Mayor seeks new proposals to develop Round House lot

Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — The city is breathing new life into the potential development of the Round House lot downtown, some seven years after officials had high hopes for a controversial hotel that eventually failed.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz is moving ahead with plans to update a 2005 feasibility study for the site. He is crafting a new request for proposals in hopes of spurring development of the prime downtown spot behind Pulaski Park.

“I’ve been giving a lot of thought about essentially resetting and restarting a development process for this property in the heart of our downtown,” Narkewicz said.

To that end, the mayor intends to enlist the services of MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency best known in Northampton for its work to redevelop the former state hospital grounds into Village Hill Northampton.

The agency offers a range of other services to municipalities in the area of economic development, including pre-development technical assistance for government-owned property.

The mayor said the Round House lot has been generating “buzz” this spring, including from a few developers who have contacted his office inquiring about the property.

“I’m excited about it,” Narkewicz said Friday. “Economic development has been one of the priorities of my administration ... and we want to redevelop the property in a way that maximizes economic development benefits and keeps with character of downtown.”

Under the agreement with MassDevelopment, the agency will bring in a Boston urban design firm called Utile to study the site, meet with key community stakeholders and develop a request for proposals.

In addition to studying market conditions, primarily in the areas of housing and office markets, the firm will examine the city’s zoning and the site’s previous development effort before making recommendations.

The design firm will do this in consultation with the community, including neighbors and downtown businesses. Narkewicz said he hopes the resulting request for proposals will allow the city to meet its many goals for the site, including boosting tax revenue, creating jobs and enhancing the downtown business climate.

The mayor anticipates this work will take about three months and, if successful, the city might be able to issue an request for proposals in mid to late summer.

If and when the property sells, the $15,000 fee for Utile’s services would be reimbursed to MassDevelopment, which reinvests the money into its programs to help other communities. The state agency would not oversee the project development as it is doing at Village Hill.

“The advantage is the city only pays the fee if the RFP is successful,” Narkewicz said.

In order to move ahead, Narkewicz and the city’s Economic, Development, Housing and Land Use Committee will ask the City Council next Thursday to approve an order to designate the Round House lot as one of the community’s “priority development sites.”

The mayor has the authority to sell the Round House property in consultation with the committee. Narkewicz presented his plans at a recent meeting of that committee, whose members viewed the idea favorably.

Under state law, communities who designate specific sites as priorities can take advantage of state assistance, such as that provided by MassDevelopment, and possible funding grants.

The Round House lot would be added to the state’s master list of priority sites, a key list that developers watch carefully, Narkewicz said.

The property’s recent controversial history reached a conclusion last August when the city settled a lawsuit with the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group for $12,500.

The city selected the hotel group’s $1 bid and plan for a 112-room hotel and parking garage in 2006. The hotel group sued the city in 2010 after former Mayor Clare Higgins declined to extend the deadline for a purchase-and-sale agreement for an eighth time in three years.


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