By Patrick Anderson
The crumbling old mills on the banks of the Acushnet River in New Bedford’s North End may look like money pits, but to developers specializing in historic reuse, such as WinnCompanies of Boston, the buildings look like opportunities.
“They do not scare us away, we embrace them,” said Winn Managing Partner Gilbert Winn, who has recently embarked on renovating the Manomet Mills building on Riverside Avenue. “When completed, we think the high ceilings and large windows are advantages.”
Period details aren’t the only advantages of working with old industrial properties such as Manomet Mills, which Winn plans to convert into 151 mixed-income units for residents older than 55 years old.
City, state and federal officials are all interested in seeing abandoned and dilapidated historic buildings along the urban waterfront returned from blight to the tax roles and are willing to lavish significant incentives to make it happen.
“We began planning about five years ago in that area of the city, which has been heavy and light industrial. The city was very aggressive in marketing these projects over time,” said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. “These old mills are enormously costly to renovate, so there is a suite of financing required, including state and federal historic tax credits.”
In the case of Manomet Mills, which will be called Cliftex Lofts, the project is expected to cost around $30 million, more than it would cost to build a brand-new apartment building.
So Winn is taking advantage of a $500,000 community-development loan through the city, $5.3 million in combined federal affordable-housing and historic-preservation tax credits, plus $5.2 million in state tax credits.
The company has also secured $15 million in financing from Bank of America, Winn said.
In exchange for the sizable public investment, New Bedford expects the Cliftex Lofts – combined with Whaler’s Place, another recent Winn mill renovation, and the Victoria Riverside Townhouse Lofts on Manomet Street – will spark a North End renaissance.
Part of the New Bedford deal with the developers requires them to provide public access to the river, where the city is planning a 1.6-mile river-walk along the Acushnet. The river-walk is being paid for by a fund made up of money from companies found liable of polluting the river.
“We are really going to see the transformation of an entire neighborhood of the city,” Morrissey said. “There will be hundreds of residents in these buildings and the beautification of blights and eyesores and fire hazards will be examples of North End’s reversal.”
As city and state officials noted when they gathered at Manomet Mills to announce the start of the Cliftex Lofts project, renovation of the building is projected to create 445 construction jobs.
Built in 1903, when New Bedford was a national leader in textile manufacturing, Manomet Mills made cotton yarn until later being occupied by the New Bedford Rayon Company and Cliftex Clothing.
Plans for Cliftex Lofts call for renovation in two phases, with the first producing 76 units and the second phase 75.
In all, renovating the Cliftex building is estimated to take 13 to 14 months; with completion of the river-walk expected to take a year and a half.
The project is being built by Keith Construction of Stoughton, Mass., and, when finished, the building is expected to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for sustainability.
In addition to the company’s other New Bedford projects, Winn has recently completed the renovation of the Wampanoag Mill in Fall River, which includes 97 rental units for tenants 55 and older. WinnCompanies also manages 22 properties in Providence and in 2009 bought 233 unsold condominiums at The 903 Residences near Providence Place.
Despite the general stagnation in the housing market, Winn said his company has found strong demand for senior housing and in the market for middle tier and affordable units.
“It is no secret that the population is aging and the senior housing market will only get stronger,” Winn said. “Through the support programs that exist, we are able to provide housing for people making around $40,000 a year. These families are able to live in these developments. In that regard we find the market is still very strong.”
As for having to provide public access to the river in front of Cliftex, Winn said he prefers it.
“It is really a benefit and advantage,” Winn said. “Being able to offer a view of the river and having the city create a river-walk there is great. We are creating a destination.”
Nov 14, 2011