Framingham Online News

Board of Selectmen Plan to Skirt Open Meeting Law

Filed under: Business by Randy Harris at 2:29 pm on October 22, 2011
Framingham Board of Selectmen, (left to right) Laurie Lee, Charlie Sisitsky, Jason Smith, Ginger Esty and Dennis Giombetti.

Framingham Board of Selectmen, (left to right) Laurie Lee, Charlie Sisitsky, Jason Smith, Ginger Esty and Dennis Giombetti.

FRAMINGHAM, MA - In an effort to skirt the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, (MG.L. Ch. 30A, Sec. 18-25), the Framingham Board of Selectman have decided to hold two sessions of a meeting with an out-of-town developer, where two Selectmen will first meet with representatives of the Nobscot Shopping Center, and then two more Selectmen will meet with the same party for the same purpose.

Selectmen are specifically working around the intent of the very definition of when a meeting with government officials should be open.

Section 18 (a) of the Open Meeting Law defines,  "a session of a town meeting convened under section 9 of chapter 39 which would include the attendance by a quorum of a public body at any such session."

The meeting(s), which will host Tom P. Geissler, Real Estate Asset Manager for SuperValu Inc., (NYSE:  SVU), the Eden Prairie, Minnesota based company which is the third largest food supplier in the United States, and is the parent company of Shaw's, Star Market, Albertson's, Lucky, Hornbacher's, Shop n' Save and several other grocery and retail chains.

Former Countryfare Star grocery store has sat empty while Centercorp collect $60k per month from SuperValu Inc, the 3rd largest food supplier in the USA.

Former Countryfare Star grocery location in the Nobscot Shopping Center in North Framingham has sat empty while Centercorp Retail Properties, Inc. collects in excess of $60k per month from SuperValu Inc, parent of Shaw's, Star Market, Albertson's, Lucky, Hornbacher's, Shop n' Save and several other grocery and retail chains making it the 3rd largest food supplier in the US.

Mr. Geissler's appearance in Framingham is somewhat due to an article we published on September 21, 2011, "Nobscot Shopping Center to be Redeveloped", where we broke the news that a long suspected rumor; that the former Countryfare Star Market location in the Nobscot Shopping Center was being kept vacant to eliminate competition from other grocers --something that appears to be true.

Through a series of events that took place over the past decade -- specifically SuperValu Inc. acquiring the Shaw's and Star Market grocery store chains and the included lease by Star Market for the shopping center that is still in effect, (and extends through 2043  and giving SuperValue two 25-year options to renew, which could in-effect give SuperValu control of the plaza through the year 2093), leaving a huge corporate food seller controlling the major retail space in Nobscot and everyone in town chasing the wrong party.

Approximately three years ago, a group, the "Nobscot Neighbors", formed with the specific intent of eliminating blight and getting commercial properties in the Nobscot neighborhood redeveloped. One of the group's primary missions was to persuade a new grocery store to open in the Nobscot Shopping Center.

One looming question is why SuperValu would now list the vacant 24,000—37,000 sq. ft. grocery store space for lease and not fill it with one of their own grocery brands?  And, "Do they intend to allow any grocery store to open there?"

One looming question is why SuperValu would now list the vacant 24,000—37,000 sq. ft. grocery store space for lease and not fill it with one of their own grocery brand?  And, "Do they intend to allow any grocery store to open there?"

For three years, residents and eventually Town Officials attempted to work with Centercorp Retail Properties, Inc., the listed owner of the shopping center, (and owner of the long vacant former Texaco Gas Station which abuts the property).

At no time did Centercorp representatives inform anyone in town that the property was already leased to SuperValu, and in-fact Centercorp stonewalled potential tenants and refused to meet with locals or discuss the property.

Also never disclosed was the fact that as the property fell into disrepair and additional tenants moved out of the plaza and the area became blighted, in April of 2007, Centercorp Retail Properties, Inc. principals assigned the SuperValu / Star Market lease income as collateral for a $14 Million dollar mortgage from the Rockville Bank of Connecticut, part of Rockville Financial Inc., (NASDAQ: RCKB)‎.

From all obvious indications Centercorp did not invest one cent of the money in the Nobscot property.  Further, Centercorp receives over $60k per month from SuperValu -- making Centercorp's take on the property nearly $20 Million over past 5 years -- all while resident's property values have fallen, and the area has become a retail ghost town.

Section 1.09 of Centercorp / Rockville Bank $14M Mortgage

Section 1.09 of Centercorp's Rockville Bank $14M Mortgage requires they keep the property tenantable or risk default and accelerated repayment of the loan.

Possibly the only reason Centercorp is now allowing the property to be redeveloped are several clauses in that mortgage -- one requires they keep the property in "tenantable" condition, others clauses require Centercorp avoid any issues that could cause the property to be subject to taking by eminent domain, (which Selectman Dennis Giombetti suggested doing as last ditch effort to move Centercorp to do something).

Losing the mortgage could kill Centercorp's $60k+ monthly "cash cow" lease to SuperValu and force accelerated repayment of the $14M.

Aside from a a few phone calls, (which went unanswered), Selectman made little effort and no progress on the issue, nor did Alison Steinfeld, Town of Framingham Director of Community and Economic Development, (who lately seems to be the last one to know about any economic development taking place in town).

Progress was only made by the continued efforts of "the public".

Now Selectman want to preclude the public from hearing what SuperVale has to say, or more importantly from SuperValu hearing public input.

Selectman have just this week been chastised by Town Meeting Moderator Ed Noonan for being disrespectful of the town's representative legislative body by sponsoring a multi-million dollar land deal, (involving Eastleigh Farm), asking Town Meeting to vote for it, but did not provide adequate background material that would allow Town Meeting Members to cast an educated, informed vote.

Many hope SuperValu Inc. and Framingham Selectman will reconsider and hold an open public meeting instead of what now appear to be backroom dealings -- actions that show they are minimally skirting, and potentially being in outright violation of the State's Open Meeting Law.

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  1. Randy, I think you bring up a great point. I believe we need a bit more transparency when dealing with this property and the potential plans for the overall redevelopment of Nobscot. Let’s face it… We all have a vested stake in this as it is where we live and do business. I came back to Framingham after living in the Southwest specifically to open my store in Nobscot, in the worst economy in 80 years I might add! You know my motto…. “rebuilding Nobscot one sandwich at a time”. I came home and created 16 jobs in Nobscot, not to mention using local contractors to do my build out. This let a couple selectman meet then some others, so as not to hold a public forum seems very “good ol’ boy” network. something we definitely don’t need in regards to a property that has brought down this area for the better part of two decades.

    Comment by Chris G. — October 22, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  2. Strip malls are a dinosaur. Town should declare eminent domain and aquire it, then resell to a ‘decent’ developer who will build a new mixed-use site that incorporates retail, business (office) and residential uses. I’m sure the town could come up with a much better master plan for the site that is more forward thinking than just a renovated strip mall. Come on guys, think bigger than the past. There is a captive neighborhood here.

    Comment by Bill — November 13, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

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