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After nearly 10 years, redevelopment of Eagle Mill gets underway

LEE — It’s not exactly the culmination of a dream — not yet anyway — but it’s the beginning of the realization of a developer’s vision to rehabilitate an old downtown mill complex and turn it into a housing and retail center that everyone hopes will revitalize the town of Lee.

Under a tent at the Eagle Mill complex this morning, developer Jeffrey N. Cohen welcomed about 100 people to the sprawling but decrepit mill complex to hear words from dignitaries and hold a ground breaking for the $60 million project that has been in the making for almost 10 years.

See video below of today’s ground breaking for the Eagle Mill complex in downtown Lee:

In addition to Cohen, attending the ground breaking were Fred Taverna of Mill Renaissance, Mike Francis of DEW Properties LLC, and Jay Ash, former secretary of the state Department of Housing and Economic Development. Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin was expected but never arrived.

Speaking were U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, current state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kenneally, state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, Eileen Peltier of the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, and Jon Rudzinski of Rees-Larkin Development.

With partner Rees-Larkin Development and Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, Cohen’s company will develop the now-vacant but historic Union and Eagle Mills into a 21st century commercial center with modern amenities. The master plan includes 162 residential rental units, 70 percent of which are “affordable” and 30 percent “workforce,” retail shops, office suites, and six condominium townhouses located adjacent to the Housatonic River.

The rehabilitation of Eagle Mill will redevelop one of the region’s most historic paper mills, dating from 1808, into a community asset consistent with the area’s history, sparking economic growth, and addressing affordable housing needs.

The Eagle Mill site comprises 8.4 acres of land on both sides of the Housatonic River in Lee. Six of those acres sit on the south side of the river, with multiple historic buildings occupying just over 192,000 square feet of the site. The remaining 2.4 acres on the north side of the river are undeveloped and exist in their natural state.

Cohen credited Neal for Eagle Mill Redevelopment’s receipt, to date, of approximately $8.9 million in federal and state historic tax credits. Eagle Mill continues to apply for additional state historic tax credits. Cohen said Galvin, in his capacity as chairman of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, has championed the Eagle Mill project for many years.

Rees-Larkin Development and Berkshire Housing Development Corporation were approved in July 2021 for state and federal funding in the amount of $16,325,000 to enable the Phase I residential development, consisting of 56 mixed-income rental units in the historic mill buildings.

As have other towns along the Housatonic River, Lee has had a long history of paper manufacturing, dating back more than 200 years. With a population of about 6,000 residents, Lee was once the leader of the nation in paper-making in the late 1800s, and home to 25 paper mills.

Eagle Mill continued to operate and employ many Lee residents until 2008, when paper company Schweitzer-Mauduit closed its four remaining mills, including the Eagle Mill. As a result of those closures, over 350 jobs were lost and Eagle Mill now sits vacant, awaiting redevelopment, which Cohen said should start in earnest next year.