Our Opinion: Reviving historic Mohawk would boost North Adams

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On Thursday, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard delivered his annual State of the City address to a group of citizens and dignitaries, and as such speeches by incumbent municipal leaders tend to be, Mayor Bernard's was upbeat and forward-looking, accentuating the positives and touting opportunities. The mayor did indeed have something to crow about, citing development activity that has produced new jewels in the Steeple City's crown like the Tourists Hotel, Greylock Works and the Norad Mill small business hub, many if not most of these projects having gotten underway during the administration of his predecessor, Richard Alcombright.

The mayor announced a plan to make city government more responsive to businesses and residents by holding monthly listening sessions with the public, as well as fostering a "culture of development" by the creation of business zones and effective use of tax incentives. Public safety got its due with a nod to the planned — but as-yet unfunded — new public safety building, and the hiring of new officers now that the city has separated from the Civil Service system. North Adams' joining of the class-action suit against Big Pharma may bring settlement money to help fight the city's war against opioid abuse. Cities like North Adams and Pittsfield that have been hit with the opioid blight shouldn't hesitate to do so.

The centerpiece of Mayor Bernard's address, however, was the articulation of his open-ended vision for exploiting and resurrecting a dormant civic asset, the 81-year old Mohawk Theater located on Main Street. Clearly the mayor understands how such a landmark can be turned into a centerpiece for his city — he only has to look as far as Pittsfield's Beacon Cinema and Colonial Theatre, as well as the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and the Triplex in Great Barrington. These venues have become anchors to those mature municipalities' downtown areas, attracting arts-loving crowds possessing discretionary funds to spend on related activities like dining out and shopping.

First opened 80 years ago primarily as a movie house, the art deco Mohawk was a downtown mainstay until the mid-1980s. The city has undertaken some basic upkeep over the years and it remains structurally sound. It still sports its iconic marquee, thanks to a renovation effort in the late 1990s. But it is certain that interior renovations would be required before its doors could be opened as a full-time Main Street entertainment venue and a key component in drawing people downtown.

While efforts to revive the Mohawk over the past three decades have not borne lasting fruit, the city can't stop exploring ideas. Knowing that the mayor, with his avowed business-friendly approach, has made its revival a priority may spur would-be developers to put on their thinking caps. Significantly, City Council President Keith Bona mentioned a caveat: While the whole idea of developing the Mohawk is still in its nascent stage, it's important to bear its historical significance in mind when considering options. That kind of prudent thinking, rather than being restrictive, is crucial to the proper and effective exploitation of this historic venue. It is time the Mohawk fulfilled its true potential, and the city's revived interest in its future is a promising sign.


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