A Berkshire County developer is proposing to repurpose the former Waverly mill into 150 residential units.
ADAMS, Mass. — A South County developer is planning to invest $50 million in the former Waverly-Schumacher mill No. 4 to transform it into residential units.
Jeffrey N. Cohen of Great Barrington plans to purchase the 214,000-square-foot brick building at 7 Hoosac St. and work with the town to build affordable apartments that will benefit the area. Cohen looks to historically restore the mill and install 150 units of what he describes as "work force" housing.
"I'm a big fan of history and old architecture, and I think you go through the mill towns and you see extraordinary buildings that should be preserved and reused in an economic way," Cohen said.
Cohen also looks to turn the barren area around the mill into a park/parking lot combination. He said he would like to add trees, benches and lights.
"It ties in beautifully with the existing Berkshire Mill that has been restored and the train station and a lot of things coming together by accident here that will make the town shine," he said.
Berkshire Mill No. 1 was converted into housing in 1987. Mill No. 2 was long occupied by the Waverly Fabric outlet, Interior Alternatives, until the business was sold about six years. It has since been purchased by Jonah Bayliss and a baseball training business operates out of it.
Owner Michael Meehan operated an outlet and distribution center for the former KB Toys in the mill No. 4 some years ago.
Parts of the complex had originally been part of the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Co.; F. Schumacher & Co. had operated the mills from 1906 until relocating to South Carolina in 1991, putting 400 people out of work.
Cohen is not a stranger to Adams and Berkshire County and frequently uses the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
"There have been multiple occasions where I have come into Adams and have seen these mill buildings, and they are pretty neat and I always wondered what’s going on with them," he said. "I think Adams is a quaint New England working town that has an enormous amount of potential."
Cohen feels that an apartment complex with reasonable rents could help revitalize Adams and help bring life to the whole area. He explained that even with the possible loss of North Adams Regional Hospital, the area still has a lot to look forward to.
"I think it's very important right now to say that there are issues in the area with jobs and what have you, but there are some very good things that can happen here," Cohen said.
Unlike office space, the apartments will need to have kitchens and bathrooms installed, which cost more money.
"It takes the state's participation to allocate tax credits to us so we can do this, and it takes the state's participation so we can allocate historic tax credits," he said. "All of that is absolutely necessary to make the economics to work."
Cohen added that it is critical for town participation and state tax credits to help the project. He must apply for funding through the state, which he said is a daunting process.
Cohen believes Meehan agreed to sell the building to him because he thought the project was in the best interest of the town. He said Meehan could have probably sold it quicker and for more money if he sold it for office space or to storage space developers.
"Mike Meehan made it a priority to make the deal with us, in my opinion, because we were proposing affordable housing, Cohen said. "He made a point of doing what he thought was best for the town."
This isn't the only project the ambitious real estate developer has in the planning stages. He also is in the process of creating a mixed development site plan for the historic Eagle Mill in Lee that will include residential, restaurant and commercial space.
He was involved in real estate management and development in Washington, D.C., including historical preservation, before relocating to the Berkshires.
In addition to helping the area, Cohen explained that he looks to hire local contractors and would eventually like to help with other projects in Adams.
Bruner-Cott & Associates Inc. would most likely be the architects for the project, he said. They are involved in many mill restoration projects, including developing Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in the former Sprague Electric complex.
"They understand housing and historic preservation, and I don't think we could have found a better firm to do what we are doing," he said.
Cohen expects to finalize the purchase of the building April 1.