Developers Take on New Bedford Mill Once Slated for Demolition

By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — A multimillion-dollar proposal to transform the Cliftex 1 mill building into rental apartments is wending its way through the city permitting process and will come before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday.
The project, if permitted and financed, will secure the future of the historic mill building, which at one time had been slated for demolition.
John Keith, president of Keith Construction in Stoughton, and Boston-based Winn Development are collaborating on the project; Keith and Winn previously worked together on Whaler’s Place, located about a tenth of a mile south of Cliftex on Riverside Avenue.
“I think the simplest way to describe what we’re attempting to do at Cliftex is a repeat to the great work we were able to accomplish over at Whaler’s Place,” said Gilbert Winn, managing principal of Winn Development.
In the project’s first phase, 75 apartments — a mix of one- and two-bedroom units — will be built for residents aged 55 and older, a demographic called the “near elderly,” according to Winn.
Whaler’s Place, which is targeted at a similar demographic, has a waiting list of more than 40 people, Winn said.
“There’s clearly a need for quality housing for near-elderly and elderly residents,” he said. “We’re anxious to get this project going.”
The apartments at Cliftex will be a mix of affordable and market-rate units, with the affordable units restricted to people earning about $30,000 to $40,000 a year, Winn said.
According to Winn, rents for the affordable units will range from $780 to $930 a month; the market-rate range will be about $880 to $1,030.
The first phase will redevelop only half of the mill; a second phase may be considered after the first phase is completed and the units are leased, according to Winn.
Construction costs for the first phase are estimated to be about $200,000 a unit, or about $15 million total, Winn said.
The developers have applied to the state for historic tax credits and affordable housing subsidies and expect a response to the funding applications some time this summer, according to Winn.
Keith has a purchase and sale agreement in place with the mill’s current owner, Edward Fitzsimmons, that is contingent on the project receiving the necessary permits from the city and the state subsidies, Winn said; if permitting and financing fall into place, Keith should close on the building and construction could begin by the end of the year.
The Cliftex development project is one of several in the Upper Harbor district: Construction on Riverside Landing, the commercial redevelopment of the former Fairhaven Mills site, is under way, and work on the Victoria Riverside Townhouse Lofts in the former Whitman Mill No. 2 is set to begin this winter.
There are ongoing discussions about a potential redevelopment of Cliftex II, the northern building in the Cliftex complex, according to city officials.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said he is enthusiastic about the plans for Cliftex I.
“I think (Keith and Winn) understand that market really well,” he said. “I think they understand how to convert a mill into residential space.”
Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, echoed Lang’s enthusiasm.
“This is another critical component to the revitalization of the Upper Harbor district,” he said. “It’s another building that’s saved.”
February 08, 2010
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