By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The Burgess Business Center building on Essex Street and a former restaurant on Washington Street are the properties rejected by the University of Massachusetts Lowell for its downtown satellite campus, The Eagle-Tribune has learned.
A university spokeswoman said Thursday that a committee of college officials determined after a month-long review that neither site meets the school’s needs. Spokeswoman Christine Gillette declined to provide specific reasons why the sites were rejected. The college’s deadline for selecting the winning proposal was Feb. 22.
The Burgess Business Center, an eight-story former factory building at 143-147 Essex St., is home to several businesses and owned by William Nofsker of Kifor Development Co. The other property at 87 Washington St. is in the center of downtown’s restaurant district and has been vacant for about two years, since the Trattoria Al Forno closed there. The building, which consists of four floors and 20,000 square feet, is owned by the Arcidi family, also owner of Haverhill’s Whittier Health Network. The building also formerly housed River City Billiards.
City Councilor John Michitson, who has helped recruit new and small businesses to the Burgess building, said he was aware the building’s owner submitted a proposal to host the satellite campus, but that he did not help put it together.
”I am disappointed that Burgess wasn’t selected, but am hopeful that a property in the downtown will be selected,” Michitson said. “While the (Burgess) building is not on Merrimack Street, having UMass-Lowell in the same building with start-ups and small companies would boost Haverhill’s chances to attract emerging businesses to the city.”
State Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, who is playing a key role in bringing the satellite campus here, said he is not concerned that the first attempt at finding a location failed.
“I’m very confident they are coming to Haverhill,” said Dempsey, chairman of the House Way and Means Committee. “This doesn’t change anything at all.”
Gillette said the university will make a new call for proposals and start the process over. Dempsey said he suspects the college will extend the area from which it will consider putting the satellite campus further away from downtown, but that downtown remains the preference.
“Downtown is very attractive due to the train stop,” Dempsey said, referring to the Washington Street commuter rail station.
City officials have said locating the campus in the heart of downtown, either on Merrimack Street or Washington Street, would be ideal. Downtown merchants have expressed optimism that a satellite campus would bring a college crowd to the area and that it would be good for many businesses, especially sandwich shops, cafes and other dining establishments.
In late December, the college announced plans to open the satellite campus downtown. UMass-Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan said the school was looking for 10,000 square feet of office space for six to eight “smart classrooms” and administrative offices for the satellite spot, which will focus on continuing education.
The initial bidding documents required the leased space to be downtown, within walking distance of Haverhill’s train and bus stations. The map was changed, however, after a team from the university did a site walk of the area and felt that there were more potential locations beyond what was covered by the first map, Gillette said.