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Developer ready to sell condos in former Marlborough shoe factory

WORCESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL – The developer of a condominium complex at an old shoe factory near downtown Marlborough said the housing units are nearly ready for sale after four years of planning and construction.

The Howe Shoe Factory Condominiums at 110 Pleasant St. include a mix of units featuring the original post-and-beam architecture. The building was one of six Howe factories that operated in the city in the mid- to late-19th century. Developer Stas Burdan, owner of Altre Development, said he’s hoping the two-bedroom, two-bathroom units will be popular among young urban professionals, as well as retirees looking to downsize.

Financing was an uphill battle

But getting to this point took perseverance. Burdan bought the vacant building at auction in 2010 after the former owner struggled to redevelop it for offices. Burdan said it had been repurposed as an office building the 1970s but had not been used for several years when he purchased it with adaptive reuse in mind, meaning he would refurbish the historic building for modern use.

Burdan wanted to build condos, and the city was supportive from the start, issuing a special permit for the project in just three weeks, which he said is unheard of in the residential development world.

“We really like adaptive reuse,” Burdan said, of his development company. “It’s just not very easy to find something that falls into that category that’s available and makes sense financially.”

The Howe building offered great value, but Burdan hit a roadblock when he began to pursue financing. Banks weren’t interested because the market for condominiums was lackluster compared to the rental market, according to Burdan. Plus, he had already developed the nearby St. Mary’s Condominiums in shuttered Catholic church buildings just off Route 20, and not all those units had been sold.

“The banks basically bailed on us,” Burdan said.

Then last summer, Rockland Trust agreed to finance the project. Construction began around the same time, and is nearly complete. A model unit has been listed for sale to start, and Burdan said asking prices will range between $250,000 and $300,000.

The timing may be right, as recent real estate data for Massachusetts has shown an increasingly strong market for condominiums.

The Warren Group of Boston, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, reported earlier this month that the number of condo sales in March, and their median selling prices, made double-digit gains over March 2013 numbers. The median in March was $291,500, up 10.4 percent year over year, and not far behind the median selling price of a single-family home in the Bay State: $315,000. Meanwhile, the number of condo sales increased 12.6 percent to 1,328.

Adaptive reuse embraced in Marlborough

If the Howe factory condos are well received, it will build on past successful residential adaptive reuse project in the city, according to Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corp. He rattled off a handful of other residential developments fashioned out of historic buildings in the downtown area in recent years, including the Renaissance Lofts in a former wire factory bordering the French Hill neighborhood.

Cummings noted that city officials have been enthusiastic to support such proposals.

“The strategy of adaptive reuse is a wonderful economic development strategy that communities can use and I’m glad to see Marlborough has embraced it,” Cummings said.

Burdan, who is a history buff, said adaptive reuse is also an opportunity to preserve important city history. Simon Herbert Howe, owner of The Howe Shoe Factory, became Marlborough’s first mayor in 1890, and he incorporated images of his factory in the city’s original seal. Now, Burdan is using similar images in condominium branding materials, and he even plans to decorate common areas with old photographs of the Howe Shoe Factory. (The photos are owned by the Marlborough Historical Society.)

“It’s a way to express myself,” Burdan said.

This article originally appeared here.