This evening, the Historical Commission will consider a demolition delay waiver for the Central Building, 332 Main Street, one of the many properties owned by the Krock family in downtown Worcester.
The Krocks’ lawyer, Gary Brackett, should be bringing detailed information about the costs to maintain the building and the financial situation of the owners, as the commission has requested.
This is, of course, not the first time the Krock family has requested a waiver to demolish the building.
In September 2011, the Krocks requested a demolition delay waiver, and withdrew it shortly after requesting it.
At that point, the Telegram reported that “[c]ity construction permit records show the Krock family has spent $23,000 in the last 10 years maintaining the building.” (Compare this to the much-larger, Krock-owned Commerce Building, which has had about $50,000 a year in improvements.)
After the second request for a demolition delay waiver, Katie Krock told the Telegram that “I don’t know what we would do with it [that is, the Central Building’s lot after demolition.] I do know it’s costing us $150,000 a year, and we can’t do that anymore.”
Katie is the daughter of Aaron and Janet Krock, and is employed as the building manager for Commerce Associates, which includes 332 Main Street. A lawsuit in 2010 alleged that she is paid “more than $250,000 a year, including a car and expense account.”
The cynical among us might ask if that sort of salary is warranted when the properties as a whole have perhaps a 50% vacancy rate, or whether a lack of investment over a great number of years led to the lack of marketability of the entire building.
The adorable 240 Main Street (which began part 3) is currently occupied by the civil process division of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.
Before that, the building had been in a state of disrepair, and was renovated in 2007 and 2008.
From Telegram reporting:
The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered a halt to the demolition work in the long-vacant building in 2008. The DEP alleged that workers employed by [Jonathan] Gabriel, doing business as Hammertime Construction, had not been given proper training in the removal of asbestos nor provided with protective equipment, prosecutors said.
The DEP also alleged that materials in the building containing asbestos were not wet down or disposed of in the proper sealed containers and that no arrangements were made to have a licensed contractor test the air for asbestos after the demolition work was completed.
Hammertime Construction might not sound familiar, but the name of Jonathan Gabriel’s former company might — it’s New England Demolition Co., the company that handled the demolition of Flagg’s Building. In 1998, Gabriel was sentenced to two years in jail on seven guilty counts of illegally removing and disposing of dangerous asbestos. Some of those counts were for Flagg’s Building.
Gabriel was found not guilty of violating the state’s Clean Air Act in 2011 (for work done at 240 Main Street), but “Janet E. Krock, president, treasurer and director of 240 Main Street Properties Inc., entered guilty pleas on behalf of the corporation in April 2010 and the property management company was fined $50,000.”
Again, the cynical among us might look at the track record of demolitions of Krock-owned properties and wonder if a demolition or renovation of 332 Main Street would be done in a way that would comply with state and federal environmental laws.
Katie Krock opened KJ Baaron’s, a wine and spirits shop, in the Courtyard Lobby Shops at the Commerce Building, in 2004.
A year later, she was named one of Pulse Magazine’s Ones to Watch.
In summer 2007, she closed the store and prepared to move to the current location at 220 Summer Street, a former auto parts store. She also expanded the business to include cheese and specialty food items.
At that point — fall 2007 — Washington Square was in the middle of reconstruction, and Krock shared some frustrations with the Telegram:
“I drove in to work on Friday and I couldn’t even see my store from the rotary,” Ms. Krock said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is going to be great for business.’ I’ve had customers complaining that they’ve almost gotten into accidents trying to pull in to the parking lot.”
Less than a month later, Krock and Houston Brothers, LLC (the owners of the building) had filed requests for injunctions, saying that the city’s reconfiguration of Washington Square had prevented her from creating an entrance to the store from Shrewsbury Street, and that the city could very well be creating a “landlocked” parcel.
Krock had previously requested a curb cut off the Shrewsbury Street side of Washington Square into her parking lot, and the request was denied.
Part of the reason is that the city-owned parcel facing Washington Square, in front of KJ Baaron’s, was proposed to be developed into a hotel or office building in the Washington Square master plan.
Krock had only been vaguely aware of the master plan and the Washington Square roundabout designs, which eliminated the driveway from Shrewsbury Street to her parking lot. At the time she told the Telegram:
“I kind of just did this,” Ms. Krock said in an interview. “I have chosen where I’m going to put it and that’s where I am.”
The city argued that Krock should not have the curb cut from Shrewsbury Street, and that she had not requested a right-of-way.
“The entrance used to be there, but now the curb cut comes onto city property, not their property,” [City Solicitor David] Moore said. “What they’re doing is like asking Mass. Highway (the state Highway Department) for a curb cut to go over my neighbor’s property to my garage.
“We think a curb cut will have a negative effect on the marketability of the parcel and will also be a public safety problem,” he said.
In July 2008, the state land court ruled that the lack of curb cut did not prevent the owners from accessing the property. Among other things, the decision stated that “[t]his was a case that never should have been brought in this court, seeking injunctive relief that neither this court, nor any court, could grant, based on an alleged fact … that was untrue.”
From the Telegram:
The court ruled that the lawsuit was based on a false premise and that a request by the city for monetary sanctions against the Worcester firm Brackett & Lucas, the plaintiff’s lawyers, is appropriate. The amount of the sanctions, if ordered by the court, will be based on the actual costs incurred by the city.
A few weeks ago, KJ Baaron’s has requested a move to 730 West Boylston Street from the License Commission. So — there may be more of this story yet to come.
The Krock family lives on a 9-acre estate off of Salisbury Street, near the intersection with Forest Street. Close to that house is 274 Salisbury, which caused contention with neighbors up to the mid-2000s. From a WoMag article:
“It’s worth noting that there’s no love lost between the Krocks and some of their neighbors. For years, residents complained about a house at 274 Salisbury St. owned by the Krocks, which abuts their estate and the 12 new lots.
“For reasons that are unclear, the large, handsome Colonial house was perennially rented out to Assumption College students. Neighbors complained of rowdy partying and overcrowding at the house.
“At one point, code officials and police officers staged an early-morning raid on the house, an action that showed nine people sleeping there. …
“The so-called ‘Animal House’ was ultimately silenced on May 5, when the Allen Trust (listed as the owner of the house) and the city reach an out-of-court settlement guaranteeing that no more than three unrelated persons would be allowed to rent the house simultaneously.”
“Never sign your name to anything”
In the excellent WoMag piece “Who Is Barry Krock?” from 1996, Jordan Levy was quoted as saying that Barry Krock was “not one of the boys. He never had to be in the old-boy network. Maybe they kept him out after he decided he didn’t want in. I don’t think Barry Krock could give a damn whether he’s inside or not.”
There are many reasons the saga of the Krock family fascinates me so much.
For me, they are an example of what it is to be powerful in so many ways, and influential in so few.
When Worcester was considering building the civic center in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Barry Krock offered the city between $500,000 and $1 million to named the structure after his father. Jordan Levy recalled that “[w]e were struggling and trying to get a major donation … He wanted it named the Aaron Krock Arena and for whatever reason, they balked; they weren’t interested in having it named for him.”
I can’t imagine having a million dollars to spend on naming rights for an arena.
But I really can’t imagine having that money, and wanting to create some kind of memorial to my beloved parent, and having that offer rejected by the community in which I’d lived my whole life.
That moment summed up the unique place the Krocks occupy in Worcester.
They own iconic Worcester buildings — whole blocks; their father and grandfather founded an iconic local bank; they own what is quite possibly the largest private estate in the city.
But they persist in tearing down or otherwise neglecting some of those iconic properties; the bank that was once so closely associated with their family is owned by others; and they rented out a party house in front of their estate despite the concerns of neighbors.
No matter how much money they have, or how many properties they own, it’s unlikely they will ever be beloved or influential or even just almost liked.
It doesn’t have much to do with being part of the “old boy network” or not. As we’ve seen in the past 30-40 years, those on the inside, those in real power, can change dramatically in a relatively short amount of time.
In the case of the Krocks, especially in the past 15-20 years, there seems to be very little desire to want to have a deeper influence than the ability to shock the city with a building demolition.
WoMag quoted “…one businessman who knows [Barry] Krock” as saying that “a trait the son learned from the father…: Never sign your name to anything.”
“Never sign your name to anything” might be smart business advice, but it’s lousy life advice.
Any goodwill the family could have gained by acting as if they were part of the community rather than those set apart — by default or by will — can likely never be created.
“Who is Barry Krock?”, by Ellen O’Connor, Worcester Magazine, 28 August 1996
“Punishing polluters // Jail sentence sends strong message”, T&G, 20 October 1998
“There’s gold in that there land”, by Chris Kanaracus, Worcester Magazine, 14 October 2004
“Wine shop a family affair; KJ Baaron’s named after the Krocks”, by Barbara M. Houle, T&G, 28 October 2004
“Morocco will open at former Anthony’s; Mideastern eatery on Shrewsbury St”, by Barbara M. Houle, T&G, 17 July 2007
“Drivers work to navigate new square roundabout; Dirt mounds frustrating small-business owner”, by Ashley Bishop, T&G, 26 November 2007
“Store owner: Change roundabout; She says city cut off KJ Barron’s entrance at Washington Square”, by Shaun Sutner, T&G, 5 December 2007
“Curb cut confrontation continues; Liquor store retailer fighting entry ‘landlock'”, by Shaun Sutner, T&G, 12 December 2007
“Retailer’s lawsuit tossed out: Roundabout altered access to wine store”, by Thomas Caywood, T&G, 11 July 2008
“Contractor cleared of violations”, by Gary V. Murray, T&G, 6 August 2011
“Property problems: Demolition threat highlights neglect”, by Shaun Sutner, T&G, 25 September 2011
“Central Building downtown headed for scrap heap?: Owners seek waiver to tear down landmark, by Steven H. Foskett, Jr., T&G, 21 November 2012
“Demolition request for Main St. building on hold”, by Steven H. Foskett, Jr., T&G, 11 January 2013