City Council explores placing restrictions on sale of Mohawk Theater

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NORTH ADAMS — What restrictions can — and should — be placed on a future sale of the Mohawk Theater?

Now that the City Council has called for further review of a proposal by Mayor Thomas Bernard to issue a request for proposals on the historic theater, councilors will now explore what terms and conditions it should demand before signing off on the mayor's plan.

Though Bernard's request to declare the theater as no longer needed for municipal use — a requirement before issuing an RFP — was delayed for the second consecutive week at the council's meeting on Tuesday, the meeting offered Bernard an opportunity to address some of the councilors' concerns.

In a three-page document circulated to councilors prior to Tuesday night's meeting, Bernard laid out a procedure that the Community Development Committee will now dig into.

One of the council's central concerns is around its ability to set conditions on any future sale of the property.

"The Council has the authority to amend any order, including by placing restrictions on the disposition of the Mohawk Theater property," Bernard clarified.

Exactly what those restrictions might look like will be hashed out by the community development committee and brought back to a full vote of the City Council.

"What I'd be looking for is trying to find some stipulations as to guaranteeing if the property was sold, and there was an issue with the building and they weren't keeping it up or the business had failed, that it could be sold back to the city," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin at Tuesday's meeting.

Though it was not said explicitly said on Tuesday, Bernard told The Eagle on Wednesday that if the council wants to set a restriction that the theater's iconic marquee be preserved, Bernard said "I think that's logical."

"That would be a reasonable amendment."

Still, Bernard defended his thinking in proposing an order that allows for disposition of the property "without restriction as to use."

"I put forward the proposal that was most appropriate, which was to say lets cast the widest net possible. It's now in the in hands of the council to figure out what are their restrictions."

About $2.65 million in state, local and federal funds have been invested in the theater over the past 20 years, according to Bernard.

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In addition to capital investments — including repairs to the roof over the marquee last year — multiple feasibility studies and analyses of the theater have been conducted since 1998.

Most recently, in 2012 and 2013, the Massachusetts Cultural Council supported a $30,000 "pro-forma analysis and updated cost estimates for acquisition feasibility to connect to Dowlin building" as part of the conversation around having the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts house its performing arts program in the Mohawk.

Councilors have also asked about what historical preservation requirements — if any — a developer would have to abide by.

The theater is within the city's Monument Square historic district but is not listed on the National Register of Historic places. The property is also eligible for more than $1 million in historic tax credits, which would be transferable to any for-profit developer who meets certain conditions.

"Note that this is not a restriction on use but on whether a renovation project would be eligible to access rehabilitation tax credits," Bernard said.

Councilor Jason LaForest has repeatedly expressed a desire to ensure that the property would return to city ownership should private development efforts fail. Bernard, in the document, reiterated that such a condition would be a part of a purchase and sale agreement.

"While specific terms and conditions would depend on the nature of the proposal to be negotiated, the agreement will include clearly defined benchmarks and time frames, including a guaranteed down payment at the time the agreement is executed as well as a timeline for completing due diligence and closing the sale. Once this timeline is developed the details will be communicated to the City Council," Bernard wrote.

The council, Bernard confirmed, would only be required to approve a purchase and sale agreement if the winning bidder's offer is less than the assessed value of the property, at $446,000.

Who the winning bidder is would be entirely up to the administration.

"The administration will appoint a committee of city staff to review proposals and make recommendations to the mayor who will make the final determination of the developer with whom to enter into purchase and sale negotiations," Bernard wrote.

To pass, the disposition order would require a two-thirds approval of the City Council.

The Community Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the issue at 6:30 p.m. March 6 at City Hall.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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