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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nashua’s new Apartments at Cotton Mill celebrated in grand opening

NASHUA – Longtime area developer John Stabile took the long, sometimes dispiriting, road to the spot in which he stood Wednesday afternoon: behind a microphone under a huge tent, thanking person after person for helping him get through and “come out the other side.”

That’s how Stabile described the six-year journey that culminated in Wednesday’s grand opening of The Apartments at Cotton Mill, an eight-story, mixed-income housing project that meandered in several different directions before Stabile and his partners settled on cleaning up the century-old former mill building and creating 109 apartments. ...

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NASHUA – Longtime area developer John Stabile took the long, sometimes dispiriting, road to the spot in which he stood Wednesday afternoon: behind a microphone under a huge tent, thanking person after person for helping him get through and “come out the other side.”

That’s how Stabile described the six-year journey that culminated in Wednesday’s grand opening of The Apartments at Cotton Mill, an eight-story, mixed-income housing project that meandered in several different directions before Stabile and his partners settled on cleaning up the century-old former mill building and creating 109 apartments.

Much has been discussed, and reported, on what’s alternately been called Cotton Mill Square since a developer called Harper Nashua floated plans about eight years ago to build condo and apartment complexes along the north side of the Nashua River, across from Clocktower Place apartments.

Stabile said Wednesday that a lot has changed since 2006, when he first proposed taking down the cotton mill building because, he said, “everyone said you can’t save this building.”

But then several builders – some of whom were among the 150 or so attendees Wednesday – “came to me and said we think we’d like to do a historical rehabilitation” of the building. He ultimately partnered with Harvey Construction, the Bedford-based firm where several of Stabile’s former employees now work.

The first hour of Wednesday’s program was devoted to tours of several apartments representative of the studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. They range in space from from 818 square feet for studios, 674-1,211 square feet for one-bedrooms and 912-1,445 square feet for two-bedroom apartments.

As for monthly rental fees, 55 of the apartments are leased under the “affordable housing” category, for which people earning between 50-70 percent of the median area income qualify. Fifty-four are rented at typical, or “market,” rates, which range from $1,195 for studios to up to $1,695 for two-bedroom units.

Tours of the apartments revealed, however, that even studio apartments are spacious, and some include a small, additional room considered a den or office.

Stabile said that 31 of the 54 “market rate” apartments are already occupied or spoken for.

Greg Carson, a regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, called the project “unique” on two fronts. “It’s the first time we’ve done post-construction financial assurance,” he said, referring to the fact that HUD is typically involved from the beginning of every project it is involved in.

The other unique characteristic is that the project also included work on the Jackson Falls Dam that changed the level of the Nashua River, thereby taking nearly 100 properties out of an area considered a flood zone.

“If you were here for the (April 2013) groundbreaking, you can see today what a truly remarkable project this has been,” Carson said. “It’s been years in the making.”

Stabile told attendees how he and his partners approached HUD, the N.H. Housing Finance Authority and the Community Development Finance Authority for assistance along the way, injecting a bit of humor as he admitted it was the first time he’d ever gone to public agencies for help.

Such a move, he said, “is against everything I’ve ever done in my life. It was at that point I started thinking I’d better become a Democrat,” said Stabile, a lifelong Republican who served in the state legislature, to a round of laughter. The laughter continued when State Sen. Betty Lasky of Nashua, one of many local and state office-holders present Wednesday, suggested “you ought to try it.”

On a more serious note, Stabile expressed his gratitude to local and state officials and agencies for agreeing to work with him. “I’ve been at this 40 years, and I’ve never seen so much cooperation at the both the city and state levels,” he said.

Looking back, Stabile said it was the fact that builders saw potential in restoring the old mill building that inspired him. “I got back involved, and we put a team together,” he said. The team summoned architects with historical expertise from Boston and Lowell, including those involved with Lowell’s highly acclaimed Boott Mills project.

Before the mill’s restoration even began, Stabile said, crews had to remove $1.1 million worth of hazardous waste. As part of the project, developers also added 1,300 feet to the Nashua Riverwalk.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).