James Allen's vision of transforming historic property on the Bradford side of the river into sleek, modern, market-rate housing has become a reality.
The Bradford Welding owner recently held an open house for the first phase of a project in which he turned a more than century-old building into four, one-bedroom apartments in the city's new Waterfront Development District.
Phases 2 and 3 of his "On the Rail in Bradford" project will bring an additional 36 market-rate apartments to the site over the next two years.
When Allen presented his proposal to the City Council for approval more than two years ago, he promised not to be an absentee landlord. He made good on his promise by moving into a home at 4 South Grove St. with his wife, Debbie.
'We're making this neighborhood better, including the home we moved into and invested in," said Allen, who said he is using local contractors on his project whenever possible. "For the neighborhood, this is a 100% turnaround."
A Haverhill native who grew up in the Acre neighborhood, Allen said once his development obtains its 20th tenant, he will provide $60,000 to the city to be put toward the Bradford rail trail.
"I walk the trail every morning and I'm looking forward to the city extending the trail," he said.
Allen said he will also will donate a piece of land in front of the 2 South Grove St. property to the city to continue the trail toward neighboring Groveland.
Although the 1.5-acre property is zoned for 60 units, Allen limited his project to 40 units to not "over-densify" the surrounding neighborhood.
Mayor James Fiorentini said it has long been a goal to develop old industrial buildings in Bradford and that Allen's project will not be the last to be approved under the city's Waterfront Zoning law.
"This new zoning law — one of the most innovative zoning laws in the state — allows and encourages development, provided we get something in return," Fiorentini said. "When we rezoned this area, we told developers that we would approve their projects, but only if they give us access to the river and, as I've said before, the river belongs to all of us."
In Bradford, Fiorentini sees potential for what he calls a "second Haverhill renaissance" similar to the revitalization of the city's downtown.
Fiorentini praised Allen for not only working with the city, but also with neighbors.
"He kept them apprised of his project so they would know what was happening in their own neighborhood," he said.
Marie Murphy of the Murphy Real Estate Group of North Andover handled the development's recent open house.
She said two of the four apartments are already spoken for.
"We expect the two remaining apartments will be rented quickly," she said.
Allen's welding business at 2 South Grove St. includes three attached buildings. The first was built in 1908 of concrete blocks, and was gutted to become the first phase of his On the Rail in Bradford project. The recent open house was also the launch of Phase 2, which will be 10 two-bedroom townhouses, with estimated completion in June of 2020.
Phase 3 will create 26 one- and two-bedroom apartments, to be completed in 2021.
"We're actually manufacturing steel for Phase 2 in our shop at 2 South Grove St.," Allen said.
Allen also operates his welding business at 262 River St. in Haverhill, where he will eventually locate his entire operation.
Allen said that originally, the 2 South Grove St. site, which is located along the former railroad line, was a coal distributor and concrete block manufacturer.
Allen said it transitioned to a lumber yard, and then a pallet producer, until he purchased the property in 2000 and opened his welding shop.
"The process was long and very expensive," Allen said. "If you do everything right and by the book, you don't have any problems. If the city asks you to jump four feet, your jump higher."