Karp Buys Former Downtown Fuel Tank Farm

Jason Graziadei •

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Stephen Karp’s New England Development has closed on a $2.4 million deal to acquire the former downtown fuel tank farm property.

The .35-acre lot - which was recently cleared as the fuel silos were demolished - was sold earlier this month by Winthrop Nantucket to Island Harbor Farm LLC, a company registered to Karp’s New England Development, which owns dozens of downtown commercial properties including inns, hotels, restaurants, and shops.

What does Karp have in mind for the property? Company officials were not immediately available for comment, but the land has been on the radar for years as one of the key parcels in the redevelopment of the waterfront area known as Harbor Place.

The tank farm property was the last vestige of Winthrop’s once sprawling portfolio of downtown island real estate, which it acquired from the late Walter Beinecke’s Sherburne Associates in 1986. In recent years, it has been selling its remaining holdings, including the sale in December 2020 of the downtown properties where Stop & Shop, The Haulover, Fresh, and Hepburn are located, also to Karp’s New England Development.

Winthrop trustee Peter Braverman declined to comment over the weekend other than to clarify that the property sold to New England Development encompassed “the entire tank farm” property.

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As recently as June 2021, the town had been in exploratory discussions with Winthrop to potentially acquire the tank farm property, as the Select Board considered the strategic value of controlling at least a piece of Harbor Place as its future comes into focus. The waterfront area slated for some kind of redevelopment stretches from Straight Wharf to the town pier off Washington Street. For more than a decade, the town has worked to bring the disparate property owners together to pursue a unified vision for the waterfront, an effort that has produced more frustration than progress.

Select Board member Dawn Hill Holdgate said in 2021 that she considered the area the “Gateway to Nantucket,” noting that the Hy-Line Cruises ferries have become the island’s primary mode of transportation on a year-round basis. The entire access to the area, including the parking lot between Straight Wharf and the Stop & Shop that is owned by New England Development, needs to be reworked, she said, adding, “You have a much better seat at the table when you become a property owner. If we let this opportunity pass and told people five years from now that we could have bought that property, people would come back at us and say, ‘Are you crazy?’ We would get run out of town. It’s one of the most key locations on the island for us to be involved in and reworking.”

The town has floated various potential designs for the area, including a controversial parking garage concept, as well as mixed-use commercial buildings with open space along the water, and a transportation hub. One of the goals has been finding a way to reduce traffic congestion in the downtown area, a priority that has manifested in the creation of a valet parking program at the National Grid lot, even while the big picture redevelopment remains unclear.

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