Amherst demolition could make way for new mixed-use building

  • FILE PHOTO

  • 45 Boltwood Walk with the Rev.J. Joseph Quigley Hall and the Mass Vintage retail shop. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • 37 North Pleasant St. with McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern in Amherst. The Amherst Historical Commission is set to hold a demolition delay hearing on an application from property owner and developer Barry Roberts to tear down the building. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/14/2021 8:06:43 PM

AMHERST — An early 20th-century building in the heart of downtown Amherst, along with a neighboring building constructed for the Knights of Columbus next to the Boltwood parking garage, could be razed in the coming months to make way for a five-story mixed-use development.

The Amherst Historical Commission will hold a demolition delay hearing on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. on the application from property owner and developer Barry Roberts to tear down the building at 37 North Pleasant St. that houses McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern and Amherst Typewriter Service.

As part of plans filed with the town, Roberts would also remove the 45 Boltwood Walk building opened in 2007 as the Rev. J. Joseph Quigley Hall, and most recently used as the Mass Vintage retail shop. Because the building is less than 50 years old, it is not subject to the demolition delay bylaw.

Roberts said Thursday he is contemplating moving forward with a new building that would extend from North Pleasant Street back to the parking garage, with apartments on the upper floors and commercial and retail space on the ground level for the 0.17-acre parcel.

But he cautioned the project may not happen due to Amherst’s challenging regulations, including the demolition delay bylaw.

“Can’t do much more on that until we know that decision,” Roberts said.

He pointed out that he learned his lesson the hard way in 2015 when the commission issued a demolition delay on two properties at 236 North Pleasant and 12 Hallock streets. That forced Roberts and business partner J. Curtis Shumway to abandon construction of a four-story office building, with retail on the first floor, at the site near Kendrick Park.

Roberts purchased the properties for $1.29 million in 2018 from the Amherst Knights Of Columbus Home Association.

Roberts is already in the process of constructing a mixed-use building at the corner of University Drive and Northampton Road and also constructed new apartment buildings on University Drive.

In downtown, though — unlike developer Archipelago Investments, which has completed three mixed-use buildings, has a fourth under construction and has submitted plans for a fifth — Roberts’ projects have mostly been refurbishing existing sites, such as the Amherst Cinema building and AmherstWorks in the old First National Bank.

Some residents worry about the impacts all of these developments are having on the community.

Steve Bloom of Lincoln Avenue observes that college enrollment, already predicted to decline before the pandemic, could continue its downturn.

“What if the demand’s not there? What’s Amherst left with? A ghost town with an eight-month economy,” Bloom said.

“Barry Roberts has done a lot of good for Amherst, being born, raised and invested here,” said Ira Bryck of Strong Street. “I hope he would lead by creating a project that attracts businesses the community wants, and a diverse and inclusive couple of residential levels above, in an attractive building that is designed and right-sized for our busy, relevant New England town.”

In the demolition application for the circa 1900 building, located between Judie’s Restaurant and Antonio’s Pizza, Roberts writes that as a lifelong resident the McMurphy’s space has always been a bar and, before Amherst Typewriter’s arrival, two shoe repair businesses were there.

The upper floor of the building, after the Knights of Columbus moved out, briefly was used by the Amherst Boys and Girls Club. The building also forms the north wall of a narrow pedestrian walkway that people can use to get between North Pleasant Street and Boltwood Walk.

The former Knights Hall was built in memory of Quigley, a longtime priest at the Newman Center at the University of Massachusetts, and was to be used for various functions, such as wedding receptions and luncheons.

Associated Building Wreckers Inc. of Springfield is the contractor that would handle the demolition.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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