Three downtown Amherst buildings eyed for demolition

  • Three downtown Amherst buildings, including from left to right The Pub, the Summerlin Building and the Piper Building, are slated to be demolished. SCOTT MERZBACH

  • The Piper Building, foreground, and the Summerlin Building and The Pub in downtown Amherst, are slated for demolition. SCOTT MERZBACH

  • The Pub, the Summerlin Building and the Piper Building, left to right, with the One East Pleasant mixed-use project in the background, are slated for demolition in downtown Amherst. SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2019 10:50:32 AM

AMHERST — Three downtown commercial buildings, including one that houses a restaurant where late singer Natalie Cole performed regularly in the early 1970s, could be slated for demolition.

In addition to The Pub at 15 East Pleasant St., the Piper and Summerlin buildings, at 9 and 11 East Pleasant St., which currently house Amherst Nails, Kay Baker’s Antiques, Cousins Market and Eliana’s Barber Shop, will be subject to a Historical Commission hearing under the demolition delay bylaw June 5 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

Senior Planner Brandon Toponce said the demolition application, filed by property owner Summerlin Trust, focused on removing the buildings, which combined total 31,834 square feet on about three-quarters of an acre.

Toponce said no plans have been filed for redevelopment of the buildings and the adjacent large parking lot.

“We know they’re working on something, but not sure what that will look like,” Toponce said.

Efforts to reach Summerlin Trust President Laird Summerlin, in Edisto Island, South Carolina, were unsuccessful by phone Wednesday.

During the hearing, Toponce said the commission will consider whether the buildings are historically or architecturally significant and whether the people associated with them have historical or cultural significance.

The oldest part of the buildings dates to around 1902, Toponce said, with 1960s-era additions and other changes made to the buildings more recently. The Summerlin building was mostly reconstructed around 1921 as a laundromat and later converted into the Tower pizza restaurant in the early 1960s, before being used for retail businesses such as Cousins Market and The Mercantile.

The Piper Building was built in 1965, and the newest of the buildings, The Pub, was built in 1968.

The three buildings have a combined valued at $1.58 million, according to town property records.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup said if redevelopment were to happen, any future project would have to meet town zoning bylaws. As part of the municipal parking district, no onsite parking would be required.

Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said that she has heard that Summerlin Trust may be in the process of selling to a developer. La Cour said the site is a prime spot for redevelopment, observing that Central Amherst Realty Trust, which owns the nearby buildings that house The Spoke and formerly Bertucci’s, last fall contemplated demolishing them to make way for new mixed-use projects.

“I know there is potential between One Pleasant and Kendrick Place,” la Cour said.

Even though she is departing from her role at the end of the month, la Cour said she will continue to advocate for in-fill development in the Gateway district, the area from the north end of downtown to the University of Massachusetts campus.

“That whole end of town heading toward the Gateway and UMass is an opportunity for retail and housing expansion,” la Cour said.

Whatever decision is made at the hearing won’t have an immediate impact on The Pub, which is where Cole became a weekly performer while studying at UMass.

Dolly Jolly, whose family has run the establishment for 51 years, said The Pub will continue serving customers through at least Dec. 31.

The Jollys are in the midst of preparing for a new restaurant currently under construction on University Drive, which will be known as Savannas Bar and Bistro. Jolly said this will feature a wood-fired oven, a locally sourced menu, and craft beers.

Eliana Dabbous, who has a month-to-month lease for Eliana’s Barber Shop and the neighboring space most recently used for Malek Shawarma Mediterranean Cafe, said she isn’t aware of the possible demolition.

“They haven’t said a thing,” Dabbous said

But she said the possible demolition will make it challenging to find someone to take over the restaurant space.

“If it stays for another year, that would be awesome,” Dabbous said.

Dabbous previously had to leave the Carriage Shops in 2015, prior to its demolition to make way for One East Pleasant, and said it could be difficult to find another place with an affordable rent.

La Cour said she understands that Dabbous and other business owners may be squeezed, but that it is typical for the core area of cities and towns to be pricier, and that village centers and other areas of town may be less expensive.

“Amherst does have affordable business locations,” la Cour said.

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


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