The 100,000 square-foot mill is about 80 percent committed.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Jay Ash, secretary of housing and economic development, visited a manufacturer making cords for heating train tracks, toured a coffee roasting facility, saw a demonstration of a high-tech training simulator for golfers, spoke with the owner of a photovoltaic company and popped his head into a small business that makes museum exhibition furniture.
But he didn't have to travel around North County to see them. All these businesses — and more — are within a few feet or a floor away from each other.
It's been less than a year since David Moresi purchased the four-story Excelsior Mill on Roberts Drive with the intention of creating business suites designed to accommodate the needs of his varied
"This is about working with potential tenants as a landlord, as a developer, to make the transition easy for them," Moresi told Ash on Friday morning, during a tour of the building with state Rep. John Barrett III and Mayor Thomas Bernard. "Fortunately my company is diverse enough that we were able to do a lot of the work for them, give them the breaks and stuff that they need to make such a move like this possible for them."
There are now some 20 tenants on the first two floors with plans submitted for building out the third floor that will include a reception area to host events; 80 percent of the building is committed.
One of those commitments is for 4,000 square-feet on the second floor that will be occupied by Friea Yarns
, an international distributor of hand-dyed, gradient yarn.
Established in 2003 as kit company KnitWhits, the firm expanded as owner Tina Whitmore's search for interesting colors led her to yarn-dying. The company distributes its products as far away as Germany, Japan and Israel, and its main distribution hub is barely an hour away in Northampton.
Showing Ash the space being prepared for the yarn company, Moresi said Whitmore reached out to him last year as she was looking for a life change and a place to relocate Freia.
"[We] vowed that we would work with her every step of the way to bring her business to North Adams," he said. "She like so many others was visiting the area and fell in love with it."
Freia is expected to bring a dozen jobs with it, Moresi said, adding it was a nice nod to "a mill that once manufactured vast amounts of woolens and textiles."
Dating to 1863, the original brick structure has been added on throughout the decades, totaling some 100,000 square feet over five floors if you include a basement level and attic. The mill's original name, North Adams Mill (or Norad), was restored after Moresi purchased it from Crane & Co., under which the mill had produced paper products since the 1950s.
"They gave us a good deal for this and we are holding true to what we told them from the start: this project was to bring businesses and jobs to this city," Moresi said.
Barrett estimated about 150 people had worked in the paper mill years back; Moresi thought there could be 100 people working here by year's end.
Ash was making a swing through the area that started that morning in Northampton, although the legislative luncheon he was supposed to speak at on the "State of the Berkshire Workforce" was canceled because of the snowstorm. Still, he was planning on meeting with a number of local leaders on development issues. The fate of the state's older industrial mills, many now vacant, has been a topic of discussion in Boston, he said.
"Myself and Gov. Baker have been talking about repositioning mills to create new jobs," Ash said. He's twice visited the Greylock Works mill down the road that has had two infusions of state MassWorks funds to complete its parking area.
Moresi & Associates began around 2000 flipping houses; when the global economic collapse hit, Moresi, a city native, began diversifying into residential and commercial construction and property management, anything that would bring in the dollars. The firm that started with four employees now numbers 28 with several divisions, including a new real estate sales division that will be moving into the mill. Three new workers have been hired in the last year and more are expected to be by this summer.
It also means that a lot of the expertise is readily available for transforming outdated or empty spaces into offices and manufacturing areas suitable to tenants' needs.
"This is 100,000 square feet, an overwhelming daunting task," Moresi said. "The way we've been focused on this building is one tenant space at a time."
He was quick to point out all of this has been with private — not state — funding and some financing from MountainOne. "I'm not looking for anything from you," he laughed to Ash.
The secretary thanked him for that in return but noted there may be sources of state assistance for buildouts like solar or for those small businesses that Moresi's trying to recruit.
"The reuses of these buildings are important and in the fashion that you're reusing them because you're giving small business opportunity to come into professional, clean functional space," Ash said. "You're giving them an opportunity to work with each other, learn from each other and giving them the flexibility to grow or not as a you go along. ...
"You're more than a landlord, you're a trusted adviser, which is important."