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Businessman seeks to buy retail space in Stream call center building

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The businessman who owns the Top of the Square plaza wants to buy the bottom floor of the adjacent City Center Plaza building that houses the Stream Global Services call center on Arsenal Street.

Brian H. Murray, who owns the former Agricultural Insurance Co. building at 215 Washington St., is working on a deal to acquire the strip mall on the lower level of the Stream call center from GEJ Watertown LLC, a Tarrytown company that has owned the 3.69-acre site since 1994.

The 41,000 square feet of retail space faces Mr. Murray’s building, which contains the Ruyi Asian Fusion restaurant and Waterbury Jewelers.

On Thursday, the Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown Trust, approved a five-year, $220,000 loan to Washington Properties LLC, a company that Mr. Murray formed.

Mr. Murray would use $275,000 of his own equity to acquire the building, said Donald W. Rutherford, the Trust’s CEO. If the deal is finalized, Mr. Murray would renovate the storefronts and the facade over the next few years.

“He’s planning a substantial undertaking” and also may someday build out into the parking lot, Mr. Rutherford said of Mr. Murray, who could not be reached for comment Saturday.

It would be an unusual acquisition because the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency owns the upper floor, which is occupied by Stream, and leases it to the call center company. The building housed an F.W. Woolworth department store from 1971 to 1997, when the chain — which got its start in Watertown more than 130 years ago — went out of business. When Stream moved there in 2002, the building and property were subdivided.

The strip mall houses Family Dollar, Carthage Savings & Loan, a Papa John’s Pizza shop, a BeyondNerd electronics store and a New York Fashions clothing store.

The property is assessed at $784,500 and has full-market value of $825,789, according to the city assessor’s office.

Under the current owner, the property gained some notoriety a few years ago as the result of a controversy involving the owner having vehicles towed from the parking lot. Under instructions from the owner, a towing company removed dozens of vehicles after their owners left the site and crossed the street to go to the Jefferson County Courthouse or the Jefferson County office building.

One irritated motorist, who spent several weeks warning others about the situation, ended up successfully taking the towing company to small-claims court to get his money back.

“It was really bad PR,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said at Thursday’s Watertown Trust meeting.

Mr. Murray in recent years has acquired a series of properties in and around Watertown. They include Palmer Street Apartments on the city’s west side, College Heights Apartments off Coffeen Street and a small strip plaza in the town of LeRay.

In May, Mr. Murray purchased the 70-unit Palmer Street Apartments for $3.3 million, with the help of a $300,000 loan from the Trust.

“He’s doing pretty well,” Mr. Rutherford said.

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