LEE -- A prominent Stockbridge innkeeper wants a hand in a local developer's plan to revitalize the Eagle Mill.
Representatives of the Red Lion Inn say they have had preliminary discussions with Jeffrey Cohen about his proposed mixed re-use for the mill, which includes a hotel, according Sarah Eustis, director of development for the inn.
"We will definitely support and help develop the project -- even provide some sweat-equity," she said in a recent phone interview with The Eagle.
In September, Cohen outlined his "concept" for redeveloping the factory complex that would feature a restaurant, affordable housing, along with a hotel slated for one of the factory building's he wants to refurbish. Eustis said Red Lion Inn would consider operating the new lodging as it would "dovetail with our plans" committed to preservation of local landmarks. The more than 200-year-old mill is located behind Joe's Diner off the north end of Main Street.
"We are very excited about participating in the [Eagle Mill] project, but what it finally entails remains to be seen," she said.
By next spring, Cohen expects to publicly unveil more details of his proposal -- including the financial feasibility -- but he needs additional time to iron out the specifics of a mixed redevelopment that also includes a river walk, community center and underground parking.
The developer has spent the past several months garnering input on the best re-use for the Eagle Mill. Cohen and his consultant, Richard Vinette, former executive director of the Lee Community Development Corp., have met several times with Lee town officials to discuss what type of project townspeople would support.
"The project must be perceived as one coming from within the community, rather than far away," Cohen noted.
The grassroots approach apparently sits well with Lee Board of Selectmen Chairman Gordon Bailey.
"He's serious about what he's doing and going about it in a logical way," Bailey said
In mid-December, Cohen and his development team hosted a private brainstorming session at the Red Lion Inn attended by some 50 individuals and businesses who could have a vested interest in the project.
Bruner/Cott Architects presented to the gathering the early drawings of Cohen's vision and the strategy needed to redevelop an old New England factory. The Cambridge firm designed the plans that transformed the former Sprague electric complex in North Adams into the Mass MoCA contemporary art museum in North Adams.
"There was a lot of positive feedback, better than I expected," Cohen said. "The presentation by the architects was like taking a graduate course on urban planning."
The Eagle Mill revitalization would be Cohen's first Berkshire project after years of developing various residential projects in Maine and Washington, D.C., along with building a rehabilitation hospital in the nation's capitol.
If financially, environmentally and logistically feasible, Cohen envisions restoring five of the seven buildings of the mill located on 6.4 acres along the Housatonic River. He says the rehabilitated historic structures -- parts of which date back to 1806 -- would likely house the proposed restaurant, hotel, office and other commercial space.
If built, the community center would be a new building just east of the bridge over the Housatonic. Cohen plans to maintain the original entrance by the railroad tracks.
As for the two most easterly structures behind the homes on Center Street, the developer would raze them and erect new ones that would most likely house affordable and market-rate apartments.
Cohen, along with town officials and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, were encouraged earlier this fall that the state has shown interest in the project.
The local contingent met in Boston with Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory P. Bialecki, hoping the state agency will eventually invest directly or indirectly in the project.
While Cohen foresees the need for some type of state financial investment, Vinette had said using taxpayers' money wasn't discussed with Bialecki.
Since the Eagle Mill closed five years ago, only one developer has publicly discussed reusing the facility.
Previous owner Schweitzer-Maduit International Inc. sold the mill in 2010 to a prospective development company from the Albany, N.Y., area. Eagle Mill Enterprises bought the 6.4-acre parcel for $450,000, with the intent to convert the site into a mixed-use project of affordable and market-rate housing, retail, professional, office and studio space.
The current owners never presented a formal project to the town for approval and late last year they put the property for sale with an asking price of $1.1 million. Since December, Cohen has had a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the mill upon approval of his project, but he didn't divulge the sale price.
The Eagle Mill is one of four local mills Schweitzer-Maduit shut down in the spring of 2008, putting about 170 people out of work.
Local officials believe a redeveloped Eagle Mill could pique interest in the remaining three dormant mills: Columbia, Greylock and Niagara, in Lenox Dale.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.