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With Financing Mostly In Place, St. Mary's Redevelopment Moving Forward
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
03:55AM / Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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A Berkshire Bank sign sits on the property now that the majority of the financing for the development is in place.

The pews on the inside are being removed.

Developer David Carver hopes to preserve as much of the historic features as possible.



There remains a question of funding for the terracotta roof and the campanile tower. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With a new investor on board, CT Management has just about all of its funding in place to redevelop the St. Mary the Morningstar campus.
 
Developer David Carver purchased the property at the end of 2017 with plans to transform the historic property into 29 market-rate housing units.
 
Since then the company has been working on securing the financing needed to preserve the buildings and transform the interiors while still making economic sense. The project is estimated to cost more than $6 million.
 
"When it starts to get above that, the problem becomes affordable rents. We start to fall out of the affordable area," Carver said. "It becomes a real problem. So we are trying to figure out creative ways to keep the cost down so the resulting rents will be affordable to the market we are looking at."
 
In the process, Carver found a new partner in the project in Mill Town Capital. The investment firm is matching Carver's equity to secure funding from Berkshire Bank.
 
"This could have a potentially big impact on the city," Mill Town Managing Director Tim Burke said of what attracted the company to the project. 
 
The investment firm is fairly new to the city, forming just two years ago, but has made a big impact through investments in a number of projects and businesses. Burke said the company's mission is to improve the city and St. Mary's is such an opportunity because it helps fill the need of quality housing for businesses such as General Dynamics. He sees it as a project that can "jumpstart" an array of development in the city's center. 
 
"It is still the early days of development. We are still just scratching the surface," Burke said. 
 
Mill Town's involvement helped secure the loan from Berkshire Bank and CT Management's team has been doing interior demolition and stabilizing the existing buildings. 
 
"The buildings were starting to deteriorate fairly rapidly so we need to do things like roofing, asbestos abatement. All of the preliminary work as far as stabilizing the buildings will be done in the next 30 to 45 days," Carver said.
 
Carver said the redevelopment aspects should start by the end of the year. Provided all goes as planned, the first apartments could be available next fall.
 
The roof on the severely neglected school building -- which has sat empty for some 30 years -- is being redone. Inside the church, pews are being taken on, cut and rebuilt to smaller sizes to be sold, and some prep work is being done. 
 
Meanwhile, the design is coming along but Carver said that will always be somewhat of an ongoing process.
 
"What is changing is details. When we start doing demolition, we uncover details that require a little change here or a little change there or we can't do what we thought we could do because something is in the way or we uncover details we really want to keep and we want to incorporate them into the design," Carver said.
 
Once the stabilization, interior demolition, and design wraps up, Carver said the company will focus on redeveloping the church first, follow up with the rectory, and finish with the school. 
 
"We hope to start reconstruction by the end of the year. We will do building by building," he said. 
 
The church is the particularly notable aspect of the project. The inside will feature 11 apartments on three floors. CT Management has done a few redevelopments of churches with the most recent one being the Holy Family Church on Seymour Street into Powerhouse Lofts. Carver said this building is much more complicated than any of the others. 
 
Burke has confidence in Carver's ability though. Mill Town has known Carver for the last two years and had followed the Powerhouse Lofts project closely. Burke said Mill Town really liked Carver's approach and outcome.
 
"It seems like he does good, impactful project," Burke said, praising Carver for taking on complicated projects that are important and impactful to the area. 
 
"He's doing hard projects but they have a double impact. It's filling a housing need and repurposing old buildings."

The school building is in really rough shape after 30 or so years of being vacant. Now, CT Management is putting a new roof on it to prevent it from getting worse.

Complicated projects also mean costly projects and there remains a gap estimated at about $250,000.

Carver said the aspects of the project without specific funds identified yet are to replace the terracotta roof, preserve the campanile tower, and expand infrastructure to the property. 

"We have some very expensive things that need to be done - sidewalks around the perimeter, there are some major utility lines that need to come into the building for sprinkler and power. Another item we've talked to the city about that we're not sure how to handle is trying to save the main roof of the church. The other roofs, one is flat and the others are conventional shingle roofs, but this one has a very unique terracotta roof and there aren't that many in Berkshire County," Carver said. 
 
"We would like to keep it rather than take it off and put conventional shingles on. We'd like to find a way to keep the terracotta roof."
 
He said he is working on closing that last piece. There are ways to cut costs out but Carver doesn't want to lose any of the detailed work. Carver said the focus in redoing historic buildings is to preserve as much of the architecture as possible. 
 
"I'd rather fight for some extra funding to keep the church more or less intact. We could put a unit in the choir loft on either side but I just don't want to do it because you have to punch holes in the building," he said. "I'd rather fight to try to preserve it."
 
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier had made a pitch to the Legislature for funds for the infrastructure work as that would not only help Carver but also help usher in further development in the Morningside area. Carver said he is looking to apply for Community Preservation Act funding for the tower and roof, exchanging ongoing maintenance and a historic easement for money to restore those pieces. 
 
The gap is a fairly small percentage of the project so it won't hinder the timeline. The work will still continue with or without that funding immediately in place. 
 
"It is not that bad [of a gap] but we are a little concerned because projects like this always cost more money than you think, especially in my case because when we run into decisions that need to be made I like to err on the side of quality and doing it correctly. This is a very long-term investment for us so we need to put the money in up front and do it right," Carver said.
 
As big and tricky the project may be, city and state officials have significant support -- especially when the historic church was nearly knocked down to make way for a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru in 2014. That drive-thru plan had triggered significant outrage among the community which didn't want to lose the structures. When Cafua Management backed out of that deal, Carver made an offer.
 
The city and state provided tax incentives and MassDevelopment helped provide the acquisition loan allowing Carver to purchase it. 
 
From the governmental perspective, the project isn't just saving historic architecture and isn't just providing apartments but rather increasing the market-rate housing options available to employees at the city's largest employers and stimulating a resurgence in the Tyler Street neighborhood. 
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