SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 16, 2013

Penguin Hall redevelopment plan gets the hook

WENHAM — Former ad executive Jim Mullen says the plan to redevelop the historic Penguin Hall into a senior living community will not go forward, saying people liked the concept, but could not commit to it.

The senior condominium concept also had trouble gaining financing from banks, Mullen added.

“It is true,” Mullen said when asked yesterday evening if the senior living plan was no longer a viable option for him. The wooded property and 1929 Penguin Hall was once the headquarters of the Mullen Communications advertising agency.

Plans had been to redevelop the 20,000-square foot “summer house,” with its two bronze penguins standing guard in the courtyard, into a luxury senior-living condominium complex on 50 acres.

Penguin Hall is one of the last parkland estates left on the North Shore, and it was to be a place where residents could age in place, free from the cares of home ownership. The plan was to build 240 units with prices ranging from $350,000 to $1 million, depending on their size and location.

In August 2012, Mullen and Chris Wise, his former development partner, counted nearly 100 depositors.

“We had a gangbuster beginning to this whole thing and signed up 100 people,” Mullen said. Most of those who had committed were in their 60s and 70s.

“When it came down to actually choosing a unit, most of them, all but 20 ... came back and said: ‘We love the concept, but we are not quite ready.’” The problem was many of those looking at the senior living concept felt they were too young, that it would be better suited to someone in their 80s.

Mullen, who is 73, said all the potential buyers raved about the concept. Of those who declined to move forward, he said, “they dropped out as friends.”

Mullen and Wise, the founder and CEO of Wise Living, had sought to reposition the former corporate campus into a place where people tired of mowing the lawn might live an active life with all the amenities. Wise is a developer of senior independent-living projects on Cape Cod. He declined comment when at his home last night.

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