first architect hired to create initial designs of what would eventually become the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 1987, and has collaborated with Krens regularly in the years since, including in the design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

In other recent developments, the museum and city collaborated earlier this month to apply for a $5.4 million state grant through the MassWorks grant. The museum is aiming for funding to demolish the Sons of Italy building to make way for the museum and to reconstruct the bridge that provides access to the site from Route 8.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said the infrastructure improvements would benefit the city regardless of whether or not the museum comes to fruition.

"The bridge construction and a demolition of the Sons of Italy can certainly benefit their project going forward down the road. At the same time, it's also an infrastructure project that the city needs period. We all know the status of that bridge," Alcombright said.

The capital costs alone for constructing the museum and renovating Heritage State Park alone are estimated by the museum at $65 million, according to its application for the MassWorks grant.

Fifty-seven percent of the costs are expected to be borne by private investors, 24 percent from bank financing and the remainder from "corporate sponsorships, tax credits, and state and federal grants."

The museum has raised $2.5 million thus far, according to its Aug. 3 letter to the city in support of the MassWorks application.

In May, the museum struck a deal for a $1.2 million, one-year option to purchase Western Gateway Heritage State Park from the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, which oversees the historic former freight yard.

Following Gehry's tour of the city on Friday, museum and city officials will be joined by Williams College professor Stephen Sheppard, an economist who was commissioned to study the potential economic impacts of Krens' proposal.

Shepherd's analysis was paid for with the $250,000 in MassWorks funds issued to the project last year. He predicts a minimum of 500,000 annual visitors to the museum and a long-term addition of between 1,400 to 2,000 jobs.

Joining Sheppard will be Dr. Gray Ellrodt, chief of Medicine for Berkshire Health Systems, who will comment on the potential impacts of the proposal to public health.

Krens is also expected to outline his proposals.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter


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