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City files suit to get former school offices back

July 18, 2014 | By G. Michael Dobbs

The metal wall dividers can be seen through the windows of the front door of the former School Department building at 195 State St.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Kevin Kennedy, the city’s Chief Development Officer, told Reminder Publications the city will once more attempt to find a developer for 195 State St. –  ­ the former School Department building –  through a Request for Proposal process once the building is back in the city’s hands.
City officials announced on July 14 that a lawsuit for breach of contract had been filed in Hampden Superior Court against 195 State Street Real Estate LLC, the developer of the project.
A call to David Nyberg, the principal of 195 State Street Real Estate LLC, was not returned by press time. Nyberg had bought the building for $1.
Kennedy could not say when the city would see the building returned.
“Legal situations are unpredictable when it relates to time,” he said.
The conversion of the building into market rate apartments was supposed to be finished within 18 months after the developer took control of the building in October 2011.
“We have worked patiently with this developer, but we have come to the point where the city needs to move forward and the property needs to be fully redeveloped,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said. “We have given this company ample opportunity to perform and were hopeful they would be able to complete this important project.”
Kennedy said that he has had “a number of conversations” with Nyberg over the past 12 months on the lack of progress on the project. One of the most recent was in  March.
He said city officials disappointed by the outcome.
The building was originally the headquarters for the Springfield Fire & Marine Insurance company in 1905 and designed by Peabody and Stearns. It was added to the National Register of Historic Properties in 1983.
Kennedy said that his office has been receiving calls two to three times a month from developers seeking information about possible housing projects in the city.
He added that if the casino bill repeal fails, there will be a “completely different environment” in the city for development.
City Councilor Timothy Rooke, who was critical of the sale of the former School Department building for $1, wishes he had insisted more for a performance bond for the development deal.
Rooke said, “The suggestion was discussed but declined. In retrospect I wish I had pushed a little harder.”
In consideration of the basic improvements needed for the redevelopment of the historic building – asbestos, heating and cooling, elevators, windows, and general construction costs – the city had sold the building for $1 and the lawsuit would return the building to city control as well as prevent its transfer to any other owner.
Rooke said a performance bond would have protected the city’s interests. If the developer couldn’t finish the renovations to the building the bond would have provided funds the city could have used to work with another developer to finish the project.
Making performance bonds part of a development agreement for developers “without a proven history would be a good best practices,” Rooke added.
There are metal wall studs erected to divide the first floor of the former School Department building at the corner of State and Maple streets but that is about all of the visible evidence that any progress has been made in converting the structure to market rate apartments.
According to city officials the asbestos in the building has also been removed.

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