Thomas Krens cleared to turn former Sleepy's into home base, showroom

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This story has been updated to clarify that Global Cultural Asset Management will continue to operate in New York City in addition to North Adams.

NORTH ADAMS — Efforts to redevelop North Adams will now be front and center in the city's downtown.

The North Adams Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday voted unanimously to allow arts developer Thomas Krens to set up operations in the former Sleepy's mattress storefront. The authority oversees development on the property.

The move comes as Krens looks to join his New York City-based arts consulting business with his ongoing North Adams projects, most notably the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum.

"He's kept an operation of varying sizes, depending on what work he has going on, in New York," said Ben Sosne, senior project manager for the railroad museum. "For convenience's sake for him and to make the most efficient use of the people who are working and to further the projects in North Adams, he wants to [expand] his New York operation here and really make a statement on the south side of Main Street."

In addition to providing office space for staff members, the storefront will serve as a downtown showroom of sorts for Krens' multipronged efforts to create a "cultural corridor" between North Adams and Williamstown.

At the center of those efforts is the railroad museum, a theme park-inspired hub of model trains and buildings that Krens plans to construct on the city-owned former Sons of Italy parcel on Christopher Columbus Drive. It also includes a fully renovated Western Gateway Heritage State Park, downtown hotel, revitalized Mohawk Theater and more.

As outlined by Krens, the plans could pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

The sprawling project is a second act for Krens in North Adams, more than two decades after he conceived of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Krens founded the company, Global Cultural Asset Management, in 2008, after spending a decade as the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. It counts former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld among its principals, and has operated from offices on Wall Street in New York City.

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Sosne indicated that the downtown office will be searching for new, permanent staff members to support the operation.

"This will need to be staffed with more nuts-and-bolts people so that when people come in as consultants, there's designers on hand to be able to crank out material," he said.

Although the store is being leased for now, Krens' team also disclosed to the redevelopment authority that it is in talks with building owner First Hartford Realty to purchase the property outright.

The store has been vacant since the mattress store closed, aside from occasional use for city functions like the recent artisan and farmers market during WinterFest.

The move into the new office should be complete by May 1, according to Sosne. Only minimal work will be done to the inside. Even the familiar red carpet only needs a cleaning, he said, and staff will construct some interior walls to create workspaces.

The front-facing facade will be painted gray, according to the plans, while the rear side that faces the parking lot will remain unchanged.

The space will be lit from the inside, and feature models and renderings of what Krens if proposing for North Adams.

"It will look from the outside like an architect and design studio," Sosne said.

The EMRCAM project currently leases space from the redevelopment authority at Western Gateway Heritage State Park in Buildings 1 and 2. The museum will vacate Building 1, but it will continue to occupy space in Building 2, which contains model-making equipment and serves as a workshop.

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


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