emerge about sleazy deals:
23 North Adams
By Marjorie Ransom and G. M. Heller
NORTH ADAMS -- Wednesday, May 24,
(Editor's Note: When
this article first appeared on BerkshireRecordDotCom in May, 2000,
the hotel described was then in the planning stages, and the proposed name
was River Street Inn. Construction has since completed and
the new Fitzpatrick-managed hotel complex is officially called The
families on River Street in North Adams have been given notice that they
have thirty-days to vacate their homes in order to make way for a new bed
and breakfast, to be called River Street Inn, aimed at upscale clientele
visiting the new Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
River Street is one of the poorest
sections of North Adams with a mixed population of black and white residents
most of whom have lived in this quiet neighborhood for years. Half of the
affected families, those who received the first batch of notices to vacate
sent more than a month ago, have already had to move out. Meanwhile, those
getting the most recent notices are being forced quickly to find affordable
The proposed B&B is to be managed
by the Fitzpatrick family firm, the same company which owns and operates
Red Lion Inn and Blantyre, well known southern Berkshire hostelries,
and Country Curtains, Inc., a national mail-order firm known for
its fine curtains and quality room decoratives.
Nancy Fitzpatrick sits on MoCA's Board
The Fitzpatrick family of Stockbridge,
whose net worth is estimated to exceed $50 million dollars, is headed by
former Massachusetts state senator John "Jack" H. Fitzpatrick and his wife,
Jane. Daughter Nancy J. Fitzpatrick is president of The Red Lion
Inn and heads the management team for the firm's proposed River
Street Inn. Ms. Fitzpatrick sits on the board of Mass
MoCA Foundation, the governing body which oversees Mass MoCA, and
she is also a member of MoCA's Leadership Council, the fund-raising
booster organ of MoCA.
When one River Street resident was
asked whether the new owners of the property are helping her to get resettled,
the woman replied, "No. We're just given thirty days notice to find a new
place." Asked how she feels about having to move so quickly, she
said, "I've spent years buying paint and wallpaper to fix-up my place.
I don't know where I'm going to go."
Local media, including daily newspapers
Adams Transcript and The Berkshire Eagle, and local politicians,
including North Adams' Mayor John Barrett III, have ballyhooed the proposed
B&B project as being a shot-in-the-arm that will help revitalize North
Adam's economy. Missing from all the news coverage though, and from
the politicians' rosy press releases, has been any word that the new B&B
project meant that 23 low-income families would be ordered to vacate their
homes, and be given just thirty days in which to find new places to live.
Mysterious Real Estate Transactions--MoCA's
Attorney Hides the Real Buyer
The sordid tale behind the recent
whirl of mysterious real estate transactions on River Street would take
a Sherlock Holmes to decipher. One particular transaction consists of two
pairs of River Street buildings right next to each other. The transaction
directly involves attorney John DeRosa, a North Adams City Solicitor who
also is the sole attorney currently representing
Mass MoCA, according
to Joseph Thompson, Director of MoCA.
Mr. DeRosa's name appears on the
properties' purchase-and-sale agreement as a nominee trustee acting
on behalf of a secret buyer known only as River Street Properties Nominee
Trust. Massachusetts is one of only two states--Illinois is the other--which
allow use of a
nominee trustee in a real estate transaction. It
is a legal device usually used to disguise or hide the true identity of
a buyer or seller in a real estate deal. On behalf of his secret buyer,
Mr. DeRosa paid $132,500 for the two pairs of River Street buildings.
MoCA Donor Gets Something in Return
In short order, the buildings were
sold yet again. Mr. DeRosa sold his just-purchased properties for the total
price of one dollar ($1.00) to John "Jack" S. Wadsworth, a Williams College
alumnus and investment banker who currently resides in Hong Kong.
According to MoCA head Thompson, Wadsworth is a large contributor
to the museum who has given "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to the museum
since its initial conception.
Odyssey Began Last Summer
For the original owner of these
River Street buildings, the one who sold the parcels to Mr. DeRosa, the
odyssey began last summer with a visit by North Adams City Health Director
Michael Sarkis to the property owner's office. Sarkis asked whether the
owner wished to sell his property, and wanted to know his asking price.
The property owner, who is landlord of a large number of North Adams properties,
politely told Sarkis he was willing to consider selling, but would entertain
serious inquiries only. Sarkis assured him that indeed his was a serious
Sarkis left without getting the landlord's
asking price, but in the fall returned and again asked the landlord for
a number. On September 22, 1999, Sarkis persuaded the landlord to give
him a letter confirming his asking price. In a clear hand, the landlord
printed on a piece of paper the following message:
It was signed by the landlord.
To Whom It May Concern,
This is my confirmation that
I am willing to sell my properties at 241-243 River St, 251 River St.,
and 243 1/2 River St. for the sum of $195,000--
Sometime in December 1999 or January
2000, the landlord received a telephone call from a secretary at North
Adams City Hall who told him that Mayor John Barrett III would like to
see him about a matter. He was asked if he could stop by City Hall
for a meeting with the Mayor. The landlord said sure. Over the course of
the next few weeks the landlord did, in fact, have two separate face-to-face
meetings with Mayor Barrett in his chambers in which the focus of the two
men's discussions was the landlord's River Street properties.
Mayor Barrett Makes An Offer and
The property owner states that in
his first conversation with the Mayor at City Hall, Mayor Barrett
asked him to accept $115,000 for the River Street parcels. He further
states that Mayor Barrett refused to disclose to him the name of the buyer
to whom he would actually be selling the properties, stating that the Mayor
said, "I can't disclose that right now." The landlord states that the Mayor
indicated that there was going to be "a project" in that area, but the
Mayor would not specify what kind of project. The landlord says that he
believed at the time that the project would entail razing the River Street
buildings and putting something new on the site.
The landlord says that at one of
the meetings, the conversation turned heated. He quotes the Mayor
as saying, "We haven't bothered you in a long time. We have been good to
you. That can change." The landlord says that he believed the Mayor
was referring to the fact that the City used to "sick" the building inspector
on him "for tiny violations, just nitpicking to make life miserable".
He interpreted the Mayor's new statement to mean that the City would
now start up again and send an inspector to look for possible code violations
within the landlord's various tenant-occupied buildings, violations which
the landlord knew would cost him thousands of dollars to remedy regardless
of the nature of the supposed violations.
It seemed like a carrot and stick
game, for at one point, according to the landlord, the Mayor offered a
further incentive to the landlord to get him to agree to sell the River
Street properties. He offered the landlord a promise of Community Development
Corporation grant monies for the landlord's other rental properties.
This turned out to be a false promise however, as the landlord soon discovered
when he visited the CDC office right across the hall from the Mayor.
Personnel in that office told the landlord that in fact, no CDC
grant monies would be available, and that all that CDC could offer
him would be low-interest loans that would have to be paid back. The Mayor's
transparently false promise only served to infuriate the landlord.
It was after the two meetings with
the Mayor that the landlord received a telephone call from John DeRosa,
a City Solicitor and Mass MoCA's lawyer, in which DeRosa suggested
a meeting at his law office. The landlord went to this meeting where
the two men spoke cordially, and a few days afterwards he was then invited
to meet privately with MoCA's Director, Joseph Thompson, at his
office. Thompson was polite and businesslike and the two men got along
Feeling the Heat, the Property
Nonetheless, despite the amicability
of the two separate meetings with DeRosa and Thompson, the landlord says
he still felt threatened and intimidated by what had earlier transpired
in the Mayor's office, and thought a lot about the Mayor's threat to harass
him with City inspectors. He could also read the handwriting on the wall.
Thompson and DeRosa had made persuasive presentations to him of what they
believed were the long-term importance and benefits of Mass MoCA
and whatever project they intended for River Street. Even if most of what
they said was salesmanship, and even if he knuckled under to
the Mayor and gave away these properties at less than their fair value,
he was left with the impression that he might still do alright in the end.
The value of his remaining properties would likely benefit from MoCA's
growing presence, and from the influx into the area of rent-paying professionals
now beginning to attach themselves to the MoCA complex. Plus, he
could for now get the Mayor off his back.
So at a meeting held January 31st
in John DeRosa's law office with DeRosa and Thompson present, the landlord
finally agreed to sell his River Street properties to nominee trustee
DeRosa at a price far less than his original asking price. He says it was
Thompson who actually negotiated with him the final price that he eventually
agreed to accept. It was a number far below what the market just a few
weeks later would be asking once the announcement was made that The
Red Lion Inn's owners would now be running a bed-and-breakfast on the
block, an announcement which surprised even the landlord.
From an original asking price of
$195,000, the landlord ended-up taking a total of just $132,500 for the
two pairs of buildings sold to Mr. DeRosa, with one pair going for $53,000,
and the other for $79,500.
That was just a few months ago, this
is today. In a likely response to the Red Lion Inn's announcement,
there are now For Sale signs posted in front of a few buildings
along River Street, a block or so away from the ones where the new
will be. Similar in stature to the buildings the landlord sold--two-story,
with multiple apartments within, the price listed by the local Century
21 agent is $89,000 apiece.
Other Owners Complain of Similar Tactics
Other property owners along River
Street have also complained recently of similar high pressure tactics being
used to induce them to sell their properties. Some state that they were
led to believe, falsely, that their properties could be taken by the city
through eminent domain. They also complained of being threatened
that if they did not sell their properties for the price then being offered,
that their buildings would suddenly be found by city inspectors to require
"a lot of work", and that they would then be forced to have expensive repairs
made, or be fined for being in violation of city building codes.
The Fitzpatricks Announce Plans
Once all the shadowy real estate
transactions had been completed, it was not long after that the local press
trumpeted that The Red Lion Inn's owners, the Fitzpatrick family,
would be developing the parcels on River Street into a "bed and breakfast"
establishment serving the expected influx of upscale tourists visiting
The "bed-and-breakfast" concept itself
quickly evolved and grew. On May 14th, Red Lion's president
Nancy J. Fitzpatrick announced that henceforth what was to have been a
B&B was now being renamed River Street Inn.
Late this past week, Ms. Fitzpatrick
appeared before North Adams' Zoning Board of Appeals where she successfully
obtained variances from that city board for building setbacks and parking
It is midday in front of what will
soon be the new River Street Inn. A neighborhood woman who
knows one of the older women being forced to move in thirty days points
to her friend's front window. The space behind that window will undoubtedly
become one of the Inn's nicer bedrooms or parlors, and the woman
says, "How could I recommend to my friends to go over there someday for
a nice cup of tea when I'll always picture (her friend's) face in the window
looking-out from behind her lace curtains?"