FRANKLIN — Mayor Ken Merrifield recalled that last week, not the first time, he was explaining the challenges of rehabilitating derelict buildings downtown to a social studies class at the High School and this week was listening as representatives of CATCH Neighborhood Housing told the City Council of plans to convert the old Riverbend Mill on Memorial Street to 45 apartments.
CATCH, a nonprofit, Concord-based corporation provides housing for individuals and families of low or moderate income in Merrimack County, announced it has entered a purchase and sale agreement to acquire the vacant building and invest $10 million in its renovation and conversion.
"I cannot remember anyone spending this much money in downtown Franklin," said Merrifield. "This is very exciting."
The horseshoe shaped mill building stands in the center of the city, between the Franklin Opera House and Odell Park, and is visible across the Winnipesaukee River from Central Street. The renovation and conversion is expected to take between six and nine months to complete and CATCH expects to begin renting units in 2017. Merrifield said that the rents will be affordable to tenants whose incomes fall within low and high limits. He was especially pleased to learn that CATCH was exploring the prospect of lending preference to tenants engaged in the performing arts.
Merrifield noted that for many years CATCH has expressed an interest in Franklin and in April participated in a design charette — "Franklin for a Lifetime" — focused on revitalizing the city center. He said breathing new life into buildings like the Riverbend Mill is seldom feasible for private developers, but with access to a variety of grants and low-interest loans CATCH can assemble financial packages to undertake such projects.
"We are hoping that this project will spur similar activity on the part of other property owners and investors," Merrifield said.
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