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North Adams Committee Advises Deed Restriction on Mohawk Marquee
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:39AM / Wednesday, April 03, 2019
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The Mohawk marquee has been used as something of a community bulletin board for years.


The Community Development Committee discussed restrictions on the potential sale of the Mohawk Theater. Only a few people attended the meeting. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee is recommending two restrictions related to the request for proposals being prepared for the Mohawk Theater.
 
The three-member board is advising that RFP include that the buyer shall maintain the historical integrity of the marquee in perpetuity and that all proposals be presented at a public meeting before the mayor's office selects one. 
 
The idea of selling the historic theater has lead to strong debate at City Council and Community Development meetings on how to ensure the 80-year-old structure will continue to be a Main Street presence. 
 
The City Council had been weighing ways to be part of the selection process or how to control or restrict the uses of the movie house. One way, councilors thought, would be to "flip the process" by issuing an RFP first and weighing responses before declaring the property "municipal surplus." But an opinion by the city solicitor received last week closed off that possibility. 
 
The opinion did, however, state the ability of the council to place restrictions on RFP. But after numerous ideas about conditions that could be imposed, a much quieter Community Development meeting on Tuesday focused one element: the marquee. 
 
"In conversations with the public, it all comes down to the marquee," said committee member Rebbecca Cohen. "It all comes down to we want the integrity of Main Street, or the focal point of Main Street, to be the marquee."
 
The only significant work on the structure was a stabilization and facade project a decade ago; the city's owned the structure since 1991. Committee Chairman Benjamin Lamb noted that this is the first step toward action — there had been a lot of conversation of what to do with the cinema in the past but it never went further. 
 
"We have to make a move on this or it's going to be continue to be a spinning wheel," Cohen said.
 
Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the council could put on restrictions and the administration would take that back to the city solicitor.
 
"Consider what you want," he said. "When we get the RFP, we'll go to our lawyers to figure out how to do it. ... I think comes back to Ben's saying be very liberal in your interpretation and we'll find out if its enforceable."
 
Committee member Eric Buddington thought a historic restriction would preserve the exterior — and the marquee — but not the interior. 
 
"This is not exactly a historical restriction ... but I don't think it's unprecedented to place requirements like that," he said. 
 
Canales said a deed restriction could be placed on the marquee to preserve it, similar to the restriction on Notre Dame Church to preserve the steeple. State Historical Commission funds had been used to repair the spire so the restriction will follow to the new owners. 
 
Cohen was also concerned with how the marquee would be used. Could the city restrict what was on the sign or could the community continue to use it? Bryan Sapienza, a member of the Public Arts Commission, asked if maintaining the integrity preclude technological upgrades like LEDs?
 
Lamb said Proctor's Theatre in Albany, N.Y., has maintained its historic marquee but equipped it with LED boards. 
 
"I think the technology can co-exist," said Sapienza, referring to Las Vegas' Fremont Street that has LED and neon. "Old and new can co-exist quite nicely."
 
Cohen wasn't so sure. Communities take pride in their historic elements, she said. "They don't like bright lights and want the authenticity. ... People have an emotional attachment to the marquee."
 
There was the possibility of retaining ownership of the marquee or placing rules on what the marquee could state. "How far can we go? Can we censor what they're putting up on the marquee?" asked Cohen.
 
"Either the city use it as it does now for events or it be under the control of the property owner and the city would have no say," said Buddington. "I would not want to try to split that in any way."
 
In the end, the committee determined to place a broad deed restriction to ensure the maintenance and preservation of the marquee and leave any potential changes or signage discussion to the city's normal process for now. 
 
There was less discussion but quick consensus on the idea of having be informed on all bids received. The council would only have authority over the sale if the bid selected is less than the assessed value; if above, the mayor would have the authority to execute a purchase and sale agreement without council input. So far, no bids on municipal properties have been above assessed or appraised value with the exception of the City Yard. 
 
"It is an additional step that has to happen," said Lamb. "Once we do the disposition, according to the law, we do not have control over the further sale. But that restriction of at least having an additional step process, to me is important. 
 
"The community has another chance to speak on it, we have an opportunity to speak on it as representatives of the community."
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