OP-ED: Nobscot Chapel – The Real Story

FRAMINGHAM – As we prepare to welcome in another new year, hopefully bringing happiness and prosperity to all in our new City, I find it necessary to speak to the recent history of the preservation efforts of the often mentioned Chapel in Nobscot. History that few are aware of.

Almost a decade ago, I became particularly involved in the community group Nobscot Neighbors and focused much of my time looking to see how I might be able to help in bringing the area that I grew up in, back to its once-prominent status.

In 2011, I sat at lunch with a very close friend who has a boatload of experience in the restaurant/hospitality industry. We decided to look at the possibilities of running a successful eatery in the square. Something that might jumpstart new community and economic development for the area. Many hours looking at traffic studies, demographics, financials, industry trends and the like. The first idea was to have a coffee/bakery/sandwich shop named “confetti’s” in the now defunct TD bank end cap in the strip mall. Success, however, would depend on being able to utilize the drive-thru. Unfortunately the plan wouldn’t fly with the town’s bylaws and then recent moratorium on food-related drive-thrus.

In hearing of our plight, one of the Framingham Selectmen suggested (2012) that we look into having a similar business in the town-owned Nobscot Chapel. Wow, being a local history buff, and a builder specializing in historical home restoration. I’d recently finished up an eight-month project on a 1700s farm in Concord. Perfect.

I contacted my associate, we added a few other professionals, and started to plan. The disposition of the chapel was in the hands of the State House (House Bill H3512), as the Town wanted control over who and what would eventually take ownership — rather than just throwing it on the auction block.

We finished up our marketing plan and readied a full color 18-page proposal for the town’s first Chapel RFP (#6402 – Feb 27, 2014).  Quoting from the RFP, “The primary Goal for this RFP is to encourage the building’s renovation and reuse and to preserve the cultural, historical, and architectural significance of this landmark. A second goal is to stimulate investment, eliminate blight and improve the general area in which the Nobscot Chapel is located. Proposals shall reflect the unique locally significant historic, cultural and architectural quality of the building within the Nobscot community while relocating, reusing, or redeveloping the building for productive use and improving the neighborhood.”

Our concept? A cross between Starbuck’s and Panera with a REI ‘Outdoor Adventure’ atmosphere, focused on Nobscot Square and Nobscot Mountain circa 1900. Business name, “Tippling Rock Trading Post”, a tribute to the well-known and often visited outcrop on Nobscot Mountain.

It was to be a “Café, Market & Meetinghouse”, as the byline would promote.  Specialty coffees, Panini Flats, Gourmet Salads and more fare. Fresh fruit Gelatto Folds in the summer, Home Crafted Soups & Fire Tower Chilis in the cooler months.  Friday night “Dessert Bar” with Belgium Waffles in front of the new gigantic fireplace (seasonal). Foods and products sourced from our local farms for that Farm-To-Table flavor and aura.

Our plan was to use the “Olde Jethro Room” main room for community meetings every Tuesday evening, free of charge to local Framingham community groups. An outdoor partially enclosed Terrace a la Faneuil Hall. Community outreach to include a number of charitable events, from a Nobscot Mountain Bike Race to a Kayak/Canoe competition on the Sudbury River. A triathalon funding three separate charities.

We obtained the original (1880) P&S for the Chapel (land sold for 1$ from Edgar Hemenway), the original large sign-in book with the handwritten Charter in it, and a number of other historic documents – all of which to be displayed on the premises for all to enjoy.

Back to RFP number 1.

Unfortunately the printer left the signature page out to dry (ink signatures on glossy stock) and mistakenly bound our beautiful presentations sans the signature sheet. Met the time deadline at town hall, not knowing of the missed page. Proposal rejected. Incomplete. Developer’s proposal also rejected.

Months later the second RFP came out. We decided it best to try to work with the developer this time, as he wanted the corner and we wanted the Chapel. In the proposal option one party would acquire the Chapel, the other party would relocate the Chapel  to the end of the parking lot next to the library and do a kind of land swap. CVS would take over a renovated  Star CountryFare area, cut thru between main building with a new drive-thru window for CVS. Other stores would be remodeled. Corner would be open (parking and landscaping).  No new housing whatsoever. Seemed to be a no-brainer. A win, win, win situation – for the town, the developer and our restaurant group. Proposals (both parties) rejected.

We did not bother to put in a proposal in 2017’s third Chapel RFP. It was written exclusively with the developer in mind.  Almost impossible for anyone else to meet the requirements. Developer seemed to have been awarded the Chapel, and then the deal was negated –for a number of reasons, apparently, with much to do with the necessity to reconstruct the Edgell/Water corner – with time running out on the State funding portion of the project.

The Chapel’s fourth RFP (#6608) proposals were due this past Friday, December 14, 2018.

We did submit a proposal this time, for the RFP was geared (correctly this time) towards just the Chapel, and not the redevelopment of the entire area. Our proposal has the Chapel being lifted up and temporarily moved, as a new (full basement) foundation would be built. The footprint would be changed, allowing for the corner cut and utility improvements. The Chapel would be placed on the new foundation. And a full restoration and Café, Market and Meetinghouse construction would commence. This proposal will be rejected.

The main reason for putting out our plan to the public?

A few months back I received phone calls from two prominent members of our community telling me that a certain City official (who is pretty much in charge of what happens to the building) had told members of a group in a meeting  that there ‘has been no commercial interest in the Chapel, other than that of the developer’.

See anything wrong with this picture?

Stay tuned . . . More to come . . .

Rick McKenna

Framingham

District 1

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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