Lee — It was an official recognition of the progress made in the potentially transformative Eagle Mill project that attracted movers and shakers to the dilapidated site on the banks of the Housatonic River on a steamy August afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, traveled to Lee Tuesday and joined state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield; state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox; town officials; and representatives from Eagle Mill to announce the awarding of $400,000 worth of historic rehabilitation tax credit funds in partnership with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin’s office and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Those credits are widely viewed as the most important funding step toward the redevelopment of the dormant site.
“Today’s announcement is a big one for the town of Lee and all of Berkshire County,” Neal said inside the mill complex’s historic machine shop. “The redevelopment of Eagle Mill will undoubtedly jumpstart economic vitality in this region with the creation of jobs and an increase of tourism in this corner of the state.”
See video below of remarks by Neal, Hinds, Pignatelli and Eagle Mill principal developer Jeffrey N. Cohen inside the mill complex’s historic machine shop:
Neal recalled his opposition to the elimination of the historic tax credits in the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018. Historic tax credits transform buildings like Eagle Mill, Neal said, and “breathe new life into them for years to come.” As chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Neal said he remains committed to the preservation of historic tax credits “because they work.”
Cohen said Eagle Mill would not have achieved this recent milestone without the help of Neal and his staff. He described historic tax credits as “essential for the economic feasibility” of the $60 million project.
The mixed-use development will revive and expand the historic mill site in downtown Lee into a combination of office space, both market-rate and affordable rental units, the new hotel across the street, and a “public market” with multiple restaurants and food kiosks. Click here to see a comprehensive listing of the planned uses.
Cohen said the project will include at least 80 units of affordable and market-rate housing. Eagle Mill will propose 24 additional units of what Cohen called “micro-housing,” or apartments of about 450 square feet or less.
The hotel is now proposed to be built across the street and will contain about 100 rooms, with parking for 180 vehicles. Cohen estimates the operation will add “hundreds of new jobs to the town of Lee.” The change of placement for the future hotel will necessitate new site plan approval from the town planning board.
The public market will feature the Marketplace, a respected casual dining operation with restaurants and catering services in Sheffield, Great Barrington and Pittsfield. “The Marketplace is going to spearhead that movement to create the market,” which Cohen said will be “a joyous community-orientated food hall.”
“As we transition from an industrial economy to one that uses our regional strengths, including tourism, the redevelopment of vacant buildings is paramount,” said Hinds. “Projects of this size require federal, state and local support and a lot of hard work has gone into putting these key pieces together for the benefit of Lee and the Berkshires.”
“The development of the Eagle Mill project will be transformative for the Berkshires,” added Pignatelli. “Lee serves as the gateway to the rest of the region, and I believe that vitalizing this dormant property will bring life to not only the town, but to the entire region.”
Built in 1808, Eagle Mill is nestled along the Housatonic River in the town of Lee. With a population of about 6,000 residents, Lee was once the leader of the nation in papermaking in the late 1800s, and home to 25 paper mills. Over the years, those operations dwindled, and Eagle Mill has sat vacant for 11 years.
In late 2017, Cohen’s company, Mill Renaissance, purchased the property from the Quinn family for $700,000. At that time, Cohen also secured the services of DEW Construction Corporation as general contractor and as a partner. Mill Renaissance is a 50% owner of Eagle Mill Redevelopment LLC, while DEW Properties LLC owns the other half.
Schweitzer Mauduit International, now doing business as SWM, was primarily a manufacturer of paper for tobacco companies when it operated in the Eagle Mill. The company closed the sprawling mill on the banks of the Housatonic in downtown Lee in 2008, resulting in the loss of 165 factory jobs. Also closed was a plant in Lenox Dale.
Cohen said he expects construction to start on the Eagle Mill project in the first quarter of 2021, with construction completed by summer 2022.