By Steven Fletcher
---- — Inside the Empire Building on Main Street, crews have been taking out walls and cleaning out the vacant storefront. While no one is sure what will follow the work, Main Street merchants are excited to see any activity there.
The Empire's owner, Michael Butter, is putting $50,000 worth of work into the building, according a building permit issued in August. Work started soon after. That money is paying for new rubber for the roof and demolition of interior walls damaged by water leaking in. City Building Inspector Bill Sanborn said the project is Butter's largest investment in the building that he knew of.
“That's more work that (he's) done to the building in quite a while,” Sanborn said.
Butter couldn't be reached for comment.
“This is the first step in trying to fix it up,” his assistant, Jamie Sugar-Butter, said of the restoration the former clothing store.
The Empire Building was home to a clothing store until it closed in 2004. Since then the building hasn't had a tenant or an occupant, save for a few paintings by seniors enrolled in art classes at the Rose Baker Senior Center.
Aside from the old Gloucester Safe Deposit and Trust Co. building, the Empire is the only large vacancy on Main Street. However, William Thibeault, owner of the Trust Co. building, said he has plans for retail and a restaurant there.
Gloucester's battle with vacant buildings started with the Empire four years ago, when City Council approved an ordinance charging owners who keep their properties vacant for more than 45 days. Under the ordinance, buildings vacant for more than 45 days can be charged $500 for being empty up to a year, $1,000 if they remain vacant for between one and two years, $2,000 between two years and three years, and $3,000 for buildings vacant for more than three years.
On top of that, buildings of more than 7,500 square- feet are subject to an additional charge of 20 cents per square foot each year.
Sanborn said the city created the ordinance to push owners to do something with their vacant properties.
With work going on in the Empire building, City Councilor Joe Ciolino, who owns the nearby Weathervane shop, said he and other Main Street shopowners are excited.
“We're exuberant that something's happening,” he said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.