Athol Daily News – Athol: Fitchburg developer offers mix of housing and retail for downtown parking lot

ATHOL — Fitchburg developer Bill Krikorian appeared before the July 13 meeting of Athol’s Economic Development and Industrial Corp. with an offer to purchase the now closed town center car park and turn the site into housing and commercial space.

Krikorian told the council that his son owns a farm in Royalston where the two raise horses for racing.

“I find myself in Athol every day,” he explained, “and as fate would have it, I was driving one day, and I saw the parking lot and wondered what was up with that. One thing led to another, I had a few meetings with Eric (Athol’s director of planning and development, Eric Smith) and the city manager and other city officials.

Krikorian said he has undertaken several redevelopment efforts in the towns of Haverhill and Fitchburg. His work in Fitchburg has created some 200 units, 75% of which he said are affordable housing.

“I think this parking lot, which is currently a liability for the city,” he continued, “would be an asset if I could take control of it and make it a multi-family project. To be able to achieve this, we must be able to do it in two steps.

“The first is to agree on a purchase price. Second, to issue a letter of intent that would put this property under my control for a period of 90 days, which I think would be sufficient, which would be a period of due diligence. I would basically look at what my options would be, what to do and how to do it. Then, during this 90 day period, we would enter into a formal agreement to buy and sell at a pre-determined price.

Krikorian said the purchase and sale agreement would be conditional on the city approving all necessary building permits.

“Once these permits are issued and registered with the city clerk, and we will survive the 20-day appeal period imposed by state law,” he said, “I would close on the property within 60 days. We would then move forward doing what we can to make the project a reality here in Athol.

“Athol needs housing, from what I understand, affordable apartments, a good place to live at a reasonable rent. I think I can deliver that to the city if we can work together harmoniously to put together a fair deal to make it work.

At the June Annual Municipal Meeting, voters approved the transfer of ownership of the City Parking Bridge ownership to the EDIC. The company’s president, Keith McGuirk, pointed out that the documents attesting to this transfer have not yet been completed, although the process is expected to be completed very soon.

Number of units

Asked how many housing units he would need to create to make the project economically viable, Krikorian said: “Ideally what we would like to see is around 50 units, 45-50 units to make the numbers work. . If we were in a town like Weston or Lincoln, Natick, 20 units would do because of the huge rents. The problem we have here in Athol – just like they have in Gardner, and they have in Fitchburg – is that low rent becomes a barrier.

“We need 45 to 50 units to run the numbers and the cash flow, to make the project viable. To do this, we can only get about eight units per floor. What happens when you enter affordable housing, you should have a mix of one, two and three bedroom units.

Initial plans, Krikorian said, call for the construction of a five-level structure, with the first floor partially comprised of commercial/retail spaces, the other spaces being occupied by a common area, entrances, elevators and a hearth.

In order for the project to proceed, Krikorian would need to receive a zoning waiver since city zoning regulations limit construction to four stories. We could also try to modify the statutes, which would take more time to accomplish.

Krikorian also proposed the approval by the Selectboard of a 10-year tax increase financing plan. Under the plan, he would pay no property taxes in the first year of the deal, with payments increasing by 10% per year until reaching 100%.

He also suggested a sale price of $10,000 for the property.

“So the starting point right now,” he said, “is meeting with you to see if we can shake things up. I’m ready to work with you. I’m ready to work with the community I think it’s a very, very doable deal.

Responding to a question about the existing car park, Krikorian said: “We will use the existing structure. The parking lot itself is quite good; it’s not good enough to be used as a parking garage, but the support columns are structurally sound. The commercial space and the four levels above would be built entirely of wood frame and would be built on top of what already exists.

McGuirk told Krikorian that the EDIC would be in touch with him once the documents for the transfer of ownership from the city to the company are finalized. At that time, a more serious discussion of the proposal could take place.

Greg Vine can be contacted at [email protected]

David H. Henry