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Mayor Rejects Mohawk Theater Bid, Makes Plans for New RFP

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The controversial Mohawk Theater sale is off the table. 
Mayor Jennifer Macksey on Tuesday night stated her intention to withdraw from the current bid and seek more input before releasing a new request for proposal. 
"After reviewing the RFP process, I feel that it's in the best interest of this time to reject the current proposal that was presented back in December," she told the City Council, later adding, "if anyone has any questions, I would be happy to talk a little bit more but I'm sure none of you are surprised with those comments."
The mayor said during an interview on Monday that her decision to reject the proposal was based on two things: the bidder didn’t have enough time to put forth an “adequate” plan and that the city still owes $52,000 on a $600,000 loan on the property. On Tuesday she repeated her concern about the loan to the committee.
The city has invested $2,656,435 in public grants into the theater project with $889,000 used for various studies and engineering, including a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant of $30,000 to look into connecting it to the Dowlin Block.
Another $600,000 in borrowing approved by the City Council in 2009 was used as a "bridge" loan during stabilization work at that time with the supposition that historic tax credits would somehow pay that off. About $52,000 is left on that loan, with a total of $53,560 with the interest, and should be paid off next year, according to information last month.
The future of the 84-year-old Main Street structure has been in doubt for more than 35 years now. The movie house has been vacant since about 1991 and the interior completely gutted nearly two years ago.
The prior administration had been in negotiation with developer Veselko Buntic of New York, who had proposed to purchase the building and make it into an events venue for a hotel he’s planning in the adjacent Dowlin Block. 
But outrage at the plan, the sale of a significant downtown icon in the waning days of a departing administration, and a City Council that balked at being cut out of the decision making process, seemed to inevitably lead to a dead deal. 
Macksey had asked the council days before her swearing in to hold off on approving a sale to give the incoming administration time to review the bid. The City Council had voted to postpone deliberation on the bid until its second meeting in January, after Macksey became mayor.
The mayor said she had met with Buntic and told him she would like to see his properties and the plans he has. And she also informed his bid would be rejected.
"He was a little discouraged. But we had a great conversation and I'm hopeful that he will submit when the new process the new RFP comes out," she said.
The mayor told the council that she wants a more inclusive and transparent process, holding focus groups next month to inform the RFP, allowing potential bidders more time in the building to consider their plans, and creating a review committee with broader representation.
"I'd like to have a couple focus groups before we craft the RFP to talk to the community as well as business people about what we think that property can be," she said. "And use that information to craft an RFP with some set expectations of what how we want it developed, keeping in mind that we all have to realize that we can't go backwards and that it may never be the Mohawk heater as we knew it."
Once the RFP is issued, she's looking at a 45 to 60 day turnaround and allow access for people to take a good look at the theater. 
"Hopefully by June we can be having a well-educated discussion and invite people to make public presentations and go from there," she said.
"But this is an important part of the fabric of North Adams. And it's much different than selling a piece of land somewhere. I think it's something that we really need to take some time with. And we also need to allow the respondents an adequate amount of time to respond."
But she cautioned "that we all have to realize that we can't go backwards and that it may never be the Mohawk Theater as we knew it."

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SteepleCats Fall to North Shore

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- The North Shore Navigators took the lead with a four-run fourth inning and went on to a 10-6 win over the SteepleCats in NECBL action at Joe Wolfe Field on Thursday.
Evan Griffis and Brendan Jones each went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles in the win.
Jason Shockley went 3-for-4, and Pittsfield's Sam Sherman was 2-for-4 for North Adams.
The SteepleCats (1-1) are off until Saturday when they head to Keene, N.H.
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