Council to consider authorizing purchase of Low St. property

RICHARD K. LODGE/Staff photoThe brick building at 57 Low St., Newburyport, that the city is considering buying for $220,000.

NEWBURYPORT — The mayor is hoping to close on the purchase of a Low Street property by the end of the year and to use it as a new home for Newburyport Youth Services or other city departments.

During its meeting Monday night, the City Council received an order sponsored by Councilor at large Charles Tontar to authorize the purchase of the property for $220,000, which would be appropriated from the city's free cash fund.

The parcel at 57 Low St. includes an auxiliary garage building used by the Parks Department and other city departments. 

Mayor Donna Holaday has eyed the building as a potential site for Newburyport Youth Services, which for years has been operating out of the first floor of the former Brown School in the city's South End. Department personnel have complained about the building's limitations and expressed support for considering the Low Street site.

Holaday said the city's consultant, Studio MLA, is finishing a feasibility study of the property and will make a final public presentation "most likely by the third week of November." She said the study covered the feasibility of either building a new Youth Services facility at 57 Low St. or renovating the Brown School building to house the department. 

Municipal uses for the Low Street site have included storage of equipment and emergency response vehicles. While the National Guard still uses about one-third of the building to store equipment, buying the property would give the city direct control over the whole building.

On Monday, Holaday pleaded that councilors authorize the purchase of the building for the agreed-upon "significantly discounted rate," adding that she believes the building could be used "to construct new municipal facilities or maintain existing operations" if the city opts not to relocate Youth Services. 

"Regardless of whether NYS is relocated to the 57 Low St. site or is maintained at the Brown School, 57 Low St. affords the city a viable site at an ideal price on which to construct new municipal facilities or maintain existing operations," Holaday said. 

The mayor also said that based on the city's timeline with the state Division of Capital Asset Management, the deed would be transferred to the city by Dec. 31.

Tontar also expressed interest in using the property for uses other than Newburyport Youth Services and said he would not vote it out of committee until there is "sufficient information on the alternative uses of this property."

The order was referred to the council's Committee on Budget and Finance and Committee on Planning and Development

But Ward 1 Councilor Sharif Zeid opposed sending the order to the committees, remarking on the importance of considering the purchase alongside other expenses.

"Given the situation with the pandemic and the importance of free cash this year, I think we should have all the free cash proposals come in together so they can be considered together," Zeid said, adding that he thinks the council should review the feasibility study once it is complete before discussing the purchase in committee.

"I think we should have time to go through the feasibility study. ... It's not ready to be considered until those things are before us," he said. 

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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