The way Worcester assessor Bill Ford sees it, if you own property, you should know what it is worth. He believes that philosophy should apply to the owners of the beleaguered Palladium – home to a thriving heavy metal music scene, but in danger of being silenced permanently.
The city this year valued the property at 255-261 Main St. – which in addition to the Palladium includes office and retail space – at $2.3 million. That was slightly more than triple its assessed value of $688,700 in 2011. The tax bill more than doubled, from $23,863.46 in fiscal 2011 to $65,887.16 in fiscal 2012. Local attorneys John Fischer and John Sousa bought the building in 1990 for $1.3 million. Three years later, it was assessed at just $391,600. Until this year, it had been assessed two straight years at $688,700.
“In my opinion, they should know the value of their property,” Ford says. “If you bought something for $1.3 million, and it is assessed at $600,000, wouldn’t you think that was strange?”
Fischer doesn’t think so. He and Sousa have appealed their assessment, filing for an abatement of $494,904. No decision has been made yet on that request. At the same time, Fischer has made it clear he thinks the price tag is too steep. He and Sousa have openly questioned the future of the Palladium, going so far as to threaten demolition. Just last week, Fischer brought forward a request for a waiver from the city’s demolition delay ordinance. That measure requires a 12-month wait before historical property can be razed. The Historical Commission unanimously denied the waiver, ensuring the building will remain in place – for now.
As for why he never took issue with earlier, much lower assessments of his property, Fischer says, “It’s not uncommon for properties to be valued less than what they were purchased for.” Some have questioned how much the owners did to increase the value of the building, which Fischer admits is in need of “repairs and upgrades.” Ford raised that issue directly, saying, “The fact is the property owners did not properly maintain that building. (They) allowed the building to deteriorate, but now they say, ‘Wait. I have to tear the building down because you’re taxing me.’”
Worcester officials have made no secret of their opposition to any attempt to destroy the building and the Palladium. The Historical Commission’s vote provided added emphasis and followed a strong recommendation from Joel Fontane, director of the city’s Planning and Regulatory Services Division. He advised members to deny the waiver, saying, “Demolition of this historically significant structure would be detrimental to the architectural and historical resources of the city … and because the applicant has not demonstrated undue economic hardship.”
Mayor Joseph Petty has also taken a stance on the issue, telling Worcester Mag in a statement: “The Palladium is a unique destination and cultural venue in our city and it is our desire that this structure not be demolished.” He declined further comment “until the city assessor makes his final decision” on the abatement request.
The abatement, according to Chris Besaw, is “the key.” Besaw is general manager for Mass Concerts, which has booked shows at the Palladium since 1990. John Peters owns Mass Concerts, a major promoter of shows in arenas throughout New England. How big? In November 2000, under Peters’ guidance, Mass Concerts booked Prince at the Palladium, when the pop icon was performing mostly in theaters and small arenas. Fischer admits the Palladium would be a barren place without the promoter.
“Mass Concerts has been there for 12 years,” says Fischer. “He’s the person who has been keeping the place alive all that time.”
The next big show scheduled at the Palladium is Summer Slaughter Tour North America 2012 on Aug. 10. It will no doubt be music to the ears of heavy metal fans and supporters who do not want to see the building torn down. Among them is Jonathan Noble, a Worcesterite known for his participation in the grassroots movement, Occupy Worcester.
“We don’t have the most vibrant reputation outside Worcester,” Noble says. “What we are known for is pretty much being a nexus of the heavy metal scene.”
Noble and others can take some comfort in knowing the Palladium won’t be going anywhere in the immediate future. Fischer himself isn’t quite ready to write the building’s epitaph. “There’s more than a 50-50 chance it will be there next year at this time,” he says. “We’re going to keep it alive for the next year. Hopefully, word will get out and someone will see there’s a hell of an opportunity there.”