NORTH ADAMS — Could the Steeple City Plaza, one of the largest pieces of commercial real estate in the city, be the future home of the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum?
That was at least considered last summer, when — according to North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey — the museum had an option to buy the property.
The group behind the project envisioned by Thomas Krens even presented plans to business leaders about the plaza as a possible site for the museum, according to two attendees.
Whether those talks and negotiations went any further is unclear. Global Cultural Asset Management, Krens’ consulting firm which is working on the museum project, declined to say if they were still considering buying the plaza.
“We are considering lots of options at the moment,” James Pihakis, the firm’s vice president of operations, told The Eagle on Tuesday. “As soon as we reach a definitive choice we will make an announcement about it.”
Pihakis said he could not estimate when a location announcement would be made. “I can’t speculate because there are lots of factors at play,” he said.
Last year, Macksey said she met with Krens, former director of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, and he told her the plaza was a possible site.
The owners of the plaza recently called Macksey to set up a meeting, but the mayor couldn’t say whether it was related to the museum. “I don’t know what that’s about,” she said.
Some businesses at the Steeple City Plaza, also known as the North Adams Parkade, have struggled to survive in recent years. The plaza has been home to a movie theater since 2007, but on Monday the owners of the North Adams Movieplex 8 announced they would be closing next week. Gordmans, which occupied a large storefront at the plaza, opened in February 2020 only to close a few months later, partly due to some of the financial pressures brought on by the pandemic.
The plaza still houses some businesses, including Planet Fitness and a liquor store.
First Hartford Realty Corporation owns the plaza property. It’s not listed for sale on its website, but has a number of vacancies listed for lease. When asked if the company was talking with museum planners about selling the property, John Toic, the company’s president, declined to comment.
“As a company policy, we don’t respond to inquiries of this nature,” Toic wrote in an email Monday. “We are a publicly traded company and more information about the company including the North Adams Parkade, is available on our website.”
Last summer, some planners of the museum invited a group of downtown business owners to hear about their plans and weigh in, according to Keith Bona, a City Councilor and owner of Berkshire Emporium and Antiques.
Some possible plans showed were at the shopping plaza location, said Bona and Andrew Fitch, owner of a property at the corner of Eagle and Main Streets who also attended the meeting. Planners said they were considering the plaza location but it was not set in stone, Fitch said. “It seems like a good use of the space,” Fitch said.
At 131,691 square feet, plaza has more than enough space to house the museum, which would have an estimated 50,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Bona said overall business owners were positive about the plaza location idea but voiced some concerns, like his worry about traffic.
When The Eagle visited the consulting firm’s North Adams office in early 2022, museum planners said they were eyeing a parcel of land next to Western Gateway Heritage State Park at the Sons of Italy building as a potential site.
Pihakis, then a senior project manager for the consulting firm, said last year it could open by 2025. The museum, a for-profit project, had 32 investors at the time and was planning to launch a capital campaign.
“It’s not overly optimistic to say that we could be fully funded this year and activate the process,” Pihakis said last year. “But, these things take time — that’s the thing that I would also want to stress to the community in general.”
Asked Tuesday where fundraising is at now, Pihakis declined to comment. “When we’re ready to make a public announcement,” he said, “we will be in touch with you.”