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Neighbors of Watertown eying Velocity space for apartments, commercial space

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Neighbors of Watertown is interested in acquiring the space most recently occupied by Velocity, the family fun center in Empsall Plaza on Court Street.

On Thursday morning, Neighbors Executive Director Gary C. Beasley told the Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown Trust, that the agency would like to purchase the now-vacant space on the ground floor from its owner, Psychedelic Entertainment LLC in California.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham brought up the subject of the Court Street structure at the trust’s meeting to see whether Neighbors could help clean up that section of downtown as a result of the shuttered Velocity.

“I think it would be a worthwhile project to be interested in,” the mayor said.

And Mr. Beasley said Neighbors, a neighborhood preservation nonprofit organization, would like to see what it can do to help.

Neighbors owns the Brighton Apartments on floors two through eight in the same building.

It could be a complicated deal, since the building actually is broken up into four parts, Mr. Beasley said. It consists of two different sections of what was Velocity, the Brighton Apartments and a back part facing the J.B. Wise parking lot.

Neighbors would acquire the part of the building that once housed the Frank A. Empsall Co. department store until it closed in 1993. It remains an open 3,000-square-foot space, even though it is two distinct properties.

You can walk from one building and into another without realizing it, Mr. Beasley said. “There are no walls. It’s just an imaginary line.”

If it can purchase the Velocity space, Neighbors would turn the second floor of the Brighton into additional apartments, Mr. Beasley said.

“We have the first right of refusal,” he said.

The Velocity space would be put to commercial use. Plans also would call for a second elevator because the existing one is aging and it is difficult to find replacement parts for it, he said. If acquired, tenants of the Brighton also would have access to an exit that leads to the J.B. Wise parking lot.

Opened in 2006, Velocity closed suddenly in July when local businessman Thomas Shultz, owner of Re-Sale America, paid $4,570.47 in back taxes for the front part of Velocity but didn’t pay the overdue taxes owed on the rest of the space. The mayor said he heard Mr. Shultz was interested in purchasing the space, but that deal apparently fell through.

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.

The middle part of Velocity just went through back tax proceedings, and the city was all set to obtain its deed. But city officials now plan to file a lawsuit against Psychedelic to get the $18,149.92 in back taxes owed on it, City Comptroller James E. Mills said.

Mr. Leon also owns a third connecting building, at 223 J.B. Wise Place, where the Tunes 92.5 FM radio station, an insurance agency and a hair salon occupy space.

The mayor said that a nearby building at 138-140 Court St. also has become troublesome. Last year, the City Council agreed to sell the building at 138-140 Court St. back to West Virginia businessman Alex Rahmi for $20,000. Mr. Rahmi had failed to pay back taxes on that building.

As part of the deal to sell the old Berow & Monroe Shoes building back to him, Mr. Rahmi agreed to start making repairs to it.

That never happened, and the city is looking at whether it should reacquire it, Mr. Graham said.

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