I write a lot about downtown — downtown retail, downtown restaurants, downtown revitalization, downtown riverfront — but another critical piece of a vibrant downtown is downtown living. In this era of “new urbanism” it’s all about the mix of where people shop, hang out, work and call home in convenient downtown location. Developers have called us looking to see what they might be able to do in downtown Kent to expand the number of residential properties to market to retirees, students, faculty, or anyone that values the downtown lifestyle. While we continue to work with prospective developers, here’s look at what some other cities have done.
Development offers new life for old factory, city’s downtown
Haverhill project to add 305 apartment units
By John Laidler, Globe Correspondent | July 15, 2007
HAVERHILL — A national development firm is preparing to convert a century-old factory complex in downtown Haverhill to a mix of 305 rental apartments and retail space, making use of a “smart growth” zoning measure approved by the city last year.
Officials from Cleveland-based Forest City Residential (I need to give them a call) said initial construction activity is targeted to begin next month on the 4-acre site, situated at the junction of Essex, Locke, Duncan, and Winter streets.
“It’s going to take a really run-down, frankly decrepit area and totally revitalize it,” said Mayor James J. Fiorentini, an enthusiastic backer of the project. He said it would bring new tax revenues of up to $300,000 per year, increase property values, and provide a customer base that will help downtown businesses without putting additional pressure on on-street parking, since the plan calls for 322 parking spots on the property.
The project, informally called Haverhill Mills, is the second to take advantage of the smart growth overlay district adopted by the city last year.
“We are very excited about this potential opportunity and we believe that our design and our implementation will make for an extremely successful project,” said Forest City vice president George Kruse.
The state’s Chapter 40R program encourages creation of smart growth zones, where streamlined permitting is intended to attract dense residential or mixed-use projects near transit stations, areas of concentrated development, or other places suitable for growth without requiring extensive infrastructure work.
In Haverhill’s 40R district, covering a large part of the downtown, builders can create developments featuring stores or offices on street-facing ground floors, with housing upstairs and in the rear. Only a vote by the City Council affirming that the project meets the requirements of the smart growth district is needed, instead of a more-complicated special permit.
In April, the council approved the first project proposed under the city’s smart growth district, a plan to convert an old factory building on Granite Street to 57 apartments and three commercial spaces. The developer, the Planning Office of Urban Affairs, an affiliate of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, is now working on acquiring financing for the project, according to William E. Pillsbury, the city’s economic development and planning director.
The Haverhill Mills project, approved by the council on June 26, calls for conversion of four buildings that were originally part of the L.H. Hamel Leather Co. complex into 111 two-bedroom and 194 one-bedroom apartments. Of the units, 20 percent would be rented at prices meeting state guidelines for affordability. The project also would include 2,700 square feet of retail space on Essex Street.
The city and the developer are negotiating Forest City’s request for a property tax break, according to city officials. Haverhill can offers such breaks, known as tax increment financing, to businesses because it is a state-designated “economic target area.”
Forest City, which said it plans to invest $70 million in the project, has been allocated some state historic tax credits and is continuing to seek additional state credits as well as federal credits, according to Doug Arsham, a development manager for the company.
Kruse, the Forest City vice president, said the company was drawn by the site’s location.
“We love the way that the downtown is situated on the river with proximity to the highway, and our site is located directly across the street from the train stop. And the downtown has made some significant strides in gentrification,” he said. “We thought it was perfect timing to try and take advantage of that gentrification and add to it.”
The approval of the first two 40R projects comes amid construction of two other downtown projects initiated before the creation of the smart growth zone. The projects, both by Beacon Communities Development LLC, involve the conversion of the century-old Haverhill Board of Trade building on Walnut Street to 146 rental apartments, and the conversion of an adjacent former industrial building to 32 loft-style live-work condominium units.
The Hamel Leather Co., part of the city’s vibrant shoe industry of the 19th and early 20th centuries, built its complex between 1911 and 1916, according to Forest City. In recent decades, the complex has had various uses, including light manufacturing, warehousing, and offices.
The Haverhill Mills project would make use of four buildings from the original complex. Plans call for a restoration of the historic building exteriors, and interior construction that would preserve some of the original building features. Forest City has agreements to purchase the buildings that it expects to execute within 60 days, Kruse said.
Along with the apartments, the development would include a cyber cafÉ, a pool table room, a bicycle storage area, a gym, a media center for viewing movies and television events, and a conference area, all for tenant use. The developer is applying to lease 72 parking spaces at a nearby city lot to supplement the 322 on-site spaces.
Arsham said Forest City believes the city’s residential market has “tremendous potential. Between the train and localized amenities like the river, the urban New England fabric of the city itself, the events the community holds, its proximity to the north and to Boston, we think it’s ripe” for a mixed-use project such as Haverhill Mills.
GSU dorm brings youthful vibe to downtown
By KEVIN DUFFY
After six years of planning and construction, the building is about to open to 1,992 students who will live downtown. The official ribbon-cutting for the $165 million project takes place Aug. 10, and five days later the move-ins begin.
• If you had a dollar for every screw used in the building, you’d be a millionaire more than five times over.
• 3,500 windows provide views of the downtown scene.
• Georgia State economics professor Bruce Seaman said residents of the Commons might spend $10 million to $12 million a year, with much of that money staying downtown.
— A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress
Akron, Northside Lofts
The Best of Everthing the City Has to Offer
Northside Lofts is designed for residents who enjoy an active lifestyle and want to experience city living at its finest. This high-rise, multiple-use development will feature retail space on its lower levels, which will add to the convenience and excitement of living in downtown Akron. Residents will have access to concierge and limousine services provided by Northside Lofts,as well as the security and privacy of covered parking and elevators separate from retail parking and elevators Each unit at Northside Lofts comes with its own private terrace, and the development will feature a rooftop terrace open to all residents. The rooftop terrace space can also be reserved for private use, and it will also include a hospitality suite that can be rented on a nightly basis for overnight guests or as a staging area for parties. Ground-breaking for Northside Lofts is scheduled for October 2005 with estimated completion in November 2006. The development will feature 89 residential units, starting at $180,000