HAVERHILL — The fate of a proposed $160 million redevelopment of the eastern end of Merrimack Street is in the hands of the City Council.
When it meets the night of Tuesday, March 1, the council is expected to decide on whether to approve a project proposed by the Lupoli Companies to replace the parking deck on Merrimack Street with an 840-space, multi-story parking garage along with four buildings of residential, mixed-use and retail use as part of a sweeping and transformational development.
Mayor James Fiorentini will ask the council to approve the sale of the property for about $1 million and approve a development agreement and site plan for the project.
The Lupoli Companies, headed by developer Sal Lupoli, wants to create 370 market rate apartments, replace the Goecke Deck with an 840-space parking garage that will be open to the public 24 hours a day, and create 51,000 square feet of mixed-use space that would include a food hall and a variety of outdoor public spaces.
The mayor said Lupoli already made a down payment of $25,000 per the request for proposals issued by the city. Lupoli responded to and will pay another $100,000 upon signing the purchase and sale if the development agreement is approved by the council.
Fiorentini said he needs at least five ‘yes’ votes for the project to move forward but that it could be close as two council members, Joseph Bevilacqua and Michael McGonagle, said they will not vote due to conflicts of interest.
One of Bevilacqua’s sons works for Sal Lupoli and McGonagle is co-owner of a Merrimack Street property that abuts the proposed project.
Based on comments made during a Nov. 30 meeting when the council reviewed the project, councilors Melinda Barrett and Thomas Sullivan, who were reelected to office, indicated support for the project.
“If we don’t do something like this now that site could stay idle for another decade or two,” Sullivan said.
Barrett — who has long advocated for redevelopment of the eastern end of Merrimack Street — said that as a member of an advisory committee that reviewed proposals submitted by five major developers, she was not on “team Lupoli” but after reviewing the proposals she was convinced Lupoli’s was the best for the city.
“If there had been a way to not pick Sal I probably wouldn’t have ... but there’s no way,” Barrett said. “When you looked at all the information, it was by far the most put-together project and the best possible use of the space.”
Councilor John Michitson, who was also re-elected, showed interest in the project but did not state his support, while Councilor Timothy Jordan, who was reelected as well, said he will not support any new housing until the mayor increases firefighter staffing levels.
The council’s three newly elected members, Melissa Lewandowski, Catherine Rogers and Shaun Toohey, have not had an opportunity to publicly comment on the project.
“We’ve won some councilors over but we may not get 100% of them,” Fiorentini said in reference to Tuesday night’s anticipated vote. “We’ll do everything we can to generate public support for the best project in my lifetime.”
According to the Lupoli Companies, the project would generate $1.75 million in new annual real estate revenue in addition to $500,000 to $1.8 million in one-time permitting fees, $190,000 in new excise tax revenue, and more in new meals tax revenue.
It would also create hundreds of construction jobs and 100 or more permanent jobs.
Former Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce President Dougan Sherwood, who is currently working as a consultant for the Lupoli Companies, said Sal Lupoli has a solid track record of development throughout the region, including in Haverhill, when he built his 10-story mixed-use building called “The Heights” on Merrimack Street during the pandemic, at a time when other developers had put their projects on hold.
“The Heights went forward during the pandemic as Sal Lupoli has so much construction infrastructure in place,” he said.
Sherwood said Lupoli is in negotiations with Pentucket Bank for its property at the corner of Merrimack and Main streets and also with the owners of an empty lot next to the Harbor Place residential building. He said both properties are important pieces of the project.
The mayor said that without this project, it would cost the city between $21 million and $30 million to replace the crumbling Goecke parking deck.
The project would also include a food court operated in conjunction with Northern Essex Community College’s Institute of Culinary Arts located in the Heights building, new restaurants, a new pathway connecting to the Merrimack River Boardwalk, and four-season public spaces to host the farmers market, flea markets, performances, food carts and other vendors.
Fiorentini recently told The Eagle-Tribune that Lupoli’s project would be as transformational as Tuscan Village in Salem, New Hampshire, which is why he put Joe Faro — who developed Tuscan Village — on the advisory committee.
He said that if the council votes the project down, it could have a ripple effect that would negatively impact the city.
“It would send the message, ‘don’t invest in Haverhill,’” Fiorentini said. “That’s why we’re going full steam ahead with this project, which will eventually amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in the city.”
The mayor invites residents to participate in a survey about the project. The survey is online at https://tinyurl.com/2p96db5m.