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Northampton now taking bids for Florence Community Center

— The Florence Community Center is now up for sale to the highest bidder.

The City Council Thursday voted to declare the Pine Street building as surplus property and the city put the finishing touches Friday on a request-for-proposals for the 84-year-old former Florence Grammar School building.

The proposal, written by a special Florence ReUse Committee in cooperation with the Finance Committee, lays out several criteria that it would like to see bidders meet. In addition to price, the city is looking for a buyer who expresses support for the arts and small business development. It also would like to see a bidder adhere to historic preservation of the building and provide space for short-term community use.

The property also carries a payment in lieu of taxes agreement should the high bidder be a nonprofit organization that is exempt from property taxes. In that case, the nonprofit would agree to make payments to the city equal to the tax that would be assessed.

Bids will be accepted until May 20 at 2 p.m.

Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the proposal is written in such a way that officials hope to receive a number of bids.

“It is our prevailing hope that this expresses our desires and is general enough that we’re going to get some decent bids and that we can do business in a decent time period that is respectful for the existing tenants,” Murphy said.

The building is located on 2.2 acres at the corner of Pine and Corticelli streets. It closed as a school in 1991 and three years later reopened as a Recreation Department youth and community center. In 2002, the School Department opened an alternative learning program that ran until 2008 before moving to the high school.

The old grammar school building now houses more than a dozen nonprofits and other tenants. A tenants association representing those businesses has indicated it wants to stay there, and is reaching out to individuals and organizations that it might partner with.

Several councilors were pleased that the city is not giving the building away and is including payment in lieu of tax language to ensure money will come into the city’s coffers every year.

“I appreciate that the property will be subject to a payment in lieu of taxes. It’s good to know that will be mandated by this RFP,” At-Large City Councilor Jesse M. Adams said.

Murphy said the committee opted to move quickly with the sale this spring for several reasons. Tenant leases are set to expire at the end of June and the city would like to identify a buyer who could develop a relationship with those tenants before the leases run out.

“It would provide some security to them that they are going to be able to stay in the building moving forward,” he said.

The committees also acknowledged that the city is in tough financial times and sought to reassure residents that “this isn’t going to be one of those dollar transfers,” Murphy said.

“We’re not just going to give the building away,” Murphy said. “We actually need the proceeds from the building.” In a related matter, the council also approved placing a preservation restriction on the building. A future buyer will have the right to accept or reject the restriction, which would limit changes to the exterior of the building, but would allow interior changes.

Should the city not like the bids it receives, it has the option to reject them and start the process over, Mayor David J. Narkewicz told the council.

The city took ownership of the former school last year after the School Committee determined it no longer needed the structure. The city determined that it didn’t need the three-floor, 30,000-square-foot building for municipal purposes, nor did they want to invest $1.2 million in needed upgrades.

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