NASHUA — A 310,000-square- foot historic mill building sits vacant in downtown Nashua — a relic of the bygone Nashua Corp., once the city's largest employer.
But in the eyes of some community activists, the Franklin Street building is the largest development opportunity in the city.
New York-based architect Jack Heaney is the man spearheading the effort to convert the building into livable, workable space. His company Fulcrum Properties was hired by a financial firm that purchased the $3 million building in 2009 following a foreclosure.
“My goal over the past six months is to identify operators or people who might consider partnering up with us so that we might renovate and develop that space into something useful,” Heaney said.
The architect is taking a sober approach to the building's development, to be phased in over time.
The first is to convert a 40,000-square-foot addition that was added in the 1930s, and the final goal is for the rest of the building to be turned into a residential complex of some sort.
Visualize Nashua, a grassroots spinoff of urban developer Renaissance Downtowns, is campaigning to sign up potential tenants for the first 10,000 feet. Heaney said that when this happens, they can start looking at feasibility.
Developers “would like to see some sort of catalyst, whether it's a market, music venue, restaurant space or maybe an art gallery,” Heaney said.
James Vayo of Renaissance Downtowns is leading Visualize Nashua's campaign. He said the space would be ideal for artist studios and light industrial uses, for example, potters, painters and musicians.
“I really envision this being a workspace, maybe a live-work space very similar to (Nashua's) Picker Building, where the artists are typically there all day and all night, but they don't sleep in the building,” Vayo said.
“The sooner we can get 10,000 square feet worth of people into the space, the sooner I can go to Jack Heaney and present the option of fitting out a floor plate for occupancy.”
Though there would be no street side spaces for retail, half of the units would offer a view of the Nashua River, similar to the Picker Building on the opposite riverbank.
Vayo said the 40,000-foot portion of the building is in good shape and can be occupied with little modification. The corridors need work, in addition to HVAC systems and lighting — the rest is a matter of a public response.
Though Renaissance has no direct investment in the Franklin building, Vayo said all boats rise with the tide. “If we can jump-start a revitalization in downtown through providing an unmet need, that will help downtown further succeed, and the success of downtown means success for,” our other projects.
He said that if nothing is done, the building could be demolished due to the inevitable structural damage it could face. For his part, Heaney called it a financial sinkhole that's not benefiting anybody.
Through working with city officials, artists, financiers and other community leaders, the two hope to prevent those scenarios and turn the Franklin Street Mill Building into the bustling center it once was.
Those interested in the effort to revitalize the building can visit Visualize Nashua on Facebook at facebook.com/visualizenashua, or in person at Renaissance Downtowns, 88 Main St. in Nashua.