Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Aftermath

Ken Olsen (second from left) at June 2006 event held in his
honor at Gordon College, Wenham. MA. Click to enlarge photos.

June 17, 2006: Fourteen years after Ken left DEC, an estimate one thousand former employees participated in “The Salute to Ken Olsen,” held at Gordon College, Wenham, MA, for a groundbreaking ceremony for a Ken Olsen Science Center. Ken has been a Gordon College Trustee since 1961. The Town of Maynard was represented by Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob Nadeau. Ken died in 2011; his wife had preceded him by two years. They are buried in a modest plot in Lincoln Cemetery, Lincoln, MA. At the time of Ken’s death he was survived by two children and five grandchildren.

DEC had stopped all company operations in the mill buildings in 1993. Not long after, same for Parker Street. The company headquarters had been relocated to a new building at 111 Powdermill Road, subsequently sold to Stratus Technologies. In November 1994, Digital sold the mill to a newly formed private healthcare company called Franklin Lifecare Corporation (FLC). The price was $1.5 million. It was a fire sale; during DEC’s last year the town had assessed the value of the mill at $25 million, and DEC’s property taxes were $671,000. Digital was not completely out of the facility. The Maynard Historical Society has correspondence about DEC leasing space from Franklin, and disputes about whether equipment was DEC’s to sell or had been part of the sale.

FLC’s plans were described in a prospectus titled “Mill Pond Village.” The intent was to start by finding commercial tenants for the buildings facing the mill pond. The follow-on was to create a massive senior independent living, assisted living and nursing home complex in the other buildings. The project was to have up to 800 living units, dining rooms, craft rooms, a museum for the town (!) and a cafĂ© overlooking the Assabet River. Funding never materialized. The mill complex stayed mostly vacant until Wellesley Rosewood Capital LLC (Clock Tower Place) agreed to buy it in October 1997, closing the deal January 1, 1998.

Clock Tower Place numbering of buildings. In the compass rose, north and
south are reversed, but east and west are correct. Click photos to enlarge.
After DEC shuttered the mill and other buildings, and laid off employees, Maynard was not quite a ghost town, but it felt like one. Housing prices did not decline, but also did not increase at the same rate as neighboring towns. New housing starts and population growth stalled. Local businesses suffered greatly as the demand for daily services fell and weekday foot traffic all but disappeared in the downtown area.

An essential part of the deal for Clock Tower Place was an agreement with the Town of Maynard establishing tax incentive financing (TIF). The terms were that for increases in assessed value of the property – based on improvements to the buildings and grounds, and increased value as tenants moved in – there would be a 95% discount of property taxes for the first five years and a 50% discount for the following ten years. The TIF was approved at Town meeting, April 1998, and was to run July 1998 through June 2013. The TIF initially saved CTP more than half a million dollars a year. CYP also got a state abandoned building tax credit. Because of the tax breaks, Clock Tower Place was able to offer below-market rental rates. By mid-1999 the mill complex was at 50% occupancy, 73% the following February, and all 1,100,00 square feet full by the end of 2000. Downtown’s vacant storefronts were reoccupied in parallel. sign at Clock Tower Place parking lot
After filling the existing buildings with tenants, CTP was so optimistic about potential growth that it proposed adding a new 300,000 square foot building on the south side of the mill pond plus a five-story parking garage. Then, the business outlook changed. Three years into the recession that had started in 2008, the vacancy rate was hovering around 30%, with more departures expected. The death knell sounded when relocated. This international job-search company had moved to Clock Tower in 1998 with about 50,000 square feet of floor space. Within years it had expanded to 300,000 square feet. Monster also had a visible presence in town, sponsoring blood drives and an annual road race to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Assabet Valley. In early 2014, the company, which had already been downsizing (having missed the social media impact on job search that had fostered LinkedIn), relocated all of its 600+ remaining employees to Weston.

mill&main sign for Stratus and Battle Road (tenants)
With Monster gone, Wellesley Rosewood was facing less than 30% occupancy, a $50 million mortgage, and an expired TIF. Clock Tower Place was put up for sale. The buyers, in 2015, were Artemis Real Estate Partners and Saracen Properties, having bought the mortgage and secured an additional $40.8 million financing. The mill complex was rebranded as Mill & Main. Lincoln Property Company was brought in as on-site managers. Remodeling included removal of two of the smaller buildings (10 and part of 2) and extensive landscaping. Town-approved zoning changes allowed for retail and restaurant opportunities, not yet realized. Heading toward Maynard’s 150th anniversary, Mill & Main continues to seek tenants for the building space and other options that could benefit it and the town.   

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