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Details emerge about sleazy deals:
Fitzpatrick's Porches Inn Displaces 
23 North Adams Families

By Marjorie Ransom and G. M. Heller
NORTH ADAMS -- Wednesday, May 24, 2000

(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 Porches Inn.
Twenty-three 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 accommodations. 

The proposed B&B is to be managed by the Fitzpatrick family firm, the same company which owns and operates The 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 North 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 inquiry.

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:

9/22/99
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--
It was signed by the landlord.

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 a Threat
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 MoCA office. Thompson was polite and businesslike and the two men got along well. 

Feeling the Heat, the Property Owner Sells
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 Inn 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 Mass MoCA.

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 requirements.

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?" 

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©2000 BerkshireRecordDotCom®/