Old building set for revival
By Susan Ware, Globe Correspondent, 2/19/2004

From his third-floor office in Town Hall, Shaun Suhoski has a bird's-eye view of trains rumbling through Ayer and much of the revitalized Main Street.

That revitalization, now a decade old, reached a milestone early this month. Suhoski, Ayer's director of community and economic development, and business owner Calvin Moore received a round of applause when they announced at the selectmen's meeting that the vacant Spaulding Building at 25 Main St., which Moore owns, won a state grant of $852,245 for the development of eight affordable rental units.

It was the largest redevelopment grant ever awarded to Suhoski's office, which has received state and federal grants totaling more than $3.6 million since 1999. Suhoski teamed up with Moore, who bought the 124-year-old building last May, to apply for the grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Moore, a fifth-generation resident who owns Moore Lumber and the recently rehabbed Page-Moore Building, is adding $750,000 of his own money to develop the Spaulding Building. In addition, MassDevelopment, the state's economic development agency, has loaned Moore $650,000 for the project.

''Calvin Moore has a great track record with this town. He is a doer -- he said he would put up the funds to match a grant and he did," said Suhoski.

''This is an excellent model of private and public funds working together to redevelop something that is good for the community," Suhoski added. ''This project preserves a historic building that is on the National Register [of Historic Places], and it will grow the town's tax base. . . . We have a tremendous amount of civic pride, and our Main Street is an important part of that."

Moore, who is traveling, could not be reached for comment.

Located in the heart of Main Street, the three-story Spaulding Building was built in 1880 by district court Judge John Spaulding. Until recently, the first floor of the brick building had been occupied by a bookstore/convenience store, and the second and third floors have been vacant for more than 30 years.

Suhoski explained that the grant money will be used to rehab the second and third floors into one-bedroom apartments. One of the conditions of the grant is that the building carry a 30-year deed restriction requiring that tenants do not earn more than 80 percent of the town's median income.

The reuse of the Spaulding Building fits with Governor Mitt Romney's plan, which aims to minimize sprawl by reinvigorating existing structures.

According to Beth A. Bresnahan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the administration is excited about this project and all the redevelopment in Ayer.

''Our office is just thrilled with this project," she said. ''It has all of the elements that the Romney administration is looking for in redevelopment -- we can't wait for the ribbon cutting."

Bresnahan said the administration is eager to fund projects like the Spaulding Building -- projects that reuse existing resources and provide low-income housing close to public transportation -- because it is good for citizens.

''This project is creating housing where it is needed most, and that is a wonderful thing," said Bresnahan.

Although Ayer is a small town with 7,300 people in 9.5 square miles, it has an urban quality. There is a railroad running through town, said Suhoski, who noted that population density, median income, and the percentage of rental property are more in line with Lowell than neighboring Harvard, Shirley, or Groton.

He added that one-third of the housing stock was built before 1939 and many of the buildings have lead paint.

But Suhoski also sees some conditions that are favorable to Ayer. More than 18,000 cars travel through Ayer each day -- commuters making their way to Route 495 and Route 2, and Suhoski is looking at ways to harness the economic power that these commuters could bring to an area. The MBTA has a stop in Ayer that studies show pulls riders from all the neighboring towns, and the Nashua River Rail Trail has become a popular recreation site.

Other projects are in the works. Suhoski's office is working on the development of a new train station. Voters approved spending $4.5 million fire station on a cleaned up brownfield. This came on the heels of a $2.8 million taxpayer-funded renovation of Town Hall. A recent state grant, for $136,000, can be used by private businesses to improve their downtown signs; businesses can start applying for the grants this spring.

''The public has a strong interest in investing in their community, and they have shown that they are willing to put the money into it," said Suhoski. ''Ayer is past the point of revitalization; it is vital. It just needs a little polish."

''Given tight economic times, Ayer has a lot of good things going on," Suhoski said. ''When I think of the future, I don't see a Main Street that resembles Concord or Rockport, but Ayer. I see a Main Street that exemplifies what makes us who we are, and that is civic pride."

Susan Ware can be reached at ware@globe.com.

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