Tourister developers plan fast track in Warren
The new owners of the American Tourister mill on Monday night laid out an ambitious development timeline for their sprawling waterfront property, predicting that if all goes well the old mill will be home to 200 apartments and 90,000 square feet of commercial space by this time in 2015.
Principals from Brady Sullivan of Manchester, N.H. and Starr Development Partners of Belmont, Mass., appeared before the Warren Planning Board Monday night to lay out their concept for the property, which they purchased earlier this year for $2.6 million. The informal meeting was their first appearance before the board, though they said they will present an official application to the town in a month or two.
In front of an audience of about 40, developers spelled out their vision for the property, which includes using historic tax credits and private funding to transform the mill into an upscale apartment complex catering to young professionals, empty nesters and the like. Unlike Meredith Management, which five years ago walked away from a previously approved development plan for the property, the partners — together comprising Tourister Mill LLC — plan to stay with the mill after construction is complete, as both not only develop mill spaces but also work as property managers.
"We've done a lot of these mills in four states now, so we're very adept at doing it," Brady Sulllivan's Ron DeCola said. "We're also property managers, so we're here for a while."
The partners' plan is to break the mill development into several phases, starting first with apartment and commercial units and branching out toward additional commercial space later.
Due to flood plain regulations, no residences would be built at ground level; instead, commercial spaces — coffee shops, perhaps a gym, small eateries and office space — would be on the first floor. Apartments would be above that, and the plan also includes the construction of a third floor atop the main mill building.
Since the plan is to redevelop the property using historic tax credits, the development would be required to follow state and National Park Service guidelines. That means that the exterior will not look vastly different from its current appearance, architect Paul Satas said.
"We are not deviating at all from the original buildings, because our feet are being held to the fire from the historic folks," he said. "This project is of particular interest … because of its proximity to the water. We all think that the town of Warren is a quaint town with a lot of character."
Other concerns and issues brought up included:
These were a big concern with the previously approved plan, but developers said it should not be an issue with them. Their preliminary plans show 691 parking spaces on the property, 147 of them inside one of the mill's buildings. When asked what kind of impact the development would have on traffic in the area, Mr. DeCola said he does not yet know.
"We are in the process of retaining a civil engineering firm," he said. "That is something we will address."
Public access along the mill's 1,400 feet of waterfront, and rehabilitation of the sea wall along the Warren River, was a consideration of the previously approved plan. However, Mr. DeCola said no decisions have been made as to whether the waterfront will be opened to the public.
"The truthful answer to that is we're so early into development, we'd like to see it but we have liability, indemnification etc. etc.etc., and the sea wall is another issue. It (public access) is under consideration but we have no definite answer."
With upwards of 200 apartment units and many businesses, one resident asked if Warren's sewer system would be able to handle the flow:
"It's our understanding that there's adequate capacity for what we want to do," Mr. DeCola said. "Everything will be by the numbers, I guess is what I'm trying to tell you.
Audience member Ed Theberge asked the partners about funding, and whether the project would continue if historic tax credits are not granted.
"It's certainly our preference in underwriting this propject, it has a much better chance of being feasible," Mr. DeCola said. "However, we would take another look (if credits fell through)."
When asked if the project would look different if the partners aren't bound by the terms of the tax credits, Mr. DeCola said that yes, it possibly could.
Developers had no concrete numbers on the tax impact, but noted that most of their apartments are marketed to young professionals, empty nesters and others who do not have children in the school system. In that respect, Mr. DeCola said, they are not expensive for their host towns.
Mr. Starr noted that other host towns have benefitted from their previous projects.
"In a number of communities we're taking otherwise blighted vacant buildings, and the tax revenue increases exponentially when these buildings are revitalized."
The partners said they will not seek to build the project under the state's Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which means they will not be required to — and will not — set aside any units as "affordable" housing. Instead, all the units will be rented at market rate. They also will not pursue subsidized housing, though the partners say they are bound by law to not discriminate against those who seek subsidized housing.
The partners plan to present a formal application to the Warren Planning Board either later this month or in November. They hope to finalize permits by the last quarter of 2013, start construction as early as possible in 2014 and complete the first phase by the first or second quarter of 2015.