SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 15, 2014

Local businessman buys old Chevy dealership in Ipswich

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff Writer

---- — IPSWICH — The former O’Keefe Chevy dealership on Route 1A, which has been shuttered for years, was purchased last week by a well-known local businessman.

A “sold” sign placed on the property last week has stirred up curiosity of many residents and town officials about who bought the property and what type of development might be planned at the prominent commercial location. The answer: It’s still unknown.

The property was sold for nearly $2.3 million at the end of last week to Ipswich Junction LLC, which is owned by Gary Kaneb of Manchester-by-the-Sea. His family owns and runs the Lynnfield-based dairy giant HP Hood, which has annual sales of about $2 billion, according to the company website. Kaneb serves as the chief financial officer.

The purchase of the Ipswich property has nothing to do with the Hood company, he said.

“I have no specific plan for it,” Kaneb said. “It is a commercial property that will hopefully be developed in the future.”

Living about 10 miles away, he said he often drives or runs by the old dealership and saw potential for what he called a highly visible site.

The property was previously leased to Mike O’Keefe, who abruptly closed his dealership in October 2008. The property which is about 3.7 acres, according to assessors records, has been vacant ever since.

Shortly after the dealership closed, there were plans to build a Hannaford Supermarket and a bank at the site and the adjoining Whittier Motel property, but the plans fell apart when the grocery chain backed out, according to Dennis Cargill, owner of Normandy Real Estate in town. He helped broker the deal to sell the property.

“We had a number of offers from people who wanted to develop the site, but they didn’t have an end user,” he said. “The retail market for box stores or grocery stores on secondary roads is not there.”

He said it is not typical for an investor or developer to buy land without a tenant or plan in place, but said the market for land like this will eventually be revived. “It just hasn’t come back yet,” he said.

The property is located in the Highway Business District, which is intended for “retail, trade, service, and other commercial uses; multi-family residential uses at a density defined by this bylaw may also be permitted by special permit,” according to the town’s zoning bylaw.

Planner Director Glenn Gibbs said this has been a property of interest for the town for quite some time.

“It is one of the relatively few properties that are available for commercial or industrial use,” he said. “It is a decent size property. There are a lot of options.”

Unlike when the Hannaford plan was proposed, the Whittier Motel property will most likely not be for sale, he said. Roger LeBlanc, owner of the motel, has been renovating it for several years and recently added 10 more rooms in a new building.

Cargill said no work is currently being done at the property, despite several Dumpsters on site in the past week.

“The building was being cleaned out,” he said. “The buyers wanted the building to be broom clean.”

Kaneb said this was a real estate venture he was willing to make without a concrete plan.

“I just think it is a nice piece of real estate,” he said.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.