Tourister developers plan waterfront access


Public waterfront access is back in the mix for the old American Tourister mill, the focus of a massive redevelopment that could see 200 apartments and many commercial spaces built there by mid-2015.

Developers from Tourister Mill LLC appeared before the Warren Planning Board Wednesday night to bring board members up to speed on the project. Though they’ve not yet submitted a formal application, they are refining their plan for the property, which they purchased earlier this year for $2.6 million. They hope to have an official application in in a few months.

One of the big pieces of news Wednesday was that developers have drawn in a large boardwalk along the property’s Warren River waterfront. Central to an earlier plan for the property that was ultimately dropped by other developers five years ago, the boardwalk would run about 2,000 feet from Main Street to Sisson Street, with 1,300 linear feet of river frontage. At a previous meeting two months ago, developers said they weren’t sure whether they’d include riverfront access as part of their plan. They added it in since then, developer Chris Starr said, after hearing comments from planners and the public.

There are still uncertainties with the boardwalk, including how it would be built and what the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) will have to say about it.

“There are some issues with the seawall there right now,” said Bruce Hagerman of Crossman Engineering. “This would be dependent on CRMC approval.”

Another question answered Wednesday pertains to what Mr. Starr called the “ugly white building,” the large aluminum warehouse that stands on the south side of the property. He said the ultimate plan is to bring it down and build anew, though that won’t happen until the second phase of the project.

When that will be is anyone’s guess. Mr. Starr said the development of the first phase — 200 apartments and about 89,000 square feet of commercial space — will take about 14 to 16 months once the permits are in. Less clear is when Phase II, which includes another 100 apartments and nearly 20,000 square feet of commercial space, would begin.

“As of right now we do not have a concrete trigger point,” he said. “It’s not likely to be any time immediately (within two or three years), nor is it something we’re envisioning 10 years down the road.”

There are two reasons, he said: First, the developers also own the buildings and have obligations to current tenants. Second, “we don’t think it’s prudent to bring 300 units to the market at one time.”

Until then, developers are finalizing their plans and working on obtaining state and federal historic tax credits for the project. The credits are integral to the project being financially viable, Mr. Hagerman said, and he and others continue to negotiate with the state Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission to come up with a design that all can live with. The largest issue remains the addition of a mostly all glass fourth floor, which would contain the penthouse apartments.

“We’re making considerable progress with the regulators.”

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, planning board chairman Fred Massie thanked the developers for coming in, noting that it was their idea, not the board’s, to do so.

“I really appreciate” this level of transparency, he told them. “It’s an important gesture.”

Tourister Mill LLC is a joint venture of Brady Sullivan developers of Manchester, N.H. and Starr Development Partners LLC of Belmont, Ma.

Other notes

Other details about the project came out Wednesday night. They include:

* The 14-acre site would include three acres of green space.

* There are currently 745 parking spaces in the plan, though that number will probably go down a bit once space for trash receptacles and utilities are added in.

* There would be parking inside the first floor of the main building.

* All apartments would be either one or two bedrooms.

* In all, the project would include 116,500 square feet of commercial space (89,000 square feet in phase one). The previous development proposed by Meredith Management envisioned about 40,000 square feet of commercial space.

* Developers envision restaurants, light manufacturing and shops.


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