NORTH ADAMS — In 1997, David Moresi moved back home to North Adams to renovate houses, a business he has expanded to include development and property management firms. But recently, he has turned his attention to bigger, vacant properties that abound in New England: mills and factories.
Decades after they were shut down, taking thousands of well-paying jobs with them, many of these solidly built structures with open interiors are finding new life. They are being reborn not as manufacturing centers for textiles or machine tools, but as apartments, coworking centers, breweries, doctors' offices and shops.
In many parts of New England, repurposed mills and factories are bolstering long-struggling communities. The buildings, though often in disrepair, have high ceilings, large windows and solid floors, which make them attractive for a variety of uses. Owners can also capitalize on prime locations, often in the center of town and on rivers that once helped power the machinery inside the factories.
For example, Moresi's Norad Mill — short for North Adams — is a former textile mill on the Hoosic River that leases business space less than 2 miles from downtown North Adams and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. (The museum itself was adapted from a mill and factory complex where textiles for Union Army uniforms were made and where, more recently, Sprague Electric made its products.)
Another boon to these renovation projects is an array of state grants, and state and federal tax credits, aimed at encouraging redevelopment in communities hit hard by long-term unemployment.
Richard Griffin Jr., a vice president for community development for MassDevelopment, said his state-funded agency was eager to support the revitalization efforts.
"A lot of these old manufacturing sites become eyesores or dangerous to the community," Griffin said.
'Buildings are made to last'
The sites are often contaminated with asbestos, lead and other hazards whose cleanup his agency can help finance, he said. Similar assistance is available in other New England states.
"These buildings are made to last," Griffin said. "Boston is built out. Western Mass has a lot more of these sites built along rivers. There are a lot of these mills in the smaller towns that aren't as developed."
In Western Massachusetts, several projects are in the works.
"There is a buzz," said Leigh Davis, spokeswoman for Jeffrey Cohen, head of Eagle Mill Redevelopment, which is working to overhaul a textile mill in Adams with apartments. In the next three years, the company hopes to build a food hall and space for small retailers in a paper mill in Lee.
Norad Mill formally opened in June but has been partly occupied for almost two years as Moresi built out the 50 or so spaces he designed, often with input from tenants.
His building houses a small barrel winery, a yarn manufacturer, a coffee roaster, a distributor of fly fishing equipment, a dance studio and a computer repair shop, among others.
On the other side of the river is Greylock Works, a former cotton-spinning mill of six connected buildings on 9 acres being redeveloped by a married couple, Salvatore Perry and Karla Rothstein, who are New York architects. They have created a 20,000-square-foot event space and a coworking center and are renting space to a rum and gin distillery and a cider-maker. They plan to convert other sections of the property into loft condominiums and a farm-to-table restaurant.
In nearby Housatonic, Asher Israelow and Jamie Goldenberg, another husband-and-wife team, are redoing the former Country Curtains textile factory. Their aim is to create spaces for artists and artisans who, like themselves, need to expand beyond their home studios and garages.
"We were looking for people who were ready to take their business or art to the next level, and leave the house," Goldenberg said. "We want to create spaces for people who can do that. The challenge is making them affordable while also making the building sustainable."
'A huge opportunity'
Near the University of New Hampshire, Chinburg Properties has turned a textile mill in Newmarket into apartments that back up onto the Lamprey River. Boaters can head out to Great Bay, a tidal inlet of the Atlantic.
"When we do a mill renovation, we are feeling like it is a huge opportunity to preserve what is in existence and otherwise would be crumbling to the ground," said Jennifer Chinburg, a spokeswoman for the family-run company.
In Keene, N.H., the first revival of the 112,000-square-foot Colony Mill in the 1980s transformed it into a mall with small retailers. In 2016, two years after Brady Sullivan, a real estate firm, acquired the property, company officials decided that retail was not sustainable. The next year, the city approved plans to convert the mill into apartments, a pattern the company has followed at several mills in New England.
Northwest of Keene, in Springfield, Vt., several large factories have sat idle on the Black River for decades. The town's fortunes began to slide in the 1970s, when the area, once known as Precision Valley for its machine-tool manufacturers, began to lose business to international competitors.
In 2008, Rick Genderson, a developer in Washington, and his brother, Jon, leased the former Fellows Gear Shaper building in Springfield, a town of about 9,500 residents, for $1 from the local redevelopment agency. They soon bought it for about $16,000 with a third partner and then entered into a remediation phase to remove toxic chemicals from the property. Genderson estimated that they had invested about $10 million in the site.
"Springfield is a town that has a lot of people really vested in it," Genderson said. "Because of that, a lot of money goes in there. The long-term prospects for Springfield are very good."
Kelen Beardsley, who opened the Trout River Brewing Co. in Genderson's building with two partners, said the company had sought a location in Springfield, where he had grown up, to help its revival.
"We made it our goal that we would establish our business in Springfield," Beardsley said. The brewery has a tasting room, and it delivers its products to customers across New England.
Bob Flint, executive director of the Springfield Regional Development Corp., said that the town — where he, too, grew up — had suffered from the opioid epidemic but that he saw many opportunities for change, such as the downtown additions of a coffee shop and roaster and a restaurant.
Flint, who is juggling several proposals for the hulking unoccupied factory buildings in the middle of town, recalled a time when there was a strong professional class with many engineers affiliated with the factories.
"The socioeconomics of the town flipped 180 degrees from the town I grew up in," he said.
Caitlin Christiana, executive director of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, said as many as 100 people were showing up for the group's monthly events. Despite the business from the revitalized mills, she said change in Springfield would probably not come quickly.
"This community did not decline
overnight, and it is not going to be fixed overnight," Christiana said.