Home to famous manufacturers such as Ford Motor Company, Boott Cotton Mills, Assabet Mills, American Woolen Company and New England Confectionery Company, to name a few, the Greater Boston area played an integral part in the Second Industrial Revolution. Today, many former factories are enjoying new successes as loft-style apartments.
The Second Industrial Revolution was a time of rapid growth, innovation and urbanization in the United States, and Greater Boston played a key role in the country’s shift from an agrarian society to an industrialized one. Taking place in the final third of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, this period of unprecedented growth was largely made possible by advances in electrical power, telephones and railroads.
One of the defining and most lasting features of the Industrial Revolution was the rise of cities; people needed places to work, most often near rail or water, and places to live, usually as close to the factory as possible. In Greater Boston, numerous industrial complexes were developed to accommodate everything from textile manufacturing to candy making. As the manufacturing processes changed over time and became more efficient, these companies no longer had a need for their sprawling mills and company towns. Enter the mill conversion and adaptive reuse.
Adaptive reuse is certainly not a new concept, particularly in a part of the country as historic and densely developed as Boston. This process of reusing an old site or building for a purpose other than which it was built or designed for is readily visible in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett and Melrose. A large reason behind this is simply access and context: Factories and older office buildings in these locations enjoy premium access – often to public transportation – and the urban environment that is so in demand by today’s renters.
The Batch Yard, Everett: Located just 10 minutes from downtown Boston, the site is an artfully-crafted conversion of the former Charleston Chew factory and offers residents high-end finishes augmented by simple touches, including original columns and fire doors, reclaimed heart pine timber, sculpted Charleston Chew door handles and local artwork. Redeveloped by Post Road Residential, the 328-unit apartment community comprises the Mill Building, the old Charleston Chew factory, two Flats Buildings and a standalone parking garage boasting 470 parking spaces (1.42 per unit). The Batch Yard features a mix of urban loft units in the Mill Building and more contemporary style apartments in the North and South Flats. Standard unit features include designer kitchens and baths, Energy Star appliances, unique flooring, architectural design and much more. The property was sold to Mesirow Financial in September 2015.
Millbrook Lofts, Somerville: Formerly a seven-story cold-storage warehouse for items such as meats and vegetables that were delivered to area restaurants, the Millbrook Lofts recently underwent a transformative redevelopment led by Berkeley Investments that included a multi-month process of defrosting the building to create 100 unique loft-style homes. Designed by Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, the community features spectacular 360-degree panoramic views, high-exposed concrete ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, a "green" roof and a total of 100 vehicle parking spaces with another 100 bicycle parking spaces. The community is ideally located on the Cambridge line near Lechmere MBTA Station and a short walk to Kendall Square. Millbrook Lofts is now open to residents with standard unit features, including exposed concrete columns, open-style kitchens with quartz countertops, energy-saving appliances and lighting, in-unit washers and dryers and private balconies or roof top terraces for select units.
Jack Flats, Melrose: Located steps from the Orange Line, Commuter Rail and with a bus stop directly outside the property, the site was originally home of the historic Boston Rubber Shoe Company, which acts as the centerpiece for the 212-unit apartment community redeveloped by Wood Partners. Jack Flats boasts a mix of stunning loft apartments as well as more traditional contemporary units. At the project's center and from which Jack Flats draws character is a converted brick-and-beam mill building, featuring distinctive architectural details, including exposed brick, oversized windows and soaring ceilings. Complimenting these units are three newly-constructed buildings, which offer residents a more traditional style of living with the best in modern style and design. Standard unit features include designer kitchens and baths, Energy Star appliances, wood plank flooring, personal full-size washers and dryers and much more. The property was sold to Mesirow Financial in April 2016.
With the continued trend of urbanization, the increased desire for a live-work-play environment and its sustainable impact, it is likely that adaptive reuses of in-fill sites will only gain in popularity across major markets. By taking historical cues, developers today are able to give their communities an authenticity that simply doesn’t exist among commodity product.
Mark Campbell is a Director in HFF's Boston office. With more than nine years of experience in commercial real estate and finance, Mr. Campbell specializes in multi-housing investment sales and equity placement transactions throughout the Boston metropolitan area. During the course of his career with HFF, he has been involved in more than $4.3 billion in transactions.