As Financial Threat Looms Large for Lupoli, Mayor Touts $500K Property Tax Revenue

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 on land owned by Lupoli at 192 Merrimack St. (WHAV News photograph)

Mayor James J. Fiorentini said Friday that Salvatore N. Lupoli’s mixed-use downtown project “The Heights” has the potential to generate approximately $500,000 in annual property tax revenue, but a financial threat continues to loom large over the $30-million effort.

WHAV’s review of legal documents reveals that should the project fail to take full shape, all deposits Lupoli has and will pay toward buying the city’s Riverfront Promenade parking lot are fully refundable. This provision is contained within a June 4, 2017 agreement with the developer.

The revelation answers one question brought forth at last week’s City Council meeting. Councilor Tim Jordan, who inquired if, Lupoli should walk away, asked if the city may keep the $137,666.67 the developer has paid so far toward the $701,000 price of buying the parking lot.

The project touted as the latest in Haverhill’s “renaissance” is under water $1.12 million, resulting from the state pulling back part of a previous grant, and bids coming in higher on other publicly owned infrastructure.

Lupoli’s concept received a state MassWorks grant of $2 million for an extension of the city-owned riverfront boardwalk and construction of a city parking garage on land Lupoli already owns at 192 Merrimack St. WHAV first reported last February the city awarded a $200,000 contract to S&R Construction of Lowell to demolish the single-story building on the land. Besides demolition, documents obtained by WHAV show existing or future payments of $2.37 million for construction of the parking deck and boardwalk, $200,000 to The Engineering Corp. of Andover, $223,000 to AECOM for design and construction and $129,000 for clerk-of-the-works services. The $3.12 million total is $1.12 million more than the state agreed to pay.

Meanwhile, Fiorentini’s office cites an analysis by Assessor Christine Webb that the “Heights” project would have an assessed value of $22.8 million and pay the city $498,000 annually in combined property taxes. Permitting, water and sewer fees, along with meals tax revenue, would bolster that amount, the mayor’s office said.

Council President John A. Michitson Friday asked the mayor if the tax total includes the property tax break councilors previously approved for Lupoli’s building. Michitson told WHAV that his colleagues are hopeful for a “positive outcome” to Lupoli’s “Heights” effort.

“It is my opinion that the City Council wishes for a positive outcome and a successful Haverhill Heights, as long as the best deal for Haverhill taxpayers is negotiated by the city in good faith and that the city does not take on unnecessary risk,” Michitson said.

In response to Fiorentini’s tax impact memorandum Friday, Mitchitson submitted a list of questions to the city chief on behalf of the Council. On the list are questions about the maintenance of the city-owned parking garage on Lupoli’s private property, and concerns over the city’s liability should Lupoli back out of the project before, during or after construction.

Fiorenini expects to ask Councilors to borrow the remaining money at the Aug. 21 or Sept. 4 meeting. For his part, Lupoli plans to fully update and itemize his current spending once all building permits are secured. Those figures will be made public once funding for the garage and boardwalk is shored up, Fiorentini said.