Haverhill Council Largely Backs Lupoli’s Downtown Plan; Talks on to Buy City and Private Land

Pentucket Bank President and CEO Jonathan H. Dowst addresses the City Council while developer Salvatore N. Lupoli, right, looks on. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini and developer Salvatore N. Lupoli will attempt to hammer out an agreement for the Lupoli Companies’ purchase of about 4.5 acres of City downtown land for a $160 million mixed housing and retail development.

Haverhill city councilors did not specifically vote to select Lupoli from among five proposals during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. They appeared, with a couple of notable exceptions, however, to largely back the company’s revised plan for replacing the Herbert H. Goecke Jr. Memorial Parking Deck and surrounding parcels.

Whatever emerges from negotiations is still subject to approval by the City Council. The city also isn’t the only one negotiating with Lupoli. Pentucket Bank President and CEO Jonathan H. Dowst said his bank offered its properties at the corner of Merrimack and Main Streets to help resolve a traffic “pinch point” at the busy intersection.

“There’s a lot of negotiations still to get from here to there. It’s not a deal yet, but we absolutely see the same visions that the city’s better off, the development is better off and the bank is better off if that real estate is included in the development,” Dowst told councilors.

The bank property includes its existing main office at White’s Corner as well as a now-vacant parcel where its former headquarters stood. The Lupoli team also referenced “a potential waterfront” building across Merrimack Street, but it was unclear whether they meant the Landmark Building, an empty lot owned by the developers of Harbor Place or both.

Lupoli’s proposal, one of five submitted to the city, includes a payment of $1 million for the city property and demolishing the more than 40-year-old Goecke parking deck and replacing it with a 616-space parking garage owned by the developer. It would also create 51,000 square feet of street-level retail space and include up to 12 small restaurants, similar to Boston’s Eataly. The plan also would provide 370 residential units in five separate buildings.

State Rep. Andy Vargas also offered his suggestions in a letter to city councilors. He urged the city to set aside at least 20% of all rental units for workforce housing at or below 80% of area median income, create homeownership opportunities through the state’s CommonWealth Builder Program and have the city “maintain control over access and agreements for the newly developed parking garage” to ensure there are enough parking spaces for other needs.

Council President Melinda E. Barrett, a member of the advisory committee that reviewed proposals said, despite some initial trepidation about the company, Lupoli’s plan is an “opportunity of a lifetime.”

“All the applicants were excellent presentations. Every one of them had something very appealing to it but, ultimately, it came down to this one was the one. They have the financing. They have the plan. They have the history of being able to build both a garage and buildings. When you looked at all the information, it was by far, the best possible use of the space,” she said.

Haverhill Planning and Economic Development Director William Pillsbury Jr. agreed with Barrett’s assessment, adding it was the only proposal that was truly a mixed-use plan.

“Some of the other projects were just housing projects and, I think, we as a community do not need another neighborhood. We need a downtown revitalization and a transformative development. Many of the projects only had a very, very small component of commercial and were really not supportive of the type of transformative development that we really want to bring the millennials to the downtown to enjoy a variety of different options and opportunities, whether it’s food or otherwise,” he said.

Pillsbury also praised the financial aspect of the plan, noting it will bring an additional $1.7 million in taxes to the city when complete.

Lupoli Companies Senior Vice President Gerry-Lynn Darcy told the Council she understands the importance of uninterrupted downtown parking and will work on the parking garage before moving on to other aspects of the project.

“We intend on building the garage upfront. We know the value and importance of having that done so that we can manage the displacement of existing parked cars that are currently in the garage,” she said.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan said late City Councilor Goecke, for whom the garage was named, was “beloved,” and his name should remain a part of the new development. Darcy responded the developer will “respect and celebrate” those who came before.

Not all councilors were 100% behind the project. Councilors Colin F. LePage and Timothy J. Jordan questioned how effective the new garage will be considering many spaces will be allocated to residents of new units and others will be needed when Lupoli opens his restaurant and rooftop lounge at his Haverhill Heights building.

Jordan told his colleagues he won’t support the project without increases in fire, police and school staffing. Despite growth, he noted, the city has only 94 firefighters now with a population of 68,000 compared with 109 firefighters 18 years ago when the city had 58,000 residents. He said, for example, national standards recommend four firefighters per truck, but the city only sends three.

Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua and Michael S. McGonagle have recused themselves from voting on the project.

In closing, the mayor told councilors that looking over 50 years of downtown proposals, this plan is the best he has seen in his lifetime.

Pentucket Bank decorates the lot where its former headquarters stood until recently. (WHAV News photograph.)

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