LEE - A Midwestern company is poised to buy three vacant paper mills in Lee and Lenox Dale with the goal of engaging the community toward redeveloping the manufacturing facilities.
Niagara Worldwide of St. Louis and Niagara, Wis., expects to purchase within 30 days the Columbia and Greylock mills in Lee and Niagara Mill in Lenox Dale, according to company President Eric Spirtas. The mills are currently owned by Schweitzer-Maduit International Inc., which shut them down almost six years ago.
If the sale goes through, Spirtas says his multifaceted firm would be looking for the best way to "reintroduce the properties to the community."
"We look at this as a 24- to 36-month redevelopment ... maybe some industrial and maybe some residential" use, he said in a phone interview with The Eagle on Tuesday.
Spirtas declined to disclose the sale price.
Property redevelopment is among Niagara Worldwide's 14 business ventures that include manufacturing, commodities trading, construction services and fuel distribution, according to the company website.
Niagara's resume bodes well for the three mills and the town, according to Lee officials.
"They have fairly extensive experience with older buildings and a solid financial background," said John Philpott, a member of the Lee Community Development Corp. "I am cautiously optimistic they will do something with those buildings.
"Any step forward is a step in the right direction," he noted. "The longer they sit, the more deteriorated they get." In May 2008, Schweitzer-Maduit closed its Columbia, Greylock, Niagara and Eagle mills, putting nearly 170 people out of work.
Schweitzer-Maduit sold the Eagle Mill in 2010 to an Albany, N.Y.-area developer who never followed through with formal plans for a mixed reuse of the downtown site.
The current owner of the Eagle Mill has a purchase and sale agreement with Jeff Cohen of Great Barrington, who is developing plans for converting the factory site into a hotel, affordable housing, retail and office space. He plans to publicly discuss next month his vision for reusing the industrial site at the north end of Main Street.
Cohen and his development team have spent the last several months speaking with town officials, potential tenants, state agencies and other potential stake holders in the Eagle Mill project.
Spirtas says his company also plans to work closely with the Lee community on how best to integrate the mills with the town.
The Columbia Mill, which dates back to 1826, the Niagara Mill, circa mid-1860s and the Greylock Mill erected in the mid-1960s are all located in residential neighborhoods. Niagara and Columbia also are situated along the Housatonic River.
Last summer, Lee received a $175,000 federal planning grant toward creating a community-based strategy for revitalizing all four current and former Schweitzer-Maduit mills. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is overseeing the two-year study that BRPC officials expect will kick into high gear this spring.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233