David Atwell, second from right, is getting some help from current and former employees to get 23 Eagle St. ready for the new Desperado's restaurant.
David Atwell vowed to return to North Adams when his restaurant Desperado's closed on Ashland Street. He'd hoped to do it within the year but it ended up taking five.
The Mexican restaurant will reopen in the city this fall in the former The Alley location at 23 Eagle St. It's a spot Atwell's been eyeing for the past five years; he finally got it on Wednesday, when he closed with Legacy Bank to purchase the 4,200-square-foot property and its contents for $156,000.
"We wanted this building for five years," he said on Thursday, standing in the minor chaos of a restaurant in transformation. "It's small, easy to maintain and homey."
Atwell's Desperado's Fresh Mexican Grille in the Colonial Shopping Center in Williamstown has been operating for about 17 years. A big chunk of its clientele is from North Adams, which made him eager to return — but not unless he could own his location. His first venture here closed largely because of rental costs. "I wanted to be in control of my own building, my own costs," he said.
The Alley, which replaced a string of cafes before it, closed abruptly in January after father and son owners Jack and Keith Nogueira couldn't keep the bistro going. The building and its contents were to be sold off at auction in late June but Legacy Banks put in the only bid at $155,000 and the contents, which were to be auctioned seperately, were not offered.
Atwell, one of those attending the auction, said Legacy was aware he was interested in the property. He worked with the bank, which holds the mortgage, and particularly noted commercial relationship officer John Masten for making the process easy.
The dark colors and nightclub atmosphere will be completely erased. "We're going to paint the walls with warm Southwestern colors my wife [Deanna] and her sister picked out," said Atwell. The tables will be replaced with upholstered booths and some work will be done in the kitchen and second floor, where The Alley hosted musical acts.
Cleaning, patching under way.
Atwell is looking into an entertainment license but sees the second floor being used for private parties, benefits and teen dances. The long-term plan is to turn it into living loft space.
Employees from the Williamstown restaurant will work at both locations as necessary and former employees are expected to fill out his team.
The menu will be the same at both locations but the North Adams eatery will be open for lunch six days a week (the Williamstown eatery opens for lunch Thursday to Saturday.) Hours will be 11 to 10 Monday through Thursday and 11 to 11 Friday and Saturday. Atwell was approved by the Planning Board and received an all-alcoholic license to midnight from the Licensing Commission.
"We've set a goal of Nov. 1 to open," he said. "That will keep us working."
The vestibule for elevator access is being constructed on the Porter Street side of the armory on Ashland Street.
Wondering what that little building on the Porter Street side of the armory is? It's the entrance to an elevator.
The handicapped access is just one of the many renovations being undertaken to transform the former military building into a facility suitable for community use.
The city took over the state structure in 2007 and began fixing it up — little by little — with the help of grants and state and federal funding.
Michael Nuvallie, of the city's Office of Community Development, said last week that this is just the latest in a number of project phases that began with the redoing the roof.
The construction of the vestibule and elevator will cost an estimated $324,000 and the work is being done by Burke Construction of Adams. Some $375,000 was targeted for the project by U.S. Rep. John W. Olver in the 2010 omnibus appropriations bill to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So far, the building's been stabilized, new concrete stairs and walkways have been poured and other exterior upgrades have been made.
"We picked four spots for an elevator; the best one for the dollar is Porter Street," said Nuvallie. "It makes sense for traffic and we can put handicapped parking there, too."
This phase should be completed by early fall. The next will be work on the bathrooms and concession stand and new heating systems, for which the city has applied for Community Development Block Grants. Nuvallie said he expects the grants to be awarded on or about the latter part of July.
"I think the important thing to key in on is the transformation from a national mility barracks to a true public building is going to take time to do it right," he said. "We definitely need to do the office spaces on the second and third floor, get rid of all the old fencing and make it friendlier and prettier ... make it right for community use."
The building still won't be open to the public; it's being limited to use by the North Adams Basketball League, which has been utilizing the gym there for years. The gym also had been used by the Drury High School basketball team decades ago.
"The goal is to turn it into a community youth center," said Nuvallie. "The basketball league is perfect for that. We hope we can keep working without interrupting their season."
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.