Cambridge Threatens Crackdown on Vacant Buildings, Eccentric Billionaire | NECN
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Cambridge Threatens Crackdown on Vacant Buildings, Eccentric Billionaire

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A property owner that has been leaving buildings vacant has city officials in Cambridge, Massachusetts considering an ordinance that would fine them or even claim a property by eminent domain.

    (Published Wednesday, March 8, 2017)

    City officials in Cambridge, Massachusetts, say they are now cracking down on owners of properties that leave buildings vacant for long periods of time.

    Jennie Song owns Dado Tea, a few doors down from the shuttered Harvard Square Theater and says the void is hurting the rest of the business ecosystem on Church Street.

    "I think something should be happening there, it’s been closed for way too long," said Song.

    Cambridge City Counselor Leland Cheung blames theater owner Gerald Chan, who bought the property more than two and a half years ago. Cheung says several businesses nearby like Fire and Ice have closed because of the lost foot traffic from the theater.

    "It’s gotten to the point where he keeps saying, 'there is something coming, there is something coming', but nothing’s ever come," said Cheung.

    The council has now given Chan and his Morningside Investment Group until the end of the month to come up with detailed plans for developing the theater. Otherwise, the council might try to pass a new ordinance and fine owners who leave buildings vacant for long periods of time or even claim eminent domain and take the property.

    "We’re going to set a new precedent so he doesn’t continue doing what he is doing, and that no one else tries to emulate him," said Cheung.

    Chan is a Harvard University graduate who donated $350 million to the School of Public Health that's now named after his father. NBC Boston reached out to Chan and Morningside Investment Group but requests for comments were not answered.

    Chan has also been quietly buying up millions of dollars worth of real estate in Harvard Square, like the former American Express Travel building that’s also sitting empty.

    "It’s his, he can do what he wants. Ultimately that’s his proper legal standpoint," said neighbor Lonnie Smith.

    For long time Harvard Square business owners like Song, this is all now turning into the theater of the absurd.

    "It makes no sense," said song.

    The city council is planning to discuss the possibility of the Gerald Chan ordinance, even if he does respond with a detailed plan for the theater by the end of the month.

    In the meantime, there's a petition to save the theater online.

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