ATTLEBORO - Attleboro Redevelopment Authority Chairwoman Judy Robbins and Mayor Kevin Dumas announced plans Tuesday for a privately funded $6.8 million mixed-use development on a prime piece of downtown real estate, which they said signals the start of downtown revitalization and renewed life for the long-troubled ARA.
The announcement comes more than a decade after the seeds for a new downtown were first planted with a $500,000 federal appropriation for an MBTA parking garage, followed by years of turmoil.
City officials, including Robbins, Dumas, city councilors and others kept pursuing the project despite lawsuits, the near bankruptcy of the ARA, the dissolution and rebuilding of the ARA board and hundreds of sometimes tumultuous meetings.
And now, Crugnale Properties LLC of Mansfield has signed a land disposition agreement with the ARA for the 1.3 acre parcel on the corner of South Main and Wall streets next to Christopher Heights, where it aims to build an six-story structure that includes 70 to 80 garden-style condominiums, with 6,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Parking will be under the building.
Final approval of the agreement apparently came during a closed ARA session last Thursday.
The agreement calls for the ARA to get a little over $1 million for the property, which was once part of the Automatic Machine campus that straddled Wall Street.
The city will get two-thirds of the $1 million as partial repayment of cash it paid to settle lawsuits on behalf of the ARA.
"We are so excited, we can hardly believe it," Robbins told the City Council. "I think this is one of the most exciting things that has happened to the ARA in a long time."
All told, the city will get $683,100 of the $1,024,000 Crugnale has agreed to pay for the lot.
Robbins is hoping that's just the beginning of the repayment effort, with more land coming up for sale soon.
"We hope we'll be doing other things to pay off our debt in the next two years," she said.
Dumas, who's been working closely with Robbins on restoring the finances of the ARA and finding ways to move its projects ahead since her appointment to the board by Gov. Deval Patrick on Dumas' recommendation in 2009, echoed her comments.
"This is a fantastic deal," he said. "To get to this point and be part of that ARA meeting last week was very exciting. It's the first step in the (ARA's) recovery."
Crugnale won't take ownership or pay the ARA for the parcel until environmental issues are finalized in a use-limitation agreement. The deal took nine months to complete, partly because of complicated environmental issues.
Both Robbins and Dumas praised the council for "having faith" in their efforts and voting to authorize a payment of more $1.1 million last spring and $355,000 last fall.
Without the cash, the ARA could have fallen into bankruptcy, forcing the end of its downtown revitalization and industrial business park projects.
At one point, a judge threatened to order a court-appointed receiver to sell the Automatic Machine lot at a "fire sale" price to pay off one of the debts.
Councilor Richard Conti described the turnaround as a "phoenix" like rise from the ashes.
Council President Frank Cook said the announcement, which follows the start of the $1.9 million publicly funded part of the project that includes the construction of a bus terminal and the relocation of Wall Street, is very positive.
"Coming on the heels of the (transportation center) groundbreaking four weeks ago, this is very encouraging," he said.
Crugnale President Marco Crugnale is hoping to break ground in July and complete the project in about 18 months.
Five of the condos will be affordable because Crugnale will be getting almost $500,000 in government grants to help fund the project.
Crugnale has also announced plans to build 11 residential unit and create 1,000 square feet of commercial space at the corner of West and North Main streets in Mansfield.