Manchester Community Center Settles With Harbor's Point


The Manchester Community Center saga has been a discouraging one for so many locals to watch. 

So as to not bury the lede, the MCC and its landlord, Harbor’s Point Condominium Association, have reached a settlement in their tong war that allowed the MCC to retain $20,000 in funds and they have vacated the building it was gifted decades ago.

The 54-year-old local private charity—which hosts popular family programs such as the Wobblin Goblin parade and the Jingle Bell Walk—began having relationship troubles years ago with its landlord, Harbor’s Point Condominium Association. 

Like any divorce, the beginning might be classified as a relatively minor annoyance.  Some members of Harbor’s Point were bothered at what they saw as an underutilization of the building itself.  Then, the disagreement widened.  There was the issue of $250/month rent Harbor’s Point wanted for the property where the MCC building stands to cover maintenance costs like paving and snow removal.  The MCC balked at paying anything, but they eventually agreed.  The relationship deteriorated, and Harbor’s Point began tightening lease terms, eventually installing a 60-day termination clause in the lease.

It all came to a head last fall.  By then, the two parties weren’t speaking and agreed to let the Town of Manchester take over the lease.  The Town secured a tentative 10-year lease that would have preserved the MCC and its programs in its current location, also addressing the community’s need for a temporary senior center and public restrooms downtown.  There was even a provision allowing the MCC to relocate its building over 12 months for just $1.  Everyone seemed happy.

But all that went out of the window when—just weeks after voters at October’s Town Meeting approved the lease—the MCC board unexpectedly withdrew from the agreement and announced plans to litigate.  With a Lynnfield-based pro bono lawyer, Michael Walsh, the MCC boldly claimed ownership rights to the land. 

Walsh ignored inconvenient truths, including that Augustus “Gus” Means, the Essex automotive dealership owner who donated the building as a youth center in the 1970s, had typed “NOT the land” (underline and all caps his) in the notarized gift letter. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the MCC took a drubbing in the courts, starting in March at a pre-trial hearing in which Walsh appeared with no evidence and where the judge called his client’s arguments “nonsense.”  At trial the following month, the MCC was schooled again, this time by Judge Richard Mori, who, after trying in vain repeatedly to resolve their differences, concluded that the MCC’s recklessness should be referred to the Mass. Attorney General’s office for misuse of charitable funds.

The MCC lost the case.  Judge Mori ruled that the MCC owed approximately $50,000 in holdover rent to Harbor’s Point and $150,000 in Harbor’s Point’s legal fees plus interest, more than depleting the charity’s total funds of $140,000.

After the ruling came a series of dizzyingly fast legal moves.  The MCC appealed the loss that same week, which was unsuccessful due to a technical filing error.  It appealed the denial, and the following week, a three-judge panel swiftly upheld the decision against the MCC. 

Immediately following this, the MCC then filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, which would have provided time and a third-party trustee to sort things out.  But it was déjà vu all over again:  the MCC mishandled its bankruptcy filing, and it dismissed.

Which brings us up to date.  With no recourse, the MCC agreed to settle with Harbor’s Point.  Under the settlement, the MCC will cover most of Harbor’s Point’s legal expenses, and Harbor’s Point forgave the accrued holdover rent, the balance of the legal fees and the interest. 

And what of the building?  It will remain where it is, and now belongs to Harbor’s Point.  The town has approached Harbor’s Point to revisit a deal.  The condo board wants the dust to settle before announcing what will happen, but in the meantime, it will honor standing dates by local groups—like the Manchester COA’s Strong Seniors weekly exercise class—through the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the MCC must contemplate its future without a building, and with significantly fewer resources.  No word on what the group will do, but there still remains a deep reservoir of goodwill for the organization and its mission throughout the community. 

There are two groups exploring options.  One would preserve the MCC by replacing its board leadership and trigger a new chapter in the MCC story.  Another would create a whole new charity—a type of “MCC 2.0”—that would mirror the original organization’s mission and programs.

Stay tuned.