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June 16, 2013

Archdiocese behind downtown plan

Catholic Church buys Newman's building; Woolworth site eyed

HAVERHILL — The Boston Archdiocese has purchased a large building on Merrimack Street and is in talks with the city for a major downtown project that could also involve the long-vacant F.W. Woolworth building.

The Planning Office for Urban Affairs, an arm of the archdiocese dedicated to building affordable housing, has bought the multi-story Newman’s Furniture building at 32 Merrimack St. from longtime owner Norman Newman for $667,000, according to paperwork on file with the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds.

The property was bought by a corporation called Merrimack Street Owner, LLC. That corporation was formed by the Planning Office of Urban Affairs in Boston, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

William Grogan, the agency’s chief operating officer, did not return several message left at his office and on his cell phone.

The agency also appears to be involved in negotiations to develop Haverhill’s signature vacant property, the Woolworth building at the corner of Merrimack and Main streets, as well as possibly other nearby buildings.

The Greater Haverhill Foundation, a nonprofit economic development corporation that works closely with the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, bought the Woolworth building in 2005 for $1.4 million. The sale sparked speculation that various developers were interested in building a high-rise condominium complex with retail shops and a restaurant on the ground floor. Several deals fell through and then the real estate market collapsed, however.

The yellow, art deco-style Woolworth building opened in 1949 and has been vacant since the former department store closed in 1969.

In 2010, the foundation, which pays about $16,000 a year in taxes on the property, fought off calls to demolish the dilapidated structure after pieces of metal and concrete toppled down to the sidewalk. Neighbors have also complained of tall weeds growing up from the roof in recent years.

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