A downtown business owner wants to buy the land her building sits on, but Keene city staff and councilors are divided on the issue so far.
Roberta Mastrogiovanni owns the Corner News building at 2 Gilbo Ave., but leases the land from the city. City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon recommended against the sale at Thursday’s meeting of the council’s finance, organization and personnel committee. The councilors split 2-1 in favor of selling the property, a recommendation that will go to the full council for a vote this Thursday.
Councilors Terry M. Clark and Carl B. Jacobs supported the measure while Councilor Thomas F. Powers opposed it. Councilors Bettina A. Chadbourne and Mitchell H. Greenwald were absent.
Joseph S. Hoppock, Mastrogiovanni’s attorney, sent a letter in late August to City Attorney Thomas P. Mullins with an offer of $60,000 cash for the land, equal to its assessed value, according to online property records. The letter was sent to the City Council and then referred to the finance committee.
Hoppock told the committee Sept. 12 that, without owning the property beneath the building, Mastrogiovanni has little incentive to make significant investments.
Dragon requested a few weeks to consider the offer and figure out if the city has future plans for the area that might require it to maintain ownership of the land.
Hoppock continued his pitch Thursday night, explaining that Mastrogiovanni wants to preserve the building’s history and would be willing to negotiate any stipulations the city would want with the sale.
He also said later that his client’s position could be a potential financial hindrance to investing in the building.
“Without the value of the land as part of the property, she might not be able to borrow enough money for what she wants to do,” Hoppock said.
Dragon laid out her case, noting that a few of the city’s long-term plans intersect or abut the parcel. The proposed arts and culture corridor would be adjacent to the land, there are infrastructure improvements planned on Gilbo Avenue, and the Southwest Region Planning Commission has included the area in discussions of a potential transportation hub, Dragon said.
Jacobs clarified that her recommendation to deny the request doesn’t mean the city can’t return to the issue later, and she agreed.
“I mean we definitely could reconsider this at any point in the future,” she said. “I just feel right now, there are so many projects that are still being designed that it doesn’t make sense for the city to move forward with the sale of the parcel.”
Clark, however, said he didn’t see any reason to keep Mastrogiovanni hanging.
“Well frankly, I’m of the opinion, over the last 10 or 12 years, we’ve had many plans for that area there that never panned out,” he said. “... I don’t think there’s anything more important for that area than the preservation of a downtown business.”
In the end, Powers made a motion to deny Mastrogiovanni’s request, but it failed with no second. Then Clark motioned to recommend selling the property, which Jacobs seconded. Because the measure would authorize Dragon to negotiate the sale but not execute it, the city manager would have to come back for a vote to finalize the purchase even if the council approves the recommendation.