Developers are selling the lower-cost urban lifestyle
Michelle Hillman Boston Business Journal Staff
 
Great strides toward residential development have been made in older industrial cities such as Lowell and Worcester where private and public dollars have been spent to transform old, historic mill buildings into luxury condominiums and lofts.

The intention is to create vibrant, urban centers to which young people, professionals and empty-nesters will flock, seeking an urban lifestyle without the cost of a Boston mortgage.

It can be a tough sell.

In order to help get people over the hump, the city of Lowell is planning an advertising campaign targeted at bringing young professionals in from the eastern part of the state. Officials are considering sponsoring events at art galleries and clubs in Cambridge and Boston. They're also planning to launch a print and broadcast advertising campaign called "Sold on Lowell."

To help the former mill city patch its reputation for economic hard times, Lowell officials are considering bus tours of such sites as the Lawrence Mills redevelopment project. Boston-based developer Edward A. Fish Associates purchased the final group of four buildings totaling 250,000 square feet.

Construction on the 152 luxury condominiums, located on a 14-acre site, started this week, said Patrick McMahon, assistant project director at E.A. Fish. Two of the four buildings will be renovated into condominiums and lofts; the third 7,000-square-foot building will be leased for office and commercial use; and a portion of the fourth 20,000-square-foot building is targeted for a restaurant.

In Worcester, a similar effort is being undertaken by the Abrams Group LLC, which recently entered into a joint venture with the Callahan Cos. of Bridgewater to transform a historic mill in Worcester into 97 luxury loft-style condominiums. The 160,000-square-foot brick building at 160 Fremont St. was, until recently, the temporary site for the Worcester Public Library. With ceilings of 12 to 18 feet, exposed-beam ceilings, hardwood floors and sandblasted brick walls, the building will easily transform to living space. Construction will begin this fall.

E.A. Fish paid $900,000 for the four Lowell buildings and plans to spend $25 million to renovate and redevelop the property.

McMahon said E.A. Fish plans to promote the development and will advertise the project in the hopes of attracting buyers interested in living in an urban setting for less. He said empty-nesters are interested in the units, which are located on the banks of the Merrimack River, about a 10-minute walk from downtown.

"The only hurdle is getting people up there," he said.

What better place for a coffee shop than in a building where architects congregate to discuss design ideas and trends in the industry -- at the Boston Society of Architects. When two floors in the BSA's building at 52 Broad St. became available, including the bottom floor, Nancy Jenner, deputy director of the BSA, thought it would be a great spot for caffeine-fueled architects to gather.

"We have no street-front presence," she said. "I think it would be nice to have a café open to the public that would feature exhibits of architecture and design."

Jenner said the BSA is working with Cushman & Wakefield of Massachusetts Inc. to lease approximately 900 square feet on the first floor and has hired Spaulding & Slye Colliers to lease 1,200 square feet on the third floor. The BSA occupies three of the six floors in the building, which it has owned since 1988.

Coincidentally, Jenner said at one point the building was home to a coffee roaster in the 19th or 20th century. While the BSA isn't roasting its own beans, architects drink enough coffee to keep a café in business.

"I think architects are absolutely caffeine freaks because they're always on deadline," Jenner said.

Around the block:
  • The Hamilton Co. and New England Realty Associates acquired a 280-unit complex, known as Whitney on Main, for $56 million. AEW and Pilot Realty sold the site and were represented by CB Richard Ellis/Whittier Partners. Key Bank provided financing.
  • Advantage Construction Inc. of Taunton recently completed a 42,000-square-foot freezer and loading-dock expansion for Rich's Transportation. The facility, which is located in the Myles Standish Industrial Park in Taunton, serves as its main distribution facility and corporate headquarters, which was previously located in West Bridgewater.
  • Advantage Construction and Condyne LLC Real Estate Development have recently completed the construction of a new 74,492-square-foot office, production and distribution complex for Super Coups, a division of ADVO Inc., in the Liberty and Union Industrial Park in Taunton. The division relocated from Avon.
MICHELLE HILLMAN covers commercial real estate. She can be reached at mhillman@bizjournals.com.