SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 9, 2013

City wants to buy vacant downtown building

BY ALAN BURKE
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — The city is hoping to purchase the vacant, water-damaged building at 16-20 Lowell St., adjacent to City Hall with Chestnut Street between them.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt said the Richard S. and Lois M. Codair Trust has already agreed to sell the property for $180,000.

“We have a verbal agreement,” Bettencourt said, “but I can’t sign a purchase-and-sale without the City Council’s authorization.”

The mayor wants to tear the building down and said the lot could have “flood mitigation value.” While it would never eliminate the downtown flooding problem, bare ground could more readily soak up water. “And there are types of vegetation we could put there that help. ... We could have the city engineer look at some of the options.”

That could also contribute to making a more attractive downtown.

“I think downtown could use more greenery and trees,” says Bettencourt.

While documents give 1840 as the date when the building was constructed, he doesn’t think it has historical value.

“That hasn’t come up,” he said.

City Councilor Dave Gravel, whose subcommittee will review the proposed purchase on Thursday, believes it never recovered from the devastating Mother’s Day storm in 2006.

“That building has been pretty much unoccupied since,” he said.

In explaining why adjacent buildings, closer to the river, continue to be utilized, Gravel explained that 16 Lowell St. is located at a low point in the square, and when flooding occurs, it gets even more water than others. In 2006, water filled the basement and surged as high as the first floor.

“The building seems to sit in a prime flood spot,” he said. “Nothing stops the water.”

Gravel’s office was located in the vicinity after the storm, and he watched efforts to restore 16 Lowell.

“I watched for months,” he said, but it appeared the damage was too extensive. Now, “it’s available at a low price,” he said.

He suggested the space might also be useful for City Hall parking.

Purchase of the building could fit in with long-range plans for revitalizing the downtown in general and Peabody Square in particular. Discussions have included moving the towering Civil War memorial to a spot in front of District Court and making the intersection more of a true square.

The money to buy the building would come from a reserve fund available to the mayor and would not impact the budget, Gravel said.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.