LEE

By next spring, a local developer seeking to revitalize the Eagle Mill plans to have solidified some potential re-uses for community's oldest factory along the Housatonic River.

Jeffrey Cohen had hoped this month to publicly unveil more details of his proposal -- including the financial feasibility -- but he needs additional time to iron out the specifics of a project that could a restaurant, hotel and affordable housing.

"We're probably 80 percent close to developing a site plan," he said. "We're working on a presentation to make sure we have an intelligent plan."

In September, the Great Barrington man come forward to outline his "concept" for redeveloping the former mill behind Joe's Diner off the north end of Main Street.

Cohen's preliminary sketches of the possible mixed development also includes a river walk, community center and underground parking.

Bruner/Cott Architects prepared the drawings, the same Cambridge firm that designed the plans to transform the former Sprague Electric complex into the Mass MoCA contemporary art museum in North Adams.

Cohen and his consultant Richard Vinette, former executive director of the Lee Community Development Corp., have met several times with town officials to discuss what type of project townspeople would support.

On Friday at a private brain-storming session, the developer plans to host 50 potential individuals and businesses who could have a vested interest in the project.

However, Cohen envisions housing as crucial to redeveloping the mill.

"I want to find a way to mix market rate with affordable housing," Cohen said. "I want affordable housing -- I think we need affordable housing."

Vinette, a driving force behind Lee's recent downtown revitalization, believes the added housing will tie into the reuse of the vacant Columbia and Greylock mills upstream.

"If we try to support advanced manufacturing at those mills, people need a place to live," he said.

"And I think housing has to be in place first," Cohen said.

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 Eagle 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:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.