UMass Lowell’s West Campus Sells for $2.95M in Chelmsford
CHELMSFORD -- UMass Lowell coffers will soon be nearly $3,000,000 richer thanks to the sale at auction of 34 acres of land that was most recently the school’s West Campus.
The selectmen’s meeting room at the Town Offices was standing room only as the auction started. Potential bidders and others occupied every seat and another 20 stood along the walls and windows.
Auctioneer Paul Zekos said there were about 25 registered bidders who had each placed $50,000 deposits to participate. He called the bidding “fiercely competitive.”
Zekos solicited an opening bid of $2 million, but, with no required minimum bid, no one responded. After trying to get responses for $1.5 million and $1 million, the first bid was for $750,000. Nine bids later the auction was done.
When Zekos called the auction over, Alice Cui of Lexington’s $2.95 million emerged as the high bid for the property, located on Princeton Boulevard in North Chelmsford.
Cui’s competitors in the bidding process swarmed around her after the auction handing her their business cards, apparently still wanting to be part of the project that she plans.
Cui is not certain what the final project will be but said she “wants to satisfy the community.”
Cui has formed an as-yet-unnamed limited liability corporation for the purposes of this project.
“This is a beautiful property,” she said, and added that she is leaning towards a residential development of some kind. She has formed the LLC with two partners.
Zekos, whose firm is located in Shrewsbury, was clearly pleased with the way the auction went.
“It was a powerful sale,” he said. He attributed this to the cooperation of the university, the town, the state and the auctioneers. “All the participating bidders did their due diligence and were really well informed,” he added.
Town Manager Paul Cohen said, “I’m looking forward to the closing. This is an historic step.”
He hopes that the project that comes to town officials for approval will put the property on the tax rolls. Some uses might keep that from happening, he said.
The West Campus has been a UMass Lowell property since 1984 when it was donated by Wang Laboratories. Initially, the now-defunct pioneer in high technology acquired the property with the intent of building its headquarters there. Instead, the company was lured to Lowell where it built what is now Cross Point.
The buildings and campus date to the 1890s when it served as the Middlesex County Training (or Truancy) School. It ceased operations in 1973 amid a controversy over the treatment of the juveniles in its care and as part of a trend away from holding young offenders in custody.
The university never fully occupied the buildings. It offered its masters in education program in one building until a few years ago. Since then, the property has been effectively abandoned.
The site is zoned for residential use; its total valuation is $4,303,400, according to assessors’ records. But it will reassessed after the auction.
Special legislation allowing UMass Lowell to recoup the sales proceeds of the campus cleared the state Legislature July 31.
The age of the buildings discouraged at least one potential bidder. Walking the site before the auction, Steve Kominski, vice president of acquisitions and development at Dakota Partners, expressed some doubt about whether his firm would enter a bid. Pointing up the driveway to the derelict campus buildings, he said the Waltham-based firm would be concerned about unknown costs, such as potential asbestos removal.