READING — If you agree with Rosemarie Debenedetto’s assessment of Walgreens as a new senior center, you might find the latest proposition more appealing.
“My personal opinion is that you would open the window and throw a lot of money out the window,” Debenedetto said in opposition to the idea at last week’s meeting of the Council on Aging.
But what if that “good money” led to a purchase, and not just endless rent payments?
During a 3.5-hour meeting on Tuesday, the select committee voted 5-0 to issue a second request for proposal (RFP) for space for a senior center. Unlike the first tender in early June, this one would be a tender for a lease-to-own option and/or an option to buy space for a seniors center.
The new RFP would address Debenedetto’s public concerns about cost, as well as any discussion the select committee may have had during an executive session on July 19. The rental price for the Walgreens building was high, a monthly rent of $18,000 for the first 10 years then jumping to $36,000. The new RFP, however, includes the option to buy the property, a significant change. From a cost point of view, it is much more attractive for the city.
But seeing is believing. Speaker Mark Dockser toured Walgreens last Friday with other city officials, including City Manager Fidel Maltez.
“It reinforced that it’s a really interesting space,” Dockser said. “The location is wonderful. We would like to see if there are possible ways to use it. Whether it’s negotiating a lease, negotiating a purchase, let’s see what’s possible. But yeah, space would be great.
“It’s very open but there are a lot of possibilities in terms of what could happen. It has office spaces on the second floor as well as a large open space. The ground floor is wide open. Nothing for scare us away.”
The road to the potential use of the Walgreens building began in April at the town hall where a motion of instruction was passed directing the city manager and board to seek temporary lease options for the relocation of the center for the elderly.
At the May 31 select board meeting, the issue was raised again and the board directed Maltez to go ahead with the request for proposals (RFP). The request for proposals was published on June 2 and was due in early July. The RFP was posted on the state’s Central Registry website along with the city’s website. The central registry is essentially the clearinghouse for all procurement documents.
At the deadline, “we opened the responses and we only received one response and that was from the owners of the building,” Maltez said.
Although commonly referred to as the Walgreens building, it is actually owned by BH Waltham II LLC of Lexington and its manager, Robert Parsekian, submitted the RFP proposal. Walgreens leases the building, which has been closed since 2014.
Parsekian could respond to the new tender, or he could stick with his first offer, which remains on the table for about 30 more days. The new RFP should be released within a week and will remain posted for 30 days. It is open to anyone else who has a space in town and also wants to sell. The rental option only led to one player, Parsekian. With the new RFP, board members are hoping for additional options.
“Other owners may be interested,” Dockser said.
“Buying a building rather than renting it makes more sense in the long run,” Chris Haley said.
The Reading Center for Active Living (ReCalc) committee has been working on the search for a new community/senior center since its first meeting in December. ReCalc will discuss Walgreens at its meeting on Wednesday evening and Dockser, also the president of ReCalc, will give an update to its members.
“I want to take advantage of all the work done by ReCalc,” Dockser said. “I would like the committee members to consider putting things together a little faster than maybe we were. There is a lot of work that has been done. »
And with the surprise entry of the Walgreens building into the mix, it’s work that will be put to good use.
“I think what we’ve done is going to be very supportive, if you have a facility, what do we do with it, how could we set it up,” Dockser said. ” What do we need ? What are the things we see in other successful communities. »
ReCalc has a citywide survey coming out September 1, and it should be complete by the end of the month.
“The timing is a bit tight, but putting this information together and getting this feedback as quickly as possible would be fantastic,” Dockser said. “It’s exciting. We started a few months ago saying I wish, I wish, I wish. Now there may be an option.