Funding gap narrows for $6.7M housing project at old St. Mary the Morning Star

On Tuesday, the Pittsfield City Council accepted $125,000 in state housing money to boost a $6.7 million venture to turn the historic four-building Tyler Street property of the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church into a 29-unit market-rate apartment complex over the next two years.

PITTSFIELD — David Carver hit a few snags in his latest redevelopment project on Tyler Street, but now the community is chipping in.

"I'll figure it out one way or another," Carver said of the $6.7 million price tag at the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler Street.

On Tuesday, the City Council accepted $125,000 in state housing money to boost the venture, which will turn the historic four-building property into a 29-unit market-rate apartment complex over the next two years.

The city will use the new state money to upgrade the neighborhood's waterlines, which Carver said are 150 years old and incapable of supporting the development. Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer said Tuesday that the city also will use the money to offset costs associated with renovating the property's historic terra cotta roof.

Carver said he is working to close a $200,000 funding gap. He said the Berkshires investment firm Mill Town Capital has agreed to invest in the project and help fill the remaining funding hole.

"We're going to split that," Carver said. "Whatever it takes to get it over the finish line."

Boosters of the project, which sits between such large employers as Berkshire Medical Center and General Dynamics, say it will draw young professionals in search of market-rate rentals.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said he supported the earmark because workforce housing is an important piece of the city's revitalization effort yet projects like the one Carver is undertaking can be cost-prohibitive.

"An obstacle to development of such housing projects has been closing the gap between development cost and revenue that can be generated by rent, and this is a tangible effort to close the gap," he said.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said she worked to secure the state funding earmark because she believes that the redevelopment will be a big boost for the neighborhood.

"That project is going to be a game changer for Tyler Street," she said.

Over the past several months, Carver said he and his team were busy stabilizing slouching structures, clearing out asbestos, performing interior demolition and repairing roofs to keep the weather out. In the coming weeks, he looks forward to begin building out the interior.

He said that he and his team were surprised this year to find that the neighboring waterline can't support the development, and over that "we stopped dead in our tracks."

As for the historic terra cotta roof, he said they are rare and expensive to maintain. He said he would like to respect the historic integrity of that design, and Ruffer said some of the state money will support that effort.

Carver said he suggests that the city take an easement on the roof, which would give the city rights to require it be maintained in a way that respects that legacy. Otherwise, he said, property owners can sometimes "go rogue" and replace historic stylings with less-expensive alternatives.

He said he also hopes to see the state money applied to city sidewalks surrounding the property.

Carver said he normally doesn't work with investors in his real estate developments, but in people at Mill Town he sees like minds who aren't asking for a lot in return.

Tim Burke, managing director for Mill Town Capital, said the firm is watching small-business growth along Tyler Street — a corridor that holds history and character and connects the city's largest employers.

"From a business perspective, it has some really interesting dynamics there," he said.

The way Carver sees it, the city needs to discourage development in the suburbs, which should be reserved for outdoor tourism. Housing developments should shift away from suburban sprawl, he said, and toward city centers.

And when it comes to market-rate housing in Pittsfield, he said, it keeps filling up.

"We could use a lot more," he said.

Carver leaned in as he spoke about the architecture of the old church, which he said was built in 1942 at Pittsfield's peak industrial strength.

"It's a spectacular building," he said.

Carver bought the 2.6-acre property for $500,000 about a year ago. Morningstar will be the fourth Berkshires church to become housing at Carver's hand.

He said historic reuse projects like this one are costly and not very profitable, but he enjoys the creative challenge.

"We're going to fit a three-story building inside a church," he said, smiling.

Designing the future units is his favorite part, he said, taking out sketches he drew with an app on his phone.

"I'm driving the architects nuts," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.