Saturday, November 20, 2010

What Should the Armory Become?

The armory on Northampton Street between 6th and 7th Streets.

Posted by: Noel Jones

Ed Sieger reports in the Express-Times that West Ward residents, gathered through efforts by the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership and the City of Easton, began discussing optional uses for the armory on the corner of 7th and Northampton last week. This is part of the larger effort to rehabilitate the 600 block of Northampton

[Dennis Lieb's response to the question of what to do with the 600 block is worth reading the my previous blog post of his interview after joining the WWNP as Project Coordinator.]

One major hurdle in doing anything with the armory, is the owner's reluctance to sell the building at a price the city can afford. Ideas have been bounced around before, ranging from turning it into a year-round

market to making it a police station. I spoke to the owner, Elliot, whose family has run Jacob's produce on the other side of Northampton for decades, and he seemed more open this time around to working with investors on possible uses for the building as either a market space, an entertainment space or a combined use space.

The building was also included, earlier this year, through the efforts of Rep. Bob Freeman, in a cluster of funding slated for the rehabilitation of historic buildings in Easton; however I haven't heard if the funding has been approved yet--does anyone know? If so, please post a comment here.

Ultimately, what would you like to see happen to the armory?


Tim Pickel said...

I do not know the Jacob family or anything about their finances. Are they limited in their ability to fix up the old armory or, for that matter, their property on the opposite side of the street?

Asking that question first, I follow that both properties are eyesores, desperately in need of repair. Any discussion about the 600 block of Northampton Street starts and ends with those two buildings.

No beautification effort by other developers will have a chance to succeed unless the Jacobs make an effort to fix their properties. For too long the city has turned their eyes away and allowed both the armory and produce building to stand as reminders of how far we are from making real change in our neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

What is the asking price for the Armory? In a casual conversation with the owner he specified a price that was remarkably low. We should what it is before taking it at face value that the owner is asking for more than the City can afford.

noel jones said...

The amount he told me a couple of years ago was $900k--it could very well have come down since then.

I have mixed feelings about it. If a family owns a building, then it is theirs to do with what they want as long as they are up to code and within zoning laws, right?

So I get confused when some residents get upset about how the buildings look--if the family can't afford to spiff it up, then do we really have a right to get upset? That almost makes it seem like a crime to be broke, in which case, a lot of property owners in the West Ward would be in trouble.

So are there actual code violations that people are upset about, or are they mad at the family for not having the money to fix up those two huge buildings? Is there some sort of unwritten agreement among folks out there that no one has a right to own a building they can't afford to maintain?

I've wondered about this for a while, and would like to get to the bottom of it. Eliot just seems to me to be a proud family businessman who can't afford to fix it up right now, but doesn't want to sell it for less than he believes it's worth...isn't it his right to do what he wants with it, even if that is nothing?

Anonymous said...

you said
"I have mixed feelings about it. If a family owns a building, then it is theirs to do with what they want as long as they are up to code and within zoning laws, right?"
that seems very unlike you. you have no problem telling everyone how they should get involved, and argue to the death when someone disagrees w/ you, yet you are prepared to let Elliot off the hook for being an irresponsible property owner?
Elliot's family does NOTHING for this community; in the more than 14 years I've been here, NOTHING has changed there. the armory and jacob's produce have broken windows (whis DOES violate code) and unkempt surroundings (which DOES violate code) and the armory is a safety hazard.
they DO have a responsibilty to keep the properties up, just as we all do, even IF we can't afford it.
when you can't afford a property, you get rid of it, period.
i'm of the belief that they just don't care about the neighborhood and have no problem holding out, as if this white elephant is some sort of goldmine.
the problem w/ redeveloping a property such as the armory is the issues of asbestos abatement and bringing the electrical and plubing up to code, and making it compliant w/ disabled access. these things likely make it very unattractive for redevelopment.
jacobs produce also would make a great market or grocery, w/ apartments up above, but again you are talking millions in redevelopment costs in a low grade neighborhood.
it ain't going to happen.

Anonymous said...

I have so many responses but the one that gets to me most is "more than the city can afford." What could the city possibly do with such an eyesore that needs alot of money invested let alone ---- yes $900k for the property. The blogger sdays that maybe they don't have the money to fix upo the buildings right now......sorry that's not the city's fault. They bought it from the state for less than $75,000 about 25 years ago and jusat let it sit!!!! Now they wanbt the city to buy it for 10 times the amount.

I know they have been lkess than cooperative with the city. They were apparently just cited for their windows and the sidewalks. If they canb't afford to fix it up to code they should sell for whatever the market will bear and I would say that the amount is more aroud $300,000 or less.

As fopr their produce side of the street why not do business. The sign says produce but other than 5-# bags of potatoes and rock salt they have nothing to buy. If you have neothing to sell you can't make a sale and therfore can't make a profit. Simple business.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

This is pretty interesting so far. Tim makes excellent points and there are others who are talking around the important issue of where personal property rights stop and the public welfare begins. I will try to formulate my view of things and come back later...hopefully without saying anything that gets me in too much trouble (yeah right).


noel jones said...

Anon 4:59--not sure where the tone is coming from but it sounds pretty personal--lets try to stick to points and facts. I was asking a question. You are responding as if I made a statement, and your response has a personal heat that detracts from an otherwise good response.

I asked if there exist long-standing code violations or whether resentment for the owner in the community is focused on not seeing more cosmetic results that the family might not be able to afford, and you responded that yes, there have been long-standing code violations.

So the next logical question would seem, why has the building been allowed to have code violations for over 14 years, as you say? It seems that we as a neighborhood constantly get excuses from the city as to why codes can't be enforced and blight cured in the West Ward. Why do we as a community allow that to happen, and just sit back complaining, pointing fingers and criticizing those who are trying to figure it out, rather than keeping consistent pressure on the city officials that we elect and pay with our tax money to bring about the results they have been hired to achieve?

noel jones said...

Anon 9:54--similar to Anon 4:59--the next logical question is that if, as you say, the building has actually had code violations for over 25 years, why has the code department allowed that, and why has the community been content to complain and point fingers rather than applying consistent pressure on the officials that we elect and pay to improve our city?

Do we or do we not each have a personal responsibility as citizens to engage in our local democracy to the extent that we ensure progress? Is it just the building owner's responsibility, or do we as a community have a responsibility to elect and hire people that really work for the betterment of the community, and take them to task if they don't do their jobs?

noel jones said...

By the way, this is not a criticism of Mayor Panto or Becky Bradley, who have been on board a relatively short time and have made some progress recently in terms of enforcing code (i.e., the hubcap store). It seems that they are genuinely engaged on this project as well. It just seems that they have inherited a history of lax enforcement to tackle.

We still have a long way to go as far as the many slumlords in the neighborhood though...

Anonymous said...

$200,000 is what was said this spring to individuals who were given a tour. + the owners version is that the City is hostile and not helpful to him in his efforts to improve the property. Inside the building were materials bought to improve the building stacked all over. Also community efforts to work with the owner directly have been strongly discouraged by the current city admin. Whats up with that? Next time you go by somebody stick your head in and ask him what is his asking price - if any. How can this be discussed without knowing that? by the way, its a beautiful building inside and out. If the owner is to be believed he wants help and is willing to work with people.

noel jones said...

I agree--Elliot has done a lot of work inside that can't be seen from the outside. I saw the inside a couple of years ago and again a couple of months ago. What I wonder is if there are code violations outside, why not fix those first? But when I talked to him last he did seem enthusiastic about working with investors in the community to turn it into something meaningful--so maybe he wouldn't need to sell it at all...

If the price is now $200k it has come down tremendously and is well worth it. The place is even bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside, with huge basement areas that extend under the street, and it is solid.

Hopefully something will be worked out soon as it would transform the neighborhood if it gets fixed up and turned into something that attracts commerce to the area.

Anonymous said...

Do you all realize the cost of renovation? Yes it's a big building but it hasn't been maintained fopr more than 25 years. You are looking at a complete re-wiring, plumbing, all new HVAC, a new roof -- all big ticket items. No one forced hi to buy it but the city can and is (as from what I am told) is starting to put pressure on him. Apparently Mitman and Goldsmith backed down. IT appears that Panto has no problem pushing the codes on blighted properties. The owner needs to get his act together or put it up for sale and to sell it he needs to clean it up a little.

noel jones said...

Anon 9:15--thanks for posting. In addition to "putting pressure" on the owner, are there incentives that the city could have offered the owner over the last 25 years to develop it?

Anonymous said...

tear it down!

Even fixed up, it will never fit on Easton;s eclectic "old house tour". Represents architecture style of Old Disneyland-fantasy land. Build a moat and sell it as an Arthurian castle.