SALISBURY — Since 1956, it’s been the site of an ocean-side public swimming pool, a venue for kiddie rides, a sub shop and a deck-top cocktail lounge, but today, the former Sidewalk Cafe brings to mind primarily one word: eyesore, and a potentially dangerous one at that.
Located on .93 acres on the beach on Ocean Front South, the 40,000-square-foot Sidewalk Cafe has been closed for years, although subject of no end of ideas for redevelopment. None of them have seen the light of day, leaving the crumbling mess of concrete and exposed wood a safety problem for town officials, as well as a blight on the nearby residential neighborhood and the businesses trying to attract customers right across the street.
Owned by Mark Finneral of Tewksbury, until recently the building was a point of impasse between Thompson Design Group, the company hoping to redevelop Salisbury Beach Center, and developers Robb Osinski and Jay Gallagher, who had optioned the site from Finneral to develop it themselves. The developers’ arrangement with Finneral, however, terminated more than a year ago.
By late March 2012, the town had issued an order declaring the building an unsafe structure, giving Finneral a deadline to repair it or tear it down. Town Manager Neil Harrington said Finneral boarded up the building to ensure vagrants and kids couldn’t get in and took out the paperwork for a demolition permit, leading the town to believe he would raze it. However, Finneral never filed the papers to get the demolition permit and the building still stands.
Finneral’s plans changed, Harrington said, and those changes are delaying a final resolution to a problem that has many complaining to town officials.
Harrington said when the building didn’t come down by June, he had the town’s attorney contact Finneral’s attorney. What he learned was that Finneral didn’t want to tear it down, but was trying to sell the property to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns Salisbury Beach.
Contacting DCR, Harrington was surprised to learn that in spite of a tight budget, DCR was interested in buying the land. Although out of its acquisition funds for Fiscal Year 2012, which ended on June 30, officials at the agency told Harrington there was hope for more money in that account as of July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Funding to purchase state land comes from a state bond issuance, Harrington said, and in fiscal 2012 the governor had allowed only $5 million for DCR to purchase land statewide. Harrington doesn’t know how much DCR has in this new fiscal year to purchase land. But, he has been hoping it’s enough for the agency to buy Finneral’s property, tear down the building, dig up the old swimming pool foundation, restore the dune and maybe even build an observation deck.
“The last time I spoke with people from the acquisitions office was in late summer,” Harrington said. “What they told me is they have the financial parameters in place to purchase the property from Finneral, but I don’t know what that is. We have a good relationship with DCR and we are respecting DCR’s request to let them proceed with the purchase of the property.”
Further, when the state agency is able to buy the land, Harrington said, DCR promises to pay Salisbury the back taxes, betterment and sewer fees that Finneral hasn’t paid for roughly the past 18 months. It’s unclear where the state is in the negotiations; the state does not publicly discuss real estate deals prior to purchases.
According to Salisbury’s chief assessor Cheryl Gorniewicz, Finneral is in arrears for taxes, betterment and sewer fees on the property for all of fiscal 2012, to the tune of $31,195. And as of yesterday, he also hasn’t paid the $14,170 for the first two quarters of fiscal 2013, although the deadline for the second quarter is Nov. 1.
Gorniewicz said the assessed value of the property for fiscal 2012 was $2.27 million, but that value dropped this year to $1,675,700, $66,500 for the building and the rest for the land. The precipitous drop in value is due to the condition of the building and because it hasn’t been the site of a revenue-producing business for years.
“In the beach commercial district, in this economy and in a non-income producing vehicle like that, there’s just no support for a higher value,” she said.
Finneral’s lawyer contacts the town regularly with updates on progress, Harrington said. And although the process has been delayed, Harrington said the state’s buying the property would be in the best interest of the town and those who enjoy the beach.
“If we had to pursue taking the property, it would take a month in court and a lot of (taxpayer) money for litigation,” Harrington said. “This isn’t a case of negligence on our part. This is in the hands of the state. It’s just takes time.”
Finneral could not be reached for comment by The Daily News.
Harrington said an unsafe structure order issued by the building inspector is not the same as condemning the building. Only the Board of Health can condemn a building, and that has not occurred, he said.
However, Harrington added, police Chief Tom Fowler is concerned with kids and others climbing on top of the building, possibly being injured by the structure’s unsafe nature. Harrington said Fowler plans to contact Finneral to have him post “no trespassing” signs on the building, so police can take action to prevent people from accessing the building and possibly getting hurt.