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City seeks RFPs for home at 52 Westminster St.

Date: 3/3/2010

March 3, 2010.

By Mike Briotta

PRIME Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- A once-beautiful Victorian home in the city's McKnight neighborhood has again caught the eye of redevelopers, who this time are being wooed by a promised $100,000 sum from the city of Springfield.

The city is currently soliciting requests for proposals (RFPs) for the purchase and redevelopment of 52 Westminster St., located within the McKnight Historic District, which is listed on National Register of Historic Places.

The property is a vacant, wood frame, two-and-a-half story Victorian home constructed circa 1882 on an 11,520 square-foot lot with approximately 4,000 square feet of living space. The city will entertain all offers that meet the minimum bid of $1,000.

"The city is offering quite a bit of Community Development Block Grant funds to the buyer," Tina Quagliato, of the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services, said.

"The amount is up to $100,000 for exterior and structural improvements. It's a very significant historic property identified by the city and the mayor.," she explained.

The CDBC funding from the city is not income-restricted and will be given in the form of a forgivable, interest-free loan.

According to Quagliato, the property was originally owned and lived in by an early president of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, which today is known as MassMutual.

An old, sepia-toned photo of the property on the city Web site shows the Victorian home was remarkable in its grandeur circa 1939, with its wide porches intact and decorative shutters framing the second-floor windows.

The RFP states the city is looking for the Westminster Street property to be restored as a single-family home or single-family home with accessory or "in-law" apartment. "Institutional use is not allowed, so no group homes, churches or schools," Quagliato said.

A fixed-up property would fit right in with the existing community; numerous rehabbed Victorians line Westminster Street, a couple of them within sightlines of the home. One potential buyer who was inspecting the premises when The Reminder visited said he recalled the home being used as a church when he was younger.

Due to neglect over time, the building has sustained some damage to deteriorating front and back porches, and many of its window panes are broken or missing.

But as one observer noted while touring outside the property, roofing shingles on the first and third floors look to be in good shape, and there was no noticeable slope to the roofline, possibly indicating that the home still has "good bones."

St. Mark's CME Church was the most recent owner of the property. It was converted for use as a church in the 1930s, so the first floor is completely open, according to neighbors. Those who have recently viewed the inside of the home reported that it appeared structurally sound, despite having been abandoned for about two decades.

"It was previously owned by a church, and I guess they abandoned it," Quagliato said. "It went into foreclosure. Prior to this, the city had it on a demolition list because the owner had refused to repair the property."

The house was previously put on the market by the city in 2007, however, at that time no additional block grant funding was being offered to add an incentive would-be buyers. Neighborhood volunteers from the Springfield Preservation Trust helped clean up the property at the time.

"Our efforts in 2007 were before the RFP, and did not include the $100,000 block grant offer," Quagliato said. "We're pretty committed to trying to get this property redeveloped and back on the tax rolls."

Redevelopers of the home may also qualify for a tax break at the state level: a Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Under this program, a certified rehabilitation project on an income-producing property is eligible to receive up to 20 percent of the cost of certified rehabilitation expenditures in state tax credits.

Upcoming site tours of the property by city officials are scheduled for March 12 at 10 a.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m. In addition, the city's Office of Housing is hosting a technical assistance workshop on March 4 at 6 p.m. at 1600 East Columbus Ave. All proposals are due by March 31.