North Adams City Council hits pause on push to redevelop Mohawk Theater

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NORTH ADAMS — For now, redevelopment of the Mohawk Theater will wait.

The council again paused a proposal by Mayor Thomas Bernard that would allow him to issue a request for proposals on the historic theater, sending it to a subcommittee for further review.

Despite Bernard's efforts over the past week to address councilors' questions and concerns, several councilors remained uneasy and uncertain about what restrictions could be placed on the theater's potential development.

"It's a cornerstone of Main Street, it's a cornerstone of our community, and I don't think that we should rush into something that we might regret," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin.

The theater has not operated since 1991, except for sporadic special events. Despite its dormancy, the Mohawk continues to be thought of as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the city's downtown.

Citing renewed interest in the theater and the economic momentum and investment ongoing in North Adams, Mayor Thomas Bernard announced in his State of the City address last month that he would seek to issue a request for proposals on the theater.

Before issuing the request for proposals, Bernard needs the City Council to declare that the city-owned property no longer serves a municipal purpose.

Last week, the council debated the proposal and ultimately came to the conclusion that it had too many unanswered questions to move forward, and tabled the matter until Tuesday night to give Bernard time to gather information.

Tuesday's council meeting featured much of the same debate.

State Rep. John Barrett III, who spearheaded the city's purchase of the theater and subsequent development efforts when he served as the city's mayor, appeared at City Hall on Tuesday to rebuke Bernard's approach and highlight the operational model formulated under his administration.

"It was a consensus of the community on how we should move forward," Barrett said.

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Bernard acknowledged the several feasibility studies conducted and ideas proposed in the past.

"What was never ascertained was the operating model that supports those," Bernard said.

The focus of city councilors was around the council's legal ability to place restrictions on any sale of the building.

The council would only get to vote on the proposal selected by Bernard's administration if the offer came in below the assessed value of $446,000 which Bernard said was "incredibly likely."

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, a professional real estate appraiser, agreed that there would not be "any scenario" in which a potential buyer would bid greater than the assessed value.

"If somebody wants to offer less, we're safe, because they have to come back to council to get permission," Wilkinson said.

Councilor Jason LaForest backed Harpin's proposal to refer the matter to the community development committee, reiterating his previous desire to ensure that the property fall back into the city's hands if private development fails.

Bernard replied that such issues would pertain to a future purchase and sale agreement — the step after a request for proposals.

"There is the potential to have those assurances, but what those specific terms and conditions would be are purely speculative at this point," Bernard said.

Councilors Rebbecca Cohen, Joshua Moran and Wilkinson voted against the motion to refer the matter to committee.

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


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