Alderman Robert Van Campen on Monday night asked Mayor Carlo DeMaria to appear before the Board to discuss his plans for the old High School building on Main Street, noting that “we’ve been at this for at least three years already. . .and it seems like nothing is going on.”
In response, Mayor DeMaria and Planning Director James Errickson tried to update the board on the progress being made behind the scenes and agreed to return to the Board in October to offer more details.
For background on the issue, Van Campen reminded the board and the mayor, that the city had initially hired a consultant to help determine the best uses or redevelopment possibilities for the building and then put out a request for proposals (RFP), which largely returned only proposals to develop housing in the building. Since both the city and the surrounding neighborhood had determined that they did not want to develop housing in the building, a second RFP was released and again there were no satisfactory proposals that came forward from the real estate development community.
After hearing from Errickson that the city was refining a more targeted RFP to be released later this year, Van Campen expressed the frustration of neighbors of the building saying “it seems like we’re back at square one and nothing is being done there.”
Van Campen further added, “We’ve got to move with lightning speed with this building. . .because the bottom line is that something bad is going to happen there.”
Mayor DeMaria in response pointed out that the city has been renting the space out to community groups, non-profits and other organizations to try and recover some of the costs associated with maintaining the building in good condition and further noted that the building is maintained by the city as well.
“To say this administration has done nothing with that building is an absolute straight out lie,” added DeMaria, as he also made the case that the city faces an uphill battle in trying to market a large building in a real estate market flooded with rental opportunities for the commercial sector, many of which are more attractive to commercial tenant users than the aging former high school.
During his explanation to the board Errickson explained that the city in May had received a report from a group of Tufts University students who had studied the building last winter as part of a requirement for their studies. The recommendations and findings of that student led study are being used by the city and its consultants to develop a new request for proposals, which would identify the types of redevelopment proposals the city would find acceptable in an effort to finally find a developer for the site.
“The end result will be a defined RFP that lays out what the city would like to see there,” said Errickson.
Following the update by Mayor DeMaria and Errickson, Van Campen responded, “my only concern is that we get this moving quicker, please.”
He then moved that the matter be tabled until the Board’s second October meeting, at which he’d ask the Mayor and Errickson to return to the Board and provide another update.