Mass MoCA eyes more green in downtown North Adams palette

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NORTH ADAMS — The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has a plan to spruce up the downtown.

By spring — to paraphrase Joni Mitchell — they will have torn out a parking lot and put up a paradise. Mass MoCA planners have come up with a strategy to entice more museum visitors to wander into downtown, and a way to entice visitors to downtown closer to the museum.

The idea is to take the property already owned by the museum since 2014, remove the asphalt parking lot at 25 Marshall St., and demolish the 1970s addition to the original early 1900s mill structure. The parking lot and addition will then be replaced with a green space of grasses, trees and other plantings, with meandering walkways and seating areas.

Along with the green space, a large sculpture will be installed by acclaimed artist Martin Puryear, a National Medal of Arts recipient. The piece, "Big Bling," is a 40-foot tall, multitier wooden structure wrapped in small-link fence fabric topped with a gold-leaf shackle. Some have perceived the shape to resemble a dog or elephant, although the shape also references the shackles of a slave ship.

It has also been an attraction in Madison Square Park in New York City and the Schuylkill River Trail Parkway in Philadelphia.

The project was presented to the North Adams Planning Board on Monday and received unanimous approval.

"I think it's a great idea," said North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard. "The visual appeal will pull more people downtown. It has the potential to be really interesting and open up new avenue for pedestrians."

He is also fond of the idea of "Big Bling" being installed in the new pocket park.

"This fun, massive art piece will be very visible to much of the downtown," he said.

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According to David Rees, deputy director and chief strategy officer at MASS MoCA, that piece of property has been a puzzle ever since the museum bought it in 2014 for $350,000.

"We've been trying to figure out what to do with it," Rees said. But it became clear that the property could serve as a direct link between the museum and the downtown.

Said Rees: "It can be a physical way of getting some of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to become more interested in downtown, and bring downtown into MASS MoCA and a nice green space for all of that live and work in North Adams."

He said the museum would be investing between $100,000 and $200,000 in the project.

The property consists of the mill building and the addition to it, the Subway shop, and the parking lot. Starting this month, the parking lot will be removed and the addition demolished. Before the snow flies, fall plantings will go in and a concrete pad for "Big Bling," which Rees said will probably arrive this fall, will be installed.

In the spring, the landscaping will be finalized. The Subway shop and its parking spaces will not be affected. The existing art piece that is there now, "Carrugaru," will be relocated to a different spot on the MASS MoCA campus, Rees said.

"It's a very visible project that shows our commitment to continuing to enhance the area and let more people see North Adams as a great place to live, work and visit," he said.

Matt Tatro, owner of Italian cuisine restaurant Grazie and taco shop Tres Ninos, said having a pocket park installed right across the street from both of his businesses will be a nice addition, even though some of his customers might have to look a little farther for parking.

"Any and all positive additions to North Adams are a step in the right direction," he said. "We certainly are a concrete downtown and having some green space might soften that up a bit. It should be good for everybody. It's certainly going to help my business."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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