Unlocking the Krocks, Part Two – 280 Main Street: Between a Krock and a Hard Place

An introduction to some of the players

In 1989, Center Boulevard Associates — a partnership between “Ralph Crowley, chairman of Polar Corp.; William F. Sullivan, president of William F. Sullivan Insurance Agency; Philip X. Reid, owner of Park Ave. Realty; R. Norman Peters, a Worcester lawyer and developer; and Herbert G. Ingram, president of TASC Inc.” — proposed a large project on land owned by North Main Street Real Estate Trust, which was — of course — owned by the Krock family.

Before we talk about those plans, let’s talk a little bit about some of the players.

Herb Ingram was mentioned briefly in our last installment.  Ingram had begun his career in property management in 1958, working for Aaron Krock and Harry Talman, the then-owners of the Commerce Building (340 Main Street).  In the 1970s, Ingram acquired 340 and 390 Main Street with partners Barry Krock and William Roberts (vice-president of Commerce Bank); they acquired 332 Main Street in 1981.

But these were not the only partners Ingram had.  He purchased the Graphic Arts Building at 25 Foster Street (now owned by MCPHS) in 1974 with Duddie Massad and Donald F. Flanagan.  Ingram and Massad eventually created their own real estate firm — M&I Realty — and bought 65 James Street in 1991, 70 James Street in 1996, 700 Southbridge Street in 1995, and the Home Federal Savings Building (where WCCA is now) in 1997.  (I think they’ve owned and sold more properties, so consider this an incomplete list.)

(Aside: I think Herb Ingram really resembles the actor Mitch Ryan, who played Burke Devlin on Dark Shadows and Commander Riker’s father on Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Another one of Herb Ingram’s real estate partners was R. Norman Peters.  Ingram and Peters met in the 1960s when Peters was working as a lawyer at 340 Main Street, which Ingram managed.  Ingram and Peters did their first joint real estate deal with a subdivision of foreclosed land off of Salisbury Street (18 units on Lantern Lane) in 1981; the same year, they also bought Executive House apartments (80 Salisbury Street) and turned them into condominiums.

While they built the office tower at 255 Park Avenue, which opened in 1986, they also spent much time buying apartment buildings to convert into condos.  They converted the El Dorado Apartments on Ashland Street and an apartment block at Chatham and Irving streets into condominiums.  In the late 1980s/early 1990s, Ingram and Peters built Lynden House (which was apartments and is now condominiums) at the corner of Elm and Linden Streets; they bought the former Quality Inn on Southbridge Street, with the intention of turning it into 138 units of condominiums, but eventually turned most of the units back into hotel use.

Ingram and Peters also owned land on Barber Avenue (behind the Greendale Mall) that became the Sam’s Club; with Duddie Massad, they also own land in North Smithfield, RI.  And they would become members of the board of Commerce Bank & Trust when Duddie bought that in 1993.   (But that’s a story for another installment.)

I’m not terribly familiar with William F. Sullivan or Philip X. Reid; Sullivan became a member of the board of Commerce Bank along with Ingram and Peters in 1993, so he must have been close with Duddie.  In the early 1990s, Reid and Peters had been part of a group pushing for a football stadium (for the Patriots) to be built.

Twin Towers

Those five partners — Center Boulevard Associates — had originally proposed a “$35 million, 15-story office condominium project” for a 1.1 acre lot (“Lot 35”; cue Thomas Pynchon) on Worcester Center Boulevard, “the area bounded by Central, Commercial and Exchange streets and Worcester Center Boulevard”, across from the Centrum (currently called the DCU Center).

But in March 1989, they pulled their bid for Lot 35, and instead proposed an $84 million project to “build two 18-story office towers on 2 1/2 acres along Main Street with two parking garages for 1,500 cars.”

The first phase of the new project, which will be called 280 Main Street, will contain a 220,000-square-foot tower and an eight-story parking garage. Phase two will contain a 250,000-square-foot tower and a 500-car extension of the parking garage.

Construction should begin within six months, with occupancy slated for 1991, Peters said yesterday.

Ingram had wanted to develop something on that land for years, and had finally gotten Krock to agree.  The group had spoken with then-City Manager Jeff Mulford about getting tax incentives for the development.

But four months later, the project was dead in the water.

Center Boulevard Associates were going to lease the land from a trust owned by the Krock family for 99 years.  The Krocks owned 340 Main Street, just a block away from the proposed “twin towers”, and were leasing 50,000 square feet of that building to Paul Revere Insurance Group.  So Barry Krock wanted part of the lease for 280 Main Street to include compensating him if Paul Revere moved out of 340 Main Street and into the new tower complex.

By August 1989, talks were back on.

But by February 1990, they were off — permanently.

“‘We’ve tried to put together something on north Main street,’ [Herb Ingram] said. ‘I would say the obstacle there is the unrealistic value they’ve put on their property.’

“Brenda Baris, a spokeswoman for [Barry] Krock, said he does not give interviews.”

Flagg’s Building

The building located on the property we’re talking about (282-306 Main Street) was Flagg’s Building.  Though you can’t tell from the picture, it had originally been a beautiful Italianate building (see #11 on this page for a picture of Flagg’s in its full glory).  It had been built in 1854 for Augustus and Elisha Flagg, who were descended from some of the first English settlers of Worcester.  The family had previously built a building for a bakery in 1800, and the building had burned down in 1815.  It’s unclear what occupied that parcel from 1815-1854, but in 1854, the most recent Flagg’s Building was erected at a cost of $50,000.

The building originally had six storefronts on the first floor, offices on the second, and lodging on the third and fourth floors.

In October 1990, the building was only occupied in the first floor — by a sports bar, a nightclub, and an adult bookstore — when a two-alarm fire struck and damaged some of the upper stories.  I believe the building continued to be at least partly occupied on the first floor after the fire.

In 1995, Preservation Worcester named Flagg’s Building to its first list of Most Endangered Properties.  At the time, the tenants were Sports Pub, Union Books, and the Kaleidoscope night club — the same tenants at the time of the fire five years earlier.

On Friday, May 31, 1996, the owner of Flagg’s Building, 288 Main St. Associates Limited Partnership — a partnership between Barry Krock and his sister Beverly Goldman — received permission from the city to demolish the building.  New England Demolition Co. began the demolition on the following day — June 1.

Then-WoMag reporter Ellen O’Connor reported the following in 1996: “‘From what I understand, he had some structural studies done and had them sort of cooked to make it look absolutely urgent that the building had to come down,’ said a source, who added he had received that information from someone within the city administration.”

The building’s owners also didn’t apply for a permit from DEP to demolish the building, and DEP temporarily stopped the demolition after about a week, after asbestos seemed to have been observed in the building.  The state inspected the building, found the asbestos, the owners worked on an abatement plan, and the demolition was back on by the end of August.

[The president of the company that did the demolition, New England Demolition Co., would eventually be charged under air pollution and asbestos removal laws, and would be found guilty in the largest asbestos criminal enforcement case in Massachusetts history.]

Courthouse

If Ellen O’Connor’s anonymous source was right, and there was no true structural problems with Flagg’s Building that would require immediate demolition, then why was Barry Krock so keen to tear it down?

The answer was that the state was thinking of building a courthouse annex (to expand the capacity beyond the existing county courthouse at the corner of Main and Highland Streets), and the former Flagg’s would be one of the sites considered for the annex.

As the courthouse project turned into building a large courthouse complex (versus an annex to an existing building), the Krocks offered to have the courthouse built at 252 and 288 Main St., and to demolish the Commerce Building to put in an 800-car garage.

But an alternative site — the one the courthouse currently sits on — won out.  It was owned by Philip O. Shwachman, a developer who had partnered with Herb Ingram and Norm Peters in the past.

Regarding the property owned by the Krocks, the Telegram reported that “state officials said a purchase price of $15.5 million was deemed to be substantially higher than the market value of the property. They also said its irregular shape and a steep grade at the rear of the property would put constraints on the courthouse design and could complicate security at the rear of the courthouse.”

Legacy

The site of the former Flagg’s Building has now been an ugly parking lot for more than a decade, and is currently used as a parking lot for the courthouse.

As Shawn Sutner wrote in 2011:

Mr. Krock, who controls several hundred parking spaces in surface lots scattered around downtown, later ran afoul of city officials when he erected signs at the courthouse lot that did not conform to signage regulations. Ordered to take them down, he instead had two trucks parked on the property emblazoned with huge signs hawking courthouse parking.

But the legacy of Flagg’s Building is not just a parking lot: it is also the demolition delay ordinance.

Originally set at six months, and now set at a year, the demolition delay ordinance means that if you own an historic building (on the National Register of Historic Buildings, or listed in MACRIS) and want to demolish the building, or make certain changes to the structure, that you must request a waiver of the delay from the historical commission.

This allows preservation groups (or other interested parties) time to create a plan to save a building or part of a structure.

I think the next installment will focus on other Main Street properties owned by the Krocks.  I welcome comments/clarifications/amplifications to what I’ve written so far.

Sources:

“His father would be proud”, by Robert R. Bliss, Telegram & Gazette, 10 February 1989

“Lot 35 competitor pulls out of race ; Main Street project in the works instead”, by Kathleen Pierce, Telegram & Gazette, 2 March 1989

“Twin towers plan grounded; Lease restriction stalls plans for North Main St. office project”, by Kathleen Pierce, Telegram & Gazette, 18 July 1989

“CityPlaza group might ask for a plan change; Hotel rooms may replace planned condos”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, Telegram & Gazette, 19 September 1989

“Tale of two city sites; Biotech park zooms, no downtown rehab boom”, by Paul P. Heldman, Telegram & Gazette, 10 February 1990

“All-suites Clarion hotel opens”, by Kathleen Pierce, Telegram & Gazette, 19 June 1990

“State warns against Lot 35 plan”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, Telegram & Gazette, 30 June 1990

“Fire hits Main St. building”, by Russell B. Eames, Telegram & Gazette, 15 October 1990

“Wholesale club war heats up; PACE plans Worcester outlet”, by Kathleen Pierce, Telegram & Gazette, 16 January 1992

“‘Duddie’ agrees to buy Commerce Bank & Trust”, by Chris Pope, Telegram & Gazette, 5 October 1993

“Endangered city property ranked // Preservation Worcester lists top 10”, by Richard Duckett, Telegram & Gazette, 11 December 1995

“Worker hurt on demolition job // Preservation Worcester protests wrecking of Main St. building”, by Richard Duckett, Telegram & Gazette, 2 June 1996

“State calls halt to Flagg razing // Asbestos contamination feared”, by Richard Nangle, Telegram & Gazette, 7 June 1996

“Building owners face deadline // Inspect for asbestos by Monday or face fines, DEP says”, by John J. O’Connor, Telegram & Gazette, 8 June 1996

“Historic Worcester building found to be full of asbestos // Disposal plan needed for Flagg’s Building demolition”, by John J. Monahan, Telegram & Gazette, 13 June 1996

“Hoover recommends ‘demolition delay ordinance’, by Nick Kotsopoulos, Telegram & Gazette, 19 August 1996

“Who is Barry Krock?”, by Ellen O’Connor, Worcester Magazine, 28 August 1996

“Central Mass Digest”, Telegram & Gazette, 25 September 1996

“Two Main St. sites eyed for new courthouse annex”, by Emilie Astell, Telegram & Gazette, 4 February 1997

“Purchase of Vuona’s boosts downtown”, by Peter P. Donker, Telegram & Gazette, 6 February 1998

“Man convicted in asbestos case”, by Richard Nangle, Telegram & Gazette, 10 October 1998

“Courthouse site on front burner”, by Emilie Astell, Telegram & Gazette, 14 April 1998

“Time, money tip scales on court site”, by John J. Monahan and Emilie Astell, Telegram & Gazette, 12 November 1999

“Property problems: Demolition threat highlights neglect”, by Shawn Sutner, Telegram & Gazette, 25 September 2011

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