New Plans Spare Old Downtown Bank HQ From Wrecking Ball

The Pentucket Bank building as it appeared in 2018. (WHAV News photograph.)

The former Pentucket Bank headquarters, once slated for demolition, is to be rehabilitated for a new use. (WHAV News photograph by Sharon Chouinard.)

Scott D. Cote, chairman and chief executive officer, of Pentucket Bank.

Plans are in the works to spare an architecturally significant downtown building from the wrecking ball and spur new growth at the eastern end of Haverhill’s downtown.

As early as 2014, Pentucket Bank officials discussed plans to demolish the bank’s former headquarters at 35 Merrimack St. once certain offices moved into Harbor Place across the street. At the urging of local and state officials, however, the two-story building will instead be renovated for a potential tenant.

“It served a good purpose for us for many years. It will now serve someone else,” said Pentucket Bank Chairman and CEO Scott D. Cote.

He said the bank plans to undertake necessary renovations and accept proposals for its reuse. Because of the way the building is configured, the institution is seeking a single tenant to rent both floors and the basement.

Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) fellow Noah Koretz.

MassDevelopment credits its own Noah Koretz with saving the building. In his role as a Transformative Development Initiative fellow for the agency, Koretz approached the bank during the summer of 2016. His goals were to save one of the last mid-century modern style structures in downtown Haverhill; prevent another hole in the post-urban renewal, pockmarked streetscape; and encourage greater downtown activity.

Responding to a series of questions from WHAV, MassDevelopment spokesperson Margaret Quackenbush said the agency “proposed options to purchase or lease the property, subject to a full due diligence study of the property condition and the identification of a tenant or tenants…”

Cote, however, said Pentucket Bank agreed only to lease the building and not sell it. He explained, “We’re growing quickly and wanted to keep our options open.” He added MassDevelopment agreed to make necessary repairs to the building, including replacing the roof. The agency said it set aside $400,000 for those improvements.

The agency first worked with an unidentified firm to sublet the property, but “determined that the business plan the tenant proposed was not financially feasible.” Last fall, MassDevelopment formally advertised publicly for tenants—receiving proposals from a food incubator, yoga studio and WHAV radio in concert with an “evening lounge-style space.”

WHAV President and General Manager Tim Coco explained the radio station has long sought to return downtown. He said WHAV would have housed studios and offices on the second floor of the building and work with a proposed lounge owner downstairs to provide space for live, on-air performances. The lounge also would have met the state’s goals of bringing nightlife to Merrimack Street. WHAV is continuing its search.

Haverhill Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury said the city fully supports the bank redevelopment effort. “We want to preserve it and keep it in play.” He described the Pentucket Bank headquarters as historic and “a viable space” for business.

Ultimately, MassDevelopment determined market rents would not be enough to cover the costs of rehabilitating the property to accommodate the proposed uses. “MassDevelopment informed Pentucket Bank in January that it was unable to enter into the lease agreement as it had not identified a feasible solution given the economics of redeveloping the property at this time,” the agency’s statement said.

Cote said building work could begin as early as this summer. “We’ll be looking at something very basic. We just like a lot of the stuff going on downtown and it means a lot to use both sides of the street.” He said he can’t predict the future lease rate.

Although it doesn’t currently have a role in the building’s future, MassDevelopment said the bank’s decision to redevelop and lease the property means the original goal will still be achieved.

For more about the former bank headquarters, see WHAV’s Haverhill Heritage Series article, “Bank Survives Setbacks; Shapes City.“