Apex owner threatens lawsuit after mediations fail

Apex owner threatens lawsuit after mediations fail

PAWTUCKET – Mediation talks between the city and owners of the Apex properties on Main Street have been broken off, and now the owners are threatening to sue the city over a pending plan to kick-start redevelopment of the mostly vacant riverfront parcels.

Sources have indicated that talks were terminated when the two sides couldn't come to an agreement on a purchase price for the property.

A City Council hearing is planned for tonight, Nov. 7, at 6:15 in City Hall to consider a planned amendment to the city's redevelopment plan declaring the Apex property blighted, a first step toward potentially taking it by eminent domain.

Dylan Zelazo, deputy director of administration to Mayor Donald Grebien, declined to confirm that the asking price was the deal-breaker here, though he didn't deny it. He confirmed that since mediation talks broke down, the owners have threatened to sue the city at least three times if Grebien doesn't force the City Council to postpone Wednesday's meeting.

“The legal argument there escapes me,” he said, adding that the council has taken “extraordinary steps” indicating the city's openness and willingness to work with the owner without any need for site acquisition by the city.

Officials have said they'll work with the owner to find a “good gateway project” for the site, he said, taking multiple steps to encourage redevelopment of the property over the years, including creating a zoning overlay district to ease regulations and later amending that district to add the George's Games building when that was added to the property. There have been “extraordinary steps” taken to facilitate redevelopment “in a quality way” for the public good, he said, but “that never took place.” The owner's threats are "baffling," he said.

City Council President David Moran said Monday that he hadn't officially heard the threat of a lawsuit as of that point, but planned to move forward with the meeting regardless.

The asking price for the assortment of parcels making up the Apex properties, once tabbed at more than $20 million according to sources familiar with previous discussions, were cited as one reason the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox decided to move to Worcester instead of moving forward with a new stadium at the Apex site.

A spokesman for Apex released the following statement:

“Our highest priority is to redevelop the Apex properties in a spirit of cooperation with city leaders. We have not asserted in any forum or communication that we intend to file a lawsuit against the city. It is unfortunate that certain individuals have drawn that conclusion based solely on assumption. More importantly, these types of assumptions do not further our redevelopment goals, “ said Bill Fischer, spokesman for Apex Development.

The Breeze reported last week that city leaders were discussing options on how to move forward with the potential acquisition of the department store and its surrounding properties at 100 Main St.

Apex owners have completed extensive cosmetic upgrades to the main department store building that stands alongside Route 95 in recent weeks, including new sealcoating and striping of the parking lot, new paint from top to bottom, and removal of the recognizable light poles previously dotting the property. Those upgrades are thought to be part of an effort to make the case that the property is not neglected.

Apex representatives made a public plea at a meeting earlier this month that officials not move forward with the amendment to the redevelopment plan. City Council members decided at that point to still hold the hearing but to add an option to the amendment allowing owner Andrew Gates to identify a reuse for the properties creating “a vibrant and welcoming downtown gateway worthy of this great city,” as Zelazo put it.

Up for consideration at the Nov. 7 hearing is language allowing a negotiated purchase or acquisition by eminent domain, a process giving government officials the ability to acquire a property without the owner's authority if it is deemed to be in the public's interest.

Grebien has said the city is moving forward, even without the new PawSox stadium, to revitalize the downtown and riverfront district, including the “center of downtown” where Apex stands. That property has long been labeled the biggest hindrance to redevelopment efforts in the downtown. Officials remain in discussions with multiple entities about redeveloping the site.

The ball got rolling on passing a redevelopment plan prior to the announced exit of the PawSox, and officials have kept it moving with the stadium plan no longer in place, saying the idea of the Apex property's revitalization having a spillover impact across the downtown hasn't changed.

According to the mayor, revitalization of the property could happen either through the leasing of the Apex building to a commercial tenant the city supports or through the acquisition and redevelopment of the property through the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency.

The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency approved Amendment 15 to the Pawtucket Redevelopment Plan, the “Downtown Gateway Project,” on Aug. 28, after the announcement that the PawSox would be leaving for Worcester.

Zelazo said officials remain very much open to Gates finding an adequate use for his property.

“There's clearly a desire on the city's part to see that property re-engaged and redeveloped in a way that benefits the city, there's clearly a public good to that,” he said.

Moving forward with Wednesday's hearing and amendment in no way hinders any other sort of ongoing talks, said Zelazo. City officials stand firm in their belief that this property has been underutilized for far too long and that residents want to see progress, he said.