The work has already begun on the sprawling complex.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The new owners of the historic Sheaffer-Eaton mill, now known as the Clocktower Building, are looking to modernize the entire building to fit today's business needs.
The building whose anchor tenants include The Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Health Systems was purchased by Scarafoni Associates under a new holding company, Clocktower Partners LLC, for $1 million.
In the next few years, the company is looking to invest millions into it to attract small businesses.
"The Berkshire Eagle was trying to sell this building for a long time. Twenty, 30 years ago, however long it was, the old family who used to own it put an enormous amount of money into the structure. The structure is in fantastic shape. The building is in fantastic shape. And now it is time to re-modernize everything," Craig Barnum, who heads the commercial and residential leasing aspect of Scarafoni, said last week.
The focus for Barnum is "adaptive reuse" of the historic building. The mill was constructed in 1883 by Eli Terry. A decade later it was sold to Arthur W. Eaton who turned it into the Sheaffer-Eaton mill (after a merger with the Sheaffer pens) and employed a total of 900 people at one point.
In 1987, the mill was sold to Miller family, then owners of The Berkshire Eagle. In the 1990s, the Millers renovated the entire building into offices and moved paper's operation there. Miller sold the building and business to Media News Group and, in recent years, the company has been trying to sell it.
Earlier this year, Scarafoni reached a deal to purchase the building. With the purchase, Barnum said plans were laid to improve lighting, secure access points, and a number of cosmetic upgrades.
"Over the short term, you will see window products. You will see lighting modernization. We are working with professional consultants with our personal team to update and modernize the HVAC system. It is already modern and we are going to make it better," Barnum said. "Those are expensive projects but you can't afford to not do them."
Barnum estimates that "over seven figures" will be spent on the building in the coming years. The plan calls for tailor-made office suites and possibly a section for market-rate housing.
"We are 60 to 75 percent occupied. I give that range because there is a building between the main professional office space and Clocktower Condos, called Building 3. In the near future, it is quite possible we make that into more market-rate housing. We see a need in the county for good, quality market-rate housing at a fair price," Barnum said. "That rustic old mill housing, that is new and modernized is very attractive to the marketplace. It fills up very quickly."
Barnum is marketing the building to new tenants. But the days of finding one large employer to take up the majority of the building is gone so he's focused on small businesses that can expand.
"Multiple small businesses that start in these 100- to 330-square-foot offices have grown to 1,200 square-foot offices. We just had a fantastic tenant outgrow one, two, and then three small offices. Now they have a structural permanent office here," Barnum said.
The building currently has 40 tenants and there is space ranging from 120 square feet to 30,000 square feet available for more. Barnum says the building is perfect for small businesses to control overhead.
"We have a current tenant base in it. The newspaper over time will continue to change and adapt to the needs of what newspapers will be in the future. Their space has shrunk over time and we need to solicit and earn new tenants from the marketplace. We have great parking. Our building will be in the top tier cosmetically. It will be in the top tier as far as energy and HVAC. It is right in the center part of the county with access to everything," Barnum said.
"Hopefully, our theory of 'buy a great building, put a whole lot of money into it in the right ways' and tenants will come."
Barnum says the county is "overbuilt" right now and instead of watching historic buildings throughout the county fall into blight, the "adaptive reuse" of those buildings can ultimately help the economy.
Barnum said this space is the closest this the county has to a co-working area. Each business has its own office space but there are large common areas and shared conference rooms.
"From the northern part of the county all the way to the southern part was built for a population and an economy that does not exist anymore," Barnum said.
"The population in North Adams and Pittsfield used to be greater than it is today. These beautiful old buildings that were built were used differently in the past and had higher occupancy in the past. That's all gone. So now you have these beautiful old buildings and some of these old downtown buildings and they are hands down fantastic structures but there really needs to be adaptive reuse and in some cases shrinking."
Not only does that include retrofitting the spaces for smaller offices but also demolishing many. Scarafoni had previously purchased a portion of the building on the eastern end and turned it into Clocktower Condominiums. During that process, a large portion was razed to create parking.
"We took these vacant old structures. We removed some of the square footage from the marketplace and then we created long-term residential units that are now on the tax roll," Barnum said.
The hope is to save old buildings and make them suitable and sustainable for today's economy instead of companies building new. Sometimes that means razing parts of them to make a project workable.
"We still need to adapt and reuse this old supply of space and in some cases continue to remove it so that supply and demand balance gets back to a proper equilibrium," Barnum said.
The renovations to the Clocktower have already begun somewhat with a new entrance way being constructed on Building 3, which will house the Berkshire Carousel workshop area. The company is working with Eversource on a new lighting scheme and consultants and engineers are plotting out the other cosmetic repairs.
"It is a big complex. It is a big building. It will take time to modernize it but everything is in motion," Barnum said.
He said within the first year of ownership, the cosmetic improvements will start and progress throughout multiple years.
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