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July 7, 2014

Council set to take Harbor Place votes

Tax breaks, parking spaces planned to smooth way for big downtown project

HAVERHILL — City Council is expected to take several votes Tuesday night aimed at bringing new housing, businesses and a UMass Lowell satellite campus to the Merrimack Street end of downtown.

Mayor James Fiorentini is asking the council to approve his plan to give tax breaks and exclusive parking spaces to Merrimack Street Ventures. The development team is a partnership between the Greater Haverhill Foundation and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The centerpiece of the development is the proposed Harbor Place project — a seven-story building that is to replace the long-vacant Woolworth Building at the eastern entrance to downtown. UMass Lowell plans to occupy the second and third floors of the new, glass-enclosed building. The complex is also to include restaurants, retails shops and office space.

City officials have said the Woolworth building will be demolished this summer.

The proposed tax break, known as an Urban Center Housing TIF (Tax Increment Financing), was created by the state to encourage developers to build market-rate housing in urban areas where the cost of construction is high.

Under Fiorentini's proposal, for a limited time the developers would get a break from some taxes that would normally come with improvements to the site. The deal would also affect several adjoining buildings that also are to be razed and included in future phases of the sweeping development project, which local officials have called one of the most significant in Haverhill's history. The Planning Office for Urban Affairs has purchased other Merrimack Street buildings that it plans to redevelop into housing.

The tax break would be on a declining scale over 12 years, the mayor said. After 12 years, the project would pay full taxes, he said.

The council must approve a special Urban Center Housing zone before Fiorentini can offer the tax break to the development team. The council is expected to consider that proposal at Tuesday's 7 p.m. meeting in City Hall.

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