Phyllis McGuire | View From the Village: Cable Mills transformed from eyesore to asset


WILLIAMSTOWN >> I remember when the Cable Mills plant at 160 Water St. was an eyesore. The deteriorated, faded brick exterior and windows covered with weather-beaten plastic indicated the building was vacant and abandoned.

Now, a reincarnated Cable Mills enhances Water Street in its new life as housing. Under the ownership of Mitchell Properties LLC of Boston, the brick exteriors on the four storey mill building and two smaller buildings in the Cable Mills complex have been restored, and the interiors have been converted into a variety of living spaces.

The historic essence of the 187-year-old former industrial buildings has been retained in such features as ceilings that soar from 12 to 14 feet, mammoth windows, polished concrete floors, exposed brick walls and wooden beams.

Situated on a nine-acre site alongside the banks of the Green River, Cable Mills is an excellent vantage point for beautiful views of the surrounding wooded mountain range.

An open house was held in December 2015 and now, Cable Mills is ready for occupancy, according to Harsch Associates, exclusive broker for the property. Lofts — one-, two- and three-bedroom units — are being offered for lease.

"Included in the 62 rental units are 13 affordable units for residents who meet the income qualification," which is within 80 percent of the area media income, Paul Harsch, president of Harsch Associates, said when we spoke recently.

"Right now, the range of tenants goes from college to summer residents to local down-sizers to people from entirely different parts of the country wanting what we have here in Williamstown."

Kevin White, leasing agent for Cable Mills through Harsch Associates, said that 70 percent of the units are already leased out, and some tenants have moved into their new homes.

Weather-permitting, landscaping will begin in May.

Cable Mills is conveniently located within walking distance of Spring Street, the Taconic Golf Course, restaurants, shops, Images Cinema, Williams College, and Williamstown Theatre Festival. In addition, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is nearby.

Amenities include a fitness room, community room and a walking path next to the banks of the Green River. And as residents of Williamstown, lessees will be able to avail themselves of Williams College's athletic facilities, Harsch pointed out.

The saga of the historic Cable Mills transformation began with Robert T. Kuehn, founder and president of Keen Development Company in Cambridge, buying the mill complex from General Cable Company. Sadly, Kuehn succumbed to a heart attack while his plan to convert the industrial buildings into living spaces was in its infancy in 2006. His estate was put on the market, and Mitchell Property LLC bought the Cable Mills property for $3 million in June 2007.

But the developer was unable to move forward with a $26 million Cable Mills project due to circumstances beyond their control, including the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008.

Williamstown stepped up, voting at town meetings of 2007 and 2009 to approve a total of $1.55 million in Community Preservation funds toward the Cable Mills project.

The project met the criteria for funding under the Community Preservation Act: create affordable housing, preserve historic structures and create recreation space — in the case of Cable Mills project, a publicly accessible walkway along Green River, which parallels Water Street.

Mitchell encountered more obstacles and when the project went unrealized year after year, some Williamstownians wanted to know if the town could recover the Community Preservation funds, if the project fell through.

Peter Fohlin, then town manager, explained that "the funds were disbursed on a completion basis ... and furthermore, the town obtained an easement on the property to protect their investment."

But all that is in the past. Now Cable Mills is an eye-pleasing addition to Williamstown's streetscape, and in the near future, the developers will embark on Phase 2 of the project: building townhouses on the riverside.

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown.


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