North Adams mayor: Carefully crafted RFP important for Mohawk development future

The city of North Adams will soon begin the process of soliciting bids for the historic Mohawk Theater — with the condition that the marquee is preserved.

NORTH ADAMS — Private developers will now get their shot at imagining a new life for the Mohawk Theater.

The city of North Adams issued a request for proposals for the property on Thursday, a year and a half after getting a green light from the City Council.

“It’s taken some time, but we got it out,” Mayor Tom Bernard said. “Now, the question is, ‘What interest is there?’ Different people have shared visions for this over the years, and it’ll be interesting to see now if it yields a good proposal.”

Over nearly three decades since the theater closed its doors, multiple attempts by the city to transform the iconic property have failed to gain traction.

Bernard announced his intention to outsource the property’s redevelopment in early 2019, and the council gave him the go-ahead to issue an RFP that May. Councilors added just one restriction: A future owner must preserve the theater’s historic Main Street marquee.

Bernard told The Eagle that a developer would inevitably face some hurdles bringing the theater, which opened in 1938, up to 2021 standards. A weak economy, as the pandemic continues to rage, could also curtail the number of proposals the city can expect to receive.

Still, he hopes that an interested developer might be able to use the winter to come up with a plan and, in an ideal scenario, even close on the property as soon as the spring.

“This place has a sentimental attachment for me, as it does for a lot of people,” he said. “This is an opportunity to see what ideas exist for a place that can really be the touch-point for all kinds of redevelopment in the city.”

Michael Nuvallie, who directs the city’s Office of Community Development, said the delay in putting out the RFP came in part because the city had to deal with a number of other properties before it could turn its attention to the Mohawk Theater.

“It took us a while to analyze the entire batch of properties,” he said. He believes recent efforts to offload city properties have been productive, with a couple of major sales — the former Johnson School and the Notre Dame church and school {span}— expected to close soon. The city is selling both of those properties to local developer David Moresi.

“Those are two big assets we’ll soon have success stories on, and I think that’s garnered interest from other parties looking at North Adams as a place to invest,” Nuvallie said.

The Mohawk Theater shut its doors in 1991 after years of financial struggles, and the city purchased the theater in 1996, under the administration of former Mayor John Barrett III.

During Barrett’s tenure, the city poured millions of dollars, primarily through grant funding, into maintaining and revitalizing the property. Barrett had hoped to develop the property into an event space and community center. His successor, Mayor Richard Alcombright, sought to make a deal with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Both efforts failed to pan out.

At just under half an acre, the property consists of a two-story brick theater with 16,021 square feet of gross building area and is currently assessed at $436,800, according to the city. It can be used for commercial, residential or mixed-use development. Offers below the assessed value would require City Council approval, which means councilors are likely to have another say in the property’s fate.

The city also issued several other RFPs on Thursday, including for the Sullivan School, at 151 Kemp Ave. and the Windsor Mill, at 121 Union St.

Both properties have proved challenging to get rid of. A bid to turn the Sullivan School into a manufacturing training center failed to pass City Council earlier this year, and a potential sale for the Windsor Mill fell apart in 2019.

“All of these assets are a world in and of themselves,” Nuvallie said. “They all have different challenges and constraints.”

Francesca Paris can be reached at and 510-207-2535.