FITCHBURG — A sizable crowd braved the cold on Thursday morning to officially celebrate the Fitchburg Arts Community (FAC) groundbreaking.
The $45 million 68-unit artist preference housing project is the culmination of over a decade of work by dozens of community collaborators and funding from a variety of sources. Construction crews could be seen and heard working in the background of the Nov. 2 event that highlighted the tireless work of project lead NewVue Communities and the dozens of people, organizations, and entities that came together to bring the dream to reality.
Artist Derek Craig greeted the large group that gathered near the three vacant buildings that are being repurposed for the project slated to be completed in 2025 – the former B.F. Brown Middle School, former Academy Street School Annex, and the historic city stable.
“We’re not just building homes, we’re crafting a creative hub,” said Craig, the NewVue Board member and Creative Cities Program Manager, of the multimillion endeavor funded with a combination of city and state funding such as housing tax and historic tax credits, grants, loans, and more.
He went on to refer to FAC as “a dream place where art and creativity will flourish” and drew chuckles from the crowd when he started reading off all involved parties listed on the banner that hung behind him and then paused, noting “there’s a lot of names on here.”
“I see this as a monumental step,” Craig said.
NewVue Executive Director Mark Dohan spoke about the large-scale housing project idea that he hatched many years ago.
“After 10 years it is finally the end of the beginning,” he said, adding that “there are a lot of people to thank.”
Dohan named off several elected officials including Mayor Stephen DiNatale and the “great state delegation” led by State Sen. John Cronin and State Rep. Michael Kushmerek, who all stood near him, and thanked his team at NewVue and many others.
DiNatale noted that B.F. Brown closed in 2009 after 83 years as a school and praised those involved with giving it new life.
“We chose to invest in arts and culture for the city of Fitchburg,” he said, referencing a larger effort to revitalize the city’s downtown area with arts and culture as a focus. “Arts and culture take advantage of our strengths.”
DiNatale said that “more housing means more people living and working” in the city and proudly shared that “this is the most money the city has been able to provide to a housing project” before thanking fire, police, DPW, parks and rec, and more.
“Look what we can accomplish when we work together,” Cronin said. “It’s incredible, we need to celebrate it.”
Kushmerek followed the senator and echoed his sentiments, saying that “to bring a project like this to fruition…doesn’t happen by accident. It comes from coalitions.”
He praised the NewVue team and Dohan for his leadership and foresight when it came to imagining what could be and making it happen.
“You saw through that liability and saw an asset. You never gave up on that,” Kushmerek said. “You made the city stronger because of this project.”
Lori Trahan’s Outreach Director Jake Mastrandrea was there on behalf of the congresswoman who had been called to Washington last minute and as a result was unable to attend the groundbreaking.
“Lori was thrilled $20 million in funding from different buckets went into this project,” Mastrandrea said.
State Housing Secretary Edward Augustus also had high praise for “Mark and his team for putting this great project together” and congratulated the city and state officials that also had a hand in making FAC a successful endeavor.
“You have a great team of leaders here in Fitchburg,” Augustus said.
He spoke about the brilliance of repurposing “these buildings that could have been lost” and noted that “the walkability of the project to downtown is phenomenal.”
“The idea that you’re carving this out for the creative community is really smart.”
Next up was MassDevelopment CEO and President Dan Rivera, who noted that his organization invested close to $1.5 million in the project.
“Take pride in the list,” Rivera said in reference to the long list of names on the banner. “Everyone played an important role. It will equal a revitalization, congratulations to all involved.”
Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation Executive Director Roger Herzog remarked that the project “is a wonderful marriage between community development and the arts community” and commended Dolan and his team and everyone involved in working to create “strong and healthy neighborhoods.”
Dohan stated that FAC is the second artist preference housing project in the state to utilize multiple funding sources and that they focused on “hiring more minority contractors.”
Several others eloquently spoke about the project, including Fitchburg Art Museum Director Nick Capasso. He recalled Dohan knocking on his door in January of 2013, just a few months after he came on board at the museum, a project partner and literal neighbor, and telling him about his idea.
“We love artists and serving New England artists is a vital part of our mission,” Capasso said.
Capasso said he is thrilled FAC will “preserve beautiful architecture” and thanked everyone involved in making possible the project “which is coming to life right before your eyes.”