NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Mohawk Theater's marquee has been a beacon of hope, an assurance that eventually its siren call of neon will once more draw crowds to the downtown.
But the hard facts are that the theater's been closed for more than a third of its 81-year lifespan.
It's a landmark that's bedeviled three administrations and outlived several organizations hoping to revive it. It's been a constant in every mayoral election and a question for every council candidate. During that time, the amount of money required to restore the theater has only grown.
Mayor Thomas Bernard, the third mayor to deal with the city-owned property, has decided the public sector has taken it as far as it can go: Next week he'll ask the City Council to declare the theater as excess municipal property and put out a request for proposals.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be the government and if there's a private sector idea, whether it's anything that came out of those conversations, I'm not looking to advantage any particular project," he said. "I want to change the conversation. ...
"Even if the result is not viable at least we can't say then that nobody has done anything."
For too long the conversation has been every couple of years, people ask, "what do we do with the Mohawk?"
It's a question that's been difficult to answer.
The E.M. Loew moviehouse opened in 1938, during Hollywood's golden age, but competition from cineplexes and the changing way movies are distributed contributed to its closing in 1986. A short-lived effort to bring movies and performances there ended in 1991 and the city purchased it two years later and put on a new roof to ensure its stability.
The 1,250 seats were ripped out, the stylish art deco hunting scenes taken down, the concession stand removed and the balcony blocked off in preparation of a restoration effort that fell apart before it even began.
And while there might be a deep sentimental attachment to the Mohawk in some areas, it's not true for a generation that has no memories of the Mohawk or for the newcomers to the city. The Mohawk has, in a sense, become the mythological unicorn — a legend no one has quite figured out how to capture.
Still, says Bernard, beyond the emotional link, "there's the durable idea that your performance venue, your cultural space should be on Main Street. ...
"I do agree it's too good a space to be vacant and it's too good a potential anchor for Main Street to be vacant."
City Council President Keith Bona, a Main Street merchant familiar with the ups and downs of the Mohawk, said on Thursday after the mayor's address that his take was that the city would be looking for new ideas that could be sustainable.
"Where we've got to be careful ... is we don't want it to be a parking garage," he said. "This may have more conditions than most things I can remember the city putting up for an RFP. ... I would still like it to be a theater in some form but that might not be its future."
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