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City gets $750K to demolish Merrimac Paper

August 2, 2020 : The Eagle-Tribune, by Bill Kirk

LAWRENCE — The unsightly site of the burned-out, partially demolished Merrimac Paper Co. may soon get a new appearance — level ground — thanks to a recent, $750,000 grant for demolition and clean-up of the property, Mayor Dan Rivera said this week.

Rivera, who has been working since 2014 on getting rid of the eyesore at the end of Canal Street near Broadway, said the wrecking ball should be showing up by the end of the year.

It's been a long, slow slog to clean up the property to the point where it can be marketed, sold and developed.

"The city is in the final stretch of getting control of the site," Rivera said, noting that a number of legal hurdles have to be cleared before the city has total control of the property. But, he said, "this clean up will be important to make it developable."

The property is actually comprised of three addresses, Rivera said, including 7, 9 and 19 So. Canal St.

The city has taken ownership of 9 and 19 S. Canal St., which are 1.54 acres and 1.15 acres respectively,  but is still working on securing 7 S. Canal St., which is 31,875 square feet, he said.

The state money comes in addition to federal money that has been used at the site, including $2 million in 2014 that was used for a partial cleanup and another $1.3 million to remove asbestos and other contaminants from the site.

"The EPA gave us money to clean the site a little bit," he said. "This will make it so we can make it flat and begin the process of what it can be used for after that."

The area is poised for significant development, as the Merrimack Street corridor, which stretches from I-495 to Broadway, continues to be improved.

"The corridor goes from the highway and what Sal Lupoli did, all the way to Broadway," he said, noting that Lupoli's portion was included in Phase 1 of the Merrimack Street Development Plan. The second phase, Merrimack Street west, runs from Union Street to Broadway.

"The Merrimack Street Development Plan talks about all the things that can go there," Rivera said, noting that a MassWorks grant helped pay to install infrastructure in the road, making it an "industrial level street." 

The intersection at Parker and Merrimack streets has been upgraded with a state-of-the-art stop light that has improved traffic flow at the heavily congested crossing.

One of the key, remaining pieces of the plan is the Merrimac Paper Co. site, which was more or less destroyed in a 2014 fire.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the grant to Lawrence is one of many in the state that will help cities and towns reach their "economic development goals."

“The Site Readiness Program is a key tool to help communities,” Baker said. “These awards will assist in community stabilization efforts, including downtown revitalization, helping advance prime locations to shovel readiness to spur investment and job growth.”

In a July 22 press release, the Baker-Polito Administration announced more than $3.6 million for 12 projects in its fourth annual round of Site Readiness Program awards. 

Another site in Lawrence — the former Mariner Mill at 608 Broadway — is also a beneficiary of the grant program.

The owner of the property, Lawrence Community Works, will use $250,000 in Site Readiness funds to undertake needed building code improvements for the 450,000-square foot building, which will allow commercial tenants to occupy the building’s ground floor.

LCW inked a deal last year with Trinity Financial, a Boston-based developer of low- and moderate-income as well as market rate housing, to develop 120,000 square feet of the Mariner Mill while LCW is converting the remaining 330,000 square feet into a mix of commercial and residential uses.

The Site Readiness Program is administered by MassDevelopment and aims to boost Massachusetts’ supply of large, well-located, project-ready sites; accelerate private-sector investment in industrial and commercial projects; and support the conversion of abandoned sites and obsolete facilities into clean, actively used, tax-generating properties.