Ludlow Looks to the Future by Restoring the Past
Carmina Fernandes is certainly involved in her hometown, and she wants to get others involved as well.
“One thing I want to do is create partnerships with residents, with business people, with the chamber,” said Fernandes, who serves on the town’s Board of Selectmen and the East of the River 5 Town Chamber of Commerce board, in addition to owning a law office downtown. “If we do that, the possibilities are endless. I’m really excited about creating partnerships here.”
Ludlow is a gem that’s getting some polish these days, particularly at the Ludlow Mills site, a former jute-making factory that once anchored the southern end of town along the Chicopee River. The redevelopment of that property — which includes a mix of new development and reuse of close to 1 million square feet of existing manufacturing and warehouse space — will be a 20-year process overseen by Westmass Area Development Corp.
“It really was the Ludlow Mills that created this town,” Fernandes said. “Fortunately for us, the Westmass Area Development Corp. decided this location was a little gem and came forth with a project worth between $200 and $300 million.”
The site has long been one of Ludlow’s identifying marks; its famous clock tower even graces the town seal. “There’s so much history around that location,” Fernandes said of the old jute factory. “Being of Portuguese descent, it’s also the reason my family and many of our Portuguese descendants came to this town.”
The first tenant on the redeveloped site will be HealthSouth, which is building a $27 million, 53-bed hospital there, to be staffed by 240 employees. The rehabilitation hospital, which is currently located nearby on Chestnut Place, will feature private rooms, a gym, and an open floor plan. Construction of the 74,000-square-foot facility should be completed by the end of 2013.
Also moving to Ludlow Mills is Winn Development, which is planning a $20 million, 83-unit senior-housing complex on four floors of a renovated mill building, originally constructed in 1907. With an aging population in town, Fernandes said, the development complements HealthSouth well and meets an overall need for senior-targeted services.
More commercial and industrial tenants are expected to follow as the site is gradually developed over the next two decades. As part of the project, the town received a state transportation bond of more than $1 million to repair neighboring streets and a $1.5 million environmental bond from the Commonwealth to clean contamination on the lot. Westmass is even having the historic clock repaired.
“The town is very excited about this project,” Fernandes said. “Westmass is taking an old, run-down, dilapidated property, a site that was eventually going to turn into a liability to the town, and is slowly bringing the site back to its former glory and launching it into the 21st century.”
Ludlow is certainly not resting on its laurels, however. “We are definitely forward-thinking, and we want to be business-friendly,” Fernandes told BusinessWest. “We understand that we want to keep that balance, so our residents have a high quality of life, yet we still make it easy to do business in this town.”
She touted continued growth on the residential front. “Ludlow is a desirable town with great quality of life and a great education system, so our home values have stayed strong throughout this bad economy.”
Newer developments include a 100-lot subdivision on Parker Lane Extension between Parker Lane and Denis Avenue, a 15-lot subdivision being developed off Center Street across from Higher Brook Drive, and several condominium developments, to name a few.
Small businesses have found a home in town as well, Fernandes said. “Ludlow is one of the remaining land-rich communities outside of Springfield, and the town is reaping benefits from the development.”
She cited a new medical office building for Hampden County Physicians at Holyoke and Moody streets; Alegria Dance & Fitness, which took over a formerly dilapidated building near Randall’s Farm; AJE Financial Services on Center Street; and Dave’s Soda and Pet City and Gomes Construction, both of which located operations in pre-existing commercial sites.
“We’ve been able to bring a lot of our business development using existing commercial sites that were not generating much of anything, taking those sites and redeveloping them. It’s a win-win all around,” Fernandes said. “We tend not to have vacant buildings for too long. There’s a constant flow of activity, which is fantastic.”
She credits a streamlined permitting process with some of that progress, and hopes to use the town’s website to deliver an online application process. The town’s low single tax rate for commercial and residential property is another draw, she added. “That benefits our residents and entices businesses, and when businesses come into town, that creates jobs for our residents.”
Meanwhile, “we want to do an inventory of all sites available for business. What are the priority sites? We hope to market and promote these projects, including the mill project,” she said, adding that she hopes to put market and economic analytics on the town’s website.
And she didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room — or at least a nearby room — when she brought up the casino battle among Springfield, Palmer, and West Springfield, the first two of which border Ludlow.
“There will be an impact on businesses in Ludlow, with a lot more people coming through town. Whomever gets chosen, that would be exciting for any business, because it means more people spending money.”
Another project in town involves the conversion of the Stevens Memorial Building on Chestnut Street — a former factory that more recently was used as a Boys and Girls Club — into 28 units of rental housing for seniors and the disabled. HAPHousing was chosen as the developer, and state funding and subsidies will make the units affordable to low-income seniors. Construction will begin this year.
The Ludlow Mills project also includes a planned riverwalk, Fernandes noted. “That will be wonderful for our residents, who will have another area to enjoy the scenery and the weather and the river. Residents haven’t had much access to that area, so we’re very excited about that as well.”
Speaking of redeveloping open space, last year, the Board of Selectmen forged a contract with Borrego Solar Systems of Lowell to install solar panels on the town’s landfill for 2.7 megawatts of photovoltaic generation. “Again,” she said, “it’s taking a site that was not being used for anything, but when you look at sites creatively, amazing things can come out of them.
“We’re thinking outside the box and generating income by making the best use of the location,” Fernandes continued, noting that Borrego will sell electricity produced at the landfill to Ludlow at about 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, around half the 9 cents it currently pays. In addition, those rates are locked in for the 20-year life of the contract, allowing the town to estimate its future energy spending with more certainty.
The project also reduces the city’s carbon footprint, Fernandes noted, which goes hand in hand with other recent ‘green’ efforts, like a recycling program that was recently launched. “This town is forward-thinking. This is our town, our future, our planet, our kids.”
Fernandes makes no secret of her enthusiasm for Ludlow, particularly its multi-ethnic heritage. “One of the things I love about this town is the huge diversity of residents, from Portuguese to Polish to Turkish to Vietnamese and others. It creates little niches,” she said, noting that cultural events like the annual Portuguese Festa bring in tens of thousands of visitors annually. “That helps our restaurants and businesses.”
Another exciting development, she said, is the possible inclusion of Ludlow on the TV show Communities of Distinction, a Fox Business series hosted by Terry Bradshaw.
“We’ve been in conversation with Communities of Distinction to be selected as a town to be highlighted on that show,” Fernandes explained. “They base their selection on a variety of things, like economic development, quality of life, education — just an overall specialness to this town, so I’m not surprised Ludlow would be considered.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org