Hoosic River group, planned museum reach land-use agreement in North Adams

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NORTH ADAMS — After months of negotiation, Hoosic River Revival and the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum have struck a deal to share the former Sons of Italy parcel in a way that the organizations believe will benefit both projects.

As it embarks on a gargantuan effort to reshape and rehabilitate its namesake, Hoosic River Revival sought the former Sons of Italy parcel on Christopher Columbus Drive to extend a flood-protection wall along the river.

For the museum, the approximately 11-acre property offers a more suitable and spacious home to its building, which it originally had planned for the adjacent Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

For several months, the two organizations have worked through terms of an agreement for use of the land — which is still owned by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority.

"We're thrilled that [the museum] recognizes the importance of our project, because we see both projects being critical to the revitalization of downtown North Adams," said Jason LaForest, executive director of Hoosic River Revival.

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The agreement, the organizations believe, will leave enough space to fit an 83,000-square-foot museum — it's expected to draw hundreds of thousands of annual visitors if and when it opens — and suit the needs of the Hoosic River Revival.

"We've always felt there's plenty of room. It's just a matter of making sure that we understand exactly where the [flood-control] wall needs to move and what those critical needs of their project and our project are ... we've always felt that [the river group] complements us, so a lot of the work they're going to be doing just makes our project more appealing," said Ben Sosne, senior project manager for the museum.

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To the Hoosic River Revival, the land is an integral piece of its efforts to redesign the southern branch of the Hoosic River in a way that is more accessible, while maintaining or improving the level of flood protection that exists.

To facilitate the agreement, Hoosic River Revival honed in on exactly what it needs to carry out its plans — which amounted to less than 10,000 square feet.

The agreement allows Hoosic River Revival access to $200,000 set aside by the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Division of Ecological Restoration to enter the next phase of design for the south branch of the river. If it wins approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, the organization hopes to tap into $8.775 million budgeted in a bond bill by the Legislature to pay for the rehabilitation of the south branch. The two organizations also noted that the agreement leaves room for other future development in the area, such as a proposed bike path and the Berkshire Scenic Railway.

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The easement will be struck with the Redevelopment Authority, which still owns the Sons of Italy parcel and Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

The museum has an option to purchase the Sons of Italy parcel, as well as Western Gateway Heritage State Park, from the authority. The option is set to expire in May, but Sosne said the museum will approach the authority to resolve that issue.

Should the museum exercise its option to buy the property, it would be required to honor the easement and Hoosic River Revival's right to the land.

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


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