A Boston firm that wants to redevelop an entire block of downtown Brockton has come in under the wire with a plan to save a dilapidated brick building at the project’s core just days before the order to tear it down was to come due.
Trinity Financial’s $100 million redevelopment project will now focus on shoring up the 1890s-era Gardner Building on Centre Street, a former apparel factory that is so ravaged by neglect and weather that two independent reports in the past three years have pushed for its demolition.
Brockton Building Commissioner James Casieri gave Trinity a July 1 deadline to produce a stamped engineering plan that addresses the structural degradation. The asbestos-laden, unreinforced structure has, among a host of other problems, a faulty roof, a partial interior collapse, and an exterior that in places is about to cave in just feet from public roadways.
In June, Casieri expressed doubt that the Gardner could be saved but gave developers the opportunity to prove him wrong. He said, at the very least, “extreme engineering” would be required.
Last week, Casieri confirmed that Trinity Financial had not only beat the deadline by four days, it had also submitted a “make safe” plan that involves surrounding the four-story building with steel supports.
“Well, it is extreme, and it will cost a lot, but it is doable,’’ he said. “Although, it would be so much easier to knock it down and build anew.”
Trinity officials, though, have said preserving history is a key component to their plan in Brockton and other cities, so finding a way to save the Gardner was key, and knocking it down wasn’t.
An urban redeveloper, Trinity specializes in historical rehabs. And company officials had already received Planning Board approval for their vision to convert a full city block bordered by Centre, Montello, and Main streets and Petronelli Way into 215 apartments, commercial space, retail businesses, and a 325-space parking garage, despite the first report that recommended demolition and before the second.
The site is located just two blocks from public transportation, which officials say they hope will enhance its desirability.
The Gardner Building is already fenced off for safety, sidewalks are closed to public access on Centre and Montello streets, and a brick parapet that surrounded the building’s signature flat roof had to be removed 2½ years ago after bricks began falling into the street.
A city inspection in 2010 recommended demolition, and a recent report issued by Churchill Engineering of Plymouth that was commissioned by the city also got to the point:
“The existing structure is considered dangerous and poses a significant hazard to life or limb to the general public,’’ it said. “It is considered technically infeasible to effect repairs to make the building safe.”
Kenan Bigby, Trinity’s project manager for the Brockton redevelopment effort, disagrees. He said that he met with Casieri last week to lay out the vision for the structural supports and that the building commissioner received the proposal well.
“This is a plan that has some traction, if you will,’’ Bigby said in a phone interview. He said Trinity would have had to carry out a rehab of the Gardner Building anyway in order to move forward with the redevelopment plan; it just wasn’t expecting to have to get started on basic reinforcement for safety so soon. Casieri’s deadline, however, changed all that.
Bigby said immediate next steps will involve scheduling a meeting with Brockton public safety officials to lay out a work and traffic plan. Then, he said, the support project will be refined, applications for permits will be submitted to city departments, and the effort to make the Gardner safe will hopefully kick off in August.
Under the 11th-hour plan, vertical steel beams will be installed to support the building on the Centre and Montello sides. On the other two sides, beams would be propped up against the building, like bracing, and anchored down, he said. Construction on the multimillion-dollar project is estimated to begin next year, aided by a pledge of $600,000 in state historic tax credits.
Ward 2 City Councilman Thomas Monahan said it will cost Trinity at least $1 million to shore up the Gardner, but any effort to save the city’s past is well worth the effort and expense.
“So many historic buildings have been torn down,’’ said Monahan, whose own roots in Brockton date to 1850. His grandfather ran United Leather, one of many factories in Brockton’s heyday that helped to earn it the moniker Shoe City. When that industrial era passed, however, many landmarks disappeared along with it, he said.
Mayor Linda M. Balzotti’s administration has focused in large part on breathing life back into the downtown area. The Trinity project is a big part of that plan.
“I await the building commissioner’s review of the plans,’’ Balzotti said. “Hopefully, we move forward from here.”
Trinity is the second developer with a dream for the Gardner block.
Several years ago, Dedham-based Economic Development Finance Corp. had a $91 million redevelopment plan for the same area, but it was dropped after allegations surfaced that the company and its subsidiaries had cheated senior citizens out of millions by selling unsecured, risky promissory notes through an unregistered broker.
The building is still owned by that company’s president, David Rodriguez-Pinzon, city officials said, but Trinity has signed an agreement to buy it from him.