By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY BEACH — The state has purchased for $475,000 a key beachfront property, the former Sidewalk Cafe, and plans to tear it down.
The purchase should please many in town, especially those living at Salisbury Beach, who have considered the dilapidated building an eyesore for years. It’s located a few dozen yards south of the beach center, in a commercial area dominated by gift shops, arcades and bars.
The purchase was made through the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns Salisbury Beach. It purchased the 24 Ocean Front South property from Finneral Company, LLC, General Partner of Merit Properties Limited Partnership, of Tewksbury, where property owner Mark Finneral lives. According to the deed, the sale took place around Thanksgiving, though no formal announcement was made.
Town Manager Neil Harrington said the purchase helps resolve the public safety issues and removes obstacles to future development along the beach center.
Harrington thanked state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, for his support of the purchase, and DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert and his acquisitions team for working with the town on the sale.
Costello was also pleased with DCR’s actions.
“This site is a public safety hazard and a visual blight on the beach,” Costello said. “With the state investment, we hope the path is cleared for further redevelopment of Salisbury Beach.”
DCR spokeswoman SJ Port said the state intends to take the building down and return the lot to open space that’s part of Salisbury Beach State Reservation as a whole. Although the best-laid plans can go awry, she said, if all goes as DCR hopes, demolition should take place in late spring or early summer.
Over the years, the state has bought a handful of other oceanfront buildings in Salisbury Beach center. Each has been torn down in order to open up public access to the beach and views of the ocean.
Harrington had said his discussions with the officials in DCR’s acquisition office months ago indicated the agency’s desire to buy the property. The issue was accessing the money to purchase it, he said.
Funding for the state to buy land customarily comes form a state bond issuance. Given that budgets are tight, Harrington didn’t know if or when the sale would occur.
The sale price of $475,000 is significantly less than the current assessed value of $1,675,700 for the .93-acre site — $66,500 for the building and the rest for the land, according to the assessors office.
Finneral was also in arrears with taxes and other fees for 18 months. Harrington said DCR promised him Salisbury would get its money.
According to Port, Finneral owned the town $43,482.64. She said the town will be made whole on the money it is owed, with the seller paying up through the day the purchase was recorded and DCR paying the rest of the calendar year.
While The Sidewalk Cafe had been closed for years, the site has been part of the Salisbury Beach entertainment scene since the mid-1950s. Over the years, it has featured an ocean-side public swimming pool, kids’ rides, a sub shop and the deck-top cocktail lounge.
In recent years, the nearly 1-acre lot had been the subject of many redevelopment ideas that failed to materialize. The result left the building a crumbling mess of concrete and exposed wood, posing a safety problem for town officials and a sore point for its residential neighbors and the businesses trying to attract customers right across the street.
Until recently, the property was a point of impasse between Thompson Design Group, the company hoping to redevelop Salisbury Beach Center, and developers Robb Osinski and Jay Gallagher, who had optioned the site from Finneral to develop it themselves. The developers’ arrangement with Finneral, however, terminated more than a year ago.
In March 2012, the town issued an order declaring the building an unsafe structure, giving Finneral a deadline to repair it or tear it down. Harrington said Finneral boarded up the building to ensure vagrants and kids couldn’t get in. Although Finneral took out the paperwork for a demolition permit, he never filed the papers or got the permit.
By June, the town learned Finneral didn’t want to tear the building down, but instead was trying to sell the property to DCR, a notion that was a pleasant alternative to the unsightly problem, officials said.