When it comes to economic development in Ludlow, the sprawling project known as Ludlow Mills has been the lead story for several years. But it’s far from the only story, Douglas Stefancik said.
“We do need economic development, and we take it seriously,” said Ludlow’s town planner. “We look to businesses for tax revenue and jobs. And anytime we can get a new business in town, it enhances the entire area.”
A good deal of that movement has occurred at Ludlow Mills since Westmass Area Development Corp. purchased the site six years ago. Since that time, it has attracted $127 million in public and private investment.
The State Street property encompass a sprawling complex of more than 60 buildings set on 170 acres, and Westmass predicts that, over the next 15 years, more than 2,000 new jobs will be created and retained there, and more than $300 million will be spent in private investments.
The majority of buildings that make up the heart of Ludlow Mills were built between the 1870s and 1920s by Ludlow Manufacturing and Sales Co. From the 1860s through the 1970s, it made cloth, rope, and twine out of Indian-grown jute, flax, and hemp, employing about 4,000 people in its heyday.
Today, the complex is a growing mixed-use complex and home to many small businesses, including Iron Duke Brewery, which opened in a 3,000-square-foot space in December 2014, including a taproom that draws big crowds to the site.
But the jewel so far is HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts, which opened a $28 million acute-care facility on the grounds four years ago, marking the beginning of the revitalization of the largest brownfield mill-redevelopment project in New England, and keeping 75 to 100 jobs in Ludlow.
On the heels of that project, WinnDevelopment, which specializes in housing and mill redevelopment, is in the final stages of a $24.5 million adaptive reuse of Mill 10 that will include 75 apartments for seniors, most subsidized but a few market-rate. Winn is also working on a $60 million conversion of Mill 8, which features the town’s iconic clock tower to a mixed-use complex of market-rate apartments with commercial, retail, and office space on the first floor.
“Winn has been first-class professionals all the way,” Stefancik said. “We’re excited about what they’ve done with Mill 10 and what we expect them to do with Mill 8.
“We’re also finishing up a riverwalk project, with public-safety improvements, lighting, trash receptacles, historical and interpretive signage, and benches,” he went on, describing a project that has drawn well over $1 million in funding to date. “Having walked it a few times, it’s fantastic. Overall, we continue to see the evolution down there. It’s a 20-year project, and we’ll continue to see development happen in phases.”
On the Rise
Nearby, the East Street corridor has been attracting more small restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and convenience stores. Long a fertile ground for insurance agencies, banks, hair salons, bakeries, and other small businesses, “there’s a good, healthy mix there,” Stefancik said. “We just had a lady open a cupcake bakery down in that area, and someone is looking to open a yogurt shop. We continually have interest in the storefront businesses down there.”
He said business activity has been healthy, with 33 changes of occupancy in 2016, following 37 in 2015. “We see a good amount of businesses coming in,” he noted, before taking a stab at explaining why.
“I think we’re a classic middle-income community that’s safe and clean,” he said, adding, “the process for going through permitting is simple. The permitting on the mill site is more of an expedited permit, and we have similar processes and procedures for other types of businesses.”
That’s true, he said, for both a change in ownership in a small, storefront business or a new build from the ground up. “The Planning Board has been good about working with developers to make sure the plans are as close to approvable as possible when they come before them. And I don’t think our rules and regulations make people jump through hoops; I think they’re straightforward and fair.”
Stefancik said Ludlow also approves many special permits for home-based businesses, 18 last year. “These can be anything from a landscaper to someone doing an Internet business.”
But they’re less visible than storefront businesses that continue to proliferate, such as recent East Street additions like Corner Café, BlueWater Sushi, Casa Pizzeria, Family Pawn, and Treasures of the World.
Meanwhile, the Planning Board recently approved the town’s third solar array, a 1.8-MW installation owned by Eversource on Chapin Street. That joins a town-owned, 2.6-MW photovoltaic system on a capped landfill on Holyoke Street, and a privately owned, 3.8-MW installation on Center Street.
Residential development has been steady as well, with a 13-lot subdivision on Maria’s Way, a 20-lot project on Cislak Drive, and a 35-lot subdivision at Parker Lane Extension. Meanwhile, HAPHousing is planning a 40-unit affordable-housing project on Fuller Street that has run into neighborhood opposition, but is moving through the approval process.
Out and About
Recreation is typically the third pillar of a healthy community, and Ludlow planners have their eyes on a few projects, like a dog park at Camp White on the north side of town.
“The dog park committee has finalized a design for the plan with Berkshire Design Group,” Stefancik said. “It’s one of these amenities that people in town have been asking for. So we researched our area, and Camp White allows passive recreation. A lot of other parks in town are filled to capacity with sports fields, so it’s hard to fit something like that in. For a dog park, we’re looking at one or two acres, if not more.”
The town also continues to look for open space to develop a new complex of sports fields, and is exploring the construction of a new elementary school to replace Chapin Street Elementary and also possibly Veterans Park School. For the older set, a committee is studying the potential for a brand-new senior center or retrofitting the existing center on Chestnut Street.
Finally, Ludlow officials are finalizing the design of a reconstruction of Route 21, Center Street, though the center of town, from Beachside Drive to Sewall Street. “There will be a turning lane in the middle, and pedestrian improvement, with sidewalks where there are none now,” he said. “The end result will be a big improvement to that area.”
Improvement is the name of the game for the Planning Department in any town, and Stefancik says Ludlow has plenty of reason for optimism.
“A lot of good things are going on,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re excited about the momentum, especially with the Ludlow Mills project and the impact that will have on the whole community.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ludlow at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 21,103 (2010)
Area: 28.2 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $18.13
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.13
Median Household Income: $53,244
MEDIAN FAMILY Income: $67,797
Type of Government: Town Council; Representative Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Hampden County House of Correction; Massachusetts Air National Guard; Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc.; R&C Floral Inc.
* Latest information available