Posted on November 3, 2017
POUA helped turn a long-vacant site into a mixed-use complex with 80 apartments along the Merrimack River.
HAVERHILL --- As if imitating the Planning Office for Urban Affairs’ skill at making challenging urban developments a reality, a fierce autumn rain and wind storm that knocked down trees and left thousands in the Merrimack Valley without power cleared up just in time for the grand opening celebration of Harbor Place.
Harbor Place is located in Haverhill, a typical small Massachusetts city that is trying to bounce back from its industrial heydays when factories lined the Merrimack River, creating jobs and opportunities for thousands of new Americans. The Harbor Place site is best known for being the location of the popular Woolworth’s Dept. store. This site had been vacant for 45 years.
In its place now is an office building and a two-wing 80-unit apartment building which in total create a U-shape courtyard facing a new boardwalk and the Merrimack River. The design is meant to embrace the city’s zoning efforts to create a mixed-use riverfront corridor that will attract jobs and housing, and promote greater recreational and boating activities along the Merrimack River, which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. The housing is also near rail transit to Boston.
“This development strengthens the downtown and provides pedestrians walking past this location with river access for the first time in 80 years,” said POUA President Lisa Alberghini, who served as master of ceremonies at the Oct. 30 event, which was held indoors due to high winds that were still whipping through the area.
Harbor Place’s housing is a great example of POUA’s skill and experience in working with small former industrial cities to turn beloved landmarks (mostly churches) into attractive mixed-income housing that suits a neighborhood’s future needs. MHP has provided technical assistance and/or financing from its privately-funded bank loan pool for many of these efforts, including St. Jean Baptiste in Lynn, the Hayes Building in Haverhill, 135 Lafayette in Salem, Upham’s Crossing in Dorchester and The Union in Boston.
In Haverhill, POUA partnered with the Greater Haverhill Foundation, which bought the property and held it while the site was positioned for development. Together, they figured out how to satisfy the city’s wishes of providing both market rate and affordable housing on the same site. To do this, the developers split its 80 apartments into two phases – 50 units of affordable housing in a wing along Merrimack Street, and a 30-unit wing of market-rate and workforce apartments in a wing that runs perpendicular from the 50-unit building toward the river. The 30-unit wing faces the commercial building, creating the courtyard in the middle.
“This is a great example of what the Baker-Polito Administration hopes to replicate around the Commonwealth,” said Jay Ash, the state’s housing and economic development secretary. Other state and local leaders speaking included Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, and former state Rep. Brian S. Dempsey.
In terms of financing, POUA used low-income housing tax credits for the 50-unit affordable component. For the market-rate component, POUA used a special state program designed to bring market rate housing to smaller industrial cities. POUA used this public financing in combination with a $17 million construction loan from Bank of America and $7 million in permanent financing from MHP’s bank-funded loan pool. The private financing from BofA and MHP supported both the market and affordable phases of the project.
“While we did the permanent financing for Harbor Place, but what really get us excited is that this project was a local initiative,” said Judy Jacobson, MHP’s deputy director. “I know that the average person doesn’t get excited about the phase ‘zoning overlay district’ but we are especially nerdy at MHP and we do get excited about zoning overlays. We work cross the Commonwealth and we frequently hear people bemoaning about developer-driven projects that don’t meet community needs. So we do all that we can to help communities be proactive and we provide them with technical assistance to help their initiatives become reality. We now have the City of Haverhill as a poster child for having a vision. We will be telling your story.”