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June 24, 2013

Manchester wrestles with 10-acre land gift

MANCHESTER — For years, land purchase and use negotiations have ebbed and flowed between the town and the owner of the Manchester Athletic Club.

Now, residents may be a step closer to someday playing ball on the parcel off Atwater Avenue.

John Donovan, owner of the Manchester Athletic Club, says he has now decided to give about 10 acres of land to the town to be used for playing fields, including a baseball diamond, multipurpose field and surrounding track.

Donovan, who left the tech industry to take over the club, was recently awarded the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce award for small business owner of the year for the town of Manchester. However, he’s also been diagnosed with adrenal cancer, which he described as “aggressive and unforgiving;” he recently had invasive surgery, and the bad news plays some part in his offer to the town, he said.

”You realize you might not have a lot of time to make the impact you’d like to make,” he said. “(Health issues) helped cyrstalize this and bring it to the forefront of my mind.”

A proponent of physical fitness, Donovan purchased the club in 2002, he said it serves an important place in town, it helped him better connect with the community.

“There are way better investments than an athletic club,” he joked. “You have to get a reward from it another way.”

The deal would come with a handful of stipulations.

The town would have to act in a timely manner to start progress on the playing fields if the land is accepted, Donovan said. He said the time frame is still to be determined, but estimated the town would have to act within 12 to 18 months of accepting the land.

In addition, Donovan would have the right to name the fields and the Board of Selectmen would help act as the bridge between the land and town; he made his initial presentation to the board last week.

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