Lowell Planners Find Comfort in Sale of Mill to Lupoli Companies
LOWELL -- The long underutilized Comfort Bedding and Furniture mill building on Thorndike Street is now under the ownership of Sal Lupoli, whose company took a dilapidated mill complex in Lawrence and has turned it into more than a million square feet of mixed-use space.
Lupoli, of Chelmsford, said he envisions a mixed-use development of retail, restaurants, offices and market-rate housing, but wouldn't finalize details until sitting down with city officials to find out what they want for the site.
"I'm going to listen. My job is to listen," Lupoli said in an interview in his Riverwalk Properties office in Lawrence on Wednesday.
The four-story building has become an eyesore and has been sparsely used in recent years despite its key location adjacent to the city's commuter rail station and regional bus hub.
And it stands less than a quarter-mile from the Lowell Connector.
Its biggest tenant, Comfort Bedding and Furniture, filed for bankruptcy in 2011, closed its showroom and put its assets up for bid.
A factory outlet store on the first floor is all that remains.
If Lupoli's company is able to turn around the 133,000 square-foot Lowell building like it did Riverwalk Mills on the Merrimack River in Lawrence, it could have major implications for the city's economy, officials said.
"It's obviously been a great candidate for redevelopment for some time," said Adam Baacke, the city's planning director. "It certainly has the best commuter rail access of any property in the city and a big gateway property."
Numerous developers have expressed interest in the site in recent years, Baacke said, but plans have never developed.
"It would be quite a handsome building and reinforce the tremendous story of mill revitalization in the city if a mill that visible were revitalized," he said.
Lupoli Companies is known for the drastic transformation it brought to Riverwalk Mills, a complex of old mill buildings on the Merrimack River in Lawrence that sat mostly empty.
The property has undergone $160 million worth of renovations starting in 2003 and now includes 2.5 million square feet of space. Among the 200 tenants are Pentucket Medical, Northern Essex Community College and the Salvatore's Event & Conference Center. Thousands of jobs have been created, and further expansion is envisioned.
The Lowell project could total $25 million or more and create around 500 jobs, Lupoli said. He didn't yet have a timeline for when construction could begin but said completion could take three to five years.
Lupoli, who is also building an office building in Andover, has yet to develop property in Lowell but said the Thorndike Street mill could be the first of multiple projects he eventually undertakes in the city.
"I don't want to stop at the Comfort Furniture building," he said. "I want to keep going."
Jerrold Kaplan, who was the registered owner of property owner RUK Realty Corporation, declined to comment on the sale.
A transfer of ownership of RUK Realty Corporation was recorded in late December with the Secretary of State's Office. Lupoli was recorded as the company's president and registered agent.
A $1.5 million loan on the property from Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank was recorded with the Middlesex Registry of Deeds on Jan. 9.
The price on the sale was not available because Lupoli purchased the corporation, and not the property directly. Lupoli said he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the sale, but the roughly 1-acre property is valued at around $1.4 million.
Lupoli's purchase of the property is the second recent piece of good news for city development.
Last week, Lowell state legislators said they secured $15 million in funding to rebuild the nearby Lord Overpass. Legislators and city officials said the newly designed overpass, which would include an extension of Jackson Street to Thorndike Street, would enable better access to a planned $175 million judicial building between Jackson and Middlesex streets, and further development of the Hamilton Canal District.
Another mill building that's become an eyesore is also on its way to being rehabilitated.
In November, the owners of the Massachusetts Mills complex on the Merrimack and Concord rivers said they received $4.5 million in federal and state funding and tax credits to help develop the five-story Picker Building into 70 apartments. Construction on the $28 million project is expected to begin in late spring and last 12 to 15 months.
The Comfort Bedding and Furniture property is expected to temporarily host commuter parking beginning in April, when two of the adjacent Gallagher Terminal's three parking garages are taken out of service. The Lowell Regional Transit Authority said it will likely use the property for 50 to 75 parking spaces for a year while one of the garages are rebuilt.
By Grant Welker· January 16, 2014 · Lowell Sun · Original Article