Part of the presentation given by Thomas Krens to the Airport Commission on Tuesday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Art museum maestro Thomas Krens is proposing a 160,000 square-foot global contemporary art museum near the Harriman & West Airport.
The Airport Commission on Tuesday approved a 20-year lease negotiation as the first step in the $10 million to $15 million venture. The lease is dependent upon further agreements between the proposed museum and the commission.
"I think culture has to be embraced by this region as essentially a primary industry," Krens, of Williamstown, told the commission during his presentation. "Part of this depends on looking at the assets in the region and developing a vision consistent with what the mayor and others are doing in developing a new perspective on what the North Adams/Williamstown corridor could look like."
He envisions the facility at this point as a for-profit venture with investors working directly with 60 or 70 contemporary artists from around the world. He sees that as giving the museum more flexibility in building — and divesting — of collections as it matures.
As former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, he has been involved with the Guggenheim's numerous projects, including in Berlin, Bilbao, Spain, and the under construction massive Guggeheim Abu Dhabi museum, designed by Frank Gehry. He's best known locally for spearheading the development of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in the 1990s.
"Altogether I've done or worked on 44 museum building projects, extension projects and architectural projects over the past 30 years," he said.
Krens said he had been considering a museum of this nature for at least five years. Initially he had looked at China, where he had worked on another Guggenheim museum, but reconsidered after looking at the airport land on State Road where he often bikes. It was also a lot closer to home than those 16-hour flights to China.
"It was recognizing the wonderful opportunity the airport presents," he said, referring to the Route 2 corridor connecting Mass MoCA and the Clark Art Institute, and other developments in the planning stages. "I am sure that you can envision what this opportunity holds not only for the airport but for the community."
Krens sees the new museum as adding to the "cultural density" of the region that will develop its cache as a multi-day destination. He said he's spoken at length with the Clark's Michael Conforti and Mass MoCA's Joseph Thompson and believes the global contemporary museum would complement rather than detract from those two anchors.
"The region needs a couple more cultural destinations and a marketing package to pull it all together," he said. "Add in one or two more things and it started to become a destination."
He cited the last year's renovation and additions at the Clark Art and Mass MoCA's $65 million expansion project, as well as the recent news of the redevelopment of the Greylock Mill as positive developments in creating density. The Redwood Motel is also expected to undergo a renovation, with an announcement on that project expected soon.
"It's just another piece of private investment we're beginning to see here the last couple years," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, calling Krens "an extremely credible developer." "We have a place on Route 2 near the airport we're trying to grow and make more viable."
Krens envisions a modern, industrial building with the flexibility to develop a collection unlike other museums.
The preliminary design is by Richard Gluckman of Gluckman Mayner Architects.
The actual size will likely be reduced from the initial 160,000 square foot; up to 40,000 square feet may be set aside as professional art storage space for other museums or collectors. The siting of the building keeps it away from any wetlands, it would have ample parking and immediate access to Route 2.
"The concept basically is super sophisticated, super inexpensive but elegant industrial architecture, something Richard Gluckman specializes in," Krens said.
The museum would enter into a term lease with the city in which it could revert back to North Adams at some point in time. Krens suggested that the industrial, wide-open galleries could be turned into an airplane museum or other use.
Northern Berkshire Family Practice, which is owned by Berkshire Medical Center, currently has a ground lease and building on the site. Attorney Jeffrey Grandchamp, representing Krens, said he could not speak to the particulars of that lease but it would have to end if the museum was to move forward.
Commissioner Trevor Gilman said he was supportive, but wanted the commission to keep in mind that the millions had been poured into the airport over the last decade as a benefit to the community.
"My only concern is that [the museum] stays a benefit to the airport than the airport a benefit to the museum," he said.
Krens anticipated having firm investor numbers by early fall; construction could begin as early as next spring.
Editor's Note: complete write-thru, additional information at 6:33 p.m.
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