BEVERLY — The fate of a block of historic but deteriorating buildings near the Beverly train depot finally appears to be determined.
Developer Beverly Crossing is planning to demolish the four buildings and construct one large apartment building on the site, according to Ward 2 City Councilor Estelle Rand.
"It will completely transform that area," said Rand, who was briefed on the plans by Beverly Crossing.
The buildings include the former Press Box barroom, Casa de Lucca restaurant and Sullivan Chiropractic building, as well as the current Enterprise Rent-A-Car building, Rand said. They form a block along Rantoul Street and directly across Park Street from the train depot.
Beverly Crossing President Chris Koeplin declined to comment on the company's plans. Rand said she did not know exact details about the height of the building or how many units it would have.
The block has long been eyed by Windover Development and Beverly Crossing, a spin-off of Windover, as an ideal location for the kind of transit-oriented development the companies have built on Rantoul Street over the last decade, capitalizing on the property's proximity to the train station.
Those plans have been delayed because of the historic nature of three of the buildings. The former Press Box and Casa de Lucca buildings were once hotels, while the Sullivan Chiropractic building was used to manufacture carriages.
All three were considered significant in the designation of the area as a historic district, due to its connection to the introduction of the railroad to Beverly in 1839.
Tax break strategy
It was actually Windover Development that nominated the district for the historic designation in 2013 in order to get $1 million in tax credits for restoring a former box factory at 60 Pleasant St. and turning it into veterans housing. Around the same time, the company applied for permits to demolish the Press Box and Sullivan buildings in the very district it helped create.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission responded by warning the company that it risked losing the credits if it demolished the buildings, saying the tax credit and historic preservation laws should not be "manipulated."
Windover reversed course, with its then-president Lee Dellicker writing to the commission that he had concluded instead that the buildings "must remain."
The threat to take back the tax credits, however, was good for only five years. State legislation regarding the historic rehabilitation tax credit program says the state has five years to "recapture" the credits. The time period expired two months ago, according to the Secretary of State's office, meaning the state cannot take back the the $1.05 million in tax credits.
The project now faces a likely one-year demolition delay from the Beverly Historic District Commission. A public hearing has been set for April 25 at 7 p.m. at City Hall on the developer's recent application to demolish the Casa de Lucca building.
The company has already waited out one-year demolition delays on the Press Box and Sullivan buildings, so once a delay on the Casa de Lucca building expires, Beverly Crossing would be free to knock down all of the buildings.
Matt Pujo, a Beverly resident who has advocated for saving the buildings, criticized Windover/Beverly Crossing for creating a historic district only to tear down buildings that helped to create it. He said the district, called the Beverly Depot-Odell Park Historic District, could be taken off the National Register of Historic Places if the buildings are destroyed.
"It's like smashing a vase and saying this is still a vase," Pujo said. "Well, it's not. As a preservationist, I take offense at the National Register being dragged through the mud like this. It was just a means to an end to get tax credits and then dispose of it."
Rand was also critical of the company's tactics in using the historic district for tax credits while at the same time planning to knock down the buildings.
"It really doesn't look good," she said. "That's a point that people look at and say, 'That hurt our trust right there.' The intention was really not to preserve them."
Rand said she will be "sad" to lose the buildings, and that the entire community needs to take steps to ensure it preserves historic resources.
"I don't think it's entirely Beverly Crossing's fault," she said. "To me, it's a good lesson to learn that it's too late to care about historic buildings when they're already kind of falling down around you. As a community, we needed to care about them 20 years ago and say, 'Hey look, these are important buildings.'"
Rand said the new apartment building will change the character of the neighborhood, but noted that it will also "make that area feel completed in a way that it doesn't now."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.