Developer paid $33M for Sullivan Courthouse

Originally published Oct. 8, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

A photo of the E.J. Sullivan Courthouse on the left, next to an artist's rendering of the courthouse after redevelopment. Cambridge Chronicle file photo/rendering courtesy Leggat McCall via the Cambridge Chronicle.

A photo of the E.J. Sullivan Courthouse on the left, next to an artist’s rendering of the courthouse after redevelopment. Cambridge Chronicle file photo/rendering courtesy Leggat McCall via the Cambridge Chronicle.

Leggat McCall Properties LLC agreed to pay the state $33 million for the E. J. Sullivan Courthouse in East Cambridge, according documents obtained by the Cambridge Chronicle.

The release of the purchase agreement comes less than a week after Supervisor of Records Shawn Williams ordered the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) to release the documents.

According to the agreement, released Thursday, Oct. 9, Leggat McCall agreed to a base price of $33 million and has already paid the agency $3.4 million in the form of a deposit, $100,000 of which was delivered within a day of signing the agreement on Jan. 16, 2013, and $3.3 million of which was delivered after the third amendment of the agreement on Sept. 29 this year.

On Oct. 3, Williams ordered DCAMM to release documents pertaining to the purchase and sale agreement in response to a public records request appeal submitted by Councilor and state Rep. Timothy Toomey. Williams said that because the purchase and sale agreement had already been signed, those records are no longer exempt from disclosure under public record laws.

“In this particular transaction, DCAMM has executed a sale agreement with a particular party, and has passed the point in which the Public Records Law would allow a record custodian to withhold the procurement and proposal process records,” Williams said in a letter to DCAMM attorney Peter Wilson. “I find that, whereas an agreement has been signed, and further whereas any deliberative process associated with this agreement has concluded, that DCAMM can no longer withhold the responsive records.”

The Oct. 3 letter comes just two days after an Oct. 1 Planning Board decision approving a redevelopment plan by Leggat McCall Properties. DCAMM selected Leggat McCall from three finalists, which had each presented their proposed plans to the East Cambridge Planning Team (ECPT), the community group overseeing development in East Cambridge. In August 2012, the ECPT voted to select HYM Investments as the desired developer, largely because HYM had agreed to remove four floors from the building and add housing to the property.

In December that year, DCAMM announced the decision to hire Leggat McCall, which was last on the community’s list of desired developers.

Since then, Leggat McCall has added 24 units of housing to their initial plan of only commercial and retail development. They also lowered the height of the 22-story building by two floors, agreed to set aside part of the ground floor for community use, and changed the façade of the building from all glass to terra cotta, among other changes.

Those alterations came largely after the formation of the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge coalesced in the first few months of 2014 to oppose the development. At least one member, Michael Hawley, has vowed to appeal the Planning Board’s approval of the special permit on the grounds that the structure does not conform to zoning codes and an 1813 deed provided the building to be used only for public purposes.

In a blog posting dated Oct. 8, Toomey said the goal of his request was to “obtain more information about the bid selection process and criteria that were used by DCAMM” in selecting Leggat McCall as the developer, and to “obtain information about the sale price in order to help inform the public conversation about the site’s redevelopment.”

“DCAMM has been tight-lipped about this information for years now, and has refused all informal requests for this information, as well as an invitation to participate in a working group I organized this spring,” Toomey said in his post. “Predictably, DCAMM denied my initial public records request.”

Toomey submitted the request on June 30 this year. He appealed the decision to the state secretary’s office on July 8, the same day DCAMM denied his request.

The Chronicle submitted a similar public records request in February 2013, which was met with an identical denial letter. Councilor Dennis Carlone followed Toomey’s suit and submitted his own request to DCAMM on July 15 this year.

DCAMM initially refused to respond to the Chronicle’s request on grounds that the documents related to “policy positions” currently being developed.

“Records which address the development of policy are exempt from disclosures to the public, unless and until the recommended policy is adopted,” Wilson said in response to the Chronicle’s inquiry.

Toomey received a nearly identical response to his request, which also cited language in the Public Records Law that allows for exemptions to disclosing public records until the “deliberative process” has concluded. The law also requires DCAMM to “specifically explain how and why that particular exemption applies to the records requested,” which DCAMM did not do, Williams said.

Williams ordered DCAMM to provide Toomey with “all records responsive to his request within 10 days.” Toomey, in turn, pledged to release those documents on his blog, timtoomey.org.

The Chronicle is still awaiting a full response to its request, which in addition to the purchase and sale agreement, requested “access to all bids and proposals submitted for the E.J. Sullivan Courthouse project, as well as all inter-agency and intra-agency communications made in connection with the evaluation process for reviewing such bids and proposals, including but not limited to evaluative matrices.”

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