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Relocation Costs for LHS Project Revealed

September 18, 2018

LOWELL -- Relocating the five well-established dental practices and one optometry practice from 75 Arcand Drive is expected to cost the city more than the eminent-domain land taking of the property for the Lowell High School project.

Relocation costs are estimated in the $3.5 million to $4.5 million range, according to the working relocation draft plan for the Lowell High School project, prepared by Peter W. Sleeper Associates in Arlington. That’s based on experience with similar relocation programs and these types of businesses, the plan reads.

The Sun recently reported the $2.6 million potential price tag for the land taking of 75 Arcand Drive, but this $3.5 million to $4.5 million estimated relocation cost is separate from that figure has not been reported until now.

The state will not compensate the costs associated with the eminent-domain land taking and the relocation of the affected tenants. Funding for this will come from the city, specifically via bonds authorized with a separate loan order.

The relocation plan stresses that these costs are only an estimate. The final amounts will not be known until the exact locations are identified, and the plans for the displaced tenants are finalized.

The attorney for the Lowell Doctors Park Trust and tenants of 75 Arcand Drive said Monday that their numbers are considerably higher than the $2.6 million appraisal and higher than the relocation costs in the $3.5 million to $4.5 million range.

“They came in with conservative numbers. That’s the nature of the beast,” said Peter Flynn, a lawyer from Saugus. “It does not represent the true value of that property. They’re short-selling everything.

“We want to be treated fairly,” he added.

The relocation draft plan lists nearly two dozen properties for lease across Lowell.

None of the listed sites are suitable for the tenants of 75 Arcand Drive, Flynn said. One of the major stumbling blocks is parking, he said. The current site has plenty of parking for patients and staff. Security and building layout are also key factors, the lawyer said.

“None of the 20 would fit the bill,” Flynn said of the listed commercial properties. “None of them make much sense.”

He added that it’s a “very, very tricky” relocation situation.

City Manager Eileen Donoghue emphasized on Monday that the relocation draft plan is a “work in progress.”

“It’s an ongoing discussion,” she said. “An estimate is required for these relocation plans, and the consultant put together a reasonable estimate.”

As part of the downtown high school project, the state wants the city to complete the eminent-domain recording before April. Donoghue has said the city is on track to approve the land-taking this fall.

The owners of the medical building can challenge the assessment from the city, resulting in litigation, but that will not stop the high school process, Donoghue has said.

The city solicitor recently sent a letter to Flynn with the city’s $2.6 million offer. It was recently appraised at that figure, according to City Solicitor Christine O’Connor.

According to the city’s database, the current assessment of 75 Arcand Drive is $947,400: a building value of $705,900, and a land value of $241,500. The two-story office building sits on a 13,743-square-foot property.

While Flynn said his numbers are considerably higher than the $2.6 million offer and the $3.5 million to $4.5 million relocation estimate, he declined to elaborate on his numbers.

“For me to put it out there now, I’m not sure it will help,” he said.

The doctors at 75 Arcand Drive are: Dr. Evan Coravos, Dr. Stephen Reichheld, Dr. Christopher Ross, Dr. Michael Szarek, Dr. Aaron Watman and Dr. George Montminy.

All of the practices rely on a patient base that is centered in Lowell, and they refer patients among themselves within the same building. They share equipment, break rooms and have access to common storage areas.

The doctors want to relocate to the same address together, so they can continue this relationship. They all want to stay in close proximity to the downtown location, noting that the majority of their patients live or work nearby.

Some of the inventory they will need to move include x-ray machines, reclining exam chairs, retinal cameras, digital imaging equipment, computers, printers and more.

When asked about the $3.5 million to $4.5 million relocation estimate, City Councilor Edward Kennedy said it seems like a “ridiculously high amount of money.”

“To relocate half a dozen medical offices, that sounds like a very, very high number,” Kennedy said.

City Councilor Rita Mercier, who has spoken adamantly against the eminent-domain land taking, said this is not a regular move like packing up an apartment. This is a very delicate procedure with hospital equipment, she said, adding she’s not surprised about the cost estimate.

Mercier said the city should explore a Hamilton Canal Innovation District space for the doctors.

“That would be centrally located for patients,” she said. “I’m not sure why we haven’t offered that to them. They (the doctors) have given so much to the city over the years.”

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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