NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — It was two years ago the city set out to sell off municipal property that's not needed or really never wanted.
But the city's attempts to divest itself of unwanted properties has not so far been terribly successful. Some smaller lots have been auctioned off or sold to abuttors, but the larger parcels seem to be in real estate limbo.
Only one appears headed toward a resolution soon: the former City Yard that is under contract with Cumberland Farms. The convenience store and gas station chain has requested extensions but has also moved ahead to line up permits and approvals to build a large new location on the Ashland Street property.
Still, Mayor Thomas Bernard is hoping the Mohawk Theater will solicit enough interest to get it off the city's books.
"Even if the result is not viable at least we can't say then that nobody has done anything," he said in an interview a few weeks ago.
The theater on Main Street is arguably the "jewel in the crown" of the properties the administration is trying to get into hands that can develop and rejuvenate them. It's important enough that the City Council on Tuesday voted to continue discussion before authorizing the mayor to proceed.
Of the others, the potential buyer for the Windsor Mill has dropped out after the latest test findings at the former textile factory. The salt shed on Ashland Street and Notre Dame church have purchase-and-sales agreements and no bids have been received for Sullivan School.
Simeon Bruner of Cambridge Development Corp., and principal of Bruner/Cott Architects, had offered $465,000 for the historic Windsor Print Works mill, assessed at $1.1 million, with the pledge to invest a minimum of $400,000 on facade and capital improvements within the next three years. That was back in July 2017.
Former Mayor Richard Alcombright, who'd pushed to divest the city of unused properties, had advocated for the developer, pointing to Bruner's work at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and other similar mill-repurposing projects.
The city was working to get the sale through early in the new year but Bruner called the deal off last week.
Bernard said his office had been in contact with the developer in trying to set a timeline. Environmental testing was being done at the mill but Bernard said on Tuesday he had not fully reviewed the results. The developer, he said, had determined it wasn't worth or didn't want to deal with clean up of the property.
Councilors were somewhat irritated that they were not kept in the loop on the deal and City Councilor Benjamin Lamb on Tuesday asked for a formal reporting structure and access to studies done on the property.
"It's disappointing we get these from the media," Lamb said. The failed purchase was first reported Monday in The Berkshire Eagle.
The New York group that purchased Dowlin Block and Porter & Tower Building had also offered $500,000 for the mill with similar plans.
The city purchased the mill in 1976 for $163,625 with hopes to develop an arts and crafts center and a number of artisans along with light manufacturing do operate in the mill. The former Windsor Print Works closed in 1956.
It was one of several properties taken over by past mayors to prevent their deterioration. Bernard described them as being "held in trust" until viable operators could be found. The Mohawk is one such trust item.
The city has owned the theater since 1993 but has been unable to cover the burgeoning cost of restoration work or settle on a use for the long-vacant structure. Bernard is hoping another entity -- private or nonprofit -- will be able to revive the landmark moviehouse and Main Street's fortunes with it.
The parcel consists of three lots on just under a half acre; the front of the building where the lobby was, the theater space and a paved parking area in the rear. Together, all three pieces are valued at $446,400.
At least two or more entities have evinced interest in the theater. Museum maestro Thomas Krens, who considers it part of his North Adams cultural project, brought along some of his Hollywood friends to look it over a few years ago and a local group has been brainstorming ideas for the 80-year-old theater's resurrection.
Another "trust" property, a wary City Council authorized the purchase of the closed church in 2007, largely as a way to preserve the church's steeple. A purchase-and-sale agreement was approved for $253,000 but the deal has not closed. Notre Dame Church closed in 2005 and is assessed at $605,000 total.
"The last conversation I had with the folks doing Notre Dame is they are moving forward with their stuff," Bernard said. "Everybody is moving forward deliberately."
The mayor was confident that the sale of the old City Yard would happen and the salt shed as well.
"The City Yard is moving forward, they've extended option one more time but they've also come before the Planning Board and the City Council for all the things they need to do," he said of Cumberland Farms. "So I see that project as going forward."
Cumberland Farms in October 2017 offered $575,000 for the Ashland Street property, $100,000 more than the appraisal. That price includes an agreement for the city to share up to half the purchase price in cleanup costs. The company almost two weeks ago filed its special permits with the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds and the Ashland Street property is on the demolition list going before the Historical Commission on Thursday.
The Department of Public Works moved out the older complex and into the former anodizing plant the city purchased at Hodges Cross Road.
B&B Micro Manufacturing put in a winning bid for the city's old salt shed at $75,000 but has not closed on the property. Bernard said that had worked somewhat in the city's favor because the salt shed is still being used.
"The timing on it gets us through the winter because if they had closed faster, we would have had to do some kind of lease-back agreement or share," he said.
As for the vacant Sullivan School on Kemp Avenue, which has elicited no responses, Bernard said it's worth putting out RFPs once a year or more "until somebody sees the potential and ... if it's a credible bid, let them deal with it."
"I can appreciate from a development perspective how difficult it would be to make that compliant," he said of the hillside structure and its four levels. "It's built on a weird level."
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During the coronavirus pandemic, our health concerns – for ourselves and our loved ones – have been at the top of our minds. But financial worries have been there, too, both for people whose employment has been affected and for investors anxious about the volatile financial markets.
And one aspect of every individual's total financial picture has become quite clear – the importance of an emergency fund.
In normal times, it's a good idea for you to keep three to six months' worth of living expenses in a liquid, low-risk account. Having an emergency fund available can help you cope with those large, unexpected costs, such as a major car repair or a costly medical bill.
Furthermore, if you have an adequate emergency fund, you won't have to dip into your long-term investments to pay for short-term needs. These investment vehicles, such as your IRA and 401(k), are designed for your retirement, so the more you can leave them intact, the more assets you are likely to have when you retire. And because they are intended for your retirement, they typically come with disincentives, including taxes and penalties, if you do tap into them early. (However, as part of the economic stimulus legislation known as the CARES Act, individuals can now take up to $100,000 from their 401(k) plans and IRAs without paying the 10 percent penalty that typically applies to investors younger than 59 1/2. If you take this type of withdrawal, you have up to three years to pay the taxes and, if you want, replace the funds, beyond the usual caps on annual contributions.)
Of course, life is expensive, so it's not always easy to put away money in a fund that you aren't going to use for your normal cash flow. That’s why it's so important to establish a budget and stick to it. When developing such a budget, you may find ways to cut down on your spending, freeing up money that could be used to build your emergency fund.
There are different ways to establish a budget, but they all typically involve identifying your income and expenses and separating your needs and wants. You can find various online budgeting tools to help you get started, but, ultimately, it's up to you to make your budget work. Nonetheless, you may be pleasantly surprised at how painless it is to follow a budget. For example, if you have budgeted a certain amount for food each month, you will need to avoid going to the grocery store several times a week, just to pick up "a few things" – because it doesn't really take that many visits for those few things to add up to hundreds of dollars. You will be much better off limiting your trips to the grocery, making a list of the items you need and adhering to these lists. After doing this for a few months, see how much you have saved – it may be much more than you would expect. Besides using these savings to strengthen your emergency fund, you could also deploy them toward longer-term investments designed to help you reach other objectives, such as retirement.
Saving money is always a good idea, and when you use your savings to build an emergency fund, you can help yourself prepare for the unexpected and make progress toward your long-term goals.
The governor noted that people had been demonstrating outside the State House last week over their frustration with the slow pace of the reopening, and that several protests had been going on peacefully all day Sunday.
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