Eagle Mill project gets boost with $6M in federal tax credits

This image shows what the Eagle Mill could look like after renovations.

LEE — Eagle Mill developers have secured millions in federal historic tax credits, a potential catalyst to landing the more elusive state historic tax credits for the estimated $60 million project.

The National Park Service has agreed to financially support Mill Renaissance LLC renovating three historic structures for housing, marketplace and commercial space. Revitalizing the former paper mill site at the north end of Main Street also includes new construction for market-rate and affordable housing and a 72-room extended stay hotel.

"The National Park Service has reviewed the Historic Preservation Certification Application ... and has determined that the proposed rehabilitation will meet ... the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation if the attached conditions are met," the National Park Service wrote in a letter to Mill Renaissance.

Principal developer Jeffrey Cohen says those 10 conditions dealing with aesthetics and design of the rehabilitated buildings can be easily met.

In an Eagle interview, Cohen said the project will receive the $6 million in federal tax credits all at once. If approved by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the state tax credits will be awarded over a period of time. The state has been more reluctant in granting the credits, but National Park Service approval could convince the state agency to follow suit, according to Cohen.

"This gives us major credibility. I think this bodes well for us with the state," he said.

The state historic tax credits would boost the chance of securing housing tax credits from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

The tax credits, other state financing and private loans would be pillars in the renovations as well as new construction on the 6.4-acre site at the north end of Main Street. While wrapping up the funding package is taking longer than expected, Cohen says the project remains on course for a undetermined groundbreaking date. He had hoped to begin construction in November.

"We're moving ahead, just waiting to pull the trigger and cut the ribbon," he said.

The developers' housing partner, Rees-Larkin Development of Boston, will create 78 units, evenly split between affordable and market-rate housing. Of that, 35 units will be in the renovated Union Mill section of the Eagle Mill. The remaining 43 units will occupy a new apartment building on the eastern end of the site now occupied by a 1960s-era metal building that will be demolished.

Crucial to the housing component, the National Park Service approval is no guarantee of getting the state credits, says Rees-Larkin principal Jon Rudzinski.

"I'm cautiously optimistic; [the federal tax credits] is definitively good news," he told The Eagle in a phone interview.

The Berkshire Housing Development Corp. will manage the apartments. It also manages the Rice Silk Mill apartments in Pittsfield, another Rees-Larkin mill-to-housing conversion completed more almost seven years ago.

Cohen has said the market would be akin to Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. It would include a restaurant, small brewery and other commercial establishments. The Marketplace would be the lead entity for this commercial space, bringing 25 years of food service to the project. The Marketplace provides catering and has three eateries in Pittsfield, Great Barrington and Sheffield.

The machine building is the third historic structure targeted for renovation and several uses.

As for the 72-room hotel, it would front the property on West Center Street or be built across the street to take advantage of additional parking for the project. The developers are buying up properties to make way for the hotel at either location. If the hotel is built off-site, the original spot could be additional apartments, Cohen has said.

The director of redevelopment for the project, Leigh Davis, appreciates the continued community support for a revitalization effort that began more than seven years ago.

"The outpouring of good will from Lee residents has been unwavering and generous," Davis wrote in an email to The Eagle. "We look forward to breaking ground and breathing new life into this historic paper mill which once was such an integral part of the community."

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.