, Salem, MA

January 18, 2013

Councilors have questions about City Hall Annex

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — City councilors discussed the lease for the City Hall Annex at 120 Washington St. on Wednesday night but put off taking any action until they can meet with the building inspector.

The city has been taking one-year extensions of the lease since 2011, when the council rejected Mayor Kim Driscoll’s proposal to sign a five-year deal with the building owner. The current lease proposal is for three years.

The annex, a stone’s throw from City Hall, has housed various city departments, including licensing, planning and community development, since 2001. The city’s initial, 10-year lease expired in February 2011.

On Wednesday, Councilor Michael Sosnowski said he hopes to activate a council subcommittee to explore other possible locations for the City Hall Annex. Councilors talked of forming such a committee in 2011, when discussions over the lease became heated between the mayor and some councilors, but it never materialized.

“I couldn’t agree with you more, that we dropped the ball on that one,” Sosnowski said to Councilor Tom Furey, who pointed out that Sosnowski’s subcommittee has never met.

This fall, the city requested proposals for annex office space but received only one reply, from RCG, the owner of 120 Washington St. The request sought a 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot space located 700 feet or less from City Hall.

The proposed three-year lease starts at a monthly rent of $30,500 and increases by $1,000 in both the second and third years. Driscoll says the new lease would save the city $65,000.

The lease would also bring a few upgrades to 120 Washington St., including installing new flooring, repainting walls and renovating the elevator.

Councilors on the administration and finance subcommittee had specific questions about the upgrades for the city’s building inspector, who was involved in the lease negotiations. They hope to schedule a meeting with the inspector sometime next week.

Councilors agreed the building’s elevator is prone to breaking down, which poses a problem if a handicapped person wants to attend a public meeting on the upper floors.

The lease, which would begin March 1, includes an option to extend the agreement for up to seven one-year terms beyond the initial three years.

On Wednesday, councilors requested adding language to the lease that requires any lease extension to be approved by the City Council.

Councilor Josh Turiel acknowledged something Driscoll has said, as well: 120 Washington St. is not a long-term solution for the city.

“At this point, I don’t see any better options on the horizon in the next two, three, four years,” Turiel said.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.