ADAMS — Next door to the Adams Theater rejuvenation and a few steps from two reopened restaurants, the Park Street reawakening continues with the renovation of the Mausert Block.
As soon as mid-summer, the building’s owners say, 10 updated apartments on the second and third floors will be ready for renters, bringing a fresh set of downtown residents to patronize Park Street businesses and a much-needed expansion of the town’s tax base.
Stephen and Holly Stenson bought the building at 19-25 Park St. in 2011 and have had to work through a number of challenges, including a court case in which they fought the building inspector’s ruling that any renovation of the Mausert Block must include a sprinkler system.
Because it is an historic restoration, Stephen Stenson said, the sprinkler system was not required — a view the court system eventually backed. In the roughly six years that the case took, the couple continued on with architectural and engineering designs. Just when things started moving forward, the pandemic hit, causing further delays.
Both Stensons said that the current town administrator, building inspector and Select Board members have been much more encouraging and collaborative on the project.
“(Town Administrator) Jay Green and (Select Board member) Christine Hoyt came by and asked how can they help us get this project done,” Stephen Stenson said. “They’ve been very helpful.”
Green said his team works to ensure new and existing business owners have a good experience when seeking town approvals.
"Our efforts are appreciated by the businesses community and the results of this hard work are in every new business that opens and every current business that chooses to stay in Adams,” Green said.
Shortages and delays in delivery of materials have been a more recent challenge. For example, a shortage of drywall screws — essential in any renovation project — turned out to be a real challenge, according to Holly Stenson.
But today, Stephen Stenson noted, “it’s coming around. The recovery of Park Street is going well, so I don’t think we’ll have any issues with getting these apartments leased.”
The building contains 28,000 square feet and the project will have cost about $2.5 million by the time it is finished, according to Stephen Stenson. The project was the recipient of several government grants.
There are two retail spaces on the ground floor of the 3-story structure. One is outfitted to house a restaurant; the other space could serve as retail, an office, or as another restaurant, the Stensons said. Those two spaces will be completed last, after the apartments are done.
“We’ve had a steady run of people checking out the space,” Holly Stenson said.
The nine two-bedroom and one three-bedroom apartments are just about done. Holly Stenson said they might be able to start taking tenants in July.
The new design for the second and third floors transformed 18 studio apartments into 10 market-rate suites.
Each apartment is outfitted with its own hot water heater and hybrid air conditioning/heating system, natural gas fueled fireplace, and ceiling fans. The building includes a library/working space, game room and security system.
Stephen Stenson said there is already a waiting list for the apartments. He declined to say what the rental rates are, saying they are being negotiated with tenants.
"The Mausert Block is a critical property in our downtown," Green said. "When these properties are operating, they breathe life into our town. Soon, the Jones Block will have several market-rate, brand new apartments for rent. When the Mausert Block fills their 10 market rate units with people, our downtown will begin to see not only the benefits of commercial development, but will also begin to see the benefits of people living in our downtown."
Officials with proAdams, a group of residents who help promote commerce in Adams, think the new Mausert Block will open a new chapter in the town's economic revitalization.
"It's a very important building and we can't wait to see it open," said David Bissaillon, co-chair of proAdams. "It is one of the anchor buildings on Park Street. It will have a tremendous impact."
He noted the re-opening of the Miss Adams Diner, the Firehouse Cafe, work to re-open Adams Theater, and the addition of the Mausert Block. All, he said, will bring the downtown closer to a "critical mass" needed for commercial viability.
Erin Mucci, co-chair of proAdams, is happy to see more activity downtown. "It will be wonderful — people are always looking for good apartments. And Park Street has really started to come alive. It will be great to see the Mausert Block opened up again after all this time."
"Each time a dormant property is transformed into a new business or a new house is built, that expands the tax base and it eases the burden on our home owners," Green said.
Having a bigger tax base means more taxpayers and more revenue for Adams. That leads to a lower tax rate to raise the amount of money to needed fund town operations.
The Mausert Block was built in about six months at a cost of about $40,000, and opened in 1901, originally with a dance hall on the third floor for the Odd Fellows secret society. Other tenants at the time of opening included a jeweler, a milliner, a dry goods store and a grocery store. There were offices on the second floor. It was also the home of the county's first Woolworth's department store.
The renovation was recently presented with the Robert Kuehn Award, which recognizes projects that meld collaborative partnerships with creative and cutting-edge ideas for the rehabilitation and active reuse of historic buildings. It also secured the 2022 People’s Preservation Choice Award.
“It was good to win both the Robert Kuehn Award and to bring the people’s Preservation Choice Award back to the Berkshires,” Stephen Stetson said.