North Adams City Council moves to preserve Mohawk Theater marquee

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NORTH ADAMS — Regardless of what the Mohawk Theater becomes, its historic marquee should be preserved.

That is the priority of the City Council's Community Development Committee, which on Tuesday recommended that the historic Main Street sign be preserved in any proposal for the theater's redevelopment.

The committee was tasked with recommending restrictions on the sale of the Mohawk Theater to the full City Council, which will vote on adding them to a disposition order allowing Mayor Thomas Bernard to issue a request for proposals and seek a buyer for the property.

Since announcing his intention to seek a private developer for the theater — which has not operated for more than 25 years despite multiple investments under city ownership and several plans for its reuse — Bernard and the City Council have been working through the logistics of selling such a culturally significant property.

City councilors, from the beginning, expressed a desire to see certain restrictions on the property's redevelopment.

As per state law, the City Council won't get to vote on the winning bidder on the theater unless the offer comes in below the building's assessed value, $446,400. So, to ensure it has some input on the property's future, the council opted to explore conditions on the disposition order it must approve before Bernard issues RFPs.

The marquee's preservation was one of two conditions the committee recommended on any sale of the city-owned historic theater.

The committee also recommended that Bernard be required to present each response to RFPs to the City Council. Although the City Council would not get to vote on the winning bidder — a choice entirely up to Bernard — the process would allow for public input before a buyer is chosen.

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"The committee felt these restrictions provided structure, transparency, an opportunity for community feedback at major points in the process, and maintained the most core and important part of the building, without becoming over-restrictive to a point that it would prevent [responses] from coming forth," said City Councilor Benjamin Lamb, who chairs the committee.

Tuesday's meeting was the second held by the Community Development Committee. At its first, in March, the committee recommended that the city reverse the typical process of selling city-owned property. The committee asked that Bernard issue RFPs and select a winning bidder prior to the City Council signing off on the disposition order.

But the committee's recommended approach was quashed by the city's attorney, who advised against such a reversal.

"Prior to issuing [RFPs] for the sale of the Mohawk Theater Property, [Massachusetts General Law] requires the City first determine the Property is surplus and available for disposition, define any restrictions it wishes to put on the buyer's use of the property, and determine the value of the property," wrote Stephen Marsters Jr., an attorney with KP Law.

On Tuesday, the committee approached the issue once again and laid out two restrictions.

"The marquee was the obvious one that came up over and over again with the public," said Councilor Eric Buddington, a member of the committee. "In that context, the restriction on the marquee is small enough that I don't think it will suppress people's ideas."

Lamb expressed a similar hesitance to be overly restrictive.

"We opted to keep it to just the two [restrictions] because we felt that we didn't want to get too finely into the minutia in a way that could restrict idea generation through a more open RFP process, but we did want to create that transparency and guarantee of the marquee integrity being maintained in perpetuity," Lamb said.

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


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