Town Builds on Momentum from Ludlow Mills
Town Planner Douglas Stefancik calls it “the crown jewel of the mills.”
He was referring to the recently completed HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts, the first new structure to be built on the Ludlow Mills property, owned and being redeveloped by Westmass Area Development Corp.
The $28.5 million, 74,000-square-foot hospital has 53 private rooms and a state-of-the-art physical therapy center, said Stefancik, adding that the project received the prestigious national Sustainability Impact Award at the Redevelopment and Renewal Awards Ceremony in Chicago.
“It is serving as a model for other HealthSouth facilities, and our intent was for it to become a catalyst to other growth and development on the Ludlow Mills site,” he went on. “Fortunately, we’re seeing that come to fruition.”
Indeed, officials are happy to have HealthSouth in the mill district and are looking forward to another exciting project.
“The HealthSouth building is historically accurate, and the second jewel will soon be built,” said Stefancik, referring to the town’s decision on Oct. 8 to grant Winn Development and Westmass the approvals needed to transform what’s known as Mill #10 into a senior-housing development.
The four-story structure will be converted into 75 one- and two-bedroom apartments; 66 will be affordable, and the rest will be rented at market rate.
“It’s fantastic because it will preserve the whole building and help continue revitalization of the downtown area,” said Stefancik. “There will be new landscaping surrounding the parking lot, traffic islands with seating areas, and a patio, which will help it to become a nice residential community.”
Westmass President and CEO Kenn Delude said the plans were approved in 17 days, which is highly unusual, because it typically takes months for a project of this magnitude. “We’re proud because the town found these plans consistent with their master plan,” he told BusinessWest. “It shows how strong the partnership is between WestMass, Winn Development, and the town.”
Westmass will sell Winn three acres of the mill property, with closing anticipated to take place at the end of December. The work should start in February, and the units should be complete and occupied by June 2017, Delude said, adding that the town has a backlog of 150 seniors seeking affordable housing, and this will help fill the gap.
“Winn will spend $19 million in 14 months, and we anticipate 300 new construction jobs; we’re pretty proud of this,” he continued.
In addition, the first phase of a 1.5 mile Riverwalk is complete and just opened to the public. It runs behind the mill property along the Chicopee River, features beautiful overlooks, and was a private project; HealthSouth contributed $600,000, and WestMass did the engineering, permitting, and other necessary work.
“We’re excited about the redevelopment of the mills and the partnership with the town, as well as the shared vision for the preservation of some of the buildings,” Delude said. “We’re on our way, and although the project is not near completion, $74 million has been invested in Ludlow Mills over the last four years. It’s a great start, and we hope to work with other developers to preserve things like the historic clock tower.”
But while Ludlow Mills continues to be the story in this community of 21,000, it is far from the only news.
There is a solid mix of residential and commercial development taking place, said Stefancik, adding that the town has a number of attractive selling points, including its reputation as a safe community, a relatively low tax rate, and many amenities, such as free limited trash pickup, a free van service for seniors, and its own ambulance service, which people can subscribe to for $40 annually and use as often as they need.
Together, these attributes make this an attractive community in which to live, work, and do business, its leaders say. For this latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at how Ludlow intends to build on a current wave of momentum.
A Developing Story
Carmina Fernandes, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said the mills were the heartbeat of the town in their heyday, and the redevelopment is encouraging reinvestment within the community.
“The Iron Duke Brewing microbrewery moved into a mill building two years ago and is already expanding; they want to put in an outdoor patio near the Riverwalk,” she said, adding that the former Montelegre Restaurant on State Street, located across the street from HealthSouth, is under new ownership and has been renamed the Com e Cala-Te Restaurant. It’s owned by Pedro and Joe Fernandes (Carmina’s brothers), and since it reopened two months ago, it has been booked solid on weekend nights.
Those are are just a few of the many signs of progress in the community. Indeed, Stefancik said, additional residential development is taking place, and the town is continuing to grow in every respect.
Last year, HAPHousing completed a $7.4 million conversion of the Stevens Memorial Building into 28 affordable rental apartments for seniors. The three-story 23,760-square-foot building at 12 Chestnut St. was built in 1906 by the Ludlow Manufacturing Co. as a recreation facility for its employees. The town acquired it in 1949, and it was home to the Ludlow Boys & Girls Club until 2005.
“It’s a great project because it’s across from the senior center and near restaurants, the library, shops, the post office, and a number of mom-and-pop stores,” Stefancik said.
He added that, in addition to affordable housing, there has also been an uptick in the number of proposed subdivisions. Roughly 40 single-family lots were approved earlier this year as the second phase of a Parker Lane Extension project, with an estimated infrastructure cost of $1.5 million; a 19-lot subdivision extension on Cislak Drive with an infrastructure cost of $780,000 was just approved; and a definitive plan is expected late this month for 14 lots across the street from Cislak Drive on Maria’s Way.
“These homes will bring in additional tax dollars to the community,” Stefancik said. “It’s a positive sign when this much building is going on.”
However, commercial growth is also taking place.
The Cumberland Farms store on West Street is undergoing a $500,000 renovation, and the Planning Board approved a site plan and special permit for the East Street store, which will result in a new building that will help to further revitalize the street, Fernandes said.
Stefancik explained that the company purchased a former bar with two parking lots on East Street next to the existing store, which will be knocked down to make way for a new building.
It’s a project that was planned with community feedback, and is in line with the Board of Selectmen’s request that businesses seek input from neighbors when making changes. In this instance, the feedback led to an agreement to install a fence to block views of the store, additional landscaping, noise deflectors on the air-conditioning units, and glare-free lighting.
In addition, the Colvest Group has begun work on the former Mobil station property at 450-456 Center St. across from CVS. The firm received approval for two commercial buildings in April; one will have a drive-thru, and both can house up to three suites.
Growth is also taking place on Holyoke Street, where Black Diamond Development LLC just completed work on a new medical building.
Commercial investments are definitely on the rise, but Fernandes says town officials strive to balance residential and commercial growth. Still, the town is doing everything it can to make it easy to open a new business. Its permitting process went online in the last year, which helps the growing number of home-based firms.
“In the past, people had to go before the Planning Board, but we have eliminated that step,” Fernandes told BusinessWest. There is also a new computer screen outside the entrance to the Building Department which allows people to access information if they are closed, and Ludlow Community Television installed new technology on their website that allows viewers to look at presentations put before the Board of Selectmen.
Everything being done falls in line with Ludlow’s master plan, which was approved last year.
“Ludlow is a great place to own a business, live, and play. It’s a vibrant town, and we were recently selected to be on Terry Bradshaw’s Communities of Distinction TV show because of our economic development and quality of life,” Fernandes said.
The hope is that Ludlow Mills will become the heart of the community once again as redevelopment efforts transform the property. “It’s in an ideal location and will become vibrant because it’s within walking distance of restaurants, storefronts, hairdressers, and many other businesses on the intersecting streets,” Fernandes said. “But the most wonderful thing is the symbiotic relationships that are being created with the town. There are a lot of things in the pipeline that are very exciting.”
Delude agreed. “We are proud of this project,” he said, “and it’s important to the community.”