Upham's Corner Online

Maxwell Flea Market & DND - Department of Neighborhood Development

Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Nancy J Conrad

DND began its management of the building, 65 E. Cottage Street, where Maxwell Flea Market was located on December 3, 2009, the day the city foreclosed due to an outstanding tax lien.

What had been a standard DND "landlord" responsibility turned into an emergency when the Boston Fire Department filed its complaint on August 18, 2010.  This narrative is based on many conversations with DND's media relations contact, Lucy Warsh, and concluding on 10/18/2010.  This narrative has been approved by Ms. Warsh.
The city of Boston foreclosed on 65 E. Cottage St. on December 3, 2010 due to an outstanding tax lien The Department of Neighborhood Development, which is responsible for all of the City's tax-title foreclosed property, became the caretaker of that property. 

When the City takes over a building, they need to perform an assessment of the building -- are there tenants?  Do utilities need to be paid?  Is there rental income, if so, how much?  The assessment needed to identify everything a property manager would be responsible for.

Lucy recalls that upon taking on responsibility for the building, DND initiated appropriate notifications to the commercial tenants though she is not aware of the specific dates. This included Maxwell Flea Market. The purpose was to determine exactly who the commercial tenants were, the nature of their businesses and the rental agreements.
Because of the scope of the building and the issues that needed addressing, this property required the attention of several DND Real Estate Management and Sales staff, led by the deputy director Sandra Duran.  "There was a lot to check out, " Ms. Warsh stated.  "It's a huge building – more than a dozen commercial tenants with over 100 people employed by them."

The next major step in gaining control over the building was to schedule a walk-through with the fire department and Inspectional Services and this occurred in February.  As a result the fire department issued three abatements on the property while ISD issued one violation (mostly related to safety issues)
What followed was months of working with the prior owner, Hal Cohen, and with several tenants trying to figure out the best course of action given the condition of the building (safety and structural issues).  At the same time DND was trying to preserve existing jobs.

DND collected approximately $133,892 in rent from 65 E. Cottage tenants since taking ownership last December, including payments from UniFirst, Marcy Navarro (for the Flea Market space), ModHaus, Boston City Paper, and several of the storage containers that occupied space outside of the building. As of September 2010, DND spent approximately $131,000. 

This included: relocation of the Grealish Boxing Club from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor; utilities; police details; snow removal; electrical and plumbing repairs; masonry work; janitorial services; installation of new locks, fire extinguishers, a fire door, and new exit signage.

As recently as August 2010 DND was continuing to review the two alternatives:
  1. Keeping the building open (occupied)
  2. Closing the building
Keeping the building open would require the installation of a code compliant sprinkler or fire alarm system while closing the building would include assisting tenants with relocation options.

 "Our concern has been all along," Ms. Warsh stated, "to make sure that safety measures are in place while we determine the need for relocation options.  As you can imagine, and this happens more often than anyone out there knows, a building with tenants -- could be residential tenants, could be commercial tenants -- comes into the city's inventory.  All of a sudden this building is off the City's tax rolls, and  it becomes our responsibility to heat, and to maintain inside and out. "

"Any kind of liability issue is now on the city's shoulders.  Taking into account in this particular case the fact that there were over 100 jobs in the building as recently as last month, we spent a fair amount of time looking at the property from all angles.  We started with the fact that there were three floors in the building.  Is the third floor occupied?  No.  Is the second floor occupied?  Yes.  Let's get the second-floor tenants off the second-floor so that we can address immediate structural and safety issues."  

"DND had been spending a fair amount of time working with ISD and with the fire department on ways that DND could maintain the building with these tenants and not kick them out, not shut the doors right away.  It took a long time -- it was a pretty complex situation.  DND did determine the best way to handle the building and that is the plan that is being executed at the present time - relocating the tenants as needed."  

"As part of the plan we needed to assess the capital costs associated with keeping some of the tenants in the building while making sure that all safety issues had been satisfied.  For example this included building a firewall.  As a comment these plans were not established in isolation.  It was a team effort of DND, BFD and ISD all working from different perspectives to determine the best option for a building that is ultimately in the custody and care of the Department of Neighborhood Development."

Ms Warsh believes the fire department must have reviewed the building's condition in mid-August.  She believes that because the flea market was operating on weekends and because of the large amount of storage held in the building by the individual flea market tenants, the fire department decided the flea market could not be allowed to continue functioning, and therefore called for an immediate shutdown.

Once the Boston Fire Department filed a criminal complaint against DND and given the serious violations of the fire code, the city had no choice.  In essence the fire department said: 

"That's it.  This could go up in flames today.  We would not be able to get through the building.  We don't know who is in it.  This is a serious issue."

DND responded by contacting the owner of the flea market, Marcy Navarro, letting her know that she should contact the flea market vendors immediately and let them know that the flea market was closed. 
The city is looking to relocate some of the tenants in the building.  DND is looking to offer relocation assistance to 10 of the commercial tenants in the building.  As a separate effort, Lucy stated that the DND is looking into other options for the flea market and will be working with Marcy Navarro to determine a new location from which to operate.

At the present time it is too early to say what will happen to the building, but DND would ultimately look to find an appropriate reuse of the site that meets the needs of the community.   DND will follow their standard procedures including the possibility of holding community meetings.

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