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Adams Frustrated With Jones Block Delays

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
06:27PM / Friday, March 09, 2012
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The Jones Block looks good from the outside but the inside is another story.
ADAMS, Mass. — Town officials are frustrated with a private developer who has stopped working on a historic Park Street building.

Two years ago the town used a $1 million grant for exterior work on the Jones Block, envisioning the historic building would be vital to its downtown revitalization plans. However, the developer, Polonia Restoration, has not finished the interior and halted all work the last year.

Town officials are now looking to see if there is a way to get Polonia to finish the project.

"We're terribly disappointed. This was supposed to be a centerpiece of downtown revitalization," Director of Community Development Donna Cesan said on Friday.

The town has spent a lot of time and effort into saving the Jones Block after a 1996 fire. Officials first secured the building and later purchased it from MassDevelopment in 2005 for $1. Continuing work with MassDevelopment, town officials then secured a $1 million Community Development Action Grant to renovate the exterior, but that grant called for a match from a private developer.

The town went out to bid to sell the building but came up short. The owner of the adjacent building, Thomas Carlow, then approached the town looking to sell his building. Officials then coupled them into another bid and sold both to Polonia in 2007.

In 2009, the town used grant money for facade work such as installing new doors, storefronts and walkways. A new stairwell was added to the back and, later, with a separate grant, the town re-paved the rear parking lot. The town's portion of the grant was completed in 2010.

The company won the 2007 bid with ideas of new commercial spaces on the ground floor and high-end apartments in the top floors. Upon accepting the bid, Polonia officials said they would invest at least $2 million to spring life back into the building.

In 2010, Polonia was holding to its word and performing a massive amount of work that included installing an elevator shaft, putting up wallboard and doing electrical and plumbing renovations as well as a lot of renovations in the Carlow building, which currently houses several businesses.

Overall, the work was enough to close out Polonia's end of the grant, Cesan said, but the full project has not been completed.

"It has stalled," she said. "He had been making good progress in 2010."

Town officials started noticing less and less work being done in the last year and communications became more infrequent. Cesan said the economy has taken away the market for retail shops in that building, which led to Polonia deciding not to move forward at this time. Additionally, the company has not paid its 2011 taxes yet although it had been up to date each year before.

Town Administrator Jonathan Butler said on Wednesday that the town has made multiple efforts to resolve the situation with developer Gerald Sanchez to no avail. The project started before he was hired and he said it is "unfortunate" that the work has not been completed.

"I am probably equally distressed with the Jones Block situation," Butler said. "I've been here almost three years now and that's still a big question mark."

During all of this, the town has secured other grants to spruce up Park Street facades and is now in the process of planning a streetscape project. Another historic downtown building, the Mausert Block, is being privately renovated and the town is using its own funds to renovate the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds. A non-profit theater group, the Topia Arts Center, is renovating the former Adams Theater in Armory Court.

With all that, the Jones Block is integral to the town's plan. Town officials have asked Town Counsel Edmund St. John III to review a timeframe stipulation in the agreements with Polonia. Cesan said the agreement was 24 months to complete the project but there were stipulations about delays that would give them more time.

"If we're not there, we're certainly close," Cesan said. "For him, it's a small project. But for us, it's big. We need to encourage him to put this on the top of his list."

She is hoping that the company will at least continue working on the apartments, saying local Realtors are sure they can be filled. That information has been passed onto Polonia.

Town officials are not sure exactly what the next steps are to get that work completed but St. John's review is a step in weighing their options.

"We want it to be functioning and productive. We're still evaluating what our courses of action could be," Cesan said. "It's just gone on too long."

Tags: Jones Block,   

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