Dorchester Bay, tenant are at odds over Savin Hill site

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By Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Nov. 18, 2010

In 1994, the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation bought an abandoned five-acre site in Savin Hill, the former home of Boston Insulated Wire and Cable, then secured $14.5 million in funding to clean up the property.

In 2002, local elected officials and neighborhood residents joined the new tenants, executives from the graphic design and printing company Spire, to celebrate the opening of their two-story headquarters.
“For years this was the site of an arson-plagued, abandoned factory,” Mayor Thomas Menino said at the ribbon-cutting. “Now thanks to the hard work and investment by many people and agencies, it’s a model for success.”

Today, as Massachusetts struggles to shake off the lingering effects of the global recession, the Dorchester Bay EDC is laboring to keep their celebrated tenant intact at the 65 Bay St property amid an ongoing legal dispute about the building itself.

“We worked for five years to bring them here,” said Jeanne DuBois, executive director of the Dorchester Bay EDC, which remains the landlord of the building and property. “We worked our butts off for years to bring them here; we want to keep them here,” she said, noting that Spire is looking for a break on its rent.

“I’m working with them actively to see what we can do to accommodate their lower rent,” DuBois added.
In the background, lawsuits abound, stemming from an April 2007 power outage that Spire says was caused by shoddy construction. Spire is suing Dorchester Bay EDC. And both Spire and Dorchester Bay EDC have teamed up to sue the building’s architects, Winter St. Architects, Inc. of Salem, Building Engineering Resources, Inc. of North Easton, and Croce Electric Company of Boston.

Attorneys for Winter St. and Croce Electric declined comment for this story; the attorney for Building Engineering Resources did not respond to a request for comment, but in court filings, the company said it was not responsible for the damage to the property.

Spire executive vice president Isaac “Skip” Dyer did not return phone calls left for him this week, but state Rep. Martin Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat who lives near the property, said he has spoken with the owners and they have made clear they want to stay in Dorchester.

“I respect the fact that they’re committed to staying,” Walsh said. “They want to keep their business based here.”

“From the community’s perspective, Spire has been everything they said they were going to be,” said City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who represents the area. Walsh and Feeney both call Spire a “good neighbor,” providing jobs to local residents.

Calling the entire situation “tenuous,” Feeney said, “I hope it’s something that can get resolved.”
Referring to the 77,740 square-foot building, Feeney said, “That is a huge building to be empty. I’m not sure we can get that lucky again.”

The lawsuits, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, allege defects in the design, construction, and engineering of the building. Spire’s lawsuit against Dorchester Bay, which owns the property through 65 Bay St. LLC, was filed in August 2007. In April 2008, Dorchester Bay sued Winter St. Architects and the other companies involved in the construction of the Spire headquarters.

Spire also charges that Dorchester Bay breached its obligations under the lease by refusing to pay for the cost of Spire having to use a generator during the two months in 2007 when electric conduits were being repaired, and for the costs of assessing the damage to the conduits. In court documents, lawyers for Spire said service wasn’t restored until mid-August 2007.

The damaged conduits were part of an underground set of electrical lines that run in eight separate units encased in concrete and located on the east side of the property.

“Engineers hired by Spire subsequently determined that the damage to the Electrical Utility Conduit had been caused by a ‘differential settlement’ of the soil surrounding the Building,” Spire attorneys wrote in the original complaint they filed. “Put simply, the Building’s foundation had remained in place, while the Electrical Utility Conduit settled several inches, completely or partially severing several of the individual electric conduits where they entered the Building as the Electrical Utility Conduit shifted downward. Spire’s engineers also discovered other ways in which the Building did not conform to construction plans, the consequences of which are currently unknown.”

According to court documents, Spire executives said they were assured that the costs of the generator they were being forced to use would be deducted from May and June 2007 rent, which totaled $135,000.

DuBois, in court filings, has argued that under the lease, the repair work is Spire’s responsibility.
“We did not state that we would take responsibility for the fix or the entire costs,” she said in an affidavit.

She added that the loss of $135,000 in rent has caused “serious financial problems” for Dorchester Bay and 65 Bay St. LLC, forcing the corporation to draw on lines of credit.

“Because Dorchester Bay’s financial resources are limited, it may be forced to reduce operational costs, including possible layoffs and other staffing reductions.”

If the sides are unable to come to a settlement, the matter will likely go to a jury trial next year.

Neighborhood groups in and around Sabin Hill have been supportive of Spire in recent months, approving the company’s plans for a new electronic sign to be placed on the side of the building that faces the southeast expressway and the MBTA’s red line and commuter rail corridor. The signage would advertise the company’s printing clients and help the business bring in new revenues.

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