Curtain Raises on Crown Jewel of City Mills

By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer

Quentin Ricciardi, foreman with Acorn General Contractors takes a peek into a complete apartment at the Wamsutta Mills housing complex as it prepares for an opening in two weeks.

NEW BEDFORD — The largest, most visible, oldest and most architecturally significant mill restoration in this city of more than 100 mill buildings still standing is almost ready to shine.
The Lofts at Wamsutta Place will open for tenants in less than two weeks — construction schedules, city inspectors and the gods of old mills willing.
A five-year-long, $35 million project, the Wamsutta Mills buildings are in the Hicks-Logan-Sawyer area just east of Route 18 and just south of Interstate 195.
The Lofts at Wamsutta Place is in the process of leasing 119 apartments in Phase 1. A second phase under way will bring the total number of apartments to 250.
Although a grand opening is planned for Oct. 1, management company spokesman Stephen J. Rodri said Monday some leases are being signed for Sept. 1, and he is optimistic some tenants will be in on that date. If not, he said, those tenants with Sept. 1 lease starts will be put up in hotel rooms at the project’s expense.
Mr. Rodri, executive vice president of Acorn Management, a Quincy-based firm affiliated with developer Steve Ricciardi who has headed up the Wamsutta Place restoration, said the biggest hurdle the developer is facing is getting the city building inspector to sign off on occupancy of the sprawling mill buildings.
“They have issued our marching orders,” Mr. Rodri said of checklists of things that need to be done to pass the city inspection. “We think we can be there” for Sept. 1.
“The push is on for completion of construction on Phase 1,” Mr. Rodri said.
In the meantime, Mr. Rodri said, about 40 percent of the 119 units in Phase 1 have been spoken for with staggered move-in dates from Sept. 1 through Dec. 1.
On Tuesday, workers throughout the project were involved with construction, landscaping, cleanup and other activities.
Also on Tuesday, the leasing office was buzzing with activity as mostly younger people were meeting with agents and reviewing forms. “We hit the target demographic on the head,” Mr. Rodri said. “We thought we were going to get younger people and older people — (primarily) empty nesters,” he said. The mill buildings will have three elevators spread between two building, and that is an inducement for even senior citizens to live at the Lofts at Wamsutta Place, Mr. Rodri said.
“We invite anyone to tour it — we want to show it off,” Mr. Rodri said. He said it is a fairly unique project for SouthCoast.
In its marketing literature, the market-rate rental property notes that the mills are “historic” and that “world-famous percale sheets were made here that supplied the world’s finest hotels and the French Line’s flagship, the Isle de France.”
The apartments are one to three bedrooms each with 13-foot ceilings, original hardwood floors and large, mill-style windows. The complex also has a gym and an exercise pool. Rents range from $850 up and the smallest unit is 790 square feet. A $50 a month discount is being offered for the first year’s rent.
Mr. Rodri said the pricing is reasonable if not a little lower than what the market would justify compared to other modern construction. Mr. Rodri said the management company believes there has not been any market-rate housing built on such a large scale for the past 20 years in the city.
Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council which played an involved role in the project, said keeping the Wamsutta Mills complex on track was a major priority for the administration of Mayor Scott W. Lang.
“We are very excited about this — it has been much anticipated,” Mr. Morrissey said. “Not only is it more market-rate housing for the community, Wamsutta Place marks the preservation of the single most historical mill, and our most important mill from an architectural perspective,” Mr. Morrissey said.
Mr. Morrissey noted that his agency and the city Planning Department recently completed a detailed tally of all the mill buildings still standing in the city. That project, Mr. Morrissey, had been pushed by Mayor Lang since he took office in 2006.
Contact Joe Cohen at
August 22, 2008
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