North Adams City Council Approves Potential Sale of Mohawk
"Sell it," council President Keith Bona said to the mayor, ending for now weeks of debate on how the property should be disposed.
The approval came with a caveat: Any bid documents should contain the language "shall maintain the historic integrity of the marquee in perpetuity."
The suggestion of disposing of the 1938 cinema had raised alarm in citizens and city councilors in a way that previous properties did not. Despite standing vacant for most of the past 30 years, the shell of the grand moviehouse taps into a nostalgic vein and the neon marquee is one of the most prominent features on Main Street.
The amendment to protect the marquee was recommended by the Community Development Committee after the council felt it needed more voice in the mayor's decision. A second amendment had been discussed to require the mayor to present all submitted requests for proposal to the council for public hearing. That was not brought forward since any bids would be opened public and the mayor suggested council could request them upon opening and have a public discussion.
But while the final vote was unanimous, three councilors — President Keith Bona, Joshua Moran and Wayne Wilkinson — cast against the marquee amendment, feeling it could deter interested buyers.
"I understand the intent and I get the historical value of it, and the nostalgic value of it to city residents," said Moran. "But I look at something that we put $2.6 million into in the past 20 years and it's still sitting here and we have a public safety building that we will have to prepare, or create a new one or build a new one."
He felt the addition of the language was "micromanaging" in that it was the city trying to tell a developer what to do but not really clarifying what it meant.
Wilkinson pointed to the problems already inherent in a building with no walls, fixtures, insulation or ceiling — along with a marquee that will require at minimum $100,000 to fix.
"A number of different people might want to invest in that building and put it back on the tax rolls," he said. "At the same time you're asking them, well, make sure you throw in an extra hundred thousand because we want to protect this. So I think it just limits the possibility."
Bona was more blunt in that the marquee might valuable now but if a strong proposal came in, people might be OK with losing it. The Hub building used to have a marquee but no one talks about that, he said, instead they all remember the Capitol Restaurant that was inside.
"So if something good goes in there, the next generation will remember what's in there next and not so much what was in the past," Bona said.
Councilor Benjamin Lamb, however, said the community has shown it values the marquee as an aesthetic factor of the downtown. Numerous Instagrams can be found with images of the marquee and the hashtag #NorthAdams, indicating even visitors are attracted and appreciative of the Main Street component. Developers were being plainly told what the community values, he said.
"And for us to not put language in there, I think would be irresponsible, because I think that someone would walk in, and they might make an RFP and they have these grand plans and they make those plans," Lamb, chairman of the Community Development Committee, said. "And as soon as people see that marquee disappear, they have immediately become the enemy of the state in this community because of the damage that they're doing to downtown in that respect."
Besides, later added, "It's not something that directly is an affront to the mayor's plan for this RFP, and ultimately, his goal would be to get offers and get proposals," Lamb said. "Otherwise, why would he go through this process with us?"
Councilors also questioned what "the historical integrity" would be and how would it be enforced. Lamb said the details on colors, materials and lighting was a rabbit hole the Community Development Committee didn't want to go down, preferring more general language. Any binding language, he said, would likely be instilled in a purchase-and-sales agreement, based on discussion with other city officials in committee.
"I feel as though we molded this sentence over to put into the RFP a few times," Councilor Rebbecca Cohen, also a member of the committee, said. "It seems to be vague enough that it would still entice buyers, but at the same time, put a tone on what we expect the buyer to do with something that's very valuable to the people in this community."
Councilor Marie T. Harpin supported it noting that if there were no takers, the city could modify the request for proposals.
"It is our responsibility to make sure that we at least make an attempt to save this marquee," she said. "And again, if we don't get any response back on this RFP, then you know, we can send it out again. I mean, it's not the first time that that would happen."
In other business:
• The mayor declared May 5-11 as Children's Mental Health Awareness Week.
• Ordinance changes to the Department of Public Safety were postponed to May 28 to give the Finance Committee time to review fines and fees. The committee will also take up a communication submitted by Laforest two months ago regarding the effects of a federal government shutdown on the school lunch program.
• The council approved a request from MountainOne to install awnings for its new offices on the ground floor at 93 Main St. and the renewal of a secondhand license for Ernie Perry, proprietor of Odds & Ends at 118 Eagle St.
• Changes to the Public Arts Commission ordinance were postponed to the meeting of May 14.
• The council accepted a report from the North Adams Traffic Commission that confirmed the raising of parking rates for the Center and St. Anthony municipal parking lots was prompted by a request by the Holden Street condominium owners last year for reduced rates. "It should be noted that the City does not address reduced or discounted rates for permit parking," wrote commission Chairman David Sacco.
Tags: historic buildings, Mohawk Theater, municipal buildings, RFP,
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