WESTBOROUGH – Westborough police officers are at the now town-owned former Regal Cinemas property on Turnpike Road every shift and every day, dealing with issues ranging from vandalism to a sex offender being found behind the building with a “young child.”
That’s according to Police Chief Jeffrey Lourie, who offered an update on the site during Town Meeting last month.
“In my humble opinion, I think it’s just a matter of time before something happens,” Lourie said.
One of the articles approved during Town Meeting called to transfer the property to the Select Board to handle its disposal.
During Town Meeting, Select Board member Allen Edinberg said the board anticipated selling the site during the 2023 fiscal year.
Likening current problems to vandalism at the old Westborough State Hospital property, Select Board member Ian Johnson noted that the town has boarded up the old Regal theater numerous times.
Doors have been welded, Lourie added.
“[But] people are smart,” Johnson said. “They find a way in.”
Besides security concerns, the mold and damage is “unbelievable,” Lourie said.
Every toilet and sink has been destroyed. Sprinkler heads have been smashed, Johnson said.
Lourie noted that incident where police, at one point, caught a sex offender with a “young child” behind the building.
“From a public safety standpoint, the sooner we get rid of that property, the better,” Lourie said.
“…We need to get rid of that building yesterday,” he continued. “It’s been years — the damage, the water damage, the mold damage. It’s a mess.”
Town awarded property
The theater closed abruptly more than four years ago, leading to a search for the property’s owners.
In January of this year, the town was awarded ownership by tax lien foreclosure of the site.
In addition to transferring oversight of the site, one of this year’s Town Meeting articles called to transfer $200,000 in free cash to manage and maintain the Regal Cinema property while the town owns it.
That figure is a conservative estimate, Edinberg said. If the building is sold faster, the town will have to use less of the $200,000.
Meeting on March 19, some residents expressed concern about this cost. Other residents suggested that the property could be used for other purposes.
Resident Lucille Killoh noted that Westborough’s master plan hasn’t been completed.
“That’s a nice piece of property,” she said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property that might never come again for a price that should be considered reasonable if in fact the town decided that they needed it.”
The Select Board talked about ideas like using the old theater as a recreation or senior center facility, Johnson said. He noted the property was in the highway business district.
Acknowledging discussions at Town Meeting, Johnson said the Select Board felt that the most appropriate use of the property involved putting it back on the tax rolls “to help us lower our taxes.”
The Select Board has been working on the language for a request for proposals for the sale of the site at a number of recent meetings.
They revisited the RFP during their March 22 meeting, with Town Manager Kristi Williams suggesting reaching out to Westborough boards, committees and departments to see if they have a use for the site.
Williams said she expected to have a final version of the RFP for the Select Board to potentially approve on April 12.