Neighborhood Planned for Abandoned Club Morgan Site

By Thomas Grillo

Weeks after developers broke ground for a $100-million waterfront apartment project at Lynn’s North Harbor, another team has proposed a mixed-use neighborhood at the other end of the Lynnway.

Belmont Capital LLC, an investment firm, has filed plans with the city for a mega-residential project where the Atlantic meets the Saugus River at the General Edwards Bridge.

The Cambridge company, led by Joseph O’Donnell, is seeking approval for three buildings containing 866 apartments, according to the four-page proposal provided to The Journal. The mix of  studios, and one- and two-bedrooms would be built just off the Lynnway in wood-frame buildings ranging from four to seven stories. 

In addition, the project would feature 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, 10,000 square feet of amenities for apartment dwellers, and a parking garage for 612 vehicles.

A public hearing is expected before the City Council next month to consider a special permit.  Waterfront buildings in excess of 60 feet require a special permit.

North Shore Baby Boomers will recall the site was once home to the Harbour House Hotel and Club Morgan, where dancing queens and rap masters shared the spotlight under the disco ball.

Longtime residents say police were routinely called to the nightclub to break up fights and arrest unruly partiers.

In 1989, a tear gas canister was set off inside the nightclub and caused panic among more than 1,000 patrons, and sent three dozen to the hospital, according to an Associated Press report. A few years later, the hotel and nightclub closed and was demolished. Since then, the city’s gateway has been an eyesore.

In 2005, a division of O’Donnell’s firm paid $551,000 for parcels on the Lynnway and the Riley Street Extension, according to the Essex County Registry of Deeds.

O’Donnell is founder of the Boston Culinary Group, whose 11,000 employees provide food services to sports stadiums and  entertainment venues. He and Charles Morneau, his associate, did not respond to calls and texts for comment.

But in a 2016 interview, Morneau said they planned a $69 million luxury apartment project that would include 250 units in a three-story building. Construction, he said, would commence in the spring of 2017.

“We believe it’s a great spot with spectacular views that will attract tenants,” Morneau said at the time. “If we get public transportation, that whole area works because everyone wants to be near the T and it’s the only way to get into Boston economically.”

But it appears those plans have changed. The number of units has more than tripled and the cost is expected to exceed $239 million.

It’s unclear why O’Donnell is seeking approval for the South Harbor project 15 years after his land purchase. It could have something to do with the rush to build housing in Lynn to meet the crushing demand in a city with rising rents and a single-digit vacancy rate.

Breakwater, the $100 million joint venture of the Dolben Co. and Minco Corp., broke ground last month across from the North Shore Community College. The 331-unit apartment waterfront community is being built on the former Beacon-Bel Chevrolet site that had been vacant for 35 years.

Lynn’s apartment boom began in 2018 when Procopio Cos. of Lynnfield and affiliates of Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle Group began construction on The Caldwell. The 259-unit, high-rise luxury apartment project on Munroe Street promises a rooftop deck, pool, fitness center, a lounge, underground parking.

On deck is Charles Patsios. The Swampscott developer’s plan for a $500 million development at the 65-acre former General Electric Co. Gear Works property on the Lynnway is stalled. He is waiting for the MBTA to complete plans for a commuter rail station.

Today, the River Works T stop on the Newburyport/Rockport Line is only used by GE workers. But the new station would accommodate the developmenty’s new residents and the public.

Patsios said when work starts on the River Works Station, it will be completed in 18 months, the same amount of time it will take his team to finish the first-phase of his 1,160 unit apartment project.

“Ours is a transit-oriented development,” he said. “It can’t be done without the transit.” 

Still, Patsios and O’Donnell will face challenges.

State Sen. Brendon Crighton (D-Lynn) said the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development recently rejected Lynn’s application for MassWorks funding. Some of the cash would have used to pay for road improvement to access the O’Donnell and the GE projects on opposite sides of the Lynnway.

“We’ve received MassWorks money in the past and will again,” Crighton said. “It’s competitive and we will keep trying.”

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