Draper factory, iconic Hopedale landmark, to be almost fully dismantled

HOPEDALE — Nearly the entire former Draper factory complex in downtown Hopedale is now fated for demolition.

“…. we determined that, as much as we would have liked to save it, and look for a re-purposing option, the severe deterioration and safety concerns were more than we were comfortable with,” said Philip Shwachman, principal of Hopedale Properties, LLC, which owns the property, “and we felt that the liability was greater than any potential benefits.”

A small, slightly more modern building at 7 Fitzgerald St., set back from the main drag, will remain standing, possibly with a couple of other smaller structures. But all of the buildings along Hopedale and Freedom streets, a towering wall of brick and glass that has overlooked Hopedale for more than a century, are expected to be gone by next summer.

“It would have been nice if we could have kept a piece of it,” Selectman Louis Arcudi III said. “I’m sure that you guys are envisioning something here … to honor the folks and residents that had worked there or family members that worked there.”

The factory was a major employer for Hopedale and other nearby towns in the early to mid-1900s, but shut down for good in 1980. It’s been largely vacant since.

The decision to demolish was made in at least three stages. A wing along Hopedale Street was approved?for demolition earlier this year and was razed in late summer and early fall. Shwachman said crews are awaiting the town’s sign-off on the demolition permit for the Freedom Street wing, and that once asbestos abatement is complete on the remaining corner, such a permit will be filed for that, too.

June is the target date for completion.

Shwachman contracted the Worcester Business Development Corp., a nonprofit that has taken on historical projects such as Worcester’s Hanover Theatre and the Telegram & Gazette building, to redevelop the site.

“We take on projects that are not ready for the conventional market, and I can assure you that the Draper Mills project is not ready for the conventional developer,” Worcester Business Development Corp. President and CEO Craig Blais told selectmen this week.  “It’s been proven time and time again over the years that it needs help …. and the WBDC sits between the private sector and the public sector where we can be utilized to bring public sector resources to the table to help the conventional market and the private sector succeed.”

Preliminary market research from the nonprofit suggests the site could be used for different types of residences, “light” industry and open space, Blais said.

“We do not want to fool anyone or sugarcoat the process by saying some big, large employer is going to show up in Hopedale,” Blais said. “The reality is, you are limited, access-wise, back to (Rte.) 146, back through Milford to (Interstate) 495, but we think we’ve got it right with the type of … light industrial flex space that has surfaced as a potential reuse.”

A plan for the site could include running connecting streets through the massive property, he added.

“The whole site originally serviced just one company with multiple activities,” Shwachman added. “There really is no market for that, so our vision is to create a grid and multiple sites with new circulation between the main streets of Hopedale, with smaller uses.”

Shwachman and the nonprofit plan to work with the town while a local committee comes up with a new long-term master plan for the town, to include its downtown and the Draper property.

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