North Adams mayor: Carefully crafted RFP important for Mohawk development future

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NORTH ADAMS — Now that he has the green light from the City Council, Mayor Thomas Bernard said the city will move ahead with developing a request for proposals for the Mohawk Theater.

But it's not going to be a rush job.

"We're going to take our time with that and work with the solicitor on this one," Bernard said.

Bernard laid out his goal for returning the historic city-owned Mohawk Theater to private ownership in his State of the City Address in January. In the months since, the proposal, which required that the City Council adopt a disposition order declaring the property no longer fit for any municipal purpose, has meandered its way from the council to committee and back again.

Last month, the council adopted the disposition order on one condition: that as part of the request for proposals, the city ensure that the historic character of the theater's iconic Main Street marquee be preserved by the future owner.

The Mohawk Theater opened in 1938 and operated for decades as a movie house. Its financial struggles became the regular subject of news articles in the Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript in the 1980s and until the theater shut its doors for good in the early 1990s.

The city acquired the property under the leadership of former Mayor John Barrett III, who made it a cornerstone of his plans to redevelop downtown North Adams. His successor, Richard Alcombright, also worked to develop a plan for the theater's reuse.

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Still, the theater remains unused.

"This is not, for me, a timing issue; this is a process issue," Bernard said. "This is making sure that when we do it, we've developed a good RFP, and developed a restriction that was requested [by the council]."

The city's first priority will be reissuing requests for proposals for other city-owned properties, including Sullivan School and the former Department of Public Works salt shed. The salt shed remains under contract with B&B Micro Manufacturing, but the company, which builds tiny houses, is expected to withdraw its interest in the property after it recently identified a new headquarters in Adams, according to Bernard.

While those RFPs are out, staff at City Hall will continue to develop the request on the Mohawk Theater.

"Adapting the previous RFPs (on city-owned properties), just changing the name and the property card information, isn't quite going to cut it with this one. There's more complexity given the history of it," Bernard said.

When announcing in January his plan to issue an RFP, Bernard noted the uptick in private development happening in the city and a renewed community interest in the theater's redevelopment.

Early indications are that "there is interest out there," Bernard said, but he noted that past RFPs have shown "early interest doesn't mean a submitted proposal."

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


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