Mohawk Theater marquee (copy)

The North Adams City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday to talk about the proposed sale of the Mohawk Theater.

Tonight, a special meeting will offer the chance to hear out a serious development proposal for the long-dormant but iconic centerpiece of North Adams’ downtown: the Mohawk Theater.

Want to learn more about the plan to sell the Mohawk Theater? A special meeting Wednesday is for you

How this meeting with Veselko Buntic of Dowlin Building LLC landed on the City Council’s agenda is a twisting tale. Mr. Buntic’s was the sole bid when the city recently put out a fresh request for proposals for the Mohawk.

His offer to buy the vacant, city-owned building and turn it into an event and performance space piqued the interest of Mayor Tom Bernard, who earlier this month told the City Council that he planned to sell the Mohawk to Dowlin, saying he did not need the council’s OK to do so, according to a recent legal opinion.

Mohawk Theater sale moving forward with proposal for multipurpose space for events, performances

Shortly after, a disagreement between Mayor Bernard and state Rep. John Barrett over the Mohawk proposal spilled into the open, raising the temperature on the issue. Then, it was raised again when City Councilor Keith Bona publicly bristled at the mayor moving to sell the Mohawk without the council’s input. He requested a council vote to rescind an April 2019 order allowing the mayor to unilaterally sell the property.

Fortunately, the City Council decided at its last meeting to turn the temperature down instead of up, resulting in a compromise plan to put off any action until after hearing a presentation from Mr. Buntic and getting community feedback. Hence tonight’s special meeting, after which council members said they could still move to rescind the 2019 order if they wish.

The Mohawk Theater — a jewel of the past languishing in the present but with great potential for the future — is a material and symbolic linchpin for North Adams’ revitalization efforts. As such, it behooves city leaders to move on its redevelopment in a way that is purposeful yet thoughtful. Some have expressed worries that Mr. Buntic’s offer of $21,000 on a property assessed at $400,000 is too low. It’s understandable that some might seek more cash in city coffers and skin in the game from a developer eyeing a downtown icon. The Mohawk is in need of considerable work before it is repurposed, though, which should be weighted in this calculation. This wasn’t the first time the city put out an RFP for the Mohawk, but this time around Mr. Buntic’s proposal was the only bid and it’s the only serious one on the table right now; it deserves careful consideration, which tonight’s meeting should allow.

What also must be carefully considered is whether the city should place conditions of improvement on this or any purchase proposal for the Mohawk. If so, it would be up to city officials to determine exactly what these conditions should be, but they must be part of the equation so that whatever the city doesn’t get in a sale price is realized in long overdue improvements to a prominent downtown property footed and, in turn, an increase in assessed valuation and taxes.

The fireworks around these developments underscore the potential for sparking factional politics and personality clashes among local leaders. These reactions are unproductive on issues that play an outsize role for the city’s future. Hopefully the instinct to turn down the temperature and assess all the facts before acting, as the compromise plan to hold the special meeting suggests, will win out. Mayor Bernard’s term is nearly over, with a new administration only a month away from being sworn in. Whatever the city solicitor’s opinion and council’s actions on the 2019 order, it might be best to pump the brakes a bit and let the mayor-elect chosen by voters to lead the city’s executive office weigh in on this critical issue. The last thing the community needs is even the perception that this process was rushed or squeezed through amid controversy and conflict.

The futures of the Mohawk Theater and North Adams are intertwined. For anyone within the community who wants to engage with this proposal and let officials know what they think, take the opportunity tonight. We hope city leaders listen carefully, and move thoughtfully and transparently through this ongoing process.

The Mohawk deserves nothing less.