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Chapel status remains unclear; Records search is continuing.

Byline: Milton J. Valencia

WORCESTER - The private developer who bought land from a quasi-city agency in 1998 for less than $100 was granted a series of extensions to complete restoration work on the property, part of the agreement for the sale of the building. But the work still hasn't been completed, long after the last extension expired on Dec. 31, 2005, according to communications to the city manager's office.

The communications are part of research the Worcester Redevelopment Authority and various city agencies are conducting on the sale of the Mission Chapel, 205 Summer St.

A new, private developer has expressed interest in the property, making it an "important redevelopment opportunity," Assistant City Manager Julie A. Jacobson said in communications to the city manager. The area is prime for redevelopment in partnership with the reconstruction of Washington Square, the upgrading of Union Station and plans for a nearby parking garage, she said.

But the previous sales of the property may have violated agreements with the Worcester Redevelopment Authority. The WRA and Ms. Jacobson, head of the agency, have been working with other city departments to research the land's history and the deed restriction that allowed its sale in 1998.

"Staff is working diligently to ensure that issues around 205 Summer St. are addressed quickly and that the property can add to the growing vitality," Ms. Jacobson said in a communication to the city manager, which was forwarded to the City Council.

The historic chapel was built in 1854 as a place of worship for the area's growing immigrant population. It was used for a time afterward as a commercial warehouse, but was bought in 1966 by the Second Baptist Church, returning it to its roots as a place of worship.

In 1993, the WRA seized the land by eminent domain as part of the downtown plan for Worcester Medical City, the massive hospital complex on Summer Street. The WRA paid the Second Baptist Church some $600,000 in land acquisition and relocation expenses.

The church property never became part of the hospital project. Preservation groups, citing its historical significance, argued against the building's demolition.

Still, the WRA said at the time it could not afford restoration of the building, which was estimated at $1,026,650, according to Ms. Jacobson's research. The land was sold to PZP Inc., known as Tristano Restoration, for less than $100, with the agreement that it be restored within two years in accordance with the city's urban renewal plan.

But in 2004, the company sold the property to a private developer for $350,000, according to land deeds. No visible work was completed - no building permits were ever granted certifying that work was done - and the place remains boarded up today.

Ronald A. Panarelli, at the time of the sale a principal with PZP, said that the building was sold with the permission of the WRA, and that work was completed on the building. He said his company actually lost money on the property, with restoration costing more than the amount for which the building was sold. He could not say why no building permits were ever granted, however, and why the place remains boarded up.

According to Ms. Jacobson, PZP requested three deadline extensions between 2001 and 2002, and another in 2004. In September, 2004, the WRA approved the sale to another developer, Blue Sky Inc., of Worcester, headed by Kurosh Mizrahi.

The approval extended the deadline for restoration another year, to Dec. 31, 2005, but still no work has been done.

Under the original agreement to sell the building, the WRA reserved the right to seize the property if the restoration was not completed under deadline. However, the agreement required a grace time for the owner to complete the work or submit an action plan.

Ms. Jacobson said her office continues to research records of WRA meetings that included discussion of the property. She stressed, however, that such research has been tedious, complicated by the reorganization of the WRA in 2000 - before she worked for the agency. The reorganization resulted in old records and meetings being shifted to other areas.

She said her agency is researching "the appropriate course of action for the WRA and the city in order to proceed with the redevelopment of this strategic parcel. There is no evidence that the restoration has been completed."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 28, 2007
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