North Adams City Council Delays Vote on Mohawk Theater
Several councilors expressed concern that the council — and city — would lose control over aspects of the landmark theater based on the language in the request for proposals and that there were too many unanswered questions.
"It's a significant property for the city of North Adams and its residents," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin. "I just feel as though there's a lot of questions and concerns. ... I'm wondering if this is something we ought to pause for a moment."
The vote to continue the discussion passed 7-1, with Councilor Joshua Moran voting no. Councilor Wayne Wilkinson was absent.
The debate took up nearly an hour at a special meeting of the council held because a snowstorm forced the cancellation of its Feb. 12 meeting.
Mayor Thomas Bernard had made his intentions known to solicit requests for proposals for the vacant theater nearly three weeks ago during his state of the city address.
"I think there's a moment we're in right now, we're really seeing interest in development in North Adams," Bernard said. "We harness the potential of that space to the energy we're seeing around us right now and I think it's a moment to see what interest is out there if any."
The 1938 Mohawk has been shuttered for more than 20 years, and Bernard referred to the studies done and concepts floated during the city's ownership — plans that were interesting but "none of them have been married to an operating model that says how do you keep the doors open and the lights once you've completed the renovation."
He pointed out the council had "made a difficult decision" last fall to spend money fixing a roof on the failing public safety building. He didn't want to be in a position to ask for money to continue to stabilize the Mohawk as well.
But while councilors agreed that getting the Mohawk into private hands will be crucial to the reviving Main Street, there was worry about the administration being able to determine proposals without any council input; what would happen should the winning bidder fail afterwards; the maintenance of the marquee; what the use would be; and process questions related to historic tax credits, past studies and public investment.
Bernard said the administration would be the authorizing body for accepting any RFPs unless the bid fell before the assessed value of $446,400. In that case, the administration would require the approval of the City Council.
Issuing an RFP doesn't mean the city has to accept offers, the mayor said. "The city has the right to reject any proposals not in the municipal interest ... it gives us latitude to make some determinations."
Councilor Jason LaForest wanted more assurance that any entity purchasing the theater would be able to maintain it, possibly by requesting an escrow account be set up or a clause that it would fall back to the city if entity failed.
"This is an opportunity for the Mohawk Theater to be the linchpin of the downtown," he said. "My concern is not the RFP, it's the purchase-and-sale agreement, which is not on the agenda but is tied into the RFP."
Council President Keith Bona said the councilors could accept the RFP and trust the administration to make the best decision, but added there was no guarantee the mayor would bring it back to them if the bid was above the assessment.
Councilor Eric Buddington told his fellow councilors that now was the time to make their wishes requirements, not after the fact.
"I feel strongly it's important that it be clean, that we give him the authority to act," he said. "I'm not in favor of putting on any clawbacks ... If we try to maintain authority after we're giving up ownership, it will lead to a very complicated situation."
Councilor Benjamin Lamb also raised the issue of communication, feeling the council should be provided more and timely information about RFPs it has approved as well as proposals not selected.
"We have not consistently gotten reports on the RFPs," he said, expressing disappointment that councilors learned in the media that the Windsor Mill deal had fallen through.
As the discussion began to center around delaying a decision and possibly sending to committee, Councilor Rebbecca Cohen at first declined to rescind her motion to adopt the order but later changed her mind and motioned to continue the discussion.
"I think that it's time we do something different," she said. "The marquee is very special to this city and it would be fantastic that some proponent would save it."
She acknowledged the emotional attachment many had for the theater but thought the council had to move beyond the "nostalgic stop sign."
"When we hang onto things because we don't want to move forward, we pay for damage," agreed Councilor Joshua Moran, referring to public safety roof and repairs at Notre Dame. "There's been plans to redo the Mohawk for years and year ... it's probably not a bad idea to let the train leave the station."
But LaForest added the building has been empty for nearly 30 years so what difference would another week make to get their questions answered?
Rather than referring to committee, the councilors were asked to submit their questions to the mayor's office as soon as possible so he could get their answers by next Tuesday's meeting.
"I think the city does as a whole want to see something happen to that property but that doesn't mean we have to do something today," Harpin said. "It's been sitting there years. What's another week, what's another two weeks, what's another month to make sure we are dotting our Is, crossing our Ts and making sure we're doing it appropriately."
Tags: Mohawk Theater, RFP,
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