Developer unveils plan for revitalization of Eagle Mill


LEE -- A restaurant, hotel, affordable housing and community center are among the potential re-uses for the Eagle Mill, according to the local developer seeking to revitalize the community's oldest factory.

Jeffrey Cohen has come forward to outline his "concept" for redeveloping the former mill located behind Joe's Diner off the north end of Main Street.

The Great Barrington man pointed to a preliminary sketch in discussing the possible mixed development with an Eagle reporter. Other uses include a river walk.

"I want to make it a place where people can enjoy the river and green space," he said during an hour-long interview. "Part of the objective is to give something to the people who both visit and live here."

Once Cohen works out more details of his proposal -- including its financial feasibility, he expects to publicly discuss his proposal during a townwide meeting in December. He says the gathering will likely include drawings prepared by Bruner/Cott Architects, the Cambridge firm that designed the plans to transform the former Sprague Electric complex into the Mass MoCA contemporary art museum in North Adams.

Cohen noted he has already met with town officials to find out what type of project they and townspeople would support.

"My style is to stop before planning boards multiple times, see the town [administrator] ... to come up with a plan that makes sense," he said.

PHOTO GALLERY | Lee hopes to redevelop Eagle Mill

The Eagle Mill revitalization would be Cohen's first Berkshire project after years of developing various residential projects in Maine and Washington D.C, along with building a rehabilitation hospital in the nation's capitol.

If financially, environmentally and logistically feasible, Cohen envisions restoring four of the seven buildings of the Eagle Mill located on 6.4 acres along the Housatonic River. He says the rehabilitated historic structures -- parts of which date back to 1806 -- would likely house the proposed restaurant, hotel, office and other commercial space.

The community center would be a new building just east of the bridge over the Housatonic. Cohen plans to maintain the original entrance by the railroad tracks.

As for the two most easterly structures behind the homes on Center Street, the developer would raze them and erect new ones that would most likely house affordable and market-rate apartments.

Meanwhile, Cohen, town officials and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli are encouraged by the state's apparent interest in the potential redevelopment of the Eagle Mill.

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Last week, the local contingent met in Boston with Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory P. Bialecki, hoping the state agency will eventually invest directly or indirectly in the project.

"He was very receptive and gave us things to work on," said Selectman David Consolati. "We have work to do to pull it together."

While Cohen foresees the need for some type of state financial investment, his consultant, Richard Vinette, says using taxpayers' money wasn't discussed with Bialecki.

"We didn't strike any deals or ask for anything -- we just asked for advice," said Vinette, former executive director of the Lee Community Development Corp.

Since the facility closed five years ago, only one developer has publicly discussed reusing the Eagle Mill.

Previous owner Schweitzer-Maduit International Inc. sold the mill in 2010 to a prospective development company from the Albany, N.Y., area. Eagle Mill Enterprises bought the 6.4-acre parcel for $450,000, with the intent to convert the site into a mixed-use project of affordable and market-rate housing, retail, professional, office and studio space.

The current owners never presented a formal project to the town for approval and late last year they put the property for sale with an asking price of $1.1 million. Since December, Cohen has had a purchase and sale agreement to buy the mill upon approval of his project, but he didn't divulge the sale price.

The Eagle Mill is one of four local mills Schweitzer-Maduit shut down in the spring of 2008, putting about 170 people out of work.

The town's effort to market the defunct factories for redevelopment, aided by the Lee Community Development Corp., received a boost this summer from the federal government. The municipality received a $175,000 grant from the EPA's Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Program toward creating a community-based strategy for revitalizing the former Eagle, Columbia and Greylock mills. The fourth vacant factory is the Niagara Mill in Lenox Dale.

The two-year project calls for studying the existing condition of the four privately owned commercial sites, conducting a market study and seeking plenty of public input on their reuse, according the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. The BRPC prepared the grant application on behalf of the town.

Local officials believe a redeveloped Eagle Mill could pique interest in the remaining three dormant mills.

To reach Dick Lindsay:,

or (413) 496-6233.


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