The City believes the restoration of the Mohawk Theater is critical to the stabilization of the downtown and to its long-term economic success. The theater is an important piece of the community's heritage. When restored, the City expects that the Mohawk will enjoy a new and vibrant presence in the downtown as well as complement programming available at MASS MoCA and other arts venues in the Northern Berkshires. The City of North Adams - and John Barrett, its Mayor - has committed itself to implementing economic development initiatives and infrastructure and beautification projects to benefit the local economy. The Mohawk Theater Restoration Project is the latest in a long list of such projects.
The Library during reconstruction.
Most recently the City embarked on a major expansion and renovation of the North Adams Public Library (see above). The groundbreaking on this project took place in October 2003 with the dedication of the newly renovated and expanded library 18 months later in May 2005. The completed library project is highly regarded in the community and has earned the U.S. Green Building LEED certification for an energy-efficient building. The library renovation was accomplished with State grant funds, City appropriations, generous community donations and fundraising efforts by the Friends of the Library. It will serve as a model for the Mohawk Theater Restoration Project.
Other programs undertaken by the City include a "Commercial Facade & Signage Improvement Program" undertaken in 1995. This was a program that offered matching grant funds for improvements to downtown buildings in the Main Street/Eagle Street target area. Two successful projects were completed, providing a much-needed 'face-lift' to key historical structures, the Blackinton Block on Holden Street and the flatiron building on Eagle Street. Historic preservation, especially in the downtown, has always been seen as a key goal in the retention of the community's heritage.
Additional Downtown Redevelopment Program funds were obtained in 1997. Three major projects were undertaken in this campaign including a wayfinding signage improvement program. A new downtown signage system was seen as an effective means of facilitating access to primary downtown attractions. Approximately eighteen new and decorative downtown wayfinding signs were installed throughout strategic locations of the downtown and its environs.
The second major project included improvements to the Center Street parking lot. New curb installations, sidewalks and historical period lighting were installed on the rear sidewalks adjacent to the private buildings. This investment by local government complemented the substantial private investment being made concurrently by the private sector. The Blackinton Block underwent a major facade restoration, and the Hoosac Bank extensively renovated its property inside and out. The exterior work featured a total rebricking of the property's facade facing the Center Street lot. The former J.J. Newberry's retail store also saw a major transformation that featured a complete refurbishment of the rear facade. An effective public-private partnership was forged which produced outstanding results in the beautification of the properties at the back of Main Street.
In 1999 the Mohawk Theater's marquee was fully restored to its original condition. Hanging from its Main Street building, the marquee looked old and tired. Most of its paint was missing; over half of the bulbs were broken, but most were nonfunctioning due to outdated wiring. Because the restoration of the theater was viewed by many to be one of the most crucial rehabilitation projects in the downtown area, the renovation of the marquee was an obvious investment. After grant funds were obtained, the marquee was rewired with well over 700 new bulbs and new strip lighting. The structure was fully cleaned and repainted, which led to a dramatic 'light-up' ceremony in May 1999. At last, the first real restorative effort for the theater was finally accomplished! This phase will include the complete gutting of the theater's interior along with the restoration of the exterior facade. This work is expected to be completed in April 2009 at a cost of nearly $2 million dollars. It is expected that the next phase of the restoration will begin in late 2009 if the necessary funds can be raised.
In conjunction with the restoration of the Mohawk, the City rebuilt its downtown infrastructure. Utilizing earlier downtown related studies, the City continued to focus on infrastructure and beautification and created the "Central City Improvements" program. This project would focus on substantial infrastructure improvements to the entire downtown area and featured road and sidewalk improvements, landscaping, historic period lighting, and physical linkage development. The goal was to retain the historical New England character while improving transportation flow and creating physical linkages by improving the appearance of the downtown.
To continue this downtown rebuilding, grant funding from the Public Works Economic Development (PWED) Program of the State Executive Office of Transportation & Construction was secured. Three phases of the "Central City Improvements" were conducted. The first phase invested $1.225 million of PWED funds in resurfacing streets and installing new sidewalks on Main Street, the City Hall parking lot, historic Eagle Street, and the first portions of Holden and Marshall Streets. A brick accent strip was incorporated into the new sidewalk installation, something that had never been done before in the City. The incorporation of new historic period lighting was introduced, along with new trees to line the streets. The median strip on Main Street saw a total transformation during this phase, highlighted by double "Bishop's Crook" historical lighting, new bollards with chain accent, and a multitude of new trees. New decorative street banners were installed on the new street lights. This phase was completed in 1994.
Phase II of "Central City Improvements" was much more expansive and accomplished similar work to the balance of Marshall and Holden Streets, St. Anthony's Drive, Eagle Street (from its downtown historic section northerly to River Street), American Legion Drive, Summer Street, East Main Street up to Pleasant Street, and Church Street from the flatiron block all the way to Blackinton Street. An additional $1.332 million of PWED funds were used for this phase which was completed in 1996.
Realizing there still was a gap in the downtown infrastructure work, the City continued its mission with Phase III of the "Central City Improvements". Veterans Memorial Drive, the Route 2 section from the bridge to Eagle Street, existed for a very long time as an open sea of blacktop roadway encompassing six lanes of traffic. It was unsightly and an ill-advised leftover from the days of urban renewal. This vast and open thoroughfare was obsolete and moved traffic too quickly past the city. Approximately another $2 million of PWED funds were invested to transform this 800 feet of roadway. Lanes of traffic that were no longer needed were eliminated, slowing the traffic flow and making the city more inviting. This served to open up landscaping possibilities for a new median strip similar in theme and style to that of the one on Main Street. It also allowed direct access onto Route 2 from Lincoln Street and the Center Street parking lot. The project also featured a new and expanded parking lot with more landscaped areas due to the elimination of the middle portion of Center Street. Historical period lighting was once again used throughout, most notably on the new median as well as in the parking lot.
One of the main features of the project was the elimination of the unsightly overhead wiring which contributed to the blighted appearance of the area. The project also created a beautiful new Veterans Memorial Park across the street from St. Francis Church. A magnificent granite wall with bronze plaques displays approximately 5,500 local honor roll inductees and was erected with underground and upward lighting aimed towards the wall and the new flagpole. Nestled in a new, beautifully landscaped park with new trees, sod and meandering walkways, the park allows the community to celebrate all types of civic events for years to come. Regarded as one of the premiere veteran parks in the county, the completion of the park was essentially the culmination of the "Central City Improvements" theme.
One of the goals of the early downtown enhancement study was finally actually achieved by the "Central City Improvements" program:
"A clear economic identity should be created for each of the center city districts. This, along with other forms of linkage . . . . will tie center city's various areas together and allow the whole center city to be greater than the sum of its parts."
A primary focus of downtown development has been the theme: "in order to attract, you have to be attractive." The city and its businesses have worked together to find and obtain various grants and funds to help rebuild and beautify the downtown infrastructure. This year some $2 million in improvements will be seen, including new street lights, which makes the area more attractive to pedestrians night and day, and during the dark of winter.
This in turn helps attract private investments in the downtown, most notably the rear facades of the Main Street buildings that face the new and improved Center Street parking lot and the restoration of the Blackinton Block on Holden Street.
Another development has been the reuse of the upper floors of Main Street buildings for downtown condos and rental units, for example above Moulton's General Store. New residents in the area also support the creation of new restaurants, especially those that are popularly priced, which add to the synergy that mixed use developments create.
Empty storefronts are unattractive, and working with the local arts community, Down Street Art will fill virtually every empty retail space with galleries and artists during the 2009 Summer season. The spaces are donated by the landlords, and a broad coalition of artists and entrepreneurs will help keep the downtown lively as the city continues to develop as a retail destination.
These improvements simultaneously strengthen the progress being made at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), the site of the former Sprague Electric Company. The MASS MoCA project was a textbook adaptive reuse project, something that was echoed in the earlier downtown studies, especially for key buildings located in the downtown. This project involved the rehabilitation of the twenty-six building factory complex into one of the largest museums and contemporary arts complexes of its kind in the country. After approximately twelve years of planning and implementation, the museum opened it doors in May 1999. Visitors to its art galleries number upwards of 100,000 annually. Its performances in music and dance attract thousands of additional visitors. MASS MoCA has acted as a catalyst for the spin-off of new restaurants and retail shops in the downtown.
MASS MoCA continues to develop its campus with the assistance of state and local governments. Major adaptive reuse improvements to Building #13 and the former Sprague R&D building, including on-site landscaping and other amenities, have allowed commercial use of these spaces. The MASS MoCA campus has attracted two area law firms and the Commonwealth's Trial Court of Northern Berkshire to take up residence in the downtown. Most recently a partnership with the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute will have a portion of the Clark collection stored and exhibited on the MASS MoCA campus. Finally, Building #7 was restored to house the permanent exhibit of the work of modern artist Sol LeWitt. The City continues to support the economic expansion of MASS MoCA and recognizes its associated benefits to the community as a whole while simultaneously continuing the cleanup of the remaining blight from this former manufacturing facility.
The Mayor's Office of Tourism & Cultural Development was created as a new local municipal department in January 2001 to weave the community's abundant wealth of cultural, historical and natural resources into authentic experiences for citizens and visitors alike. New events and programming ideas continue to be implemented, with a Downtown Celebration every August and the Fall Foliage Parade every October as two of its more popular annual events. New marketing and promotions based upon the natural beauty of the Berkshires in conjunction with the area's attractions such as MASS MoCA, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Mt. Greylock, and Williams College continue to be developed.
The North Adams SteepleCats, a member of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, will return for its eighth season in Summer 2009 to the Noel Field Athletic Complex. This complex has also seen several hundred thousands of grant dollars invested in improvements over the last twenty years by the City of North Adams.
Much hard work and financial investment has been devoted to the core of the community. It is the City's hope that the Mohawk Theater Restoration Project which is now underway will continue the development of a vibrant downtown. Fundraising for Phase One of this project is complete, and will repair the envelope of the structure and renew its systems, bringing the facility up to fate. The interior will be restored as well, as it is prepared for a second life. Phase Two will address its outfitting as a meeting place and venue for performances and functions. If you would like to join us in this endeavor, please contact us.