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Peabody’s O’Shea mansion on the market again

The O'Shea Mansion in Peabody. (Owen O'Rourke)

PEABODY — Three months after a court fight over the historic O’Shea mansion cost taxpayers nearly $1 million, the city is selling the landmark.

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. is seeking a buyer for the 10,000-square-foot Colonial and its 3,000-square-foot carriage house on Washington Street.

“We’re looking to recoup a large portion of the money we spent in the lawsuit to protect the building,” he said.   

The saga began in 2015 when Empire Design & Development bought the property for $350,000, according to the South Essex Registry of Deeds. Owner Michael Corsetti planned to raze the antique home and replace it with apartments and shops.

But the city seized the 124-year-old mansion by eminent domain the following year to prevent its demolition and sought a buyer who would preserve the multi-story home and transform it into a centerpiece with office space, restaurant, and a police substation.

The city paid Corsetti $425,000 for taking the property, $75,000 more than he paid for it.

But the Gloucester developer filed suit in Essex Superior Court seeking $1.8 million in damages, alleging the city underpaid him. His attorney, Peter E. Flynn of Saugus, argued the assessed value of the property was closer to $1 million. A second lawsuit, in U.S. District Court, alleged the city’s efforts to undermine Corsetti’s purchase violated his civil rights.

After a judge refused to dismiss the case, the city negotiated a settlement with Flynn.

Last fall, the City Council approved a cash payment of $825,000. In total, the city is on the hook for $1.25 million, or more than three times what Corsetti paid for the property.

After the city took the property three years ago, the mayor  issued a request for proposal seeking a buyer to restore the property and build a mix of uses such as office space, a restaurant, and function room. The former carriage house would be reserved for artist work space.

In addition, the city requested 1,000 square feet be reserved as a police field office.  

But given the property was in litigation, there were no takers, Bettencourt said.

The new request for proposal seeks a number of similar commercial uses including offices, restaurant, function room. But the mayor added permission for a bed and breakfast or apartments in the carriage house where there is enough space for four 750-square-foot units.

“It will take a big-sized investment to bring that building up to where it’s usable commercial space,” Bettencourt said. “We think providing the opportunity to have apartments will help a developer’s bottom line. We think there will be lots of interest.”

Pat Todisco, owner of Todisco Properties is one of the interested buyers.  The Peabody company owns the second O’Shea building on Main Street. He paid $1.4 million for the three-story brick building in 2017 and has invested $4 million to build 20 apartments on the upper floors and prepare the ground floor for a new restaurant.

“I would love to see the mansion restored to what it was in its day,” he said. “There’s a lot of great history with it. John F. Kennedy dined there before he was president.”

Built by wealthy manufacturer Thomas O’Shea, it is the site of the former Bell Tavern, where Minutemen gathered before the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

But in order for it to be profitable, Todisco said, housing must be part of the mix.

“The only way the project is possible financially is to have some amount of housing,” he said. “I don’t see it all becoming housing, but some mix of apartments and commercial use would work.”

One person who won’t offer a bid is Corsetti.

“I’m not interested,” he said. “I’m done with that property.”

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