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Pittsfield Silk Mill Begins Residential Renovation
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
10:11PM / Friday, October 28, 2011
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Local and state officials are joined by fifth-graders from Morningside Community School in hoising a shovel of dirt for the Rice Silk Mill groundbreaking.


Mayor Ruberto gets help from one of the Morningside pupils in ceremonially breaking ground at the mill. Below left, developer Jon Rudzinski explains how the project came together.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local and state officials gathered at the Rice Silk Mill on Friday to celebrate the start of renovations that will transform it into residential housing — but it's questionable whether they were able to convey the significance of the project to the guest audience.

"I'm standing in someone's living room," Jon Rudzinski of Rees-Larkin Development explained tot the fifth-grade class that had marched across the street from Morningside Community School. He  then pointed south across the open space to the plastic-covered windows. "There are going to be bedrooms along that wall."

The Spring Street mill has only had three owners; A.H. Rice Co. paid $3,800 for it in 1886. How much did the 10-year-olds think it was worth this time? he said.

One boy's response was $30,000. Good guess, said Rudzinski. "But it's a lot more: $15 million."

That $15 million will transform the 132-year-old property into 45 residential quality housing units for working families in the next 10 months and, hopefully, be a big step in the revitalization of the Morningside neighborhood.

"This is about bringing capital dollars into a neighborhood of a city that needs it," said Rudzinski. He said all 45 units should be ready in July and expected another six months to rent them all.

The silk mill operated on the property for 120 years until closing its doors and moving in 2006, a traumatic event not only for the 100 or so people still employed there but for the neighborhood as well, he said, pledging the goal was to "do it in a thoughtful manner."


For information on applying for an apartment in the Silk Mill complex, contact Joanne McNeice of Berkshire Housing Services at 413-499-1630, Ext. 100, or jmcneice@berkshirehousing.com.
Work has already begun at the site; the windows are gone, the orginal and massive beams and floors are being sandblasted, and two large rusting boilers are grazing in the muddy yard. Three of the structures added on over the last century will be torn down, and courtyards and parking put in place. Outside, a $300,000 state grant is being used by the city for new water and sewer connections and sidewalks around the blocklong structure.

The 45 residential units will range from one to three bedrooms and be targeted toward working families of modest means, based on 60 percent of the area's median income. For example, a family of four can make up $49,000 a year; they will also have to qualify in credit and other standards. The property will be managed by Berkshire Housing Services.

Ward 2 Councilor Peter White, who recalled seeing his aunt Margaret at work at the mill while he was attending the nearby school, said the apartments would be like affordable condominiums.

"It's also going to take an eyesore and make it into a destination for people coming home every night," he said. "It's going to provide ways for people who work here to be able to afford to live in a nice place."


Top, Rudzinski presented Morningside School with a $15,000 check for its playground. Below, most of the older structures will be rehabbed but some newer additions will be torn down.
It should also have a impact on crime in the neighborhood, he said. "Whenever you bring more people into an area you bring new live, and what's the best thing to do to reduce crime? Have people around."

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said it would be a boost for North Street as well because it was within walking distance.

"This is another great proejct in the city of Pittsfield, where we are investing in our urban core, where we are providing high-quality afforable housing opportunities and where we are putting people to work and we are doing it as a community in partnership."

An attempt to turn the mill into artists spaces not long after it closed derailed. It took a partnership at all levels, public and private, to get the project rolling this time, and three applications to the state before the it could shoulder its way into the funding pipeline.

The bulk of investment — $12 million — is coming directly or indirectly from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership Fund provided the initial seed money of $800,000 and People's United Bank is the construction lender.

"It's a good example of the Patrick-Murray administration's strategy toward sustainable growth and community development in which we identify places for growth which have local support," said Leverett Wing of the state's Department of Housing and Community Development.

Mayor James Ruberto told the children that when they are grown up, they'll be amazed at the changes in Morningside, listing some of the other projects and events going on. "Government does good things; and government does great things and progressive government is the only kind of government that's going to make your life better, and everyone's life better around you."

Rudzinski has been working in the housing industry for some time, especially in converting mills. This is his first project in Pittsfield and despite the three years it's taken to get started, there were thank-yous all around for the support he'd received.

"It's not often you can show up with a dream and an idea and have the city jump right in," he said.


Rice Silk Mill Redevelopment
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