NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 16, 2013

Residents pressure officials to demolish Sidewalk Cafe

Six months after state purchase, building still stands

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY BEACH — Six months after the state agency that owns Salisbury Beach bought the dilapidated remains of the former Sidewalk Cafe, beach residents are hoping its promise to tear down the eyesore will soon be met.

Last November, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation purchased the long- vacant and unsightly beachfront property at 24 Ocean Front South for $475,000 from its former owner Mark Finneral, of Finneral Company, LLC/General Partner of Merit Properties Limited Partnership, of Tewksbury.

At the time, DCR spokeswoman SJ Port said the agency’s intentions were 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 at the time, if all went as DCR hoped, demolition would hopefully occur around now — in late spring or early summer.

According to Adam Martignetti, chief of staff for state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, DCR has gone through the bid process and has already awarded the contract for the work. Martignetti said yesterday the timeline to begin work is in DCR’s hands, but he added demolition shouldn’t take long to complete once started.

Port said yesterday that DCR’s plan is still to tear down the building, although a firm date isn’t set.

“We estimate that demolition, once begun, would be a maximum of five days,” Port said. “And we’d schedule the work so that it would have only a minimal impact to visitors to the beach.”

Money to execute the demolition doesn’t appear to be a problem. Port said that funding would come from the same line item in DCR’s budget that was used when the agency purchased the property.

However, funding to restore the lot after demolition has not yet been identified, she said, for it will depend upon in which fiscal year that work is done. This fiscal year ends on June 30, 2013, and the next begins on July 1.

Over the years, the property has featured an oceanside public swimming pool, kids’ rides, a sub shop, the deck top cocktail lounge and former home of the Sidewalk Cafe. Its beachside location had made it a part of Salisbury Beach’s entertainment scene since the mid-1950s. But, closed for years, all that remains now on the roughly 1-acre lot is a badly deteriorated, boarded-up building that many consider a blight on the beach.

The value of the property when purchased indicates its poor state. Acquired for less than half a million dollars, Salisbury’s assessed value of the property was $1,675,700 for the .93-acre site, yet only $66,500 was attributed to the worth of the building; most of its value related to its seaside location.

Although police do a good job of trying to keep people away from the structure, Atlantic Avenue resident Bob White told the Board of Selectmen recently he considers it a safety hazard. It’s a place where youth gather on its flat roof for late night drinking parties, said White, who brought along a photo of such a scene.

White and other beach property owners have contacted the town’s state legislators, requesting they ask DCR to move ahead with the demolition. The simple sight of it negatively affects beach visitors’ impression of the beach, White said.

White asked selectmen and others to call and write to legislators and DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert to keep the pressure on until the project’s done.

Selectman Fred Knowles said once the building is gone, he hopes the site would once again be considered as part of a plan to build a boardwalk along the top of Broadway, beginning at the Beach Center and continuing down Ocean Front South.

Knowles said Salisbury still holds $100,000 in state grant funds for the boardwalk initiative, which was scrapped when the Thompson Design Group entered Salisbury Beach’s development picture six years ago. In 2007, the Cambridge-based urban design firm announced it was working on a uniform plan to restore the beach center to its former greatness, but after all this time, nothing has been done.

“If we wait for the Thompson Group (to act), our grandchildren will still be waiting for the Thompson Group,” Knowles said.