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Group seeks to redevelop vacant annex at Railroad Salvage

Plans are part of a larger project

TURNERS FALLS — One of the two groups interested in redeveloping the long-vacant Strathmore paper mill is advancing similar plans for another disused structure on the island between the Power Canal and Connecticut River.

ThreshHold Cooperative proposes to redevelop the Railroad Salvage annex as a residential, workshop and community space, and as a staging ground for its proposed Strathmore project, which would transform one building in the aging mill complex into co-op and rental housing and studio space.

Owner James Bent Jr. split the Railroad Salvage property in two last year, subdividing the Power Street parcel into a 2.27-acre plot with the crumbling main building and a roughly 0.75-acre plot with the smaller annex.

Bent later sold the main property for $200, and liability for over $15,000 in back taxes, to a nameless “unincorporated association of individuals” represented by Peter Champoux of Greenfield. Plans for that property remain unclear.

According to the group’s website, threshholdcooperative.com, some agreement has been reached and plans are under way to develop 1,200 square feet of visual art studios, 3,000 square feet of workshop space, 2,000 square feet of subsidized community meeting room and performance space and a cooperative residence of unspecified size.

“We have an accepted offer on this property and are currently engaged in a feasibility study for its development,” reads an announcement on the site, which foresees project completion by mid-fall of this year and solicits interest from prospective renters of studio or workshop space.

The core group, as listed in the proposal to redevelop Building 11 in the town-owned Strathmore complex, comprises Anne Louise Burdett, Taryn Amina, Jeffrey Havens, William Gusakov, Andrew Huckins and Julia Handschuh.

Reached Thursday, Huckins said membership in the collective is loose, with participation in different projects varying based on interest.

“To say that ThreshHold Cooperative is always the same group of people isn’t accurate. What is accurate is that we’re all supporting each other in doing work around critical development within the arts,” Huckins said.

The two-story annex property would support the larger development, with space for cooperative members to live and work while they develop the seven-story former mill, according to Huckins.

Huckins said the group’s offer for the property has been accepted but they have not completed the purchase, and when that might happen depends a lot on negotiations with FirstLight Power Resources.

Huckins said the project would require water and sewer lines and the utility, which owns the Power Canal, has sub-surface rights tied to a drainage network under the property.

Huckins and partner Handschuh moved to Turners Falls last year from Williamsburg after several years trying to secure space for a similar cooperative development in the Northampton area, he said.

“Because of the real-estate monopolies and political gridlock of a place that has been developed that far we decided to look elsewhere for a municipality that would be a little more supportive and a market that would be a little more open,” Huckins said.

Huckins said ThreshHold and the proposed developments are not for profit, and the group is working hard to develop partnerships with the existing community organizations and entities.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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