HAVERHILL — The owners of the Whittier Building on Winter Street aren't ready to answer questions about the future of the historic property or the poor condition of the grounds.

The attorney for the group that owns the building has asked for a few months to negotiate with a private entity interested in the property before addressing the City Council, Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said.

Earlier this week, Haverhill YMCA director Tracy Fuller said her organization is interested in acquiring the building and turning it into a teen center and preschool. The YMCA is located immediately next door to the Whittier Building in the downtown area.

Scatamacchia had placed the Whittier Building on this week's council agenda to discuss its future. He said many people are upset that the exterior of the property has been neglected and is overgrown with weeds.

But Scatamacchia said he was contacted prior to Tuesday's council meeting by attorney James Waldron, who represents the Historic Haverhill group that owns the Whittier Building.

"He asked us to postpone it until he finishes negotiations," Scatamacchia said. "When that's done, he said he'll come see us with some information. So we'll bring it back later."

Scatamacchia said Waldron did not address the poor condition of the grounds.

The building has a storied history. Haverhill-born poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier was schooled there in the early 1800s. It also was the city's first high school.

Since 1970, the old brick building was home to the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, until the business group moved out two years ago, ahead of a major renovation of the building. The project hit a number of snags and unexpected costs, however, and last month Chamber of Commerce President James Jajuga said his organization will not likely return.

While Historic Haverhill owns the building, the Chamber of Commerce recently signed a 99-year-lease for the property.

In 1970, the city turned the property over to a group of local residents who formed the nonprofit Historic Haverhill Inc. to raise money for a major renovation. The chamber moved in shortly after that renovation was completed.

When the city turned the property over to Historic Haverhill, it retained a so-called "reverter clause" on the deed. The clause says that if that organization goes out of business, ownership of the property reverts to the city, Mayor James Fiorentini said.

The mayor said he supports the YMCA acquiring the building, but must honor the reverter clause. The chamber might be able to reassign that lease to the YMCA, but the city cannot and will not give up its rights to the property, Fiorentini said.

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