WESTBOROUGH – After nearly two years of the town not being able to find the owner of the vacant Regal Cinemas property on Rte. 9, and then agreeing to sell it for $5 million to another cinema company, a purported owner has come forward.
The Board of Selectmen hasn’t released details about who is claiming ownership but has authorized town counsel to terminate the purchase and sale agreement with Walpole-based media corporation LAX Media LLC. The town also plans to offer to connect LAX Media with the purported owner.
The 47,872-square-foot, 12-screen theater, which was the only cinema in town, was built in 1997, on a 29-acre parcel at 231 Turnpike Road (Route 9) in Stagecoach Plaza. The theater abruptly closed its doors in fall 2017, less than a month before the 20-year lease was to expire.
The town was unsuccessful in its search for the owner before accepting a $5 million bid from LAX in November 2018 to purchase and operate a cinema at the site. The original landlord, Westboro SPE LLC, registered in Delaware, had administratively dissolved and withdrew its registration to do business in Massachusetts in 2007. The limited liability company was an entity created by Babcock & Brown, an Australian company that went out of business in 2009. Westboro SPE’s purchase loan on the property from U.S. Bank was satisfied around the time of the theater closing. The bank said it did not have contact information for the landlord.
After announcing at its April 30 meeting that it would terminate the purchase and sale agreement, the Board of Selectmen was asked what will happen with the property.
Allen Hight, a representative of REO Management who is the retail property caretaker for Stagecoach Plaza, said about $174 has been incurred each day to keep the lights on in the vacant theater to keep it safe, and to keep the grounds accessible for public safety vehicles during bad weather.
He said he was led to believe that the town would have taken the property by eminent domain months ago and the caretakers would have been reimbursed. If LAX doesn’t want to go forward with purchasing the property, he asked, would the town consider offering it to the second-highest bidder, Grossman Development. Grossman had bid $4 million.
Ian Johnson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said it would be a risk for the town to move forward when there’s an ownership claim.
“The board is extremely sympathetic. We understand,” Johnson said. “It’s a unique situation.”
Selectman Leigh Emery on Tuesday said in the 14 years she has been on the board and 10 years on the Finance Committee before that, she has never been through a process as incredible as this.
“Of course, we wanted to do something good for the town. ... Right now, it’s out of the town’s hands. Whoever owns it has to prove they own it, I guess.”
The town placed a lien on the property Dec. 28 and plans to continue that process in Land Court June 28. Approximately $225,000 in delinquent property taxes and other fees are due for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, according to the tax collector’s office.