Town construction plans move forward

Development on Spring Street is moving forward, with construction at the former Hopkins Furniture building scheduled to begin later this month, to be ready for occupancy by late summer or early fall. Additionally, the Cable Mills real estate development project on Water Street is back on track after a delay due to difficulty finding an affordable construction bid.

Spring Street

The Department of Inspection Services approved a building permit for the space at 61 Spring Street on March 1. The former site of the Hopkins Funeral Home and the back portion of the former Hopkins Furniture building will be demolished and replaced with a 2500 square-foot restaurant space, a 1500 square-foot restaurant space and three floors of office space. The total cost of the project is estimated at $3 million.
The owner of the building, Mark Paresky, has hired Barr & Barr builders to take on the project, and MARLAP Management has been in contact with several interested tenants, though no contracts have been confirmed. Paresky said that the project will continue without any official commitment from tenants despite initial plans to have it fully leased before beginning construction.

“We have a long-term perspective with our investment in Williamstown,” Paresky said. “Although we had initially expected that the building would be fully leased before it opened, the economy has certainly turned its back on all of us. Now, more than ever, we need to create jobs and build for the future.”

According to an analysis done by Guntlow and Associates for the building application, the new building is expected to be 62,758 gross square feet with a 6,778 square-feet basement space. The Spring Street façade will be 42 feet high – three stories in the front and four stories high in the back.

Peter Fohlin, Williamstown town manager, said that the new building will be the first and only LEED-certified Class A office space in the northern Berkshires, “which will attract top-tier, environmentally conscious tenants.” Paresky added, “It will set a new standard.”

Planners of the project said the changes on Spring Street will have a significant impact upon student life at the College. “Spring Street is an important part of the student experience at Williams,” Paresky said. “A lively downtown is an important part of competitively recruiting the brightest students who can choose between spending four years in Harvard Square, Durham, N.C. or Williamstown.” He added, “At the same time, to be successful in Williamstown the stores and restaurants must appeal to the students, the residents and the summer visitors.”

“This renovation is an important part of bringing new vibrancy to Spring Street,” Paresky said. “In order for Spring Street to thrive, we must have a critical mass of offerings.” He outlined plans for a new pedestrian alley in front of the building that will add width to Spring Street, creating a gathering place that will “foster an increased sense of community downtown.”

Paresky said that merchants and the Chamber of Commerce are working together to create marketing programs to promote Spring Street, including the “Downtown Williamstown” campaign.

According to an article in the North Adams Transcript, the building at 47-53 Spring Street, which suffered destruction from a fire on March 29, 2007, will also probably be demolished and rebuilt as part of the same project, although Paresky said no construction plans have been finalized. This building formerly housed the Purple Pub, Subway and A Perfect Blend coffee shop. The Purple Pub will reopen in one of the spaces.

“The return of the Purple Pub will return a historical and important venue to the street where students, faculty, and townspeople will gather,” Fohlin said. Plans are currently in motion to open a Subway branch in the former LiAsia Gallery space in May.

Cable Mills

In addition to the developments on Spring Street, the conversion of the cable mill at 160 Water St. into a complex of condominiums and townhouses is back on track. David Traggorth of Mitchell Properties LLC in Boston is project manager for the Cable Mills development. “Last year the construction bids we received were too high to proceed,” he said. “Construction prices have come down and we have an acceptable construction price now to proceed.” Construction drawings have been completed and a builder has been selected.

Provided local lenders commit to a construction loan, Traggorth expects the construction will take approximately 12 to 14 months, with units becoming available for occupancy in the fall of 2010. “If the local lenders share our view of the strength of this location and of Williamstown, we will get loan commitments this spring, then start offering homes for sale on a pre-construction basis in late spring or early summer, then start construction by the late summer or early fall,” Traggorth said.

“The next step is to see if the banks in Berkshire County are ready to support this initiative with construction loans for this venture. We have just begun our effort to seek such construction loans,” Traggorth said. “If the banks in Berkshire County don’t believe in new development and new growth, others won’t either and we will have to wait until they are ready once again to lend.”

The Cable Mills project consists of three parts. The conversion of the old mill comprises “phase one,” with the other phases involving the construction of duplexes and townhouses along the Green River, and potentially building a commercial building on the property. The townhouses and condominiums will be situated on the 11-acre riverfront site and will feature oversized windows, 14-foot-high exposed timber ceilings, and views of the mountains.

Traggorth said that the project will stay on track despite the current economic recession. “Buyer interest in the project and Williamstown as a place to live remains strong,” he said. “Williamstown has so much to offer in terms of culture and learning for all ages, that even in the face of a slower economy, people want to live in the town.”

Interest in purchasing these housing units is high, according to Traggorth. “We continue to receive calls, e-mails and Web site visits from interested buyers from Williamstown and nearby as well as from people living as far away as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Miami. This diversity shows the broad, far reaching appeal of Cable Mills and Williamstown as a place to live.” He said that these interested buyers include some current and former College employees.