State rejects $5.4 million grant request for Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum


NORTH ADAMS — In a setback for the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, the state has denied an application for a $5.4 million grant to help get the project rolling.

The joint application for a MassWorks grant was submitted in August by the museum and the city of North Adams.

"They were not selected for this round," said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, who was in North Adams this week to award a MassWorks grant to the developers of the Greylock Mill. "We continue to be very interested in the project and I'll be coming back to talk to them about it."

The funding would have been used to demolish the former Sons of Italy building on Christopher Columbus Drive, the site of the proposed museum, and rehabilitate the two-lane bridge that connects the site to the road. 

"Had they owned the parcel, had they been a little further along in development, I think they would have won," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who supported the application.

Proposed by Thomas Krens in 2015, the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum was initially planned for Western Gateway Heritage State Park, but it was shifted south in May to the more accommodating Sons of Italy parcel, which is owned by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority.

The plans also call for a complete privatization and renovation of Western Gateway Heritage State Park and, eventually, redevelopment of much of the city's downtown. 

The project could bring 1,400 permanent jobs to the area and generate more than $125 million of economic activity annually, according to an economic study commissioned by the developers. 

Krens could not be reached for comment on the grant rejection.

Both the Western Gateway Heritage State Park and Sons of Italy parcels, overseen by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, are included in a $1.2 million purchase option negotiated with the museum. That option expires in May 2018.
The museum can extend the option for another year, but must make a nonrefundable $30,000 deposit to do so.
The project was awarded $250,000 in the 2016 round of MassWorks awards to enter the next phase of planning, which was matched on schedule with $600,000 that was privately raised. 
Alcombright said he is not worried about the viability of the project following the rejection of its grant application, noting its focus on private fundraising. As of August, the museum had raised about $2.5 million of the $65 million it seeks to renovate Heritage State Park and build the museum on the Sons of Italy parcel. 

The museum can apply for the same grant in the 2018 round if it so chooses.

The mayor said he supported the proposal because the Redevelopment Authority would benefit from the demolition of the Sons of Italy and reconstruction of the bridge, regardless of the future of the model railroad museum.

"If they were on a train out of here tomorrow, those two things still need to be done," Alcombright said.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at, @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, and 413-496-6376.


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