A mill rehabilitation project in Lee, Massachusetts has received a new infusion of state funding.
This week, a $60 million project intended to transform a centuries-old mill on the banks of the Housatonic River into a complex featuring housing, a hotel, and a market received $400,000 in historic rehabilitation tax credit funds from Massachusetts.
“This is really the big missing piece of the puzzle that complements and completes our project for Eagle Mill," said Leigh Davis.
Davis, a Great Barrington selectboard member, is the director of development for the Eagle Mill Redevelopment LLC. She explained how the new state funding fits into the larger framework of governmental support the project has received.
“In October of 2018, the town of Lee received a $4.9 million grant from MassWorks to work and upgrade the water main in the town of Lee, which would enable Eagle Mill project to move forward, so that was very, very exciting," Davis told WAMC. "That was followed by a $6 million grant from the National Park Service for federal historic tax credits, which again gave us a big push moving forward.”
“There’s so many levels of financing, when you try and bring back a historic mill – especially in Massachusetts," said Jeffrey Cohen, the developer behind the Eagle Mill project as well as the Spinning Mill redevelopment project in Adams. “The average time it takes to restore a mill is about nine and a half years, according to UMass, and we’re in year seven, so we’re on track.”
Cohen hosted Democratic Congressman Richard Neal of the 1st district at the project site Tuesday for the announcement of the tax credits. He explained that five years ago, his first communication with Neal was about securing the funding for the environmental efforts required to remediate the land the mill sits on after years of industrial use.
“Today, our plans have evolved," said Cohen. "And what this project is now, which is so much more exciting than it was when it started, is that on this site, on the Eagle Mill site, as these renderings depict, there will be at least 80 units of affordable housing and market rate housing. We’re going to propose 24 more units, additional units, of micro housing, which is a term of art meaning apartments which are about 450 square feet in size, and they are ideal for transitional – people coming into town who need a place to live, need a job, and can’t afford larger houses or apartments.”
The project has expanded to include properties around the mill, built in 1808. It now includes a large public food hall with multiple vendors, retail spaces, and a hotel.
“So we brought the plans to economic feasibility, and what capped that, what made all the difference in the world, without which we would not be here today, was the allocation of historic tax credits from the state of Massachusetts,” continued Cohen.
Cohen said Neal’s assistance in working with the office of Secretary of the State William Galvin on securing the tax credits was invaluable. He also praised the work of fellow Democrats State Senator Adam Hinds and State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, who also attended the announcement.
Neal said his longstanding relationship with Galvin helped him advocate for Eagle Mill.
“And when Jeff spoke to me and Adam spoke to me and Smitty spoke to me and the town told me they were for this, I went back to Bill Galvin a number of times," said the congressman. "And when he called me last week, he said, look, the letter is going to be forthcoming, and he said there’s going to be an opportunity to apply for more assistance going forward.”
Lee selectman Thomas Wickham was on hand to endorse the project.
“I think this is a very historic moment for the town of Lee, because our mill’s been out of business for like 20 years now, so it’s kind of an eyesore," said Wickham. "And we’d like to keep our character of our town but also move into the future a little bit, get our kids to come back here and live here, get a job here and raise families. And this is the kind of stuff that you need to do – change your town a little bit more to the millennials, but keeping the character at the same time. And I think a project like this will do it.”