Federal grant seen as key to Lee mill's revival


Photo Gallery | U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announces A $115,000 EPA grant for Eagle Mill

LEE -- A $115,000 federal grant will fund the next step toward a local developer's $70 million revitalization plan for the Eagle Mill.

Congressman Richard E. Neal announced Tuesday morning that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had awarded Lee a brownfield grant for a second assessment of what -- if any -- contamination exists at the former paper manufacturing site along the Housatonic River. The EPA has hired Novis Engineering of Lowell to conduct the assessment expected to begin soon, local officials said.

Neal believes the re-use of dormant mills is key to boosting the Western Massachusetts economy.

"Getting these properties back to use is part of the solution," he said.

"As part of revitalizing Lee's downtown, this [project] has legs," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

Pignatelli and Neal gathered with town officials and representatives of the developer at the Eagle Mill to also update the planning for the mixed re-use of the downtown industrial complex.

Mill Renaissance LLC, led by Jeffrey N. Cohen of Great Barrington, has vowed a complete build-out that includes work force housing, a restaurant, retail space and a community center on the 6.4-acre parcel. One of Cohen's two scenarios drawn up by Bruner/Cott Architects also shows a hotel on site, likely managed by a Berkshire lodging group. The Cambridge firm designed the plans that transformed the former Sprague Electric Co. complex in North Adams into Mass MoCA, the contemporary art museum.

The Eagle Mill developers plan to restore several of the 19th century brick buildings for part of the project and raze two others on the north end to make way for more than 100 market-rate and affordable housing units. The less expensive housing will complement future business growth in town, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman David Consolati.

"We can get all the jobs we want, but people will need a place to stay and live," he noted.

Cohen and his development team are currently trying to secure private and public funding, the latter primarily in the form of federal and state tax credits.

"We are now on the verge of putting together the essential financing [such as] the historic tax credits and housing tax credits crucial to the project," said the developer's consultant, Richard Vinette.

Once financing, permitting and environmental hurdles are cleared, Vinette expects the project to take four to five years to complete.

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 has said he hopes revitalizing Eagle Mill will help replace some of the 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.

To reach Dick Lindsay:

or (413) 496-6233.


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