2023 Year in Review

It’s been another productive and exciting year at AHF. As we look out of our office windows at the Charles River Speedway, we can see the historic marketplace’s central courtyard trimmed with festive trees and lights. The small business community here is making merry with holiday events and special gifts. Our newest tenants, Rite Tea & Espresso and Pizza Project, have quickly become an integral part of this community, and have made our days even more delicious. The event space at Garage B has been bustling with weddings, end-of-year parties and holiday markets, and the new flexible event space in the upper courtyard, The Annex, has become a great addition to the Speedway’s offerings.  The Speedway is definitely worth a visit this holiday season and beyond! 

Beyond Brighton, AHF is involved with projects and preservation efforts across the Commonwealth. As 2023 draws to a close, we are happy to share a few highlights.

20 Years of Massachusetts State Tax Credit 

2023 brought us the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (MHRTC), a powerful preservation incentive program that has unlocked over 700 projects across the Commonwealth since its inception. Without this program, AHF projects at Washington Mills and Charles River Speedway would never have been possible, and we are grateful to all of those who helped craft and implement what has become a model program for states all over the country.  Continued advocacy for the MHRTC has been ongoing through the years, including increasing the cap to meet demand and extending the program’s sunset date, with partners at Massachusetts Historical Commission and Preservation Massachusetts leading the way. We look forward to continuing to access the tax credit for projects of our own and for others that we are helping in our consulting work.

Underutilized Properties Program 

Since the program’s inception three years ago, we have worked with various project partners to apply for UPP grant funding to support a range of development activity at their respective sites. This year, we were pleased to support Alander Group’s successful submission for the next phase of their project located at 343 Main Street in Great Barrington. This grant will be used to renovate and convert a historic 22,504-square-foot building in Great Barrington into two retail spaces and 13 units of mixed-income housing. A big congratulations to all the awardees!  

Wright Building, Pittsfield

Another project that has benefited from UPP funding is the Wright Building, a long vacant three story former commercial building on North Street in Pittsfield. Following their successful neighboring downtown market rate housing projects at the Onota and Howard Buildings, Allegrone Companies is planning the residential conversion of this long vacant building. Allegrone and AHF are now going through the historic approvals process for the addition of a new construction infill building next to and eventually connecting to the Wright Building which will add 14 more much needed units to the overall project.  Awarded $525,000 in UPP funding from FY2023 for life safety improvements, there is great momentum going into the new year.  AHF looks forward to continuing to support the project, including helping the Allegrone’s apply for and secure Housing Development Initiative Program Tax Credits, in addition to continuing to shepherd the project through MHC and NPS historic tax credit programs. 

Worcester Memorial Auditorium

The Auditorium project reached new levels of credibility in 2023, turning AHF’s vision into a concrete set of goals and objectives. The Auditorium is closer to redevelopment than it has been at any point in the past 25 years. With the support of CSL International, the project has a realistic operating pro forma and a market analysis for multiple types of entertainment offerings. With the support of DBVW Architects, the design of a modern, tech-forward, entertainment and economic development facility is underway. 

In 2024, AHF will unveil new project partners for the Auditorium redevelopment with hopes to begin construction on infrastructure upgrades this year.

Paul Bruhn Grant comes to Massachusetts

We were happy to support the Pioneer Valley Regional Ventures Center’s (PVRVC) application for Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant funds and were thrilled when they were awarded funding this year. AHF has worked behind the scenes for several years to galvanize engagement statewide to bring this resource to Massachusetts’ rural communities. The grant will support the creation of the Preservation Works in Western Mass subgrant program under the direction of PVRVC.

PVRVC’s new program will begin to close the funding gap for historic properties in rural communities and produce examples of the opportunity that exists to galvanize economic development by restoring and re-using National Register-listed community anchor buildings. The idea is to support economic development through the preservation of historic buildings in towns with fewer than 12,500 residents in Hampshire County, as well as small communities in Hampden and west central and southwest central Worcester counties. We look forward to supporting this endeavor across the western part of our state!

Comfort Kitchen, Boston 

This year, we saw the completion and the launch of the award-winning preservation project and new restaurant, Comfort Kitchen, in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood of Dorchester. AHF played a role in this project by providing a loan to Historic Boston, Inc., secured at a below-market fixed rate, to refinance a construction loan following the successful completion of work.

The former trolley system comfort station, a stucco 940-square-foot facility with full basement, underwent a $1.9 million historic rehabilitation with improvements that created Comfort Kitchen, a full-service café with dinner operations. AHF was proud to  support community-based development and fund historic preservation projects in Boston’s neighborhoods.

North Schoolhouse, Mount Washington

The Mount Washington Historical Society (MWHS) and the Town of Mount Washington have begun to advance construction plans amidst on-going fundraising efforts. Their goal is to move the historic single room North Schoolhouse to a new and safer location and to restore it for community use as soon as it is financially feasible to do so. 

In 2023, AHF supported the town’s applications to two state grant programs. AHF also helped to connect proponents to Mount Washington’s State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, to expand awareness of the project and help identify additional funding sources. Increased awareness of the project has put it on the radar of two private foundations devoted to Berkshire County projects. MWHS applied to both funders in 2023 and have already received promising news. AHF will continue to work alongside the MWHS and the town of Mount Washington in 2024 to advocate for the  project and to help close the gap in the construction budget to get this shovel-ready project underway.

Marriner Mill, Lawrence

Lastly, we were thrilled to see our friends at Trinity Financial officially launch 87 beautiful new units of mixed income housing the Fabrica Lofts in Lawrence. Historically known as Marriner Mill, AHF began working with Trinity on this mill conversion shortly after wrapping up work at Arlington Point, Trinity’s adjacent 100 unit project that anchors the eastern portion of the Arlington Mills Historic District. Helping to meet severe housing needs in the Merrimack Valley, Fabrica Lofts is already 100% leased up, and AHF was pleased to provide tax credit consulting to the project team to help bring this important resource back to active use.

Preservation Month Spotlight: 2 Ionic Avenue, Worcester

This Preservation Month, we want to put the spotlight on a particularly exciting project: 2 Ionic Avenue, the future home of Creative Hub Worcester.

The former Worcester Boys Club, now vacant and desperately in need of rehabilitation, is preparing for a complete transformation into the Creative Hub Community Arts Center—a dynamic space for artists, creative entrepreneurs, and community members to work, make, collaborate, perform, and attend events in a vibrant, multi-purpose environment. This project will preserve an architecturally significant building while also preserving its core use: to provide a safe place for the city’s children to grow, learn, and thrive.

Tapping into the expertise of architects from Studio Enée and Studio G, the complete restoration of the 30,000-square-foot building will include artist studios, an art gallery, a performing arts space, youth arts education programs, and two event spaces. When complete, the Creative Hub Community Arts Center will provide arts education for 250 to 350 individuals each day. The project will also include a new infant toddler and childcare facility for the Guild of St. Agnes, a longtime provider serving greater Worcester County.

AHF is providing development and project management services alongside development partner Arts & Business Council of Boston and their Creative Campus initiative. We are thrilled to support Creative Hub Worcester’s mission to provide affordable and accessible opportunities in the arts for all Worcester community members through the restoration and re-use of this historic property.

Creative Hub Worcesterecently launched a new website filled with incredible historic images they found with the help of the Worcester Historical Museum.  We just had to share a few here! Visit their new site to see more.

From The Worcester Telegram – ‘Definitely a challenge’: $100 million needed to restore Worcester Memorial Auditorium

The estimated $100 million price tag to fix up the city’s long-vacant Memorial Auditorium in Lincoln Square comes with two questions: Is it worth it? Can it be done?

Yes, is the answer to both, said Jake Sanders as he recently gave the Telegram & Gazette a tour of the dilapidated 1933 building that serves as a memorial to World War I veterans.

The Worcester Telegram recently toured the Auditorium with AHF Project Executive Jake Sanders. Today, they published an in-depth look at the ongoing efforts to restore and revitalize the Aud. We urge you to read the whole article and take a look through the slideshow of images by Christine Peterson. We are grateful that the Worcester Telegram took the time to learn more about the project and tour the incredibly impressive space.

There are obstacles to be sure – if there weren’t, the Auditorium would have already been rehabilitated and currently in use. But we are dedicated to finding a modern and exciting reuse, connecting with investors, and bringing the Aud back to life.

Read the full article here.

What 2020 Meant for AHF and What’s Next in 2021

Aerial view of the Speedway
The Speedway from above. Courtesy of Jason Baker.

The Speedway viewed from above. Courtesy of Jason Baker.

“I think this virus is actually going to be a pretty big deal.” No truer words were ever spoken in AHF’s office – and no statement more understated. It was early February, and AHF staff were gathered in the conference room at Old City Hall for our weekly meeting. We had talked about our marketing strategy to bring tenants to the Speedway during what promised to be another boom year for restaurants and artisan retailers. We had marveled at our clients, the Friends of the North Brookfield Town House, who were taking bold steps toward a capital campaign to convert an historic building into a regional arts center. We had discussed the 2020 Main Street Now conference in Dallas, where we were to present on our strategy for advancing stuck preservation projects. Now Sean, AHF’s president, had turned the conversation to the news trickling out of Asia, Europe, and California. “We should probably look into some online meeting software,” he mused, “in case we have to work from home for a few weeks.”

Nine months later, we’re still working from home. AHF has witnessed the vulnerability and resiliency of the communities we serve: the struggling hospitals and food pantry lines; the creativity of small businesses striving to stay afloat; the kindness of strangers helping strangers. Throughout it all, we’ve tried to do our part to support our neighbors while keeping our own projects on track. As we bid good riddance to 2020 and welcome to 2021, we reflect on the work we managed to do during the pandemic, and on our hopes for the coming year.

The Speedway Produce Program

Staff from the Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) and Charles River Community Health pose with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.
Staff from AHF and Charles River Community Health with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.

Staff from AHF and Charles River Community Health with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.

The shutdown in March exposed food insecurity everywhere, including among our Allston-Brighton neighbors. With the Speedway renovations on hold for six weeks, we looked for ways to support the community. Inspiration came from our friend and colleague, Maggie Battista, who had been delivering hundreds of donated produce boxes to hard-hit communities in Chelsea. Following her model, we launched the Speedway Produce Program in partnership with Charles River Community Health (CRCH) and local wholesaler Katsiroubas Brothers. Thanks to generous donations from community members, the Harvard Ed Portal, Solomon McCown & Cence, and Newburg & Company, we distributed $14,000-worth of fresh produce to CRCH’s most vulnerable members over the course of four months. We’re humbled by CRCH and Katsiroubas Brothers’ continued dedication to making sure that people across Greater Boston have the care and nourishment they need to weather the pandemic.

Speedway Progress Update, December 2020

More than a year into construction, we can see the finish line! Our contractor, D.F. Pray, has been working hard to ensure a spring opening for the Speedway. We’ll let these photos speak for themselves.

Speedway with newly poured concrete walkway
The Speedway Building F with a newly poured concrete walkway. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Speedway upper floor hallway and staircase
The upper floor of Building F looks more habitable by the day! Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Speedway Building F - room with fireplace
Walls and fresh paint make this cozy room in Building F look even cozier. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
The Speedway Building F Interior
There’s plenty of room inside Building F for office or co-working space. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Building F staircase viewed from the ground floor
Notch Brewing's taproom under construction at the Speedway
Notch’s taproom is coming together. Can you see yourself here post-pandemic? Courtesy of Jason Baker.

ROAR at the Town House

The North Brookfield Town House and ROAR logos

AHF is in awe of the folks in North Brookfield who are turning a stuck preservation project into a catalyst for downtown revitalization. Despite the pressures of life during COVID, an economic decline that has hampered fundraising, and the dismal situation for performance venues, the Friends of the North Brookfield Town House are forging ahead with a capital campaign to redevelop the historic building. Over the past year, they worked doggedly with project partner and music industry professional Bonnie Milner to refine and put a name to the building’s future program: Rural Opportunity through Arts and Restoration (ROAR). A pilot program for what Bonnie hopes will become a national model, ROAR at the Town House will seek to build a creative economy in rural south-central Massachusetts through arts education and cultural programming – all within a restored, locally significant building. Check out the Friends’ new website to learn about this extraordinary project!

The North Schoolhouse – Our Newest Project

Mount Washington North Schoolhouse
The Mount Washington North Schoolhouse
North Schoolhouse interior - desks, chalkboards, and American flag
The Mount Washington North Schoolhouse – a time capsule

The North Schoolhouse — a time capsule

To our surprise, the pandemic doesn’t seem to have slowed preservationists down. We had many conversations in 2020 with people seeking to revitalize historic properties, and one discussion turned into our newest consulting project. The Town of Mount Washington, MA asked AHF to assess the feasibility relocating and restoring the nineteenth-century North Schoolhouse as a civic and cultural space. When we visited the building in November, we fell in love. The brown-shingled, one-room schoolhouse is located along a dirt road in the woods at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and was once considered the most remote school in the Commonwealth. It looks much as it did 150 years ago: chalkboards, desks with inkwells, and adjustable child-sized chairs line the walls; spelling cards are still scattered across the teacher’s desk; graffiti dating to the 1870s decorates the wood storage room. Together with DBVW Architects, AHF is producing a feasibility study and cost estimates for relocating the building to the town center and restoring it as event and exhibit space. We have also offered (pending Town approval) to provide real estate guidance during 2021 and to assist with preparing an application to the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund later in the year.

Worcester Memorial Auditorium

Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Worcester Memorial Auditorium
Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Shrine of the Immortal at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Matthew Dickey.

Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Shrine of the Immortal at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Matthew Dickey.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our largest and most ambitious project, the Aud. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has pushed back the timeline on this redevelopment effort, which aims to convert a five-story performance venue and memorial into an academic digital innovation lab, esports arena, and cultural center. We are in the process of applying for Historic Tax Credits and seeking both public and private investment. In the meantime, we have begun an exciting videography project to showcase the Aud’s history and architecture. Keep an eye out for some short videos later in 2021.

As one of the most difficult years in living memory comes to a close, the work AHF does to help communities spark economic and cultural growth has new urgency. Our New Year’s resolution is this: to contribute to a robust recovery that produces vibrant, healthy neighborhoods whose heritage is honored and whose future is bright.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Learn more about the Charles River Speedway and Worcester Memorial Auditorium revitalization projects.

The 2010s in Review

The end of a year, and especially of a decade, is a reflective and celebratory time. For AHF, this New Year’s Day is particularly meaningful, as it marks the end of ten years of exceptional growth that afforded us new challenges and opportunities. The 2010s began during a recession that stalled several of our historic preservation projects, yet concluded with a groundbreaking, site control agreement, launch of a fundraising campaign, and more.

From This Week in Worcester – “City, Architectural Foundation Reach Deal on Worcester Auditorium”

On Tuesday, the City of Worcester and the Architectural Heritage Foundation reached an agreement on the development of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. According to today’s announcement, the City and the AHF have executed a Land Disposition Agreement [LDA] for the property, creating a cooperative site agreement and allowing the AHF to begin creating designs for the Auditorium to make it handicap accessible by today’s standards.

Let’s work together.