During its hey-day in the early to mid-20th century, the Draper Corp. in Hopedale was the country’s leading manufacturer of power looms for the textile industry and employed more than 3,000 people.
A centerpiece of the town’s history, the 80-acre, 1.8 million square-foot complex has sat vacant for four decades and redevelopment plans have hit roadblocks in recent years, but last week’s announcement by Hopedale Properties, LLC, which has owned the site since 1990, that the former Draper factory would be fully demolished, is a major step forward for the revitalization project.
“We are definitely moving forward,” said Philip Shwachman, principal of Hopedale Properties, LLC, and First American Realty Inc. of Worcester. “This is a big commitment in terms of time and expense for our staff, as well as others that are involved.
“We are optimistic for the future prospects of this key development site in the heart of Hopedale and very pleased with the enthusiastic support from local residents and community leaders alike,” Shwachman said.
In August, Hopedale Properties announced that a 250,000 square-foot section of the Draper property that posed significant structural and environmental concerns to the redevelopment efforts would be torn down, and that wing, located on the south side and closest to Town Hall, has been totally demolished, Shwachman said.
Since abatement and demolition began, new structural concerns were identified in the remaining portions of the complex, which led to the decision for full demolition.
Another 25% of the building’s square footage, along Freedom St., has been fully abated of asbestos, Shwachman said.
“The asbestos that was remaining was primarily roof flashings, window caulking and glazing,” Shwachman said, “so all the windows are removed and portions of the roof trim are gone. That was recently completed.”
Shwachman anticipated a demolition permit for that section to be issued soon.
The abatement and demolition at the site is expected to be completed by the end of June.
“That’s our schedule,” Shwachman said.
In planning redevelopment of the property, Shwachman has been working with the Worcester Business Development Corp. on a master planning process for the last year and a half.
“They’re a very talented group,” Shwachman said, “and we’re looking for their assistance and participation and visioning and master planning for the re-use of the site.”
Among WBDC’s numerous noteworthy projects are the Mercantile Center, the former Telegram & Gazette building at 20 Franklin St., the Central Building, the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, and the Voke Lofts, all in Worcester.
“We certainly look at projects that are a little bit more on the difficult side,” said WBDC senior project manager Julie Holstrom, “that normal market developers wouldn’t necessarily take on for any number of reasons, being environmental, historic, you name it, and that’s really why I believe Mr. Shwachman contacted us to take a look at this property because this is something that, yes, we have seen in the past and have had to make those hard decisions of, ‘Do you keep going with a study?’ or ‘Let’s look at all these different avenues of how a property can be re-used,’ or ‘What are the final uses that can be there?’ That’s certainly what we’ve done in the past.”
The Draper Corp. operated out of the site for about 130 years, and Shwachman said he hoped to preserve some of the historic property.
“That’s why we let it stand for so long,” he said, “even though some of the buildings were fairly deteriorated even when we got them.”
Craig Blais, president and CEO of the WBDC, said the decision for Hopedale Properties to pursue complete demolition of the property did not come easily.
“It’s not an easy decision to tear down a building that has such history in a community,” Holstrom added, “but I think when you look at what the future potential holds, it can be great, while also looking at ways to honor the history that’s there. I think that is something that Phil is very keen to do, maintaining the historical nature, memorializing the Draper complex.”
Initial findings from a market study, Holstrom said, identified a number of potential uses, including multi-family and senior residential, industrial/flex space, and open space.
In addition to the WBDC’s work, the town of Hopedale is working with the Central Massachusetts Planning Commission to complete a comprehensive update of the community’s master plan, documenting the community’s needs and how they can be addressed.
“This redevelopment initiative has been a long time in the making,” Hopedale town administrator Diana Schindler said, “and just as Draper Company was a vital component of Hopedale’s economic past, the town is excited to be partnered with Hopedale Properties, WBDC and CMRPC to vision and plan for an even more diverse, equally vibrant future, even in the face of these unprecedented times.”