By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2015
TROY — A revamped group in Troy is pushing ahead with plans to revitalize the Troy Mills complex, even as the developer who’s been lined up to buy the property for years threatens legal action.
In May, selectmen appointed a new slate of members to the nonprofit redevelopment group that owns the roughly 19-acre mill property. The previous board resigned in March just after town meeting out of frustration with how selectmen handled a proposed purchase agreement for the complex.
The new Troy Redevelopment Group board has since met regularly, and last week took a step toward getting the former blanket mill site back on the tax rolls.
Meanwhile, the town says the developer long interested in buying the property, Robert E. Hanson, voluntarily pulled out of any deal, while Hanson says the town forced him out, and he’s not happy about it.
“My hope is the town comes to their senses, and the new (Troy Redevelopment Group) will contact me, and we can go forward with the deal they agreed to,” he said in a phone interview last week.
If not, he plans to sue, he said.
But town officials said they believe Hanson has no grounds to sue the town because he was the one who left the project.
“I believe Mr. Hanson has no obligation to us, and I believe we have no obligation to him. When you voluntary withdraw from a transaction that’s just the way it works,” said Richard H. Thackston 3rd, vice president of the Troy Redevelopment Group.
Selectmen agree, saying Hanson had no contract in place with the town at the time.
Hanson originally had an option to buy the mill complex, which was first approved in 2005, and was very close to moving forward with his development plans before the economy collapsed in 2008.
In an April 8 letter to selectmen, Hanson wrote that he had put “thousands of hours of my time and in excess of $2 million of my money into positioning the building for development.”
He also secured the state and federal loans, and grants needed to clean up the site; demolished 135,000 square feet of buildings, and provided security, building maintenance and marketing of the mills at no cost to the town, he wrote.
He rode out the economic collapse, making six years of payments that included insurance and utilities for the complex, keeping up the property, and having someone there full-time to oversee it.
“I’m persistent. I would make the mill work. It was just a matter of the economy coming back,” he said. “Now the economy is coming back.”
“However, in light of the Board of Selectmen’s actions during the past few months, which led to the resignation of the TRG board, I am no longer willing to participate in any aspect of the Troy Mills project,” he wrote.
Those actions date back to January, when Selectman Gideon L. Nadeau Sr. gave a memorandum to The Sentinel outlining a plan for Hanson to purchase the former Troy Mills complex under a new company, Troy Properties LLC.
At the time, the proposed three-year agreement between Hanson and the Troy Redevelopment Group included Hanson purchasing the property for $400,000, as long as certain terms were met.
One of those terms was Troy selectmen agreeing to release a $1.2 million lien on the property in the form of a mortgage.
Donald A. Upton, former president of the Troy Redevelopment Group board, Hanson and selectmen have said the lien was put on the property for the town to have a stake in it, and it was never expected to be recouped.
The selectmen reviewed the document in a nonpublic session, but made no decision.
While Nadeau defended his actions saying townspeople should have a say in the future of the mill complex, Selectman William T. Matson said in a January email that the situation prevented this from being a fair and open meeting about the proposal.
After getting the April letter from Hanson, selectmen met with him and hashed out a 32-day extension on the agreement that expired on May 30.
Matson said Monday board members made the agreement because there was a transition period between the two Troy Redevelopment Group’s boards, and they were up against a deadline.
That agreement, signed by Nadeau, Matson and Chairman Howard M. Sheats Jr., said selectmen would take actions including appointing a new Troy Redevelopment Group board and recommend it sell the former Troy Mills property to Hanson for $1.
In a May 27 letter to selectmen, Hanson wrote that two weeks had passed since the new Troy Redevelopment Group board had been appointed, and he hadn’t heard from any of its members.
He said he would be vacating the mill and ending his financial support for the project on May 30.
“I didn’t withdraw,” Hanson said last week. “What I did was stop supporting it financially. The reason I did that was the town was not meeting its obligation.”
Hanson first negotiated an option to purchase the property in 2005, and planned to redevelop some of the buildings there into condominiums. But that never materialized.
Since then, Hanson has put forth other ideas such as apartments, retail space and a sustainable food distribution hub. Hanson’s agreement with the Troy Redevelopment Group has been modified twice since, most recently in 2013, according to documents provided to The Sentinel by Hanson.
The agreement expired on July 1, 2014, and the Troy Redevelopment Group agreed to continue it on a month-to-month basis in exchange for the Hanson’s Troy Mills Developers LLC continuing to pay insurance on the complex, and oversee the maintenance, operation and security of the property until the company purchased the property, according to a March memo from Hanson to the Troy Redevelopment Group.
The Troy Redevelopment Group was appointed by the selectmen in the mid-2000s to address environmental concerns on the Troy Mills site. The property was transferred to the group through bankruptcy proceedings.
An appraisal that town meeting voters asked the selectmen to get on the property this year found the site has “no value as is.”
Nadeau said the old Troy Redevelopment Group board did as much as it could do, and selectmen can’t thank them enough from that.
The new board will have to take it further, he said.
Troy Mills originally made horse blankets before becoming a leading producer of automotive fabrics. It closed in 2001 and filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
Thackston said since the new board was appointed, its members have been sorting through what is going on at the mill complex, which currently has three tenants.
Once the board gets a hold of things, it plans to send out a request for proposals to real estate brokers throughout central New England to get someone to manage the property, and start getting a revenue stream from it, he said. Then board members would go about the process of looking for a long-term investor for the property, he said.