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Developer: Lincoln Building project could fulfill Watertown’s office space needs

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Brian H. Murray said he knows some Watertown businesses were forced to move elsewhere because they could not find any suitable downtown office and commercial space.

Mr. Murray, who owns a real estate management company, said Thursday that commercial space — especially for businesses looking for 3,000 to 5,000 square feet and entrepreneurs and artists looking for studios or small offices — is at a premium in Watertown’s downtown business district.

“I don’t know of any office space available now,” he told the Watertown Local Development Corp.

That’s why his efforts to redevelop the nearly vacant Lincoln Building at 89-99 Public Square could be a boon to downtown businesses and generate a projected 175 jobs, he said in urging WLDC’s support for the project.

Mr. Murray gave a presentation on his project to the WLDC, also known as the Watertown Trust. The board agreed to draw up a letter of support that he can use when he seeks public funding and possibly historical tax credits.

The trust also will consider helping him put together a study on how the project would affect downtown’s economy, providing money to help pay for facade improvements and securing micro-loans to help prospective tenants renovate the building’s interior.

While continuing to work on the project’s financing, he also plans to seek help from the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency and Neighbors of Watertown Inc.

“It’s important to get enough support and put together a team to make it happen,” he said.

Calling it “not an easy decision” to go forward with commercial space, Mr. Murray said it will be more difficult to obtain state funding and tax credits than if the project entailed residential housing, like the Woolworth Building down the street.

The need for commercial space prompted him to go in that direction, Mr. Murray said, noting the former Agricultural Insurance Co. building he owns at 215 Washington St. is nearly full. The law firm of Schwerzmann & Wise is moving out next week, but he expects to have a new tenant soon, he said.

To give board members an idea of the project’s scope, he compared the Lincoln Building’s six floors and 51,000 square feet to the Woolworth Building, which has about 57,000 square feet of space.

Donald W. Rutherford, the trust’s CEO, noted that urban growth is the trend, reversing the shift from commercial parks being built in more suburban settings. But he also surmised the Lincoln Building should not cost as much to renovate as the Woolworth Building will as it is turned into residential housing.

“This is the first time I’ve ever asked for support,” Mr. Murray said.

Closing the deal right before Christmas, Mr. Murray and his partner, Purcell Construction Corp., acquired the 150-year-old structure for $500,000 from a Long Island corporation, 89-99 Public Square Properties LLC, whose principal partner was Allan Hillel.

In recent years, Mr. Murray has purchased a number of buildings in and around Watertown, including the lower level of the building that houses Stream International on Arsenal Street, the former Hospice Foundation of Jefferson County Inc. building at 425 Washington St., the Top of the Square Plaza and Palmer Street and College Heights apartments.

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