Developer with eye on $18.5 million hotel wins bid for North Adams church, school site

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NORTH ADAMS — The city will move forward in negotiating the sale of the Notre Dame Church to the proposed developer of a new hotel.

The City Council on Tuesday signed off on a $253,000 bid by city-based The Square Office for the historic Notre Dame Church and School property on East Main Street.

With the council's approval in hand, Mayor Thomas Bernard can begin to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement with the developer.

"We really, really believe that this was the most advantageous proposal," Bernard said Tuesday.

This month, Bernard's administration selected a $253,000 bid on the church and school from The Square Office, a new development company formed by city residents Dan Wallis and Emily Daunis.

The bid included a proposal for an $18.5 million Notre Hotel to be built into the property, replete with 64 luxury rooms, a spa and a plethora of other amenities.

Multiple councilors acknowledged concerns about potential impacts of the hotel on the neighborhood, which includes Colegrove Park Elementary School, but only one councilor, Rebbecca Cohen, stood opposed to the bid when the final vote was tallied.

"I don't think that there's been enough investigation into the property and the logistics of having such an expansive structure in that area," said Cohen, who said it was a "great idea" but disagreed with the location.

But several councilors put faith in the process — including the planning board — to vet the project's impacts in regard to parking and traffic.

"Let's have faith in the boards that need to do the job," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson.

And while councilors recognized the hurdles in front of the developer, they did not deter their approval.

"If it doesn't work out, I'm OK to come back to this in a couple years and try again," said Councilor Eric Buddington.

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Councilor Joshua Moran noted the investments the city has made in keeping the church standing.

"To really relieve this property from the city, the sooner, the better," Moran said.

Councilor Benjamin Lamb echoed Moran's argument.

"The one nice thing of it going into the process of going into private hands, it puts it back on the tax rolls immediately," Lamb said.

Councilor Jason LaForest weighed concerns about the project's viability with the desire for historic preservation.

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"We've already lost one steeple in the `steeple city' and it would be a shame to watch another one of these buildings fall into disrepair and ultimately need to be taken down," LaForest said.

The bid was selected over two others in a competitive process — just more than a year after a previous round of bidding drew zero interest in the property.

The Barbara and Eric Rudd Art Foundation had offered $25,000 to use the church building as an extension of its nearby Berkshire Art Museum.

Eric Rudd, an artist, wrote in his proposal that he would take advantage of the church's enormous ceilings to create a new, massive artwork. In his plan, the school building would have eventually been converted into apartments at a more opportunistic time for the rental market.

The second bid, for $1, was submitted by Moresi & Associates Development Co. Owner David Moresi's proposal centered on 12 units of market-rate housing in the school building, with specific plans for the church building to be established.

The Notre Dame Church and School buildings are assessed at a combined $1.2 million, according to city assessor records.

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Because the winning bid did not meet the assessment level, the price requires approval from the City Council before the city moves forward with a purchase and sale agreement.

The city purchased the Notre Dame property in 2008 from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield for $500,000

The second property with a winning bidder approved by the City Council on Tuesday was the city's former salt shed on Ashland Street.

Out of three proposals, the administration selected a $75,000 offer from tiny-house builder B&B Micro Manufacturing, which is looking to relocate from the city-owned Windsor Mill on Union Street.

B&B proposed using the space to expand into building trailers that transport the tiny houses it already manufactures, instead of outsourcing to New Hampshire and other states for trailers.

The tiny-house builder was selected over a $56,000 offer from John Duquette Jr. for a lumberyard and proposed construction supply store, as well as an $80,000 offer from Michael Deep to use the property as storage.

The salt shed proposal won emphatic support from city councilors, who noted the benefit of having a manufacturer in the city.

"It's exciting; you're a home-based company that I feel that I can be proud of," Cohen said.

Wilkinson, who voted last year against a proposed $50,000 bid on the property, said he had planned to vote against the bid but changed his mind. The time has come, he said, to turn the property back over to the private sector.

"As much as I was opposed to it before, I'm on board now," Wilkinson said.

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


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