Playing a role in how Greenfield develops
Turning an old school into ‘green’ apartment building
Mark Zaccheo is transforming the old Conway Street School into a 12-unit apartment building.
Mark Zaccheo outside the old Conway Street School on Allen and Conway streets in Greenfield. He's turning the school into 12 apartments.
GREENFIELD — When Mark Zaccheo moved to Greenfield with his wife Barbara a dozen years ago, he decided he wanted to be more than just a resident of the town.
Instead, he said he wanted to help the town change, grow and become more vibrant by playing a major role in that — and he has.
To date, the 45-year-old developer has owned more than a dozen properties and a little less than half of them are mixed use, which means they are a combination of retail businesses, offices and apartments. The rest are residential properties.
By the first of the year, Zaccheo expects tenants will be moving into his latest project, a 12,000-square-foot “green” apartment building on the corner of Conway and Allen streets, that once housed one of the town’s schools.
Zaccheo bought the vacant two-story brick building and 0.84 acres it sits on in 2011 for $82,000.
The town had sold it to a Spencer contractor during a public auction the year before, but that developer decided to sell it to Zaccheo, rather than redevelop the property.
“A lot of developers buy properties because they are tempted by the low prices, but then they can’t deliver because it costs too much to fix them up, and it’s a lot of hard work and commitment,” said Zaccheo, who said he’s not afraid of either.
When finished, the building on Conway and Allen streets will have 12 apartments and Zaccheo has already rented four of them.
Just like the former Mix ‘n’ Match building on Olive Street, which he renovated a few years ago, the former school building will have solar hot water, electricity and heat and several other energy-saving amenities, like dual-flush toilets, and triple-pane windows, he said. They will also have tile floors, hardwood floors, granite countertops and cherry cabinets, he said.
“I find opportunities and I act on them,” said Zaccheo. “I hope other developers come into Greenfield and do the same.”
Zaccheo said his most recent purchase is the former Dakor Center building and property on Davis Street.
“I was approached by the realtor and decided it was another good opportunity with lots of potential,” said Zaccheo, who said he will look for a retail tenant for the property for now.
“The building has good bones, but it needs a face lift,” said Zaccheo. “I’ll plan on doing that within the next five years and then possibly do a mixed use there like I did on Olive Street.”
Zaccheo said he, his wife, and their 10-year-old son are committed to Greenfield and the surrounding area.
He also has an agreement with the Town of Montague to buy the former Montague Center School property, which he said he would turn into 22 apartments.
“There’s so much opportunity in this area,” said Zaccheo. “Where can you buy big, beautiful, old buildings for almost nothing?”
He said the reason many developers shy away from such purchases is because even though it costs little to purchase some of the older buildings, it also costs a lot to refurbish and bring them up to code.
“I look at it as an investment,” said Zaccheo, whose apartment building on Olive Street is full. “If you do a good job, you get that investment back and then some.”
Starting rents for his 16 Olive Street Lofts apartments were between $700 and $1,000, including utilities, in 2012. The new apartment building’s rents will be between $700 and $1,600, including utilities.
It may seem like he’s a much bigger part, but Zaccheo said he is just a small part of the growth and redevelopment happening in Greenfield over the past several years.
“This has to be a group effort,” he said. “We need more developers to participate.”
Zaccheo said he has found his niche — “green,” higher-end apartments — and said other developers will have to find their niches, which might cater to an entirely different tenant than he does.
Zaccheo said he decided to go green with all of his apartments because it is something he feels strongly about.
“It’s something the entire country should be moving toward,” he said, explaining that building the way he does keeps him interested.
“Just building standard housing is not as exciting,” he said. “This is a challenge.”
Zaccheo, who used to serve on the town’s Parking and Traffic Commission, but said he’s gotten too busy to continue, said he and his family love being part of and contributing to their community.
He said his wife continues to serve on the Recreation Commission and is active at his son’s school, Bement School in Deerfield.
“She also, like me, works full time for our property management company,” said Zaccheo.
He said once the apartment building on Conway and Allen is open and tenants have moved in, he will begin thinking about ideas for the former Dakor Center. He said he hopes to get together with anyone in town who might have ideas for the property.
“It’s a big building that has had a very specific use for many years,” said Zaccheo. “I’d like to get creative and find another use.”
“When Dakor’s realtor came to me, I saw the opportunity and potential,” he said. “I’d like to pay attention to what people want so I can maybe fill an under-served need. I’m good at doing that.”
Zaccheo said the town has been a great partner, working with him through each project.
“It’s great advice for developers to do their due diligence,” said Zaccheo. “There are always going to be surprises with all projects like these, but working with the town before you even start will help.”
Zaccheo said the former Mix ‘n’ Match building had few surprises because the layout was pretty straightforward, but the building he is currently working on has had many surprises because of its tricky layout and large central staircase.
“You have to work with the town and all of its departments, including police and fire,” he said. “Working as a team like that only makes the town better.”
Zaccheo said the town has been doing a good job of redeveloping, but has had to take baby steps.
“It’s a progression when you are redeveloping a town,” said Zaccheo. “You have to take one step at a time, but it’s incredible to see the changes that happen over a decade.”
Zaccheo said redevelopment builds upon itself, because it is contagious in a good way.
“Without development, the town would be in real trouble,” said Zaccheo.
The local developer also purchased a small piece of land a couple of years ago, which abuts the Millhouse and American Legion, on Wells Street. He said even though the American Legion recently announced it is selling its building, he has no plans of purchasing it. He said he has enough projects going at this time.
When Zaccheo and his wife first moved to Greenfield, they bought a house and fixed it up.
They then bought the Reed apartment building on Franklin Street and did work on it.
In 2007, the Zaccheos halted plans to convert a downtown landmark they’d bought in 2003 into a home for themselves. Later that year, they sold the former Artspace Community Art Center at 7 Franklin St.
Zaccheo bought the now Olive Street Lofts and some of the other buildings around it during a foreclosure auction in 2008 and spent more than $1.6 million to redevelop the one building and its parking lot.
Zaccheo was born, raised and went to school in Connecticut. He has traveled to all 50 states and lived in several areas of the country.
He met his wife in Washington, D.C., and before they moved to Greenfield, owned six properties in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
Before they moved to Greenfield, the couple traveled the world for seven months.
Zaccheo said he hopes to keep doing what he’s doing as he moves forward, and give the town as much variety as possible.
“Especially in a downtown you have to have density and variety to attract people,” said Zaccheo.
He said his apartments have attracted people who were already living in Franklin County, but also people from outside the county. He said that’s good for economic development.
“I’d love to keep growing and learning and having fun,” said Zaccheo.