A blighted industrial mill complex has become a vital residential community in Lawrence, Mass.

Originally known as Arlington Mills and then Malden Mills, the property spans 75 acres along the Spicket River Greenway, with buildings dating to 1834. The original mill campus consisted of approximately 23 structures, making Arlington Mills one of the largest textile mills in the world.

The mill was operated by three generations of the Feuerstein family. In 1995, a fire destroyed three of its buildings, displacing 1,400 workers. Owner Aaron Feuerstein, who was dubbed “the Mensch who saved Christmas,” continued to pay his workers for months, gaining national attention as an example of a corporate leader who put his workers first. Despite a $450 million rebuilding effort that was completed in 1997, Malden Mills went bankrupt, and the property sold in 2007 to Versa Capital, which purchased the assets to create a new company, Polartec.

WinnDevelopment purchased four buildings from Versa and two from another seller to develop Loft Five50, a 137-unit development that's a big step in restoring one of Lawrence’s most prominent and historic sites. The team has reserved 134 of those units for affordable housing, with 11% of them serving residents earning no more than 30% of the area median income (AMI), including five units of integrated housing for people with disabilities; 87% will serve residents earning no more than 60% of the AMI.

“Loft Five50 has become a great source of quality affordable housing in the city of Lawrence,” says Adam Stein, vice president at WinnDevelopment, which has completed more than two dozen historic renovations. “It’s changed the area surrounding the Malden Mills complex. It’s done a lot for the city, and it’s done a lot for that neighborhood.”

Nearly 30% of the population in Lawrence lives below the poverty line, almost three times the state average, creating a dire need for affordable housing in the community. In addition to providing housing, Loft Five50 has improved the community by rehabilitating the old mill and putting it back into use. It’s been a catalyst for further investment in the neighborhood, including the development of the neighborhood’s first supermarket.

Although Loft Five50 was created in two phases, the development looks and feels like one well-designed project surrounding a courtyard. The complex offers loft-style studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. It also includes a 15,000-square-foot community room with kitchen and entertainment space, fitness facilities, a movie theater, an outdoor patio, parking, and an indoor children’s play area. Historic features including high ceilings, large windows, exposed brick, and an original staircase, which were restored. Other distinctive aspects of the mill were preserved, including repurposing original meta-clad fire doors as decorative elements in the lobby and other common areas; restoring the clock tower to a functioning timepiece; and retaining an existing pulley-and-flywheel assembly on the ceiling in the common room.

The development utilizes roof-mounted solar panels at nearby Boott Mills, allowing Loft Five50 access to the cost-saving benefits of renewable energy.

Financing for the $58.5 million project includes federal and state low-income housing tax credits and federal and state historic tax credits. WNC was the syndicator for all the credits.

Since its completion in 2015, Loft Five50 has earned several awards, including Vanguard Awards for major rehab from the National Affordable Housing Management Association.

Project Details

Developer: WinnDevelopment
Architect: The Architectural Team
Major Funders: WNC; Nationwide; TD Bank; Bank of America; Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development; MassHousing; Massachusetts Housing Partnership; Community Economic Development Assistance Corp.; city of Lawrence