January 08, 2014LANCASTER — There is good news for downtown Main Street!
The non-profit Tri-County Community Action Program (TCCAP) reported on Thursday that it had come up with both a very satisfying and satisfactory resolution for dealing with its fire-damaged building at 73 Main Street (Rtes. 2 & 3).
Since it caught fire nearly a year ago on Jan. 16, 2013, TCCAP has been working diligently to preserve this building, explained special trustee Todd Fahey in an e-mail forwarded by TCCAP CEO Mike Coughlin. "The process was delayed by various complicating matters, including insurance issues, lender involvement, and a desire to not cause another hole in Lancaster's Main Street by razing this building," Fahey wrote.
"After much thought and careful consideration, and after speaking with the Town of Lancaster's Town Manager Ed Samson, a buyer was identified who has agreed to rehabilitate this building," the special trustee said. "It is a very good outcome all around and would have been perfect if it could have occurred before last year's tourist season."
The now-vacant building, which at the time of the fire was housed a first-floor thrift shop and three occupants in the second-floor apartment, has been sold to a local developer, and the purchase agreement includes provisions to encourage rehabilitation instead of demolition, Fahey explained.
A Lancaster family — Greg and Rita Cloutier and their son Aaron, who is also a partner in their hydroelectric plant operations — recently closed on the TCCAP and Hearth and Home properties, both damaged by fire, Greg Cloutier wrote in an e-mail over the weekend. "For now this will be a family purchase," he reported. "The immediate plan is to save and preserve the (more damaged) building, while we engineer a project to save and restore (both) buildings."
Cloutier was aware that there was a possibility that the nearly gutted building might be razed, leading to another vacant lot on Main Street and understood that key players — the town manager, the selectmen, and TCCAP — did not want to see that happen.
"I believe in small towns, and Lancaster has a great historic section of Main Street," Cloutier continued. "As I evaluated the possible razing of the TCCAP building, I concluded it would likely make another empty lot that would be ugly and go against the all the hard work of other local and Main Street businesses. It would reduce the value of the Rialto Theater (In which he has invested), Simon the Tanner, the Moonbeam building, J.L. Sullivan's Pub, North Country Ford, Lancaster Eye Care, House of Pizza and the efforts of others trying to revive interest in our small town Main Street.
"I wish I could say we have a great master plan and that all the financing is in place to build anything we want, but the fact is we have a lot of steps that still need to be planned out.
"Our primary objectives are to save and restore the building over two years," Cloutier explained. "I would like to see the larger (former TCCAP) building used for some form of local arts center, and I've reached out for suggestions and trapped local artist and home-based businesspeople at the Rialto to discuss ideas." He added that he hoped this public announcement would generate interest by some local home-based businesses that wants a Main Street presence.
"The building damage has a positive side, because it let's us rebuild a space that is more suited for today's small businesses," Cloutier said. "Realistically, the future of the project will depend on a use plan that could cover the cost of the building, so no good business use will be bypassed. If we are able to find some one with a good plan — that is, not another office front — we can custom build and expedite our restoration schedule.
"But for now, our plans are simple: clean the buildings up, preserve the structure for this winter and start work this spring to make the building presentable for the summer of 2014.
"I do not expect to have the TCCAP building done until the summer of 2015, unless we have an interested party with a more immediate use," Cloutier explained.
And Fahey from the TCCAP side is also very pleased.
"We expect that this will be a 'win-win' for everyone, particularly the Town of Lancaster and those who enjoy its Main Street", the special trustee said. "The purchase price reflects fair market value. TCCAP, through a combination of purchase price and fire insurance proceeds, received fair and adequate payment for this property under the circumstances," Fahey explained. "It was a complicated situation; this is a unique building in a unique location. It shares a 'party wall' and was essentially connected to a smaller, separately owned parcel that limited options for disposing of it without leaving a hole in the town's Main Street.
"After much consideration and in consultation with its lender, Tri-County CAP purchased the adjacent smaller building (occupied until recently by the Heart Hearth and Home shop) and then sold both parcels to a local developer as one unit to avoid having to incur additional carrying costs and rehabilitation and-or demolition expenses," Fahey explained. "This was the best possible outcome for the agency and the Town."
Looking at this transaction in the larger context of the whole agency that spans three counties, CEO Coughlin pointed out that TCCAP considered this Main Street building surplus real estate and is now actively marketing similar unused property for sale as it continues both to cut costs and streamline its operations.