Fate of office building still unclear

October 9, 2009
By

David Taber

Tenant hopes to buy

PONDSIDE—The bank foreclosure auction of the office building at 891 Centre St.— suspended after bidding only reached $600,000 Sept. 22—was scheduled to resume Sept. 25 but was delayed again until Oct. 21.


Meanwhile, Union of Minority Neighborhoods (UMN) director Horace Small said he is hoping to mount a serious effort to purchase the foreclosed office building, where the non-profit is now a tenant.

“We have some reasonably well-to-do donors who believe in our work…We are going to bid hard,” Small said.

The current owners are a partnership including one-time developer John Judge, who the Gazette has learned is now serving as chief development officer for the City of Springfield. Daniel Hart, head of the Boston-based development and consulting firm Hart and Associates, is also involved in at least the management of the property.

It is unclear if the owners are negotiating with their lender, Citizens Bank, to hold onto the property. Neither Judge nor Hart responded to Gazette e-mails requesting comment, and representatives from Citizens Bank declined to comment.

Paul Saperstein of the auction firm Paul Saperstein Co. appeared briefly at the 891 Centre St. site—sometimes called the Boy Scouts building, for the former owner—at 11 a.m. on Sept. 25 to announce that the auction was suspended, but would not answer further questions.

When he suspended the first auction, Saperstein said the scheduled two-day delay would give bidders “time to do their homework.”

Small said he is hopeful UMN can hold onto the building. “Calling this ‘in the neighborhood is a stretch,” he said of the Jamaica Pond neighborhood—an area characterized by parkland and large single family houses. But, “It is important to have a place people feel comfortable going to,” and UNM has established its office as such a place, Small said.

He said the group is currently working on programs organizing unemployed people and parents of Boston Public School students, and it is about to start a new session of its Institute for Neighborhood Leadership classes for community organizers. “The last thing we need is to be moving now,” he said.

Small said he was frustrated with the building owners, who, until days before the initial auction, denied in e-mails that there was any chance the property would be sold. They “actively went out to recruit minority folks [as tenants]…The major problem I have is these very nice white people who own this building do not tell us anything,” Small said.

Building tenants only learned of the auction after the Gazette pointed another tenant, Maple Hurst Builders, to a public notice posted on Paul Saperstein Co.’s web site.

Small said UNM closed its Roxbury office and another JP office last fall when the rent was raised in Roxbury to around $5,000 a month. The group is paying around $2,000 a month for the Centre Street space, he said.

There are more than 10 tenants listed on the sign at 891 Centre St. including UNM, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) and Maple Hurst Builders. John Judge’s development company, Judge Co., is also listed as having an office there, but the phone for that office is disconnected and ENC director Julie Crockford previously told the Gazette Judge has not been there for months.

Judge began his job running Springfield’s planning and development department in June this year.

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