Eastworks Sets the Standard for Repositioning of Old Mill Properties
Turn right at the first corridor and you’ll discover a Registry of Motor Vehicles branch. A climb up the stairs to the second floor will position you in the midst of a community of artists and photographers. One floor higher, an array of nonprofit organizations has formed a close-knit micro-community dedicated to improving and enriching lives. And spread out along the first floor are businesses ranging in specialty from fitness to hair care.
It wasn’t always this way.
Nestled on the banks of Lower Mill Pond, the 500,000-square-foot Eastworks building, a converted mill, was once known as West Boylston Textile Company and later served as the headquarters building for Stanhome. But times have changed and so, too, have buildings throughout New England that once brought thousands of jobs during the height of mill and factory operation. In a wave of repurposing projects that marked the early 2000s, many of these buildings have found new life as mixed-use facilities.
And in Western Mass., Eastworks has led the way.
Eastworks’ tenants — from residents of fifth floor loft apartments to artists and artisans creating their latest works — understand that the momentum of one individual is far inferior to the power of teamwork. By working together to organize events and promote each other’s businesses and organizations, the Eastworks community has taken the craft of collaboration to the next level.
Kim Carlino, Eastworks’ marketing and outreach coordinator, said solidarity within the building is one of the major reasons for the success of its tenants. Business owners are focused each day on their own ventures, she said, but also on helping those around them do well.
After all, a flourishing business next door often means more customers dropping in.
“We have a lot of active tenants who want to get involved in different events and support each other,” Carlino said. “Whenever we get those kinds of interactions and guests are coming into the building for events, the tenants feel good about what’s going on. It’s important that they all have a sense that they’re a part of something.”When Eastworks owner Will Bundy bought the property in 1997, he envisioned a dynamic in which tenants, simply by coming to work every day, could benefit from the building’s evolving diversity. And this vision has become reality.
Indeed, the accessibility of shops, restaurants, offices, and open spaces has facilitated a symbiotic environment, with customers for one business or organization frequently shopping elsewhere in the building once their initial plans are complete.
Sometimes this is the result of word of mouth. On other occasions, it’s due to the many events held each week at the building and an increased emphasis Eastworks’ leaders have placed on marketing.
“We’ve been very successful here; the clientele is loyal, and the building has a lot of foot traffic that really helps,” said Erin Killian, a hair stylist at The Lift Salon, one of many first-floor businesses.
A primary reason for the successes at The Lift Salon and other businesses is the bond that has been strengthened between Eastworks and area communities. Carlino, following her hiring in 2014, made significant progress in improving Eastworks’s already solid relationship with Easthampton and surrounding towns. By organizing a unique mix of promotional events and inviting more people into the building, she has allowed tenants to maximize their exposure.
“One of the biggest things we have to offer here is space, and we try to use that space for as many community events as possible,” added Carlino, who also writes a newsletter that helps bring tenants’ accomplishments and services to the forefront. “It’s very powerful to be able to get people to see and feel everything that’s happening. We want to show them what’s going on, not tell them.”
Eastworks recently hosted a well-attended open studio event that featured the work of its artists, in addition to promoting nonprofit organizations and businesses in the building. The staff has also scheduled panel discussions, performances, and a variety of entertainment options that bring tenants and guests together. The weekly Seth Show, for example — featuring comedian Seth Lepore — has quickly escalated in popularity.
“We’ve had some really interesting events happening throughout the building,” said Bundy, who has been impressed by the quantity and quality of recent programs. “The community aspect has really taken off since Kim came on board. When you dedicate space to events, people want to get involved.”
When a residential or commercial space becomes vacant in the Eastworks building, it doesn’t remain that way for very long.
With more than 100 business and nonprofit tenants currently calling the old mill home, spots in Eastworks’s lineup are in high demand. Even during the stagnating economy of the Great Recession, new tenants were still coming in between 2007-09.
Bundy said the building’s reputation for accommodating a vibrant, inclusive mixed-use community has served it well over the years, especially during economically challenging times. While many similar operations were losing tenants by late 2008, Eastworks operators saw their framework reaffirmed, a community-based model that has proven sustainable.
“During the recession, very few people were looking for spaces, but the people who came didn’t want to be anywhere but here,” Bundy recalled. “That was a huge indicator that we’d established a brand that is viable.”
Carlino added that the consistency of the Eastworks culture has helped attract many tenants, especially those looking to join the ranks of the arts and nonprofit communities. Unlike some mixed-use facilities, where tenants rarely interact and collaborate, Eastworks has become known for fostering a high level of engagement.
“We have a very established presence and reputation. When people come here, they know what to expect,” said Carlino, who likened every tenant to an individual piece of the building that, when put together as a whole system, makes Eastworks an exciting place to live and work.
So what’s it like to make a living at Eastworks? If you were to ask 20 tenants to name their favorite aspect of the experience, you probably wouldn’t get many repeat responses.
Boulay has also taken advantage of opportunities to schedule events that overlap with those of Eastworks’ artists. On such days, the increased volume of guests positively impacts everyone involved.
“We’ve coordinated and run our contests in conjunction with those events a few times to help bring in some extra people,” said Boulay, whose business moved to Eastworks from its previous Amherst office in 2013. “There are lots of opportunities like that to work collectively, and that is definitely an appealing aspect to the Eastworks model. Being in a building with so many creative professionals means constant inspiration around every corner.”
Meanwhile, thanks to Eastworks, Heather Beck doesn’t have to worry about a long commute to her second job. In fact, the only thing separating her two vocations is a staircase.
When Beck isn’t in the basement making custom jewelry for her clients of Heather Beck Designs, the business owner enjoys a nice change of pace by spending a few days each week bartending at the Hideaway Lounge upstairs.
“It’s a great community of people from all different backgrounds who seem to end up together in this one vast space,” Beck said of Eastworks. “There are many entrepreneurs who are inspiring to me who have space right down the hall from my studio.”
“From the Seth Show,” Beck added, “to dance competitions, yo-yo meet ups, Nerd Nite, local artists’ installations, and showcasing work in the Holiday Pop-up Shop, there’s no shortage of events to attend and feel like you belong.”
As an artist and an entrepreneur, Beck and others agree that Eastworks provides the best of both worlds. From offering feedback or simply friendship, tenants are always supporting each other and pushing their neighbors to keep chasing their dreams.
Many artists at Eastworks also have a passion for sharing and teaching their crafts. In addition to making jewelry, Beck also conducts workshops out of her studio, where she uses the space in a variety of creative ways.
“Having an artist space here is magical,” Beck said. “It has really propelled my business as a jeweler and teacher forward, and I’m always meeting new artists and like-minded people through the connections made here at Eastworks.”
Though Eastworks is known for its team-centered community of tenants and the events that interconnect them, its smaller perks are equally as meaningful for many individuals. Ted Barber, the co-founder of Prosperity Candle, enjoys the ability to bring his dog to work each day — something many members of the Eastworks family are known for, even Bundy, whose four-legged friend often accompanies him from floor to floor.
“I love being in this building,” Barber said. “It has the perfect balance of everything, from full loading dock services to a great restaurant and bar, plus community events every week. And we’re on the south side, so we get spectacular views all year long.”
Change, it seems, is a relative constant at the former mill, just as the colors of its mountainous vista are always changing by the season. But this time Eastworks’ neighbors are getting in on the changes as well — a collection of buildings that, along with Eastworks, once comprised the thriving Easthampton mill network.
The owners of five surrounding mills recently joined Bundy in a comprehensive renovation project that will increase accessibility and parking for all guests. The back sides of the mills, Bundy said, are in the process of being revamped, in addition to the creation of new parking spaces and paths that will allow for easier travel between buildings.
The project is expected to be finished by the fall of 2016, and, once complete, guests will be able to park and navigate by foot with greater efficiency and safety. Additionally, the project will allow for the nearby bicycle path to be lighted from Ferry Street to Union Street.
“There will be better cohesiveness between all of the mills when this is finished,” explained Bundy, who described the project as helping to give the buildings an enhanced neighborhood feel. “They’ll be far more attractive and easier to access for guests.”
Bundy was impressed by the level of teamwork shown from the mill owners as they progressed through the project. From the selection and hiring of a civil engineer to the grant application process, owners have collaborated to ensure a safer and more convenient experience for their customers.
“We have had a great relationship throughout the project,” Bundy said. “A number of people came together to make this happen.”
The other mills involved in the project are The Paragon, Sulco, Three Kingdoms, Mill180, and The Brickyard.
At Eastworks, meanwhile, plans are also in place to continue improving the building’s interior. There is currently about 20,000 square feet of available space in the building, Bundy said, and the management team intends to use every last inch for a viable purpose. At least some of that space might eventually house future tenants, while the remaining space could be used for additional community events.
“The spaces are very affordable, and our building is run in a thoughtful manner. Management is always on site,” Bundy said.
Regardless of how the space is used, there is no doubt that, once developed, it won’t be vacant for long.