Over the past decade or so, one of the better stories to emerge in this region has been the development of the Ludlow Mills complex in Ludlow.
Acquired by Westmass Area Development Corp. in 2012, the mostly vacant set of jute mills and storage buildings has become home to an eclectic mix of businesses, and is now the site of a residential complex, a rehabilitation hospital (Encompass), and a host of small businesses that cross several sectors.
But this solid business story had been tempered somewhat by the very public, highly visible discord (there’s a diplomatic term) between Westmass and one of its more popular tenants, Iron Duke Brewing.
A disagreement over language in the lease eventually escalated into a bitter and protracted court fight, one that led to hard feelings, plans to relocate the business in Wilbraham, and a new and popular product — Eviction Notice IPA.
For a while, it looked like this court battle was going to end like so many before it — with no one really winning, despite how the ruling came down. It looked for all the world like both sides were going to be out perhaps hundreds of thousands in legal fees, Westmass would be out a good tenant, and Iron Duke would be saddled with the expense and challenge of essentially starting over in a new town and new brewery.
And then … things changed. Not overnight, but as the story on page 6 recounts, they did change.
Amid the heavy baggage from the lawsuit and the disagreement that led to it, the two sides agreed to sit down and talk. And from those talks came some progress and eventually a path to an agreement whereby Iron Duke would not only stay in its home at the mill — one of the century-old stockhouses that stored raw material — but expand within that site and perhaps own it someday.
An agreement that didn’t seem at all possible just 18 months ago.
Maybe there’s a lesson in all this — one about communication and listening and getting to understand both sides of a disagreement, on the theory that the more people know and the more people talk, the better the odds they can work out their problems.
Maybe the lesson is to try to do that before egos take over and before the lawyers get involved because, after that happens, it becomes that much harder.
We’re not sure about the lessons. We are sure that what was a good story for the region is now an even better story. Iron Duke will stay where it is, expand, and make the mill complex a better, stronger destination, one that might help attract more hospitality-related businesses like it.
Iron Duke will soon have to change its name to avoid another expensive lawsuit, this one from Duke University as it seeks to protect its brand. But that’s another story.
This story has what certainly appears to be a happy ending, after a plot twist as welcome as it was — that’s was — unlikely.