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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Kennedy Delivers $2 Million Boost to City

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, August 05, 2005

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at the Mohawk Theater on Aug. 5.
•Click to view video 1
•Click to view video 2
North Adams – Sen. Edward M. Kennedy delivered $2 million worth of good news to the city and a promise of continuing support for a Mohawk Theater restoration project during an Aug. 5 Berkshire region trip.

The junket included a 45-minute stop at the Main Street-based theater, and Kennedy spoke to a crowd of about 70 city and state elected officials and citizens from the theater’s interior.

Kennedy’s wife Victoria accompanied Kennedy for the visit, which included stops in Pittsfield and at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

The federal transportation funds awarded to the city are part of a bill approved earlier this summer by the U.S. Congress. Kennedy noted the fierce competition for such funds and credited Mayor John Barrett III for diligent efforts on behalf of the city.

“The projects [that received funding] had to be well-defined and well thought through,” Kennedy said. “North Adams did that.”

One Grant, Double Benefit


North Adams Mayor John Barrett III spoke about the Mohawk Theater renovation project.
A significant portion of the funds will be used to pay for work slated to occur behind the Mohawk Theater. The planned improvements will benefit both the theater and the city as a whole, according to Barrett. Overall theater renovation plans include restoration of the interior and the demolition and reconstruction of a rear brick wall; that wall and the surrounding grounds are easily visible from Route 2 and serve as one of the city’s visual calling cards.

“Because the Mohawk Theater [rear] faces the street, we want to make that as attractive as possible,” Barrett said. “There’s going to be a lot of work needed behind the Mohawk Theater.”

A share of the money will benefit a city-wide beautification project that works in tandem with theater plans, Barrett said. Anticipated work includes burying overhead utility lines, building pedestrian walkways, creating and erecting signage that will guide visitors to downtown venues, and adding additional sections of period lighting in the areas of River and Union streets.

City Councilor Marie Harpin hailed the financial news as “a big plus for the city.”

“This shows that our elected officials don’t think of us just at election time,” she said. “We are the smallest city in the state and we have Sen. Kennedy here to make the presentation.”

“It’s fantastic, it’s a very big deal,” said state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. D-Pittsfield.

“We’re all joining in the celebration of what’s to come,” said City Councilor Gailanne Cariddi.

City Councilor Alan Marden termed the theater renovation as vital to the city’s economic future.

“This is the centerpiece that will bring it all together,” he said.

State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley D-North Adams was also among the dignitatries who came to the theater for Kennedy's appearance.

HUD Funding Sought

The theater project is considered a pivotal piece of the city’s arts-and–tourism based economic revitalization. The property first opened on Nov. 5, 1938 as part of the E.M. Lowe movie theater chain. For over five decades, the “Mohawk” was an integral part of the city’s downtown and social climate, but competition from multi-screen theaters proved too much for many single-screen movie houses and the already-deteriorating theater closed in 1991. The theater is the last large-screen movie house remaining in the Northern Berkshires and is one of a very few “art-deco” style theaters in the nation.

Barrett has long been committed to renovating and opening the property and restoring the site as a Main Street destination.

Kennedy is working to acquire $280,000 in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for the theater project. The money is part of a spending bill that will be considered – and, according to reports, likely approved – during the fall. If secured, the money would join $200,000 in financial assistance given to the project last year.

“These are just down payments in the beginning,” Kennedy said of the first funding rounds. “We know this is a multi-million-dollar project.”

Following his introduction by Barrett and an enthusiastic standing ovation delivered by about 70 spectators, Kennedy praised Barrett and the theater project as an example of economic development rooted in culture and the arts. The Mohawk Theater is a significant component of the city’s continuing success, he said.

“This theater was one of the outstanding, unique theaters in New England,” Kennedy said. “We’ll all have a chance to be here some night for a grand opening performance.”

Barrett acknowledged the opening of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Marshall Street as an economic “engine” but stressed that more must be done to fulfill the city’s economic vision.

Mayor John Barrett III presented a trio of photographs of the theater marquee to Sen. Kennedy and his wife Victoria. The marquee hosted a welcome to Kennedy and his wife.


Project architect James Alexander of the Feingold and Alexander architectural firm noted that E.M.Loew invested in the city decades ago, and the same site is generating new investment. Plans described as “very preliminary” were on display during Kennedy’s visit, and Alexander told the crowd that the planned renovations are not expected to be difficult to accomplish from a construction standpoint.

“We can replicate and restore this without a great deal of difficulty,” he said.

Construction drawings could be completed by year's end, and if funds are in place, theater renovations could begin sometime in 2006. Alexander said that the project will likely unfold in phases.

A Building of Significance

Current plans call for a 46-foot expansion of the “stage house,” and a reconfiguration of a theater parking area. Anticipated seating capacity is about 1,000 seats, with some seats located in the once popular theater balcony. Illustrations included dressing rooms, a “green room,” wardrobe rooms, and new restrooms.

Theater project consultant Martin Vinik spoke about the project during an interview prior to Kennedy’s arrival. The importance of the theater to the city and its’ residents is understood and appreciated by project officials, Vinik said.

“Anytime you deal with a building like this it’s exciting,” he said. “But here, there is a building that has such a special public place in community hearts, and you treat it with a great deal of respect.”

Vinik also spoke to the crowd as part of the morning conference.

“The [theater] doors need to be open and the marquee needs to be lit,” he said. “The things you see on this drawing board will allow the building to have a life.”

And a goal is to hear former theater patrons visit a renovated site and say “boy, this is the theater I remember,’” said Vinik.

New Economic Force


Sen. Kennedy and long-time supporter and friend Frances Buckley of North Adams enjoyed a reunion after Kennedy's public comments.
The arts are gaining national attention and respect as viable economic forces, Kennedy said while making his public comments.

“[The arts] give us a degree of satisfaction and inspiration in our lives,” he said, and noted that art-focused venues allow for appreciation of various cultures and have proven to be solid revenue sources.

Barrett’s leadership and vision delivered the city through “a bleak and difficult time” to a greatly improved economic condition, Kennedy said.

“The Mayor has never altered his strong belief in North Adams, his belief in the people,” Kennedy said.

Additional information about the Mohawk Theater renovation project is available at the www.mohawktheater.com website.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.





Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at the Mohawk Theater on Aug. 5.
•Click to view video 1
•Click to view video 2
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