NORTH ADAMS -- The First United Methodist Church has been sold to a local artist and real estate developer who envisions it becoming the home of a contemporary art installation and several nonprofit agencies.
"We purchased the church through our foundation," Eric Rudd said Friday. "I have some ideas for the space, but nothing is definite yet. Our first goal is to preserve the building. We'll be making some immediate repairs, so if we have a hard winter, there won't be any more damage that would make it economically impossible to repair."
The church, which went on the market in April 2010, was purchased from the First United Methodist Church of North Adams and Williamstown for $125,000 by the Barbara and Eric Rudd Art Foundation Inc., on Sept. 14, according to documents filed with the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds.
The congregation was close to selling the building in 2011, but a deal with another interested party fell through before the purchase was completed.
"It's an absolutely gorgeous church," Rudd said. "It think the congregation sold it to the foundation because they understood what our plans are. I think they bent over backwards to make the sale happen because I'm interested in not only preserving it, but also making it available to the public -- for the benefit of the city and the people visiting here. The idea isn't to chop it up and privatize it."
The Methodist Church at 159 East Main St.,
The congregation plans to build a new church.
Rudd said that while he isn't at a point where he can say "who or what" will locate inside the building, he said he has several ideas as to what should be there.
"It's all up in the air," he said. "I do know part of it will be an art installation that I have in mind. There's a lot of extra space."
One group he has had a discussion with is the North Adams Historical Society, which runs the North Adams Museum of History and Science in Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
"I will say that I have a dialogue with them, but nobody has signed on," Rudd said. "There is talk that the history museum will have to find a new home if Heritage State Park is privatized. I think this could be perfect location. But, and it's a big but, the devil is in the details."
He added, "Whatever is going to be done is going to be done first class. We're not going to spend a few bucks and say it's done. It's going to be as good as, or better, that anything else in the United States. Should there be a history museum that continues after the privatization of Heritage Park, it could locate here."
Another part of his vision includes bringing in nonprofits that will have a permanent place in the building, such as a visitor's center.
"We're looking for permanence. We're hoping the activities that go there have a 50- to 100-year timeline," Rudd said. "I'm interested in a permanent museum of contemporary art and of the history of North Adams. There's also talk of making a visitors center. What we have on Route 2 [near the Windsor Mill] is a wonderful thing, but think about the activity a good visitor center can have. If Heritage Park is going to be developed and expanded as a tourist center, then these two locations can become bookends."
Mayor Richard J. Alcom-bright said Friday that he takes comfort in knowing that Rudd, who has a proven track record with preserving and reusing historic buildings, such as the Eclipse and Beaver mills, has stepped up to take on the preservation of the Methodist Church.
"Eric has a lot of vision on many levels and a proven track record when it comes to things like this," Alcombright said Friday. "Not knowing what that [vision] will become, I will say that the most encouraging piece of all of this is that the church is in the hands of someone who will most likely preserve one of our most precious historical buildings. What we do know at this point, is that the Methodist Church will not be torn down. That's a huge positive message.
The mayor added, "We're thankful we're at this point. We can only hope for the best for our other churches and historical structures. Hope fully it will inspire more developers or more private investors to preserve our other historic churches, Notre Dame and St. Francis. Kudos to Eric and his willingness to step up to this challenge."
Rudd said he hopes to see his plans for the church inspire others to invest in historic buildings in the downtown.
"I'm a strong believer that all of the historic and older buildings we have in the city -- that people say are obsolete -- all have potential for reuse. We just need to find the right key to preserve these historical landmarks."
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