Signs of spring

Though it happens to be snowing at the moment I’m writing, maybe the long Berkshire winter is about to end.  And maybe next year around this time, ground will be broken for construction of EMRCA, the eagerly-awaited museum of trains and architecture, planned by Thomas Krens as a centerpiece to the transformation of North Adams into a tourist magnet.

Design and construction companies have signed on, following the naming of Frank Gehry as architect, and all that remains is to raise the financial investment necessary to leverage the massive project.  Both banks and potential investors will look more favorably on the project now that substantial corporations with proven track records and tangible assets are attached to it.

The involvement of Skanska USA and Gilbane Building Company was announced this month in an EMRCA press release, and reported in the Berkshire Eagle and iBerkshires.  (The press release includes photos that do not reflect the final Gehry exterior design, but show the footprint and the scale of the building, which will dazzle upon approach from Route 8 north or south, or from downtown North Adams.)

These two are global companies of great reach and significant history, including experience in the Berkshires.  Both companies are collaborating on the new Taconic High School in Pittsfield, while Skanska was involved with new Stetson-Sawyer Library at Williams College, and Gilbane with the recent expansion of MassMoCA.

These new relationships were formed largely through the agency of Perri Petricca, president of Pittsfield’s Unistress Corporation and new member of EMRCA’s emerging Board of Directors.  The press release calls his efforts “an asset of incalculable value,” giving the project’s plans “a concrete foundation” (pun intended?).

Coincidentally, the real estate section of the New York Times, just featured Tom Krens and EMRCA as part of a long story headlined, “Betting on the Berkshires.”

In another coincidence, Max Hollein, a former deputy of Krens at the Guggenheim,  has just been named director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  That makes six major museums headed by Tom’s former assistants.

The Times followed up with a profile of Hollein, in which Tom figures prominently as a mentor.  The money quote:  “What he took from Mr. Krens, Mr. Hollein said, was that he could push an ambitious agenda until the pieces fell into place and naysayers came around.”  That describes the current state of play in North Adams precisely.

Krens is still consulting on an enormous project in Abu Dhabi, but North Adams will remain his pièce de résistance, the culmination of a distinguished career in museums and urban development.

Postscript:  A rather arcane development that could have major impact in the financing of the the museum project is Governor Baker’s designation of its site as an Opportunity Zone, as defined by recent tax legislation to aid community development.