SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 26, 2013

Developer seeks historic district certification

Would demolish 2 Beverly buildings

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — The developer who is planning to demolish two historic buildings near the train depot is also trying to get the area listed as a historic district in order to qualify for more than $2 million in state and federal tax credits.

Windover Construction has nominated the Beverly Depot-Odell Park Historic District for listing with the National Register of Historic Places, a program that recognizes buildings and areas worthy of preservation.

At the same time, the company has applied for permits from the city to demolish two historic buildings in the district, the former Hotel Trafton and the former Cushing’s Carriage factory, to make way for a new apartment building.

The area’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places would make Windover eligible for state and federal historic preservation tax credits for its project at 60 Pleasant St., where the company is turning a former box factory into housing for homeless military veterans. It would not prevent the company from knocking down the other buildings.

Windover President Lee Dellicker acknowledged that it would be “ironic” to demolish historic buildings in a historic district the company is trying to get recognized. But he said the buildings are in bad condition and would be too costly to restore.

“They’re in terrible shape, they’re vacant, and they should come down,” he said.

The Hotel Trafton, at 9 Park St., was most recently used as a rooming house for veterans and is best known as the former Press Box barroom. Cushing’s Carriage, at 142 Rantoul St., is still being used as an office for Sullivan Chiropractic.

Windover wants to knock down both buildings and construct a building with about 75 apartments, with retail space on the first floor and parking under the building.

The National Register designation would qualify Windover for state and federal tax credits equal to up to 20 percent of the historic rehabilitation costs, or $2.2 million, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which administers the state’s historic rehabilitation tax credit program. A similar program on the federal level is administered by the National Park Service.

In general, $1 of tax credit reduces the amount of income tax owed by $1, according to a National Park Service booklet describing the program.

The $2.2 million in historic rehabilitation credits would be in addition to $2.7 million in state and federal housing subsidies and tax credits Windover was awarded last year and announced by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray in a ceremony inside the former box factory in Beverly.

The estimated cost of the project is $7.4 million, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Windover filed a nomination for the National Register in November, saying the Beverly Depot-Odell Park district “is significant for the intact collection of diverse commercial, industrial, transportation and government resources it contains from former factories and hotels to a train station, post office, public park, and railroad bridge.”

The nomination goes on to list 14 historic buildings within the district, including the two that Windover wants to knock down — the Hotel Trafton, a former railroad hotel built in 1886, and the former Cushing’s Carriage Manufactory, which was built around 1870.

The nomination cites the Hotel Trafton as an early example of the Second Empire architectural style and Cushing’s Carriage for its Italianate style.

The nomination says the Hotel Trafton does not contribute to the historic character of the district because most of its original features have been removed or altered. But it describes the Cushing’s Carriage building, which Windover also wants to demolish, as one that “retains its overall historic scale and appearance.”

Beverly Historical Commission Chairman Bill Finch said the commission will write a letter to the state in support of Windover’s nomination to list the depot area with the National Register.

Finch said the district should be on the list because of the historic train depot, which is already listed individually on the National Register, as well as Odell Park across the street.

“It does make sense to list the park and say this is a civic area,” he said.

Finch said it is “perfectly obvious” that Windover is seeking the historic classification in order to get the tax credits. He said the 60 Pleasant St. building would not qualify for National Register listing as an individual building, so Windover is seeking to have the entire district listed.

Asked about the irony of a company tearing down two buildings in an area its says is historic, Finch said, “I guess it’s called the good and the bad. The hope is to foster positive development both for historic buildings and for non-historic buildings in the area. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword.”

Dellicker said Windover is in the process of restoring 60 Pleasant St. to its “original grandeur,” including the installation of new windows and copper trim. The four-story brick building was built in 1896 as the J.P. Friend & Company Box Factory and was most recently used as a self-storage building.

Windover is transforming the building into 33 apartments for homeless veterans, with on-site counseling and job training.

“It’s coming out to be a very handsome historically renovated building,” Dellicker said.

Among the 14 historic buildings in the proposed historic district are five brick buildings at the National Grid complex on River Street; the River House homeless shelter, a former fire house built around 1872; and the Casa de Lucca restaurant, another former railroad hotel; and the U.S. Post Office building on Rantoul Street. The post office is already in the National Register.

Dellicker said property owners would not be restricted from making any changes to their buildings if the area becomes a historic district. About 280 properties in Beverly are listed in the National Register.

The Beverly Historic District Commission has scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 31 on Windover’s application for a permit to demolish the former Hotel Trafton and Cushing’s Carriage. The commission can impose a one-year delay, but the company would be free to knock down the buildings once that expires.

Dellicker said he will ask the commission to waive the one-year delay so the buildings can be razed immediately to provide temporary parking for train commuters while the MBTA is building a 500-car garage across the street.

“We think that’s a side benefit to tearing them down,” he said.

Windover’s apartment project at that location could be a candidate for a new program passed by the City Council last Tuesday that provides tax incentives for housing developments on Rantoul Street.

Developers are eligible for up to 70 percent in property tax breaks for the improvements they make to the property. Twenty-five percent of the units must be affordable housing.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.