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Renovating Haverhill’s Historic Downtown Buildings

The restored facade of JM Lofts

The following article was published in the Banker & Tradesman on January 28th, 2019.

Located 35 miles north of Boston along the Merrimack River near the New Hampshire border, Haverhill is one of Massachusetts’ original 11 Gateway Cities. Formerly an industrial city, Haverhill was at one time an economic center of the area. Although the shoe-making industry has long left the area, downtown Haverhill has remained an active center for the city, with restaurants & bars, small shops & businesses, or the vibrant and growing arts scene. Despite this activity, the historic downtown industrial buildings of Haverhill have been an untapped resource for the city. Many of the buildings are only occupied at the street level, with some remaining entirely vacant. With cooperation from state and local officials and led by Traggorth Companies, RODE Architects has been working to revitalize two of the city’s more underutilized assets while preserving their historic character.

The first of these two projects, JM Lofts, was completed in 2016.This formerly vacant 20,000 sq. ft. building, built in 1882, is now a center of activity for the downtown area, with retail space at the street level and 18 one- and two-bedroom lofts on the upper floors that embrace an upscale industrial aesthetic. The second project, 87 Washington St., started construction in August, and is very similar to the first with 24 one-and two-bedroom lofts and commercial space at the street level. Also built in 1882 after a fire destroyed many the city's mill buildings, 87 Washington St. has been vacant for many years.

Modern Living in an Historic Setting

The goal of these projects was to create distinctive, efficient interior spaces that respect and highlight the history of the building. On the exterior, the goal was to restore the building to its former glory, but with the energy efficiency and accessibility of today’s architecture. These turn-of-the-century industrial buildings have built-in advantages such as high ceilings, large windows, exposed wood beams, and beautiful brickwork that architects and designers can highlight with proper planning. Along with a sleek modern interior design that works with the building’s history, these elements provide an authenticity that can be lacking in newer construction apartment buildings.

Projects like these are very much a team effort not just from responsible developers, like Traggorth Companies, but from state funding programs that help make these projects possible. Mass Development has provided financing support for Traggorth Companies’ Haverhill projects, and their Transformative Development Initiative – target specifically towards Gateway Cities – has helped spurred Haverhill's revitalization. Mass Housing Investment Fund provided equity for 87 Washington through the Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund. Both projects utilized Mass. Historic Commission (MHC) tax credit awards which require the new design to restore the original condition, as much as possible, while allowing for the building to be adapted to another use. This is essential to respecting the historical context while responding to today’s needs for housing and urban amenities.

Also utilized was the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Housing Development Incentive Program, which requires the development of market rate units without income restrictions. Finally, RODE led a team of design consultants to coordinate the structural upgrades necessary to resist seismic and wind-loads and aesthetic improvements that align with Historic Preservation guidelines. For the two Haverhill projects, this included the replacement of windows with new high-performance products that are also historically accurate, as well as the repair and replacement of historic brick, stone, and other facade elements.

Gateway cities like Haverhill are the ideal location for today’s market demographic. Haverhill has the infrastructure, access to public transportation, local businesses and amenities, but without the high rents of larger cities like Boston. And in turn, the rehabilitation of long-vacant spaces brings commercial amenities and apartments to help activate historic downtowns. These projects are part of Haverhill’s renaissance, using beautiful well-crafted mill buildings that are irreplaceable assets from an industrial past. They represent successive, small improvements that help set the tone for future projects and continue to push the renewal of an area with such rich resources. Gateway cities are uniquely positioned to satisfy the needs of a growing population who are looking for affordability with a design aesthetic that connects the past to the future.

The Groundbreaking for 87 Washington

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