The company planning to redevelop the former Eagle Mill in Lee says it is committed to using the entire 6.4 acre site.
The company planning to redevelop the former Eagle Mill in Lee says it is committed to using the entire 6.4 acre site. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

LEE -- The developer planning a $70 million revitalization of the Eagle Mill is committed to re-using the entire downtown industrial site.

Mill Renaissance, LLC, led by Jeffrey N. Cohen of Great Barrington, vows a complete build-out that includes housing, a restaurant, hotel, office and retail space on the 6.4-acre parcel.

"It's all or nothing," Cohen said. "It's too good of a plan to let any part fall by the wayside."

"This project will happen," added project architect Henry Moss.

The development team on Thursday made a two-hour presentation at Lee Middle and High School before a gathering of nearly 100 residents, town officials and potential tenants of a rejuvenated mill. It was the developer's first public discussion of the project first unveiled to The Eagle in September.

The developers outlined how they will restore several of the 19th century buildings for part of the project and raze two others on the north end to make way for 122 units of market-rate and affordable housing.

From the planning and approval process to final construction, the project is expected to be completed in 2018-19.

Dozens of people applauded the concept, including Kathy Hall, whose West Center Street home fronts the Eagle Mill, located along the Housatonic River at the north end of Main Street.

"I'm excited about this project," she said.

Selectman David Consolati added, "You've opened our eyes tonight and I hope it works out."

Despite a high level of confidence, the developer acknowledges challenges in overcoming some financial, environmental and logistical challenges with a mixed use proposal.

Mill Renaissance will need to secure private and public funding, the latter primarily in the form of millions in state and federal tax credits. It also must find a way to integrate the project with the recreational aspects planned along the river and ensure the project fits the character of the neighborhood.

"As complicated as this site is, these [historic] buildings are of a scale that can sustain development in this economy," said Moss, with Bruner/Cott Architects. The Cambridge firm designed the plans that transformed the former Sprague Electric Co. complex in North Adams into Mass MoCA, the contemporary art museum.

Bruner/Cott soon will start working on construction documents, while the project's financial planners in June will begin the process of seeking various tax credits.

In addition, a change in the municipal zoning for the mill must be approved at a town meeting in order to all for mixed use on the property.

Cohen and his staff in the past year have had numerous meetings with town officials, state economic development agencies and potential stakeholders, such as Main Street Hospitality Group, parent company of the Red Lion Inn. Main Street, which also operates Porches in North Adams, plans a 45-room boutique hotel in downtown Pittsfield and is seriously considering operating the proposed 64-room lodging in Lee.

"The building [along the river] is incredibly nobler and it calls out to be a hotel," said Main Street CEO Sarah Eustis.

The developer has a purchase-and-sale agreement for the Eagle Mill with the current owner, Eagle Mill Enterprises. That entity bought the industrial site four years ago from Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc. The paper manufacturer closed the mill and three others in Lee and Lenox Dale in May 2008, putting more than 160 people out of work.

Cohen hopes revitalizing Eagle Mill will help replace some of those lost jobs, provide leverage for the town to replace the water main in the area and be a catalyst that sparks other economic growth in Lee.

"It's important to weave the significance of the mill back into the town," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:

rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,

or (413) 496-6233