LAWRENCE — The 134-year old former paper mill consumed by fire last night has been one of the most troubled properties in the city since Andover developer Stephen Stapinski bought it for $82,500 in October 2005 with the hope of building a mixed residential and commercial development.
The complex of buildings deteriorated as Stapinski waited for approvals from the city, which never came. The city eventually condemned the complex and ordered Stapinski to board it up.
Several fires ensued before last night’s, including one on Nov. 6, 2009, that sent flames high enough that their glow could be seen by spectators at Veterans Stadium a mile or two away.
As the proposed development at the former Merrimac Paper mill stalled and the buildings sat empty, Stapinski’s unpaid property tax bill climbed to $4 million by 2010, when he sold the complex to former city cop David Padellaro for $1 in a sale that officials said was an effort to dodge the tax bill, which Padellaro inherited along with the deed.
Then-Mayor William Lantigua promised to explore “whatever legal remedies I have at my disposal” to force Stapinski’s development company to pay the taxes and related fees, including filing a lien on Stapinski’s Andover house and on a half-acre on Broadway in Lawrence that Stapinski and his partner, King Weinstein, were then leasing to a Burger King franchise.
The city never went forward with the liens.
Lantigua’s former chief of staff, Leonard Degnan, also questioned whether Padellaro had the resources to do much with the former mill, and said the $125,000 Stapinski gave Padellaro to pay for the demolition as part of the sale would fall short by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I don’t know anybody in their right mind who would want to have this property with all the issues involved,” Degnan said at the time. “Four major fires. A $2.8 million tax bill. Who would want this property? It’s an investment that went bad that (Stapinski) now wants to walk away from.”