DEVENS - Charged with the build out and management MassDevelopment has spent $2.8 million to rent its headquarters at 33 Andrews Way on Devens since 2005. Ayer selectman Frank Maxant announced his findings at the Oct. 25 meeting of the Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS).
Maxant, who also serves as the JBOS Vice Chair, asked MassDevelopment at its Oct. 12 Board of Director meeting to provide information about the amount of rent the state agency pays to Devens Common developer and building owner Robert Walker to rent their Devens office space at 33 Andrews Parkway. Nashoba Publishing made a similar request following that meeting. The agency answered both requests with one letter.
MassDevelopment attorney Catherine Blue responded that MassDevelopment pays $35,806.95 per month. The lease term is from March 1, 2005 through February 28, 2015. That means that from the beginning of the lease through Blue's answer of Oct. 19, MassDevelopment has paid $2,858,179.30 to rent the building.
MassDevelopment used to locate its Devens headquarters in the now-vacant Vicksburg Square Innovation and Technology Campus, anchored by four buildings owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. MassDevelopment's charge is to build out and manage the former Fort Devens Army base.
Maxant has repeatedly faulted the agency for "telling us that Vicksburg Square is going to rack and ruin because it's not being paid attention. Well how would it look now if they invested a million or two or $2.
Maxant called the payments money "down the rent rat hole. If they invested that much into Vicksburg Square - into their hard asset - how would that look now?"
"That goes, I assume, to the property developer?" asked Shirley JBOS representative Rico Cappucci. Yes, said Maxant. The building and the entire Devens Common complex is owned by Westford developer Robert Walker.
"So 1.4 percent of their entire bonding authority has gone to rent," said Maxant of MassDevelopment. "If it continues to the end of the time allotted, they'll have spent over five percent of their entire bonding authority to rent this building."
"What would you like us to do with this?" asked JBOS Chair Tom Kinch of the Devens Advisory Committee.
"Consider how MassDevelopment was trying to strong-arm us into Vicksburg Square," said Maxant. The agency sponsored two failed tri-town efforts to turn the complex into a housing development. The most recent effort failed in March when voters in Ayer and Harvard voted 'no' at 'Super Town Meeting' to a proposal to repurpose the former Army office and housing space into an affordable housing project.
In light of the agency's mission to preserve historical Devens assets, Maxant said MassDevelopment is committing "demolition by neglect" in contradiction to the town-approved Devens Reuse Plan of 1994.
"So noted," said Kinch.
"This might be the very thing we talked about tonight," said Cappucci. "This may be the kind of issue we need to put on the table to discuss with MassDevelopment - what do you see as the future of the buildings? Do you have any plans?"
Maxant clarified that his questions are "How they've decided to expend their resources here and what they'd have accomplished with that money at Vicksburg Square."
Kinch said the concern would be raised to MassDevelopment.
"Send a memo to George so he's not caught off guard," said Cappucci. "Are they going to continue renting the building? . It should be on the table."
Invigorated by an opinion given to the JBOS earlier in the evening by Shirley attorney Ernest Hyde, Cappucci said the JBOS's role was to advise MassDevelopment. Cappucci suggested that JBOS may want to advise MassDevelopment before it re-ups to rent 33 Andrews Parkway.
"Whether they take it - or not - is their decision," said Cappucci.
Maxant said the view of Vicksburg Square "is pretty bad" for Devens residents viewing the complex from across Rogers Field. Maxant said it didn't help that "they just slapped plywood" into the holes when window-mounted air conditioning units were removed. "The original windows would have made it more secure."
"MassDevelopment shows disrespect for the local community and those buildings," said Maxant.
"So 'How can MassDevelopment make the buildings look more presentable?" asked Kinch.
" And what they could have done if they wanted to," added Maxant.
"MassDevelopment needed new office space because its old space was antiquated as it failed to comply with ADA and fire safety codes," said MassDevelopment, in a statement issued Tuesday to Nashoba Publishing. "The current MassDevelopment offices comply with codes and strengthen the Town Center businesses in Devens."
MassDevelopment indicated it's now negotiating its future office space needs in Devens."In doing so, MassDevelopment will carefully consider the agency's budgetary constraints and the impact that the agency's Devens location will have on the overall Devens economic climate."
MassDevelopment says the money spent on rent is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the funds needed to overhaul Vicksburg Square'. "The $2.8 million that MassDevelopment has spent since 2005 on rent in Devens would represent just a tiny fraction of the $80-$100 million cost of renovating Vicksburg Square."
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