VIDEO: Watch a half-hour discussion with O'Mara courtesy of WilliNet
Update: A Monday public forum set (below)
NEXT HEARING: Feb. 4.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- In 1992, Williamstown briefly had an opportunity to create a community performance space, before the old Opera House, the site of Taconic Lumber Inc., was razed to make way for the Williams College studio art building.
Now, another opportunity is being proposed. On Jan. 21, at 7 p.m., the town’s Community Preservation Committee will meet and consider on an idea advanced by the family which owns the old Agway store at 600 Main St., to create a $1.5-million community-arts and agriculture center.
The Minerva Arts Center, (WEBSITE) a 501(c3) nonprofit organization headed by Kathleen O’Mara, (BACKGROUND) has filed an application under the Community Preservation Act seeking $175,000 in public funds to help acquire the building which once housed a Chevrolet dealership owned by her grandfather, Thomas M. McMahon Jr. She says the property is now owned by a trust that include her mother, Maureen O’Mara, and three aunts.
“The objective of this project is to develop a multi-use, community arts complex with the primary focus on a state-of-the-art performance space indoors, and an outdoor space that would provide access for community arts-related programming and organizations,” says the proposal filed Dec. 19 with the town. (SECOND LINK)
Other than facilities at Williams College, Williamstown does not have a community theater venue with significant backstage facilities. The stage at the Williamstown Elementary School doesn’t have facilities for set preparation or storage, or significant backstage wings. The stage at Mount Greylock Regional High School is said to be in need of renovation. Both Minerva and Starlight Stage Co., a private, five-week, summer-youth theater program entering its 39th season, use non-theater facilities at the First Congregational Church.
classic early 20th-century “opera house” used for traveling music and performance shows existed at 20 Water Street but had been used for decades as part of the old Taconic Lumber Inc. lumberyard until the building, described as an “historical architectural treasure” was razed in 1992. A group of citizens briefly sought to move the building to a new location and renovate it for community use, but the idea did not gain traction.
The 600 Main St. building now houses “MAC Treasures” – a used clothing, antiques and tag-sale goods store that is a fund-raising project for the non-profit arts center. It be renovated with additional grants and private funds to create a 250-seat theater for community gatherings and performances.
O’Mara is busy enlisting help from Northern Bekshire residents and arts organizations to help assess the feasibility of the idea. She says her mother and aunts are prepared to sell the family property to the nonprofit MAC for something under its appraised value as a contribution to the idea. O'Mara believes grants, donations, program revenues and bank mortgage financing can cover renovations and operation. O'Mara is meeting with banks prior to the Jan. 21 town meeting.
Besides O'Mara, serving on the non-profit's board are Edward Cating, who formerly worked at WilliNet, and pianist (and RPI MBA) Laurie Brenner, of Pittsfield. The proposal filed with the town lists an advisory board which includes Jim Briggs, Dawn Broadwell, Joe Finnegan, Don Goodrich, Elinor Goodwin, David Lachman, Barbara McLucas, Eric Nottke, Lucy Pavalock, John Storey, Kathy Thompson, Sandra Thomas and Tristan Wilson.
Besides the theater, the proposal includes tentative concepts to add, among other things:
- A café/bakery, boutique and arts library
- Teaching gardens for organic and sustainable agriculture
- Housing year round for a farmers market/seed swap/food subscription
- Artists “cottages”
- An outdoor green space and amphitheater
Because the McMahon/O’Mara property also abuts the Green River, O’Mara believes there is the possibility of creating public access to the river and a walkway along it. In addition, the property appears to abut a portion of the town’s Linear Park, including the town tennis court.
O’Mara has been running youth-theater experiences under the name Minerva Stage for many years, and was operating starting in 2010 in the former Incarnation Church in the Blackington section of North Adams, moving in January 2012 due to zoning restrictions.
UPDATE: Jan. 20 forum with project organizers set at Williams Inn
Organizers of the Minerva Arts Center project have called a public forum and meeting for Monday, Jan. 20, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Williams Inn. Because a light dinner will be provided, organizers are asking public participants to RSVP by Friday Jan. 17 to email@example.com. People who attend will hear a briefing on the project and will be aksed to become involved with meetings, subcommittees or encouraging support.
The session will recap MAC progrss to date, the Community Preservation Act grant process, the business plan and cash-flow projections, and a report on initial meetings with local banks. Committees for steering, finance and fund-raising will be formed, O'Mara says.