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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]