By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – The Facemate stalemate has ended.
Thanks to a decision handed down last week in Hampden Superior Court, the city will be able to gain title to the former Uniroyal-Facemate property, according to Mayor Michael Bissonnette.
The city has been trying for years to either collect outstanding back taxes and fees on the property – which amount to more than $1.5 million – or else gain control of the 72-acre site.
The case was complicated by the fact that Walter F. Mrozinski, the owner of record, filed for bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where the case has languished for several years.
The Hampden court decision, handed down on March 17, is a formal agreement with Mrozinski that he owes Chicopee $1.5 million.
That agreement clears the way for the city to gain control of the property by tax title, through foreclosure on the Facemate parcel, and move ahead with plans to demolish some of the site’s 24 buildings and clean up hazardous waste, including asbestos and mercury, Bissonnette said.
“The money judgment will never be collected,” he said. “The corporation is bankrupt. Facemate doesn’t have any assets to pay the city.”
The city has paid more than $275,000 to provide private security to the site, where a building partially collapsed last summer. Police and fire officials have modified their response policy at the site, to safeguard the health and safety of emergency responders.
Bissonnette has said he wants to clean up the property and find a private developer to turn it into a mixed-use site, for retail, residential and recreational use.
Uniroyal ceased operations there in 1980. Facemate bought the property in 1981 and filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
The mayor said demolishing buildings and cleaning up hazardous waste at the site, where Uniroyal Corp. formerly manufactured tires for vehicles, would cost about $20 million.
But once the site is clean enough for development, it would only fetch about $4 million on the open market, he said – discouraging private developers from investing in the parcel.
Bissonnette said because the property is worth less than the cost of cleaning it up, only government resources can turn it from an “eyesore and public safety hazard” into “a real gem.”
The site is bordered by the Chicopee River. Further up the river, in Chicopee Center, a bicycle path and walkway is being created. Directly across the river is a 32-acre parcel, once owned by Uniroyal that the city wants to buy and turn into a conservation area.
“It truly is gorgeous back there,” Bissonnette said of the parcel. “You can’t really tell by looking at the front of the property (on Oak Street.)”
Chicopee will take steps to acquire formal title to the site, which means the city can then seek state and federal grants for clean-up funds, the mayor said.
The administration of Gov. DeVal Patrick, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and U.S. Sen. John Kerry have all expressed support for the city’s efforts to clean up the parcel and then seek a private developer, Bissonnette said.
“The city is going to act as the middleman to put together resources to clean up the site,” he said. “Who else will do it? Only government can clean it up.”
“You’ve got to look beyond politics and the next election. You’ve got to think about the city’s future,” Bissonnette said. “What is that going to be for the next 100 years? What are we going to leave our kids?”
“The city should have taken action many years ago,” he said. “If it was an easy decision, I’m sure someone would have done it long ago.”
Archive for March, 2009
By Etta Walsh