Councilors Want Lupoli Answers Before Borrowing Vote; Mayor: City Isn’t Paying For Land

Demolition took place in July to make way for Sal Lupoli's new Haverhill Heights complex. (WHAV News photograph)

Demolition took place in July to make way for a parking deck connected with Sal Lupoli's new Haverhill Heights complex. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill city councilors want more information within two weeks about a plan to borrow $1.12 million to pay for an extension of the city-owned riverfront boardwalk and a parking deck downtown.

As WHAV has reported, a financial shortfall is threatening a 10-story residential and commercial building planned by developer Salvatore N. Lupoli on city land he is buying. The gap comes as a result of the state pulling back part of a grant, and bids coming in higher on other publicly owned infrastructure. Councilors placed the loan request on file for the required two weeks. Following the vote Mayor James J. Fiorentini told WHAV he intends to clear up some misunderstandings before then.

“We’re not paying anything for his property,” Fiorentini told WHAV, referring to a second lot Lupoli already owns at 192 Merrimack St. The mayor explained, “We’re building a parking garage on his property. We’re not paying anything for it.”

Councilors earlier said they wanted to know if the city will pay rent to Lupoli to use his property for a two-level parking deck, whether parking spaces are tied to Lupoli’s project, whether patrons will be charged to park, if Lupoli will receive any property tax breaks and whether Lupoli could still walk away without completing payments on the city land he is buying.

Fiorentini confirmed the council has already granted a small property tax break for “The Heights” building. “It’s much less than value at Harbor Place. A minimal TIF (tax increment financing) for five years. It’s consistent with all other projects downtown,” he told WHAV. He added the project will pay standard building permit fees unlike the break offered to Harbor Place down the street.

Councilor Tim Jordan said Lupoli has already received state benefits because a state MassWorks grant paid for demolishing a building on his property and, now, the city will lose property taxes now that the building is gone. He also asked who will pay to maintain the new parking deck.

“We do not have a good track record of doing maintenance on city parking—the Goecke Parking Deck is probably the best example of that,” Jordan said.

Jordan said it may be better to ask Lupoli to maintain the parking garage. He also asked, in the event Lupoli walks away, whether the city can keep the $137,666.67 the developer has paid so far toward the $701,000 price of buying the city’s riverfront parking lot.

Councilor William J. Macek said he wants some performance guarantees from Lupoli before he votes to put “big bucks on the line.”

“Could there be a point, even before completion, that it becomes financially unviable?” Macek asked.

Part of this year’s city budget, Councilor Colin F. LePage noted, was built on the expectation Lupoli would pay at least $500,000 toward his purchase of land between Rent-A-Center and Haverhill Bank. LePage said he identified the sum along with savings in the snow and ice budget to help the mayor pay for $1 million in additional spending

Council President John A. Michitson summed up the feelings of his colleagues. “There was somehow a $1.2 million gap and we took on the full burden. Where’s the negotiation?”