The Mill Revitalization District
Case Study

Whitin Mill
Northbridge, MA

Original Whitin Mill building.
Original Whitin Mill building
Source: Alternatives Unlimted

Northbridge, a suburban community of 6,300 residents, has a rich manufacturing history. Several industrial developments were erected along the riverbanks of the Blackstone and Mumford Rivers in the early 1800s. The most notable of these early mill developments was the Whitin Mill in the village of Whitinsville. The majority of mill buildings in Northbridge are no longer used to their full potential, however, most continue to serve as important incubator spaces for small businesses. Aside from the mills, the Town prides itself on the character of its built environment, which reflects 1800s vernacular architecture.

Whitin Mill Redevelopment Plan, Northbridge, MA.
Whitin Mill Redevelopment Plan, Northbridge, MA
Source: Alternatives Unlimited

The one-acre site contains a complex of five buildings totaling 36,570 square feet. The Whitin Mill, built by the Whitin family in 1826, is the oldest building on the site and has been designated as "one of the finest examples of Federal style mill architecture in the valley," by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. This mill was the cornerstone of the Whitin textile empire and at one point employed over 5,600 people. Many members of the surrounding communities have relatives who worked in the "Ring Shop" at the Mill well into the 1970's.

Rendering of Whitin Mill.
Renderings provided an important visual guide for the redevelopment process
Source: Alternatives Unlimited

The Whitin Mill site is currently being redeveloped by its owner, Alternatives Unlimited Inc., as a mixed use center to serve as artisan space, performance and conference space, a restaurant, a riverside community plaza, retail stores, a living museum, affordable apartments, and the program center for Alternatives Unlimited - an organization servicing people with disabilities. Alternatives developed its vision for the mill through engaging the community in an open charrette process. The mix of uses planned for the mill reflect the community's input as well as Alternatives' goal of expanding its own program space. Alternatives' Executive Director Dennis Rice calls the $9.1 million redevelopment project "a new paradigm" in the integration of individuals with disabilities into the community through the creation of an inclusive community treasure. Funding sources for the project include affordable housing grants from the Community Development Assistance Corporation (CDAC), as well as extensive fundraising drawing from public and private sources. The project seeks to transform real estate capital into social capital by creating a community magnet that will bring together diverse groups of people through its unique mix of uses.

Not only will the redevelopment enhance community objectives, it will also enhance environmental objectives though a commitment to smart energy technology. Alternatives Unlimited will draw the energy for the Whitin Mill from hydropower - the source of energy at the mill for many generations - as well as solar power from photovoltaic cells and power from geothermal heat exchange. This suite of renewable energy sources means that the Whitin Mill will be not only be energy self-sufficient, but will also be able to sell power back to the electric company. It is estimated that the green technology will result in $100,000 in annual energy savings and sale of credits.