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Neighbors’ plans for Empsall Plaza moving ahead

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Worried it was going to deteriorate if it sat vacant for long, city officials are relieved that Neighbors of Watertown Inc. is taking over the property most recently occupied by Velocity, the defunct family fun center in Empsall Plaza on Court Street.

Neighbors Executive Director Gary C. Beasley said the housing redevelopment organization plans to begin renovating the 3,000-square-foot space as soon as it can. It housed the Frank A. Empsall Co. Department Store until it closed in 1993.

“It puts it back into the hands of a responsible owner,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said.

The property is expected to change hands any day now, Mr. Beasley said Wednesday.

When the deal is completed, Neighbors will purchase that part of the building and a portion of an adjacent parking lot from Psychedelic Entertainment LLC, California. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The floor above the Velocity space will be converted into 13 or 14 apartments, Mr. Beasley said. The building’s facade also will undergo renovations and a new side entrance will be added. The Velocity space would be put to commercial use; Neighbors has talked to potential tenants for that space but nothing has been finalized, he said.

Plans also call for a second elevator because the existing one is aging and is difficult to find replacement parts for, Mr. Beasley said. It would give tenants of the Brighton access to an exit that leads to the J.B. Wise parking lot. The lobby also would get an upgrade.

In 1992, the agency completed renovation of the Brighton Hotel, which was developed into a 36-apartment subsidized complex.

Needing to replace the elevator, the organization jumped at the chance to acquire the space when it heard the California company failed to pay back taxes on it. As part of the deal, Psychedelic will pay $22,644.02 to the city for the back taxes and the property’s tax sale certificate.

On Tuesday, the Watertown City Council informally agreed to sell a 0.71-acres city-owned parcel needed for the project to Neighbors for $1. The organization also plans to acquire another small parcel from Watertown RX LLC, the owners of 108 Court St.

The building actually is broken up into four parts. It consists of two sections of what was Velocity, the Brighton Apartments and a back part facing the J.B. Wise parking lot.

Owned by Psychedelic, the back of the building — which houses the Tunes 92.5 FM radio station, an insurance agency and a hair salon — is going through bank foreclosure. Mr. Beasley said Neighbors has no interest in acquiring that section of the building.

Opened in 2006, Velocity closed suddenly in July. Velocity offered laser tag, a soft-play gym and arcade games mainly for children. German Leon, a Los Angeles actor and director who owns Psychedelic Entertainment LLC, purchased the two individual but connected buildings at 122-130 Court St. and 122-130 Rear Court St. for $60,000 seven years ago.

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