Winn Development, Holyoke officials launch $55M redevelopment of former mill into affordable homes for 55-plus

Aaron Vega, Holyoke director of planning and economic development, speaks at the ground breaking for the Appleton Mill Site project Monday morning, November 20, 2023.

Aaron Vega, Holyoke director of planning and economic development, speaks at the ground breaking for the Appleton Mill Site project Monday morning, November 20, 2023. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Aaron Vega, Holyoke director of planning and economic development, speaks at the ground breaking for the Appleton Mill Site project Monday morning, November 20, 2023.

Aaron Vega, Holyoke director of planning and economic development, speaks at the ground breaking for the Appleton Mill Site project Monday morning, November 20, 2023. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

A rendering of the Appleton Mill Site project in Holyoke

A rendering of the Appleton Mill Site project in Holyoke STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

The Appleton Mill Site project in Holyoke.

The Appleton Mill Site project in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 11-20-2023 5:51 PM

HOLYOKE — Dozens gathered outside the Appleton Mill site on a chilly Monday morning to celebrate the launch of Winn Development’s $55.3 million housing project.

“Everyone talks about affordable housing,” said company president and managing partner Larry Curtis. “One in a thousand developers actually does it. Why? Because it’s incredibly hard.”

Curtis and other speakers praised the public-private collaboration that brought the redevelopment project to life. The Holyoke Redevelopment Authority is working with Winn Development to create 88 units of affordable housing for people 55 and older at the former Farr Alpaca Mills site.

Construction began this summer after a seven-year process of securing financing, according to Aaron Vega, the city’s planning and development director.

Speaking at Monday’s ceremony, Vega said communities can’t go on waiting that long for work to begin on affordable housing developments.

“We’ve got to work together to fast-track these projects,” he said.

Matthew Robayna, Winn’s senior project director, said the project’s first phase — renovation of the 2½ buildings closest to Appleton Street — is expected to be complete by the spring of 2025.

At one time one of the largest alpaca wool mills in the world, Farr Alpaca closed down its operations in 1939. The buildings were in use until the beginning of this century, and have been vacant now for some 20 years. The redevelopment requires significant roof and structural work.

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“It’s not an easy piece of real estate to develop,” said Mark Teden, MassHousing’s vice president of multifamily programs, noting that 15 funding sources were required for the financing.

“This problem didn’t become an opportunity by magic,” Curtis said.

He cited a strong desire to preserve the city’s rich heritage, civic leaders’ farsighted planning, public and private lenders — and a developer willing to take on the task.

Besides some state grants, Winn Development will receive a mix of historic tax credits and low-income tax credits.

When complete, the Residences on Appleton will consist of 88 one- and two-bedroom units designed to be affordable to those making 30 to 80% of median income.

In addition, Winn Development will construct a new community building and connect it to the residential space

via a closed skybridge spanning nearby railroad tracks.

Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, a member of the Senate’s Housing Committee, said the dearth of housing for seniors in Massachusetts has led to elderly people needing a roof over their heads being referred to homeless shelters.

“Those are two things that shouldn’t be in the same sentence,” he said.

Also speaking at the groundbreaking were Mayor Joshua Garcia, Rep. Patricia Duffy, D-Holyoke, Ward 1 City Councilor Jenny Rivera, Mary Thompson of Bank of America, and Patty Wilson of Enterprise Bank.

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.