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Historic Dodge Street building could be cleared for Walgreens

Posted by Justin Rice  December 28, 2011 11:50 AM

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A building constructed at the corner of Dodge and Conant streets around 1715 could soon be demolished to make way for a Walgreens, despite the best efforts of historic preservationists.

The owners of the building that is currently occupied by Coldwell Banker recently submitted a bid to take down the building with the Beverly Planning Board and have also recently secured a letter of intent from the national drugstore chain.

“It’s functionally obsolete, it’s barely rentable,” said Jeff Rhuda of Symes Associates, which manages the property. “It’s really a tired old building with ceilings below seven feet tall. Unfortunately the building itself devalues the land that is underneath it.”

But the building at 48 Dodge Street, which was part of Beverly’s earliest settlement, is significant to Beverly’s Historic District Commission, which passed a one-year demolition delay last May in hopes of convincing the owners to work toward preservation.

“This is one of the few houses that are left from that period of settlement,” Historic Commission Chairman William Finch said.  “It’s important both because First Period houses are quite rare, there are fewer and fewer surviving.”

Finch said another nearby house from the same period was slated to be torn down recently but was saved when the developer realized the significance of the house at the last moment.

“He said ‘Oh I didn’t realize the importance of the house’ and he made it part of his development,” Finch said, noting similar structures in Middleton have also been successfully redeveloped into commercial space.

Now that Coldwell has decided to move after 18 or 19 years in the building and a women’s clothing store in the building called Appleseeds went bankrupt recently, Rhuda said it doesn’t make financial sense to try to rent it out again.

“That space is worth $8 to $10 a square foot right now, that’s about the best I could do on it,” he said. “The CVS across the street pays 40 a square foot. Do the math, this is a million dollar difference. We did everything we could to try to keep it the way it was. The math was overwhelming. It’s an old building.  It’s cute and all that, but the reality is it’s functionally obsolete.”

Rhuda said even if the Walgreens deal falls through they will still move forward with trying to knock down the building so they can find another tenant in a newly constructed building.

“The reality is if Walgreens isn’t going in there something else is,” he said. “Our intention is within the confines of the rules and regulations to put up a new building there. We have a responsibility to our investors. We’ve got to replace it. The rent barely covers the common area maintenance charges.”

Because the privately owned structure has no official federal or state historic designation and the redevelopment will not receive federal funds, Finch said the Historic Commission has no recourse other than trying to sway public opinion.

The site plan for the proposed Walgreens will go in front of the Design Review Board at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 5 at City Hall, according to Kate Newhall of the city’s Planning Department, and a public hearing to review the site plan is set for 7:45 p.m. on Jan. 17 at the Beverly Public Library (32 Essex St.).

“The only thing we have to impact [the proposed demolition] is public opinion,” Finch said.  “[The owner] has the right to take the building down.  We consider the building to be of community value and community benefit both because of its age and siting and prominence.

“We just think it’s the wrong way to handle it.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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