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Home Improvement

The Clock Is Ticking

 

With state financing now in place, construction is expected to begin in early 2022 on a $29.9 million project to transform the landmark Mill 8 at the historic Ludlow Mills complex into 95 mixed-income apartments for adults 55 and older and a center for supportive healthcare services, Westmass Area Development Corp. and WinnDevelopment announced.

The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development recently announced new tax credits and subsidies to support the next phase of the ambitious adaptive-reuse project, focusing on the section of the 116-year-old complex that contains the clock tower shown on the town’s seal. The Mill 8 project follows the successful transformation of Mill 10, which offers 75 units of mixed-income housing for adults 55 and older.

“There is a three to five-year wait for vacancies in the Residences at Mill 10, proving how vitally important it is to deliver additional quality apartment homes to seniors in and around Ludlow,” said Larry Curtis, president and managing partner of WinnDevelopment. “The continued support of the Baker-Polito administration was the last piece of the financing puzzle needed for us to begin the next phase of work to preserve and revive one of the town’s most treasured historic assets.”

Overseen by WinnDevelopment Senior Vice President Adam Stein and Senior Project Director Lauren Canepari, the project has received enthusiastic support from local, state, and federal officials representing Ludlow. The town has committed state and federal money for several key infrastructure improvements, including the ongoing construction of Riverside Drive and the addition of a wastewater pumping station for the area. In addition, the National Park Service has committed federal historic tax credits to the effort.

Support from the Baker-Polito administration includes federal and state low-income housing tax credits, as well as money from the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Housing Stabilization Fund, and HOME program.

“As Westmass continues its redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills, we are excited to see the long-awaited Mill 8 transformation begin. Westmass will also benefit from this as we will retain the majority of the first floor for commercial development.”

The 95 apartments to be built inside Mill 8 will cater to a wide range of incomes, offering 43 affordable units for rent at 60% of area median income (AMI), 40 market units, and 12 extremely low-income units available at 30% of AMI. The first phase of the project, the Residences at Mill 10, is 88% affordable.

“The cost of housing is one of the single greatest challenges facing our Commonwealth, and that challenge has been amplified dramatically by the pandemic,” state Sen. Eric Lesser said. “This development will be a welcome addition to Ludlow with 95 new affordable housing units. It will unlock opportunity and alleviate some pressure for housing access right here in Western Mass.”

Gov. Charlie Baker added that “projects like Mill 8 that bring mixed-unit, affordable housing to the community are an important part of the solution required to address the Commonwealth’s housing crisis, and our administration is proud to support them. Unlocking additional opportunities for community and economic development across the state will require more housing of all types in every corner of Massachusetts, and this project stands as an example of how we can continue making progress toward our goals.”

Mike Kennealy, secretary of Housing and Economic Development, argued that the Commonwealth’s housing crisis will be resolved only by the production of more housing — and through more projects like Mill 8. “Thanks to their many partners and the town of Ludlow, these new units will be specially designed for families of all incomes and with supportive services to help people stay in the community they call home.”

In addition to modern apartments, the project has partnered with WestMass Eldercare to create a 5,000-square- oot Adult Day Health Center inside the building that will provide on-site, enhanced supportive services to residents of Mill 8 and Mill 10, including nurse visits, a service coordinator, healthy-living programming, and transportation to the nearby Ludlow Senior Center.

“I am proud to see the public and private partnership between federal, state, and local government with Westmass Area Development Corp. and WinnDevelopment to breathe new life into the iconic Mill 8,” state Rep. Jake Oliveira said. “ As the project enters its next stage, I’m excited to see the clock tower mill building that adorns our town seal to finally become fully functional once again.”

The redeveloped property also will contain common area amenities, including on-site laundry facilities, on-site management, a fitness room, a resident lounge, and several outside recreation areas to serve future residents.

“Since Westmass began this project over 10 years ago, it has always been a priority to get Mill 8 redeveloped,” said Antonio Dos Santos, board chair of Westmass Area Development Corp. “This building has the marquee presence of the entire mill complex, and we are excited that the transformation of this iconic building will be getting underway soon.”

Nearly 43,000 square feet of space on the first floor of Mill 8 will be available for lease to local businesses.

“As Westmass continues its redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills, we are excited to see the long-awaited Mill 8 transformation begin. Westmass will also benefit from this as we will retain the majority of the first floor for commercial development,” said Jeff Daley, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp. “As we pull together different uses in the mills complex, housing is one of the priorities, and we are excited to partner again with WinnDevelopment with the continued support of the Baker-Polito administration.”

The design and construction of Mill 8 will meet the standards of Enterprise Green Communities (EGC), an environmental certification program for affordable housing that includes milestones for water conservation, energy efficiency, healthy materials, and green operations and management.

— By George O’Brien

Cover Story

A Turnaround Story

Nick Morin, founder of Iron Duke Brewing

Nick Morin, founder of Iron Duke Brewing, in the old stockhouse at Ludlow Mills that will remain home to his venture.

Nick Morin says he and his team are looking forward to the day when they can devote all their time and energy to just brewing beer and working on the business plan.

They’re getting closer all the time.

Indeed, after several years of court battles involving their lease at the Ludlow Mills complex and another legal fight Morin is trying to avoid involving Duke University and the name currently over the brewery — Iron Duke — there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.

“We’re looking forward to taking all that money we were spending on lawyers and putting it back into the business and creating an experience here that’s unlike anything else in Western Mass.”

And it is certainly a welcome sight.

“We’re looking forward to being less legal-focused and doing all the fun things for our business here and out in the world that we’ve been wanting to do for years,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re looking forward to taking all that money we were spending on lawyers and putting it back into the business and creating an experience here that’s unlike anything else in Western Mass.”

It’s been more than eight years since Morin, a mechanical engineer by trade who made brewing beer his hobby and then decided to make it his vocation, started walking along the banks of the Chicopee River with his wife after relocating to Ludlow and remarking how the mostly vacant Ludlow Mills would be the ideal place to start and then grow his business.

The Iron Duke name

The Iron Duke name will have to change soon in an effort to avoid another legal battle — this one with Duke University — but the bootprint, and the mailing address, won’t.

He’s now there, expansion plans are on the table and on his computer, and the brewery is positioned to be a permanent, and important, part of the landscape. But getting to this point didn’t exactly go according to plan.

Not even close.

Instead, as mentioned, what seemed like a good story on every level turned dark in many ways as Iron Duke and landlord Westmass Area Development Corp. first had a disagreement over terms in the lease, and then fought for 18 months in court over just what the language in the contract meant.

When a judge eventually ruled that Iron Duke could finish out its lease, which expired earlier this month, what that did was eventually buy everyone some time and allow them to write what two years ago would have seemed like a very unlikely story.

Long story shorter, the two sides came to an agreement whereby Iron Duke would not only stay, but be a vital cog in the ongoing efforts by those at Westmass to make the mills not simply a home for small businesses — and residents as well — but a destination of sorts.

How did this stunning turnaround happen? Morin sums it up this way.

“We found that, although the lawyers served their purpose, just having a person-to-person conversation and understanding where each party was coming from was huge; we found some common ground,” he explained. “It was a kind of a Hail Mary, and it was a tough negotiation because there was a lot of bad blood between the two organizations at that point. But we actually had more in common with our visions than we thought.”

Jeff Daley, who was named executive director of Westmass roughly a year ago and picked up these negotiations from Bryan Nicholas, who served as interim director after the sudden passing of Eric Nelson in the spring of 2019, agreed.

“There were some bitter feelings, but Nick and I quickly agreed to operate without rear-view mirrors,” Daley explained. “We put the seatbelts on, moved forward rapidly to get them in there long term, and have an understanding that we’re going to work together to get the best for the tenant and the landlord.”

As he talked with BusinessWest, Morin grabbed his laptop and clicked his way to an architect’s images of a two-story, permanent structure that will reside where a tented beer garden, erected last summer, now sits. He expects work to start soon and be completed by next spring or summer.

As for Duke University, Morin is in the final stages of changing the company’s name to avoid another expensive court fight, this one with a university with very deep pockets and the willingness to protect its brand — that word ‘Duke’ — from any and all infringement (more on that later).

About the only thing standing in the way of Iron Duke now is COVID-19. And while it poses a series of challenges and has reduced draft sales of the company’s products by roughly 70% because bars and restaurants are not open or have cut hours way back, Morin believes the company can ride out that storm as well.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes a look back at what has been a rough ride for Iron Duke — and ahead to what promises to be, as they say in this business, a smoother pour.

 

Ale’s Well That’s Ends Well

As he talked with BusinessWest at the bar in Iron Duke’s taproom on a quiet Wednesday, Morin, a safe six feet away, referenced the one place at that end, officially outlined with blue tape, at which one could sit because of social-distancing measures forced by COVID-19.

“That space over there is too close to those tables,” he said, gesturing with his hand to another portion of the bar. “And this space here is too close to people sitting over there; it’s a no-fly zone. This is only place you can sit at. It can be a little lonely, I guess, but people still like it.”

The fact that this conversation was taking place where it was — and that there were lines of blue tape all over the bar — could be considered remarkable. And maybe 18 months ago, it would have been, well, pretty much unthinkable.

Back then, it seemed as if what started as a good marriage was going to end up in a messy, very public divorce, with Iron Duke brewing beer in Wilbraham, and Westmass looking to fill a vacancy and move on from what had become a public-relations problem.

And then … things changed.

As we retell the story of how we got here, and where we go from here, we need to go back a little further, to those walks Morin had with his wife along the river.

“My wife and I started a family about a half-mile from here,” he noted. “We used to walk our dog back here and talk about — as most in Ludlow did at the time — how it was a shame that this whole property was in the shape it was. When we put together our business plan, it just made sense to grow it here, in the town where we lived and close to our house.”

Iron Duke Brewing has added a food truck

Iron Duke Brewing has added a food truck and tented beer garden at its Ludlow location, and soon will commence work on a permanent, two-tiered beer garden that will overlook the Chicopee River.

He initiated talks with the previous owner of the sprawling complex in late 2012, and discussions accelerated after Westmass acquired the property, because with that purchase came ambitious talk of redeveloping the mills into a multi-purpose destination that would include residential, business, healthcare, and other uses.

“We wanted to be part of it because we had big plans for our small business,” said Morin, adding that what would eventually become a highly scrutinized and much-debated seven-year lease agreement was inked in late 2013.

What followed was a year and a half of construction in one of the many so-called stockhouses on the property, the century-old, high-ceilinged, 6,000-square-foot facilities in which raw materials — jute plants — were hung and dried for production in the mill complex.

The brewery officially opened on Thanksgiving Eve in 2014.

“We hit the ground running — that first year is a bit of a blur,” he recalled, noting that he quit his job that month as a mechanical engineer and made brewing his vocation — and his passion. The company steadily grew, drawing customers to its taproom in the mill and also putting its various products in cans and bottles, which were available at bars, restaurants, and some package stores.

Things were going pretty much according to the script laid out in the business plan until 2015, when the company started hitting some speed bumps, as Morin called them.

They came in for the form of differences of opinion regarding just what the lease allowed at the premises.

“We found ourselves being backed into a corner regarding our business and a disagreement over what we could do here and what we were doing here at our Ludlow location,” said Morin. “That’s how lawyers got involved — the interpretation of the lease itself.”

Elaborating, he said it all came down to one paragraph and its two sentences regarding the use of the premises and consumption of beer on and off the property. Cutting to the chase, he said Westmass held the view that such consumption would be limited — or at least more limited than what Iron Duke had in mind and needed for its venture to succeed.

“It was a kind of a Hail Mary, and it was a tough negotiation because there was a lot of bad blood between the two organizations at that point. But we actually had more in common with our visions than we thought.”

“That escalated from a conversation to litigation once the lawyers got involved,” he went on, adding that the court fight lasted from January 2016 to the summer of 2017. Westmass wanted Iron Duke evicted from the property, a fate that would have effectively scuttled the business, Morin said.

“We had already leveraged everything we had to open here in Ludlow the first time around,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re self-financed; myself and my family, we put everything we had into this. To build a brewery once was everything we had — to build it twice was something we couldn’t afford.

“We were only left with closing or fighting this thing out to save our business, so that’s what we did — we fought for a good chunk of time,” he went on, adding that the protracted and very expensive legal fight pushed Iron Duke to the very brink financially, and it only survived because of the strong and constant support from its customers.

 

Lager Than Life

That fight ended with a judge ruling that Iron Duke could essentially ride out its lease operating as it was, Morin recalled, adding that, not long after that decision, he bought property in Wilbraham with the intention of moving the company there when the lease expired — right around now, actually.

Instead, the company is staying put in Ludlow. After the passing of Nelson in the spring of 2019, discussions ensued with his immediate successor, Nicholas, who was with Westmass when Iron Duke originally signed its lease in 2013 and played a role in those negotiations. And those talks continued with Daley.

They weren’t easy negotiations, Morin said, noting that there was still considerable baggage to contend with. But, as noted above, both sides concluded they had more to gain by coming together on another lease than they did by parting ways and letting the next chapters of this story develop in Wilbraham.

“We came to common ground realizing that we’re better off with each other than we are apart,” Daley said. “It’s a great relationship now, and I think it’s going to be an even better relationship going forward; I’m excited for their future, and I’m glad they stayed at the Ludlow Mills.”

Morin agreed. From the beginning, he noted, the company wanted to be an integral part of the growth and development of the Ludlow Mills complex, and this mission, if it can be called that, had been somehow lost in the midst of the protracted legal battle.

“We always had envisioned ourselves as a showcase of what they could do with the old property here, and a lot of that, through the litigation and the filtering of what we do through other parties, just got lost,” he explained. “And once we had the opportunity to show them the plans that we had — we were going to spend millions of dollars in Wilbraham to build a showcase facility — both sides started asking, ‘why not just stay where we are?’”

So now, the company is just about at the point where it always wanted to be — focused entirely on business and its expansion plans.

“We always had envisioned ourselves as a showcase of what they could do with the old property here, and a lot of that, through the litigation and the filtering of what we do through other parties, just got lost.”

There is still the matter of Duke University and its demands that the brewery change its name. Morin has decided that, even though he has a good amount invested in ‘Iron Duke’ — literally and figuratively — this is not a fight he’s willing to wage at this time.

“It’s a common thing among these universities that they protect their mark,” he said with some resignation in his voice. “So there’s not a lot of negotiation on that front.”

So instead, he will rebrand. He’s working with a firm to come up with new name, and expects to announce it within the next several weeks. While offering no other hints, he did say the word ‘Duke’ could not be part of the equation, but he expects to be able to work the company’s very recognizable bootprint logo into what comes next.

Meanwhile, since the start of this year, the company has essentially doubled its space within its stockhouse by taking down a wall and expanding into square footage that had been unused since the mid-’90s — something it has long desired to do but couldn’t because of the litigation.

Ongoing changes at the site

Ongoing changes at the site will essentially transform it from a tasting room to more of a full-service brewpub and restaurant.

It also erected the tented beer garden and added a food truck, said Morin, noting that construction of the permanent, two-tiered beer garden, which will overlook the river, is set to commence this coming winter.

“There will be a nice concrete patio, along with the food truck we purchased in June,” he noted. “All this will enable us to essentially transform from just a tasting room to more of a full-service brewpub and restaurant.”

COVID-19 has certainly thrown the brewery some curve balls — the business was closed to on-premise business during the shutdown last March and relied entirely on distribution, delivery, and curbside purchases of its canned products until July — but Morin believes that, after all the hard fights this company has been through, it can handle a pandemic as well.

“We’ve found that, because we’ve been through so much in the past six years, we’re able to handle these larger problems pretty effectively,” he said. “We’ve got a nice, hard callus around us, and we’re pretty flexible about our business.”

 

What’s on Tap?

At the height of the legal battle that ensued between Iron Duke and Westmass, the brewer put out a product called Eviction Notice IPA (India Pale Ale).

It became an immediate hit and one of its best sellers — in part because it was a quality ale with good flavor, but also because drinking it became a way to show support for the company in its quest to stay where it always wanted to be.

“We bring it back every now and then because it is a crowd favorite, but it’s not as bitter of a beer as it once was,” he explained. “It’s a fun beer to tell our story, but we always try to finish off the story on a positive note, rather than a negative one.”

Only 18 months ago, few would have thought this story could possibly sound a positive note, but things changed quickly and profoundly — and both sides seem poised to benefit from this collective change of heart.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

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.

Commercial Real Estate

Developing Story

Jeff Daley, CEO at Westmass Area Development Corp

Jeff Daley, CEO at Westmass Area Development Corp

Jeff Daley boasted a long career in development, with experience on the municipal, state, and private realms, when an intriguing opportunity came about last year: the role of CEO at Westmass Area Development Corp., which oversees a number of newsworthy projects in the region, most notably Ludlow Mills. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to connect municipalities and developers on a larger scale — and help generate the sort of economic activity and job creation that makes communities strong.

Jeff Daley was working for the state in 2005 when it created a district improvement financing (DIF) program, essentially a tool that enables towns to capture incremental tax revenues from new private investment to pay for public improvement projects.

A decade later, while leading his own development firm, CJC Development Advisors, he put that knowledge to good use on the Longmeadow/East Longmeadow line. It’s the sort of experience — working with muncipalities and developers — that he brings to his latest role as CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp., which he took on last summer.

The project he referenced was a campus of sorts being developed by two entities — Baystate Health, which was building a multi-practice healthcare center on the Longmeadow side, and Berkshire Healthcare, which was building East Longmeadow Skilled Nursing Center on that town’s side of the line.

“I looked at this as a challenge. Westmass has been around for 60 years, and certainly there’s still a lot of good left that needs to be done — there are a lot of good projects out there.”

“They needed about $3 million in public infrastructure to make those projects work,” Daley recalled, referring to the extensive road, water, and sewer work undertaken a few years ago along the Dwight Street corridor. So CJC put together a DIF by which new tax dollars from the two developers’ private investment paid for the debt service for the $3 million worth of public infrastructure.

“It was the first municipal DIF in the state,” he recalled. “And it’s a huge success. Those projects would not have come to fruition, either the larger Berkshire Health building out back or the Baystate Health facility up front. They just couldn’t make it work if they had to put $3 million into public infrastructure.”

Daley wants to bring that problem-solving spirit into his current role leading Westmass, where his responsibilities include negotiating corporate acquisitions, land sales and leases, and incentive proposals; applying for grants; and marketing resources and development services to organizations and businesses considering investment in the region, as well as evaluating opportunities for new industrial-park development and coordinating federal, state, and local economic-development grants and resources.

“If there are projects that need to be done, communities may not have the staff on hand to manage projects, and we can provide services for the development of projects,” he told BusinessWest. “And, in concert with that, we’re working with developers. They may not know all the programs that are out there, and those are the kinds of programs I want to instill at Westmass. When communities and/or developers have questions about development and how to go about programs, I want them to think of Westmass first. And if we can’t do it, we’ll tell you we can’t and set you up with who can.”

After all, development is good for communities, in many ways. But his passion is more organic than that, because when Daley sees development, he sees jobs.

“I believe the creation of good, stable jobs is really most impact you can have on communities. If people are working, they have money to spend, which is good for the economy. But it’s also providing a stable environment for kids to grow up in, when mom and dad are working and able to pay the rent. I look it as more granular economic development, as opposed to just building buildings and putting people to work. It affects everybody down to young kids in our communities, and that’s important to me when we’re doing developments.”

Park Life

The former executive director of the Westfield Redevelopment Authority, Daley worked on several projects in the downtown area, which certainly needed more energy and vibrancy. He left that job in 2014 to work for a couple of construction companies before launching his own company in 2016.

“At CJC, I worked with a lot of clients, including municipalities and private developers, working on putting financial plans together for public infrastructure, commercial-development projects, and such,” he explained. “We did construction management for private developers, did a couple of urban-renewal plans, and strategic planning for those projects.”

When the opportunity arose to head up Westmass following the untimely death of its former CEO, Eric Nelson, the job seemed to mesh well with Daley’s experience and passions.

“My business was going very, very well, I had very good clients, and it was a hard decision to make,” he recalled. “But I looked at this as a challenge. Westmass has been around for 60 years, and certainly there’s still a lot of good left that needs to be done — there are a lot of good projects out there.”

Like Ludlow Mills, one of the agency’s signature projects. Last summer, Westmass announced state and federal funding to construct Riverside Drive at the rear of the complex, making the development accessible to substantially more development. The site already includes 75 Winn Development apartments in Mill 10 for those over age 55 and is host to Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts.

Creating a city street behind the property creates frontage for several properties and makes it more palatable for companies to access water and sewer, which makes the sites more attractive to lease, he explained. That project is scheduled to wrap up later this year.

In all, about 35% of the 7 million square feet at Ludlow Mills is rehabbed and active. “There’s a lot of activity,” Daley said, noting that Westmass moved its main leasing office to the site in December. “Additionally, we have about 80 acres off the east side of the back road, Riverside Drive, that is high, dry, and flat. There are some wetlands, but about 50 or 60 acres that are developable out there, and by doing this new road, it’s going to get them frontage in order for us to go out and market it to companies. So that’s really exciting.”

Meanwhile, Ludlow Mills is waiting for historical tax credits on the clock-tower portion of the development, a $20 to $30 million investment that will be what Daley called “the showpiece of our investment.”

“We’re really excited about that,” he added, noting that Ludlow is building a new senior center at the site. “That’s going to be a beautiful building to showcase the property from the eastern side. So there’s a lot of momentum, a lot of people are interested, and it’s not just storage facilities; there’s a lot of jobs in there. These people are coming in and creating jobs in machine shops and other facilities that really attract businesses. This is one of our marquee projects we’re looking to grow for a long time.”

A few miles away, the Chicopee River Business Park, which Westmass has owned for 25 years, tells a different story. Harvey Industries purchased a parcel a number of years ago, but Westmass is still looking to market the mostly vacant, 170-acre complex.

“We really want to look out for the long-term benefit of the park. We are selling it as a bulk sale for 170 acres, but we’ll work with people to do what’s best for them,” he explained, noting that the location is attractive for industry, with its proximity to I-291 and the ability to get trucks in and out without disturbing residential neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Westmass’ other industrial parks — in Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Westfield — are full, Daley noted. “We continue to build parks and take on projects that benefit Western Mass., both with jobs and creating quality of life for people. That’s the endgame of Westmass; we work to get parcels ready for sale and make sure the right businesses go into them.”

Step by Step

Westmass made a real-estate deal of a different kind in December, moving its corporate offices to Monarch Place in downtown Springfield, which Daley sees as an opportunity to raise the organization’s brand and presence, while continuing its work connecting developers, municipalities, and other entities.

“We can work with towns and cities and private developers as well, and act as their economic-development arm, whether it’s putting together public infrastructure financing, putting together urban-renewal plans, putting together plans for strategic development in communities — all that is needed out there,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s the exciting part. A lot of cities and towns don’t have the ability to do that because they don’t have the staff or the means to take on those sorts of projects. We can, here at Westmass.”

He harkens back to his time in Westfield, when the city tapped into numerous funding sources to develop urban-renewal projects downtown and elsewhere.

“We just dug deep and figured out what we could do. There are more programs out there than people realize. They go about their daily business and it’s not their job to know about the programs, but Westmass can help them see what’s available for public infrastructure programs, for land deals — we can put together the infrastructure to get their project done.”

Which is good — not just for communities, but the individual families living in them.

“I believe everything good starts with people working, and the things we do to help projects get to the finish line and get developed really impact thousands of people around Western Mass. every day,” Daley said. “That’s what I’m passionate about. If people are going out to work and working hard every day, it’s a different life at home. Every little bit helps.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at businesswest.com

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Some of the municipal leaders who spoke with BusinessWest about economic development and progress in Ludlow.

For more than a decade now, the Ludlow Mills project, a 20-year initiative that is changing the face of that historic complex and bringing jobs, new businesses, and new places to live to this community, has been the dominant talking point when it comes to the subject of economic development here.

But municipal officials are quick to point out that it’s just one of many intriguing stories unfolding in this town of around 21,000 people, the sum of which adds up to an intriguing, very positive chapter in the history of this community across the Chicopee River from Indian Orchard.

Indeed, there are a number of both municipal and private-sector commercial projects in various stages of development that are keeping town officials busy, and providing ample evidence that this is a community on the rise — in many different respects.

On the municipal side of the equation, construction of a new elementary school, approved by town voters in the spring of 2018, is underway. The facility, to be called Harris Brook Elementary School, will essentially combine the Chapin Street and Veterans Park elementary schools, two aging structures, under one far more efficient roof. It is being constructed on the playing fields adjacent to the current Chapin school.

“It’s always a balancing act. You want to give the students the world, but there’s only so much we can do within the constraints of our budget.”

Meanwhile, construction will soon begin on a new senior center that will replace a facility deemed generally unsafe and largely inadequate for the town’s growing senior population.

“We’re in the basement of a 115-year-old building that used to be a high school and junior high school,” said Jodi Zepke, director of the Council on Aging, adding that the long corridors in the structure are difficult for seniors to navigate. “We’ve done a lot with what we have, but it’s time for a new building.”

The town is also implementing a new communication system, a central hub for police, fire, and EMT services, and has embarked on an extensive renovation of Center Street, the main business thoroughfare, a project in the planning stages since 2008 and deemed long-overdue, said Town Administrator Ellie Villano.

“This is a MassDOT state construction,” she said, explaining that the Commonwealth is paying for the changes to the road. “It widens Center Street and adds a center turn, bike lanes, and new sidewalks.”

All this will make Center Street more presentable and easy to navigate for visitors to two new fast-food restaurants that will take shape there in the coming months — a Wendy’s and a KFC.

These various developments present a combination of benefits and challenges — benefits such as tax dollars and additional vibrancy from the new businesses, and challenges when it comes to paying for all those municipal projects. But the former should definitely help with the latter, said Derek DeBarge, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

“One of the challenges is that a number of these big projects have all happened at the same time,” added Todd Gazda, superintendent of Ludlow schools. “We’re having to essentially prioritize all of these things, which are all important projects.”

For the latest in its long-running Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest talked with a number of town officials about the many forms of progress taking place and what they mean for the community moving forward.

From the Ground Up

“Revenue, revenue, revenue.”

That’s the word DeBarge repeated several times when asked about the motivating factors behind all the recent municipal projects.

“My concern is obviously trying to do better with our taxes,” he said, adding that a growing senior population, many of whom are living on a single income, is also at the top of the list. “As this revenue is coming in, with the solar, the KFC … it’s all tax-based revenue for us. And the more revenue that comes in, the better we can do for our departments, and that means the better we can do for our tax base, and that’s better for our constituents and for everyone.”

Elaborating, he said that, while town officials have worked hard to secure grants for these municipal projects — and they have received quite a few — the town must bear a good percentage of the cost of each project, which presents a stern budget challenge.

Ludlow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 21,103
Area: 28.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.82
Commercial Tax Rate: $19.82
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; Encompass Rehabilitation Hospital; Massachusetts Air National Guard; Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc.
*Latest information available

Education, and the need to modernize facilities, is just one example of this.

Gazda said the town has been doing a lot of work on the schools recently to improve the quality of educational services provided to students, and one of the top priorities has been to do it in a cost-effective and fiscally responsible manner.

“It’s always a balancing act,” he said. “You want to give the students the world, but there’s only so much we can do within the constraints of our budget.”

Gazda noted that maintenance costs on both Chapin and Veterans Park elementary schools, both built around 60 years ago, had become exorbitant. So a decision was made to put forth a proposal to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“We’re currently under budget and ahead of schedule,” he said of the $60 million project, adding that the new facility is slated to open in the fall of 2021 with an estimated student enrollment of 620 to 640 students.

About 10 minutes down the road on the corner of State Street and First Avenue, the new, 18,000-square-foot senior center is under construction and due to open in roughly a year.

Like the new school, its construction has been prompted by the need to replace aging facilities and provide the community with a center that is state-of-the-art.

“It’s no secret that there’s more people over 60 than under 20, and that population of seniors is only going to continue to grow,” said Zepke. “We just took a hard look at the numbers, and we can barely accommodate what we have now.”

As for the new communications system, Ludlow Police Chief Paul Madera says this will make communication between all town entities and the central hub much easier, using radio rather than having to pick up a phone.

“All of our communication systems are in need of refurbishing, so the most prudent and fiscal approach was to combine them all together,” he said, adding that this project, with a price tag of more than $4 million, includes the implementation of a public-safety dispatch which combines police, fire, and EMS services into one center.

While these initiatives proceed, the town is undertaking a host of initiatives aimed at improving quality of life and making this a better community in which to live, work, and conduct business.

Ludlow CARES is one such effort. A community-run organization, it was launched with the goal of educating children and their parents on drug and alcohol abuse in response to the opioid epidemic. Now, DeBarge says it has spread to become much more than that, and has inspired other towns and cities to adopt similar programs.

“It has gotten huge to a point where it has gotten other communities involved with their own towns in a similar way,” he said.

Another organization, the Michael J. Dias Foundation, serves as a resource and a home for recovering addicts.

All these initiatives, DeBarge, Madera, and other town officials agreed, reflect upon the tight-knit community that Ludlow has become.

It Takes a Village

As nine town officials sat around the table informing BusinessWest about everything going on in Ludlow, they spoke with one voice about how, through teamwork at City Hall and other settings, pressing challenges are being undertaken, and economic development — in all its various forms — is taking place.

“Our staffs are doing a tremendous job,” Madera said. “They’re wearing multiple hats doing multiple jobs. There’s always room for improvement, but the fact is, they have to be given credit because they’re the boots on the ground.”

And they are making considerable progress in ensuring that this community with a proud past has a secure future.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]