Commercial Block could face condemnation

Commercial Block could face condemnation

The Commercial Block as it looked in 2011, when the Stamatos brothers purchased the building.

WOONSOCKET - They've watched it deteriorate before their eyes and now, city officials say they have little choice but to condemn the building unless major and immediate action is taken to fix the Commercial Block.

The hulking three story building encompasses 93-115 Main St. and stands between City Hall and the remaining businesses on the once busy road. It includes space for 10 storefronts and 16 apartments on the second floor and was purchased by Stamatos Property Management, a company based in Jamaica Plain, Mass. for $300,000 in March of 2011.

At the time, residents occupied many of the second floor units, and business space below housed a nail salon, Harlequin's Costumes, Liberty Market, Renaissance Tattoo Studio and Flea Market Square.

Now, only Flea Market Square appears to remain, and according to city officials, that business could receive an order to vacate as early as next week because conditions are unsafe.

"No one wants to condemn and close down a prime commercial property in the middle of the downtown area, but the city has been trying to work with the owner for years without results," said Planning Director Joel Mathews.

A letter to the owners from the planning department dated Feb. 12 details a list of 11 violations in need of immediate correction including roof repairs, and improvements to smoke alarms, fire alarms and the sprinkler system.

"Should contact not be made and permits not be applied for all of the necessary work within a seven day period and/or there persists any further delay of any of the remedied measures, any and all city services to the building shall be terminated," it states.

A separate notice of unsafe conditions from building inspection warns of damage to a concrete retaining wall at the southern most corner of the property.

"It is the opinion of this office that due to the lack of maintenance to the impervious asphalt surface and improper draining of the parking area, the retaining wall has suffered major displacement that imposes an immediate threat of catastrophic collapse," it states.

The property is also behind on taxes, with $20,470 currently past due. According to officials in the tax assessor's office, the owners are on a payment plan, making monthly payments to bring the balance current. The Vision Appraisal database states that tax on the building was $19,097 in 2013.

According to Mathews, only one of the 11 issues has been addressed, and the owner is scheduled to meet at City Hall Friday with Fire Marshal Michael Morin and Building Official Chris Chianese.

"A few days after, the city is prepared to condemn the building and vacate all of its residential and commercial tenants if we are not satisfied," Mathews said.

Built in 1902, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and once housed a thriving marketplace on the now vacant and boarded up third floor. A city directory from 1962 lists 27 shops and professional offices including doctors, lawyers and real estate agencies.

"From 1902 until the late 1930s, the Commercial Block was occupied by a series of over 60 different tenants, including clothing, jewelry and variety stores, professional service-based companies, and/or individual proprietors," explains the building's National Register nomination form.

Brothers George & Christ Stamatos indicated their intention to renovate and improve the structure when they purchased it in 2011, but tenants have reported little progress over the years. Businesses owners who have since left the property said they were forced to use electric heaters during the winter at great expense.

When a fire damaged the property in Dec, 2012 and vacated one of the last remaining tenants, Liberty Market, media reports indicated that 11 of the residential units were still occupied. Mathews said only four of those tenants still remain.

The front door to the property was open, but the building quiet Tuesday morning, and the main hallway was cold and dark. A large pile of trash at the end of the hallway let off a terrible odor.

Owner Christ Stamatos says his company has been working to improve the property, and says he's recently finished adding individual heating units to the building at a cost of $100,000. A new sprinkler system they put in, he said, cost another $100,000.

"We've been doing repairs for several years now," Stamatos said. "The building was in really bad shape when we bought it."

An on site building manager, Stamatos said, is in charge of taking care of problems such as trash.

"My goal right now is not tenancy," he said. "My goal is to get the building up to code 100 percent."

Ruarri Miller recently looked into purchasing the property as part of The Apiary - his massive mixed-use project aimed at revitalizing downtown, and was told the building would cost $2.5 million. He says the figure is unrealistic and that something must be done to improve a property so crucial to life on Main Street.

A 2012 assessment deemed the property to be worth a total on $479,700 down from $545,200 in 2008.

"The Stamatos haven't demonstrated that they have the resources to redevelop that site," said Miller. "They may have the resources to patch it up, but it will require substantial resources to restore The Commercial Block."

Miller estimated complete repairs will cost around $8 million.

"It will be an eyesore for years to come and will greatly diminish any effort to bring energy back to Main Street without a new ownership," Miller said. "The Commercial Block is the keystone of Main Street. As it goes the rest will follow."

City Planner Jennifer Siciliano agreed.

"It does affect Main Street," she said. "It's really an important building. It looks like we're really going to hope they fix it up or that someone else takes it over and does the job."

"We can't let it get any worse," Mathews added. "We have to force the issue. We need to take very aggressive steps and we're prepared to take them."