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March 10, 2014

Hanney vows to fight Old Town Hall lawsuit

Lawsuit: Ipswich, Hanney disagree over soundness of building

IPSWICH — Bill Hanney is vowing to fight a lawsuit filed by the town demanding him to transfer the Old Town Hall property back to the town.

“I think it is a complete waste of everyone’s money,” Hanney said, saying he has no plans to either hand the building over or settle the lawsuit. The civil case could go to trial in the fall if a settlement is not reached, according to court documents.

Town officials said they have no choice but to pursue legal action, saying the historic downtown building has been deteriorating for the past eight years. The town sold the building in order to preserve it and bring economic development to that area of downtown, according to the lawsuit.

Hanney, who owns the North Shore Music Theatre, bought the property from the town in 2006, intending to turn it into an entertainment and cultural center, with ideas that included a theater, coffee shop, bookstore or other shops. But nothing has materialized since the purchase, and the town now claims that Hanney has breached his contract and failed to preserve the historic building.

The town is also gearing up for the fight: Town Manager Robin Crosbie’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes an additional $30,000 for legal fees.

“The Old Town Hall litigation is ongoing, and its final disposition is unknown,” Crosbie wrote in her budget plan. She said there were also unresolved personnel matters, which may also require some of the additional funds.

Selectmen approved pursuing the lawsuit in January 2013. The most recent activity as part of the litigation was an inspection. A pretrial conference is set for October.

“The goal of the lawsuit is to enforce the condition of the sale or restore the control of the Old Town Hall to the town,” Crosbie said. “The issue is it is an icon in our business district, and it is essentially abandoned.”

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