By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — After a town-owned building on Central Street was demolished last week, some town officials are wondering what comes next.
The building at 8 Central St. was purchased by the town for $173,000 — one of several proposed real estate deals some hoped would pave the way for potential economic growth in that area to help boost downtown Derry.
A second $375,000 real estate deal in that same neighborhood fell to the curb in May when town councilors voted, 4-3, not to spend that money. Another $125,000 was shot down that would have paid for the demolition costs of both buildings.
Council newcomers Mark Osborne, Tom Cardon and Al Dimmock all voted not to buy the second property, along with Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks.
Some were surprised to see the empty lot on Central Street last week.
“I noticed the property being torn down last week when I was checking out the property in back and was not aware it was going to happen,” Cardon said.
Osborne said the demolition needed a signature from the Town Council chairman before proceeding.
“I’m not sure what they are doing with the purchased building,” he said. “It was never discussed amongst the Council.”
Last week’s demolition cost $25,700, according to acting and assistant Town Manager Larry Budreau. That money came from the Public Works budget.
“The plan was to include demolition for both parcels when the second building was purchased,” Budreau said. “Absent that (second building) approval, the demolition was paid out of the Public Works budget. They will assess the status of their budget next spring.”
The town owns other properties in that area, including the former DiFeo oil site, but any future development plans have stalled.
“No specific alternate plan has been developed,” Budreau said.
Councilor Neil Wetherbee voted to buy both properties and had high hopes for what downtown Derry could do.
Now, he’s lost a bit of faith.
“I frankly don’t have a lot of hope for downtown revitalization at this point in time,” he said. “The majority of the Town Council as it sits today seems to have little to no interest in the downtown or driving any kind of economic development.”
There have been many ideas through the years as to how to move forward with a downtown plan including possible parking, residential areas and more business-friendly areas. Buying specific properties made sense to some, including Wetherbee.
“In my view, the purchase of property downtown was a package deal and with the controversy and ill-will generated by the sudden pullout of the town, it seems the complete package will never be realized,” he said.
But it came down to other councilors wanting more information on what the property would be used for.
“If these properties offer such spectacular business opportunities, then why aren’t private businesses or real estate moguls jumping at the opportunity to buy them?” Osborne asked.
He objected to the property purchases and said the town should only buy properties that would benefit the whole community and be enjoyed by every taxpayer, like parks, playgrounds, bike trails and open space.
“Pouring more tax funds into Main Street is not going to reduce the Derry tax burden,” Osborne said. “IBM and Silicone Valley are not coming to Sawyer Court or Martin Street, sorry to say.”
Cardon agreed and said the town could do better things with its money.
“I have a few thoughts on revitalization that I am putting together,” he said. “Nothing big, but a step in the right direction.”