Making lemonade out of a lemon in Peabody

The historic O'Shea mansion in Peabody (Owen O'Rourke)

Can the city of Peabody recover from a multi-year string of losses with the star-crossed O’Shea Mansion and see the historic property become an innovative and attractive location?

Answer: Maybe.

The clock started ticking this week on the time frame for developers to submit proposals to buy the 13,000-square-foot mansion and carriage house. But the city has set the bar high for potential buyers. Bidding starts at $750,000. Preferred future uses include a restaurant as well as retail space, artist studios and apartments.

Housing-only proposals for the O’Shea Mansion won’t be accepted and the city wants the sprawling building where Peabody minutemen once assembled before marching off and fighting the British to be renovated following historic preservation guidelines.

It’s grand appearance aside, the O’Shea Mansion has a history of being a lemon costing the city time, money and headaches. It’s almost as if the ghost of original builder Thomas O’Shea has been lingering around trying to thwart 21st-century city designs for his creation.

History certainly endorses that theory. Its purchase by a developer in 2015 ended up with the city taking the mansion by eminent domain to keep it from being demolished.

That move set in motion a saga of legal battles between the city and former owner Michael Corsetti that extended into U.S. District Court, putting the city on the hook for $1.25 million — more than three times what Corsetti originally paid for the property.

Developers have until April 8 to file applications to write a new chapter in the O’Shea’s history. They will most likely see an opportunity to help contribute to Peabody’s economy but they can hardly be blamed if the mansion’s past life as a source of contention scares them away.

To its credit, city officials have had the right idea in envisioning the mansion as a place where businesses can make money, people can live, and artists can create. It’s the process — for better or worse — that has been at fault with the O’Shea, but the city’s push to drum up new interest in the O’Shea displays its interest in rejecting the notion that the property is a lemon and inviting developers to view it as a sweet and inviting opportunity to enhance Peabody’s future.

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