Historic building up for sale again

$7M pricetag on New England Art Factory site

For sale: one slightly used, historic former New England shoe factory building located steps away from a downtown area. Exposed wood beams, lots of windows for natural light, permits in place for residential conversion. Some assembly required. Asking price: $7 million.

The New England Art Factory building is again up for sale two years after the current owners received permission to transform the 140-year-old, 100,000-square-foot former shoe factory into a residential apartment complex. 

Shakyamuni, LLC, a Dover-based real estate development company, purchased the North Abington landmark in 2017 for a little over $1.2 million from the longtime owners of New England Art Publishers, Inc. For many years the company was a popular local source for invitations, holiday cards, and other small gifts. Decades earlier, the building was home to the Crossett Shoe Company. 

However, some are skeptical about the $7 million asking price.

“That’s not feasible,” said Robbie Lindo, owner of Abington-based Lindo Realty Group. 

In 2018, Shakyamuni received a special permit to convert the four-story commercial building located at 10 Railroad St., into a residential building. Plans call for 110 studio, one, and two-bedroom units, communal kitchen, living, and yoga spaces on the first floor, new green areas in the building’s courtyard, and a rebuilt parking area that would include a green swale running down the middle to help catch stormwater. The units would be small — between about 500 and 800 square feet. During the public hearings the owner said the small sizes were intentional, as they envisioned residents spending increased time in the planned community spaces. Only 10 of the units could be two-bedroom units. 

Residents would be required to park on site, and property management would be responsible for enforcing a one-vehicle-per-unit limit to one vehicle per unit. The owner was required to perform a traffic safety audit of the Birch/Brighton/Plymouth Street intersection, come up with a plan to improve safety, and pay for some of the improvements. The state Department of Environmental Protection is also requiring the developer to clean up possible contamination from an old boiler under a portion of the parking lot. 

In the two years since the permit was approved, progress has been slow. Pieces of vinyl siding keep blowing away during storms exposing sections of old wooden shingles. The sales listing, which was first found and posted on Facebook by Ellen Delany, says only 20 percent of the building is currently framed out.   

Under the town’s zoning bylaws, the planning board has the option of revoking special permits for projects “if substantial use or construction has not commenced within two years of the expiration date” of the permit appeal period. 

Property owners could not be reached for comment. Attorney Shawn Reilly, who represented Shakyamuni during the permitting phase, said he’s not involved with the sale of the property.

Fire officials have long been wary of the large wood-framed building, fearful of the damage a major fire could have on the closely settled neighborhood around it. Shakayumi at one point was under a stop-work order due to safety concerns about work taking place inside the building.

The Crosset Shoe factory as seen on an early 1900s postcard.

“Members from both the Abington Fire Department and Abington Building Departments have had numerous meetings with the owners and continue to inspect the structure for Fire and Building Code compliance, every step of the way,” Fire Chief John Nuttal told Abington News.

The project does have its benefits; when fully built out it would increase property tax revenue for the town, upgrade a piece of town history, and bring new customers into North Abington Center. 

“If done properly, it could be really nice apartments,” Lindo said. 

However, he said, the current asking price would only make sense if it was already built and rented out, and didn’t still need significant investments.

As a comparison, Lindo pointed to the 77-unit townhouse complex under construction at 121 Randolph St., which sold — with permits in place but unbuilt — in 2018 for $3 million. The sales price worked out to about $38,000 per permitted unit. Shakayumi’s asking price for the New England Art Factory building works out to more than $63,000 per permitted unit.  

The property is currently assessed at $885,400. 

DISCLOSURE: The author of this article is a member of the Planning Board and voted against the project.

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