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Mixed-use redevelopment of Insulated Wire complex close to completion

December 5, 2013

Chris Starr, of Star Development, left, and Shane Brady, of Brady Sullivan, look over plans for the American Wire Project in one of the completed units, just one of 142 units to be completed by late winter 2014. (Photo by Ernest A. Brown)

PAWTUCKET—Since last April, the sprawling, 89-year-old American Insulated Wire property has been undergoing a radical makeover. Now, within a few weeks, the first dozen or so rental units of the total 142 that are planned will be ready for occupancy and the site will get a new lease on life as “The American Wire.”

Brady Sullivan Properties, headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire, is behind the ambitious makeover of the mill complex located on the corner of Central Avenue and the George Bennett Industrial Highway. When completed, the site will offer 142 one-, two- and three-bedroom rental units plus 40,000-square feet of commercial space.

This is the second such mixed-use mill redevelopment project that Brady Sullivan Properties, working in collaboration with Chris Starr, has undertaken in Pawtucket. The partners were behind the Slater Cotton Mill, which also offers rental units and a small commercial area, and other mill projects around Rhode Island, including the Grant Mill in Providence, Pocassett Mill in Johnston and the Anthony Mill in Coventry.

“We've kept as much of the original as we could to keep the 'mill look,'” said Shane Brady, of Brady Sullivan. He added that the development group's other mill projects, including those in New Hampshire and other parts of New England, have always been popular with tenants. “I think most people would rather be in a renovated mill than your typical 'garden variety' apartment,” he stated.

The first batch of rental units to be offered are two-level, three-bedroom townhouses located in a building off Winthrop Street. The townhouses, like all of the rental units, feature high ceilings, large mill windows, and a mix of exposed brick walls and sheet rock walls. The townhouses, ranging from 2,150 to 2,300-square feet, all feature working gas fireplaces, washer/dryer combos, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

In the main AIW building will be a mix of one-level rental units, in configurations of one, two or three-bedrooms. These will also feature stainless steel appliances, washer/dryers, and heating and air conditioning. All of the buildings have elevators, and there is ample outdoor parking.

The monthly rents will be $995 to $1,635 for the one-bedroom units, $1,095 to $1,700 for two bedrooms and $1,665 to $1,950 for three bedrooms (utilities are not included).

The former “boiler room” building will serve as a community room, featuring a basketball court, movie theater, fitness center and billiard room. “We're putting forth high quality housing alternatives at a relatively affordable price point,” said Starr.

Brady said the American Wire project has more units and larger sized units than most of the other mill projects the partners have done. “There is also more of a campus feel here,” he said, noting that there will be a common patio area near the community room.

The project is being developed with the help of a combination of federal and state historic tax credits. Starr noted that historic tax credits “are integral to making these projects happen.” As such, the developers and architect had to work within a series of guidelines, which included trying to preserve as many of the original architectural elements of the mill complex as possible.

Brady and Starr are quick to point out that the historical elements are what lends American Wire and other such mill projects their character and period charm—which always strikes a chord with tenants. Old wooden double doors, the signature pedestrian bridge with the American Insulated Wire lettering, and the tall smokestack with AIW embedded in the brickwork are just some of the features that had to be worked into the design. Even an old metal crane with heavy chains that runs across the ceiling of the building that will soon be the leasing office had to be left intact due to its historical relevance.

However, sometimes keeping the period structures can be challenging, such as was the case with a building that once served as a horse barn. While architecturally pleasing, the building's brick walls had deteriorated and a portion of its slate roof had caved in.

Starr said that he and Brady had wanted to tear it down, but the Historical Preservation Commission urged them to try and keep it. They found a way, and now the building will feature the largest and most upscale townhouse unit in the development, plus a half dozen covered parking spaces for townhouse tenants.

Brady and Starr noted that the redevelopment of old mills, many of which are vacant and blighted, typically increases the property values of the surrounding houses. They witnessed this firsthand with some of the real estate surrounding the Slater Cotton Mill once it was completed.

Plus, the two developers say it benefits the entire municipality whenever an old and/or vacant mill is rehabilitated, both from a public safety standpoint as well as for the aesthetic value. The AIW building, much of which had been vacant for many years except for a few commercial tenants, is no exception.

“This mill was in serious disrepair,” said Starr. “When we go in to a building like this, we're not just shining it up. We do substantial renovation work to make it safer and more beautiful...an asset to the community. Once these mills are rehabbed, they will hopefully be strong, vibrant assets to the city for a long time into the future,” he said.

Brady and Starr both credited Pawtucket city officials for being welcoming and accommodating throughout the construction process. “The city of Pawtucket has been very business-friendly,” said Starr.

Starr also noted that the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, which worked with the developers throughout the construction process to ensure that the historical preservation guidelines are met, has also been “terrific to work with.” He noted that with such a large scale project, there are numerous issues that arise which create questions during the construction process. He said the commission has always responded quickly with answers and guidance.

Mayor Donald Grebien said he worked at the original AIW site about 20 years ago before moving to its Massachusetts location. He recalled there were still about 1,000 employees working for AIW at the time, and most were still at the Pawtucket headquarters. He said that in his job, which involved warehousing functions, he had been inside most of the buildings and remembered well what they looked like during the production heyday.

“When I went back for a tour, it was unbelievable to see the transformation from manufacturing to what it is today,” said Grebien. “It had totally changed. I remember the horse and carriage building, because it was being used for warehousing at the time,” he added.

Grebien said the transition from manufacturing to a mix of residential and commercial space will be beneficial, particularly to that neighborhood, which has seen a burst of recent development with the new TD Bank, Walgreens Pharmacy and nearby Stop & Shop. “When you talk about economic development and growth centers, this is another opportunity in Pawtucket where we see cluster development, and it's good for the entire city,” he said.

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