Haverhill officials are looking to attract new industrial development to nearly 200 acres near Interstate 495 to tap into demand for distribution space as vacancies shrink in the submarkets north of Boston.
With a downtown renaissance gaining momentum, the city of Haverhill is looking to spread its economic growth and tap into demand for industrial development along Interstate 495.
Construction is continuing along the Merrimack River as this Gateway City attracts increasing private investment for office, retail and apartment projects. Lawrence-based Lupoli Cos. is developer of a pair of mixed-use towers transforming the waterfront, while city officials are reviewing a proposed $86 million museum and cultural center by the designer shoe magnate and native son Stuart Weitzman.
With commercial properties comprising just 11 percent of property values, officials see potential to attract more industrial and manufacturing companies to some of the city’s undeveloped pockets.
“It’s really important to allow for a new industrial park that’s more or less by-right development, so that modern development can happen with a fairly rapid turnaround,” said Will Cohen, a project manager for Boston-based consultant Utile Inc., which is advising the city on a new master plan.
With spiraling demand for state-of-the-art warehouse and distribution space in Greater Boston, and industrial companies being displaced by housing in urban Boston, Haverhill is targeting nearly 200 acres near I-495 for industrial development.
The city’s draft master plan seeks to lure developers to two large sites on the south side of the highway, using reduced parking ratios and rezoning for multi-story mixed-use buildings with heights up to 85 feet. One site spans approximately 60 acres opposite Computer Drive. The other, which includes the abandoned former Dutton Airport property, occupies a 130-acre triangle between Newton and Amesbury roads.
The zone changes also would apply to the city’s primary industrial park, Ward Hill, which was developed in the 1960s and is overdue for updates to many of the decades-old structures, Utile’s Cohen said.
“The same kind of zoning changes need to happen to the existing ones, so as these buildings reach the end of their useful lives, they can add more high-bay space,” he said.
Vacancies have declined into single digits along the I-93 north corridor, prompting developers to launch speculative projects such as North Andover-based PGA Realty Co.’s 256,000-square-foot distribution center at 36-38 Upton Drive in Wilmington.
“Haverhill is a pretty logical place for anyone who is struggling to make sense of $10 to $12 per square foot rents along the I-93 corridor,” said Rob Cronin, a senior vice president for Lincoln Property Co.
As of Dec. 31, average asking triple-net rents for high-bay industrial space in the I-495 Northeast market were $10.37 with a 10.7 percent vacancy rate, according to CBRE research.
Manufacturing space is another potential growth area, in contrast to the decline of the sector which has contributed to many Gateway Cities’ economic struggles. The sector has been Haverhill’s largest source of new jobs since the recession, with expansion and relocation by employers including Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods, prepared foods manufacturer Hans Kissel and men’s clothier Southwick.
Filling a Cultural Void in Downtown
In the downtown area, Mayor James Fiorentini is spotlighting additional redevelopment opportunities following a series of recent transformative projects.
Lupoli Cos. is scheduled to complete The Heights in July, a 10-story, 65,000-square-foot apartment tower at 160 Merrimack containing 42 apartments starting at $2,500 a month and Northern Essex Community College’s Lupoli School of Hospitality.
The city is preparing to issue another request for proposals to redevelop the crumbling city-owned Goecke parking deck property on Merrimack Street. Fiorentini said he’s hoping that multifamily developers will take interest in the property.
“The waterfront [zoning] allows very flexible density, so we’d really allow the developer to come in and make a proposition, and we’d respond based upon the uses and densities that make sense in the marketplace,” he said.
The latest waterfront parcel in play is the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority bus depot, where a team is pitching plans for an $86 million cultural center and shoe history museum.
Haverhill native Stuart Weitzman worked as a shoe designer for his father’s Haverhill factory and built his own women’s footwear empire, which is currently owned by private equity firm Sycamore Partners following a $530 million acquisition in 2015.
A proposal submitted by the nonprofit Weitzman Initiative for the Arts and Industry in December laid out plans for a public-private partnership to redevelop the transit depot as a museum, theater, convening space and educational space potentially occupied by the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Weitzman has agreed to donate his 300-pair collection of antique shoes dating back to the Ottoman Empire for the museum.
Sponsors are in the early stages of a fundraising campaign, said Matt Juros, an architect who moved his Fishbrook Design Studio from Boxford to downtown Haverhill six years ago.
“There’s a growing set of amenities in the downtown: decent food, decent coffee and workplaces, but there was a lack of a cultural anchor,” Juros said. “We looked at where the streets connect and what’s the focus point of the downtown, and it’s this site.”
Fiorentini said the city is in discussions with the transit authority, which leases the property from the city, about alternative locations for the bus depot operations.
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