Mayor: Next City Place deadline is for real
BARRE — A downtown redevelopment project widely viewed as a future anchor to Barre’s historic central business district is quickly coming down to crunch time.
DEW Properties LLC, the private developer behind the City Place project, has been forced to let a couple of self-imposed deadlines go by the boards. However, it is a Dec. 31 deadline that the Williston firm doesn’t control that now has the company’s full attention.
DEW once hoped to break ground on the four-story brick building Nov. 1.
Subsequent plans for a December groundbreaking would have been greatly bolstered if a series of real estate transactions had fallen in domino fashion, as was tentatively scheduled later this week. But Mayor Thomas Lauzon said Monday the closings have been pushed into the middle of next month.
According to him, if tentative plans for a Dec. 17 closing slip yet again, there might be cause for concern. However, he said he doesn’t expect that to happen, given the progress so far and a looming deadline involving a key piece of the project’s financing.
Lauzon said DEW is obtaining federal tax credits and must be in a position to use them by Dec. 31 to maximize their value.
“That was critical for them,” Lauzon said, noting the city is just two documents away from doing everything necessary to pave the way for the project across Main Street from Depot Square.
Lauzon had planned to present those documents to the City Council for its review and approval last week, but when it became clear Wednesday’s scheduled closing would be postponed until mid-December he opted not to rush.
Both documents — a purchase-and-sale agreement involving a Merchant Street property the council has agreed to acquire and temporarily hold, and a lease-purchase agreement involving the same property — have been reviewed by City Attorney Oliver Twombly and are expected to be presented to the council next week.
Lauzon said both draft documents satisfy concerns he had raised and establish a foolproof mechanism for the city to recover the $610,000 it will pay for the property — plus interest — from DEW within a year, while giving the company the right to immediately start construction.
The Merchant Street property will be packaged with the vacant city-owned lot that is between the Paramount Twin Cinema and Studio Place Arts and eventually conveyed to DEW. That transaction will occur long after DEW starts construction of City Place.
The company plans to immediately raze the two apartment buildings on the Merchant Street property and work through the winter on the project.
One of the reasons for the latest delay involves an ongoing environmental assessment of one of the other two properties that are being sold with the Merchant Street parcel in a $1.3 million package. Neither of the other parcels — both on Summer Street — is needed for City Place.
DEW has tentatively agreed to buy one of those properties for $370,000 and hold it for two years before selling it to the Central Vermont Community Land Trust. The property, at 20 Summer St., is home to two apartment buildings that would be run in the interim by the land trust. That property is the subject of a pre-closing environmental analysis.
Meanwhile, the land trust has agreed to purchase a neighboring apartment building at 8 Summer St. for $330,000. The organization plans to eventually package that property with the one DEW is buying to create a campus that would involve the construction of a multistory building combining office space for the land trust and low-income housing.
Although plans for the Summer Street properties are more conceptual, City Place has come into sharp focus in recent months, and most of the 80,000-square-foot building has already been spoken for.
According to Lauzon, the state has agreed to lease all of the third and fourth floors as well as roughly half of the second to provide a new home for the state Department of Education, as well as employees from at least one other department.
According to the state’s estimates, more than 200 state workers will eventually inhabit the upper floors of City Place.
Lauzon said Central Vermont Medical Center has agreed to lease 9,000 square feet of second-floor office space and the RehabGYM will occupy roughly 12,000 square feet of ground-floor space. The balance of the first floor will be available for lease, and one prospective tenant is a cooperatively owned grocery store that’s in the works. Organizers of the Granite City Grocery are not yet in a position to make any commitments but have launched a membership drive and are conducting a feasibility study and market analysis.
Despite the recent delays, DEW representatives have said the building should be finished and ready for occupancy by February 2014.
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