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Ayer projects offer downtown enhancements

By Anne O’Connor

AYER — Two construction projects, one long-planned and the other long hoped-for, aim at bringing customers and new residents to downtown Ayer.

Once the parking deck on Park is complete, it will free up hundreds of spaces in what Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian calls the parking crater. Funding for the structure was approved by the state in 1988.

Those surface lots visible from the old fire station won’t be needed, he said. Instead, he envisions two-story buildings that invite walkers to stop in and patronize local establishments.

And that old fire station, where the grounds are used as more parking? Well, that will be six to eight apartments designed for young professionals who can commute to Boston on the commuter rail.

Those same young professionals may just decide to stay in Ayer, purchase a home and raise their kids, Manoian said.

Both projects will preserve and enhance the vibrant downtown.

Rehabbing the 1934 fire station will be a private-pubic partnership. The project will require a committed developer and the right mix of funds, Manoian said.

The developer is ready. C. Donnell Homes of Shirley offered $50,000 to purchase the building. Selectmen approved the bid on April 4 and a purchase and sale agreement is in the works, Manoian said.

The town will apply for a grant to help pay for a mix of low- and moderate-income housing. Two-bedroom and studio or one-bedroom apartments are planned.

With up to $125,000 available per unit, that “makes it viable for a developer to come in,” he said.

Conrad Donnell, who owns C. Donnell Homes with his daughter Kelsey, started his business in Ayer. The contractor plans to restore the exterior of the building, do all the work in one phase and to use high-quality materials throughout, Manoian said.

“We’re so pleased that it’s local folks,” he said.

An offer for the building signed in 2014 fell through two years later. A subsequent round of proposals did not contain a winning bid.

The area of land available for parking is small, but Manoian believes that more space in surrounding lots will be available when the new parking deck for the commuter rail is built. The roads behind Main Street are congested with cars left for the day.

Paid parking for the commuter train and free parking for rail trail will be where the current lot is behind Park Street. The new deck will be open and will provide a place for public art.

Someone has already approached Manoian about installing a sculpture.

Parking fees collected by the Montachusett Area Regional Transit Authority, MART, will be used for maintenance. MART will contract with the town to do the work.

The location may provide an impetus for new, pedestrian-friendly

One of the requirements from the owner of the lot ,Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, is a bathroom. Rather than the portable toilets at the edge of the lot, Manoian thinks the comfort station could be on the site of the building across Main Street in Depot Square that will be removed.

The plumbing is already on-site. The current occupants, a gym and a counseling center, will relocate before the biding is removed.

The entrance to the lot and deck will be from Groton Street . A meeting is planned to work on the final design.

“The community will have an opportunity to be involved,” Manoian said.

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