EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 24, 2008

Struggle over downtown gateway; Merchants demand help fighting street crime, blight

HAVERHILL - It's a major crossroads two blocks north of downtown, which is booming with new people, apartments and businesses.

It's called Olympia Square, regal in name but hardly in appearance.

The square has several problems - empty storefronts, litter and graffiti, even drugs and prostitution, according to police and merchants there. As the resurgence of downtown progresses, this outlying square needs help, city and business leaders said.

City Planning Director William Pillsbury calls it a gateway to downtown where Winter Street, which also is Route 97, crosses Emerson and White streets. Millions of dollars are being invested in downtown and nearby on more than 800 new apartments and condominiums, and the city wants the gateways to downtown to look good, Pillsbury said.

One concern in Olympia Square is the large Pentucket Building at 127 Winter St. The building once housed Bannon's Spa and now is falling into disrepair, Pillsbury said. The building has four empty storefronts.

"That is critical property because of its prominence and location," Pillsbury said. "It is really on the verge of being abandoned."

The square has some successful anchor businesses, such as Shoe City Hardware next to the Bannon's Spa building. Next to the hardware store is an Army National Guard recruitment center, and across the street is Bradford Seafood. The Emmaus House shelter for homeless people also is in the square, as is a towing business. The Greek Orthodox Church and some small specialty stores are around the corner from the square.

The Pentucket Building, built in 1916, is owned by Joseph Errico of Somerville, according to city assessing records. It is valued at $1.1 million and contains 24 units - a mix of residential apartments and the first-floor storefronts.

Pillsbury said he has been pitching the Pentucket Building property to potential developers as a great opportunity, but no one has bought the building.

Two businesses operate in the building - a barbershop and Yomarys Beauty Salon. Yomarys owner Yomary Gutierrez said she loses business because of the appearance of the area and prostitutes and drug dealers who sometimes loiter on the streets.

"We have drug dealers around our corner. We have hookers around there," Gutierrez said. "Some of the customers are afraid to come here because of the people who hang around there."

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