Preservation Worcester gets chance to make last plea for Odd Fellows Home
By Nick Kotsopoulos, TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Plans to build an 82-unit rest home on the site of the former Odd Fellows Home on Randolph Road cleared an important hurdle Friday when the City Council Economic Development Committee unanimously endorsed a tax-relief deal to help finance the $14.6 million project.
At the same time, local historic preservationists have been given an opportunity to make one last effort to try to convince the developer to save at least part of the historic, 19th-century 3-1/2-story brick building at 102 Randolph Road as part of the project.
In approving a tax-increment financing deal for the project, also known as a TIF, the three-member Economic Development Committee made it clear the matter will not go before the entire council for a final vote until the developer first meets with representatives of Preservation Worcester to discuss the feasibility of saving part of the Odd Fellows Home building.
To make way for the rest home, the long-vacant Odd Fellows Home building, which has fallen into major disrepair, is supposed to be taken down.
“Nothing is going to go before the council without first having this conversation,” said Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton, committee chairman. “(Preservation Worcester’s) voice deserves to be heard. Nothing may be able to come of it, but they deserve the respect of at least having a conversation.”
Deborah Packard, executive director of Preservation Worcester, made a renewed plea before the council committee to have at least part of the Odd Fellows building preserved.
She said even though the Odd Fellows Home building is on the National Register of Historic Places, nothing can be done to block its razing because the one-year demolition delay previously imposed by the Historical Commission has expired.
Ms. Packard said Preservation Worcester has “grave concerns” about the City Council approving a tax-relief deal that would go toward the demolition of a historic building.
She pointed out that the Odd Fellows Home building has been on Preservation Worcester’s endangered buildings list for the past four years, and she does not feel enough has been done to preserve at least part of the building.
Ms. Packard told the committee that Preservation Worcester had sent a letter to the developer in which potential options to save the building were offered, but the group never received a response.
“This is a striking property that is a part of the city’s landscape,” she said.
But Ben Herlinger, one of the project’s principals, told the committee the state Department of Public Health would never give a permit to allow a rest home in the 19th-century building.
He has previously said that the building has load-bearing, structural, mechanical and electrical problems. He added that the building’s antiquated layout would not have won approval from DPH for a rest home.
Mr. Herlinger said efforts were made to preserve the building’s five-story clock tower, but it was determined that would have been physically impossible.
He told the committee that the building has been vacant for more than 27 years, and that previous efforts by others to redevelop the property by saving part of the historic building failed.
KMRN Investment LLC, a Worcester-based company, purchased the property from Randolph Road Realty Trust in 2012 for $1.05 million.
The principals of the company, which also owns and operates nearby Dodge Park Rest Home, want to build a 61,920-square-foot, state-of-the-art rest home there that will accommodate 82 elderly persons.
Dementia and Alzheimer Care in Worcester
The home will consist of two buildings, each with 41 beds. The facility will also serve those diagnosed with memory impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Paul Morano of the city’s Economic Development Division said the project and the TIF will be done in two phases.
He said the TIF recommended by the city administration is for 12 years and would provide the developer with an estimated tax savings of $1.9 million over that period.
At the same time, he said, the city will receive an estimated $3.2 million in new property taxes.
Mr. Morano added that 78 full-time jobs will be created by the project and the developer has committed to making all of those jobs available to Worcester residents.
In addition, the developer is also committed to hiring local labor for construction of the facility, he said.
District 3 Councilor George J. Russell said he was concerned that the building could be sold to a nonprofit and after the 12-year TIF the city could end up collecting nothing in the way of property taxes from it.
He asked the developers if they would be willing to include a condition as part of the TIF in which they would commit to keeping the property on the tax rolls for at least another 12 years after the tax-relief deal expires.
But the committee was advised that such a stipulation could not be enforced because it would cease when the TIF deals expires after 12 years.
As an alternative, Mr. Morano suggested that the TIF deal could be extended to 20 years, but with all the benefits occurring in just the first 12 years.
By doing that, he said, it would ensure that the property remained on the tax rolls at least another eight years after the TIF deal expired.
The developers expressed a willingness to discuss such an option with their lawyer.
Photo: Micha Shalev with plans for the Oasis at Dodge Park. The new rest home facility will be residence to 82 elderly persons and be a Dementia and Alzheimer Care facility in Worcester.