HAVERHILL — A Wingate Street condominium association says its members and other homeowners and businesses were deceived about a city program to improve the exterior appearance of downtown buildings with free loans.
Tony Feliu, trustee of the Wingate Condominium Association, said city officials promised the association a $25,000 loan for facade improvements that it would not have to repay as long as ownership of the property did not change for 10 years.
A few months after offering the deal, however, Feliu said the city changed the terms of the program to one in which the association would have to repay not only the $25,000 principal but also 1 percent interest over 10 years.
“We were victims of a bait-and-switch deception by city officials,” said Feliu, who is bringing his grievance to City Council tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Feliu also claims other homeowner groups and downtown businesses were similarly misled by the city about the facade program, including Potter Place Condo Association on Washington Street and the nearby Hans Garden restaurant.
Economic Development Director William Pillsbury does not dispute the association was initially told it would not have to repay the loan. However, Pillsbury said that information, which was provided in what he called “promotional material” on the program and by his staff, was erroneous.
“It was a mistake and we regret it and I’ve apologized to Mr. Feliu,” Pillsbury said. “But we have to be consistent in how we use taxpayer money. As soon as I saw what they were expecting, I said we can’t do this. They never received anything in writing that it would be a free loan. Their contract says they have to pay it back at 1 percent interest over 10 years. We thought that was a pretty good deal.”
Pillsbury said the federally-subsidized facade loan program is new and that the Wingate Street condo association is the second group to use it. He said the first business to use it, Bannon’s Spa on Winter Street, paid back a comparable loan for exterior building improvements.