NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The model railroad museum's office is moving downtown: Making a bold visual statement signaling the next step in its progress and hiring staff to support both the proposed museum and other projects undertaken by principal Thomas Krens.
The Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday approved the transformation of the former Sleepy's location in the L-shaped mall into the headquarters of Krens' Global Cultural Asset Management, a design firm specializing in museum and cultural infrastructure and management.
Krens is behind the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum and affiliated projects planned for in and around Western Gateway Heritage State Park. He is also a consultant on a number of international projects.
Benjamin Sosne, senior project manager for the museum, said Krens, of Williamstown, is moving the management firm's offices from New York largely for convenience's sake and to further the North Adams projects.
"We're going to light up the windows from the inside and have big bold pictures of what we're planning to do both in North Adams and some of the other projects that Tom's working on," Sosne said, adding "I think it's a little bit in recognition of the cultural center of North Adams as it continues to become."
EMRCA has been housed in Buildings 1 and 2 in Heritage State Park for several years and, in 2017, took out an option to purchase the park and the former Sons of Italy property for $1.2 million. It's extended its option previously and plans to do so again, Sosne told the authority board, which has oversight of the former railyard and parts of the southern side of the city's downtown.
"Tom is enamored ... of the north side of Main Street and thinks its just beautiful, the buildings and the historic architecture," Sosne said. "And the southern side, he would like to try to make more lively."
The firm plans to remove the faux Colonial moldings on the corner location to distinguish the space from the businesses on either side and paint it a dark gray with the permission of owner Hartford Realty.
"What it's not going to look like is a concrete wall," Sosne assured the board. "It's supposed to make an impact statement on that corner, draw the eye of pedestrian, draw the eye of cars coming south on Route 8."
Chairman Paul Hopkins was a bit wary of the color and asked that the authority be updated on final looks.
The interior won't change much — clean the carpet, new paint, large murals and spaces for working.
The space will be used by the North Adams project staff, temporarily by consultants and representatives from projects Krens is working on elsewhere, and by additional support staff.
"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 materials," he said, with some hiring here. "There will be some new staff."
Sosne noted that Krens had spoken in Williamstown more than a week ago and indicated the project is moving into a more visible phase.
"This is definitely part of it, having a spot on Main Street where people can poke in and see what's going on," he said.
The models will move into the new offices but the workshop and 3D printer will remain at Heritage State Park.
The office is expected to open by May 1. Initial plans had been for February but the spot was booked for the WinterFest farmers' market.
Sosne also offered an overview and update on the project, noting the desire to create an "entertainment experience" that was high impact and low cost. The 1,200 architectural and train models are 1:48 scale and are being done as accurately as possible and the for-profit museum's operation will be technology driven.
"We've done a tremendous amount of work keeping this cost down on building these models," he said, noting the museum has outgrown the original space to expand beyond the park to the other side of the river. The park will instead house affiliated features such as a distillery, brewery, museum of time or other components.
The museum itself is a long, black box theater that's had several shell configurations, the latest a streamlined amorphous look that gives the appearance of a stylized high-speed train.
Sosne said the museum project has also hammered out an agreement with the Hoosic River Revival that is looking to restore the South Branch of the river near Noel Field Athletic Complex.
"Anyone who looks at these on paper can say these two projects benefit each other," he said.
The museum's option on the park is up on May 12 and Sosne said, "we 100 percent are planning to exercise that option and build this museum."
Mayor Thomas Bernard said if there is a plan to move forward that "we begin expeditiously having that conversation with some clear sense timelines."
The project has a track record and is taking affirmative steps, he said, but there needs to be a conversation on how long this will take as authority contemplates another option.
"That we have a clear sense of forward momentum on the project," the mayor said.
The authority also approved Renee Tassone for Stone Psychic Services at 18 Ashland St.
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