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Dec 31

Proposal for Warren District Properties & Valentine Estate

Posted on December 31, 2018 at 12:29 PM by Michael Herbert

One way Ashland has been proactive in planning its future is by acquiring properties in order to: 1) decrease the chance for inappropriate development in areas that could be better served by other uses, and 2) give us the opportunity to develop something unique and creative by preserving and re-purposing cultural and historical assets.

While a net positive, our ambitious agenda in acquiring these assets and initiatives did not accompany with it a corresponding increase in staff to help manage the maintenance and disposition of these properties.

Also, Ashland has no shortage of ideas to best utilize these properties, especially the Valentine Property. But what we do not have is a process to look at these ideas holistically and a process to determine what is realistic and what is not realistic, nor the pros and the cons of each idea. In order for such a process to not become a long drawn out affair, it needs focused leadership and resources to ensure it is happening correctly, expeditiously and fairly.

Therefore at their January 2, 2019 meeting,  I am recommending that the Board of Selectmen authorize $112,000 to come from the Warren District account to hire a designated project manager to manage the stabilization, redevelopment, and restoration of the Warren District and the properties contained therein, as well as the Valentine Property. After consultation with staff, work can be broken down to three separate phases:

  1. Stabilization of existing property - Ensuring that further decay and disrepair do not happen, giving us the time to determine uses for the property. This will also include ongoing maintenance of the property during this time frame.
  2. Managing a robust public process - The project manager will also manage the public process to determine how we are going to use the Valentine Property, and help evaluate  suggestions for each provided below.
  3. Overseeing the redevelopment/restoration of properties - This will be very procurement heavy. Essentially serves as clerk of the works. Responsible for making sure properties stay functioning and that the overall goal is achieved.

Funding of salary for the project manager will come directly out of the Warren District account, at $56,000 annually, for a two-year period resulting in a cost of $112,000. Funding in this account comes from an array of non-taxpayer sources. The Town would absorb benefits related to the position.

At the Board of Selectmen's property forum meeting on October 18th, a number of ideas were put forward with regards to the properties at the Warren District. This input, combined with the restrictions already put in place on the properties leads to the following suggested uses that we can get started on implementing right away. These uses are designed with historical, cultural, economic development, and sustainability issues in mind.




22 Eliot Street

Museum/Educational Center - Can be used to house information about Warren Woods and Henry Warren's Life and Inventions. "Home Base" for Educational Programs both locally and with FSU

Uses are already restricted. Currently functioning in this capacity already. Will be looking to expand the scope and mission.

433 Chestnut Street (Hall House)

Private home on National Register - Home privately restored and sold at market. Similar situation to the Clayes House in Framingham

Other proposed uses (Art Center, Museum) have been proposed in better (i.e. more sustainable) locations. This is a cost effective option to get the outcome the town desires, which is a historical home preserved in perpetuity.

Warren Barn

Function Hall similar to the Holliston Historical Society

The Warren Barn is part of an iconic vista that already attracts a number of individuals for pictures and other scenic uses. A function center can be used in partnership with FSU's facilities and parking as well as its new hospitality program. This will also allow us to potentially share the cost burden of restoring and maintaining the property with FSU.

Uses for the Valentine property are many but are less obvious. As such the Valentine Property will take a more protracted evaluation process. I do not have a definitive recommendation at this time but here are some questions that should be asked as part of that process:

  1. Function Hall similar to Holliston Historical Society - is this really feasible given the fact that there is a very popular one right nearby? In addition we will have something similar at the Warren District. What kind of market is there for this type of use. If there isn’t a market how will it be sustained?
  2. Arts Center - Is this really the best location for an Arts Center? With limited parking, what size venue would we be thinking of. Its location would make it a stand-alone center, meaning that people would not have the opportunity to walk to other parts of town and frequent their businesses in conjunction with visiting the arts center. There are already three regional arts facilities nearby (Hopkinton, Framingham, Natick) some of which are already struggling. Why would a performer/artist want to come to Ashland versus one of the other locations?
  3. Working Farm/Farm to Table Restaurant - How many farmable acres are there on site? What would the cost be to clear land associated with this use? Who would manage the restaurant? Would it require a subsidy from the Town? If so, how much and where would the funding come from?
  4. Office Space - How much would it cost to renovate the property for this purpose? Does this purpose preclude using the rest of the space for some other purpose? What are the benefits of locating office space in a historic home?
In closing, moving on the disposition of these properties should be one of our focus areas in the next year. Further delay means advanced decomposition of the properties which in turn further limits the options available. This recommendation gives us the opportunity to fully realize the potential in each of these properties while retaining and celebrating the history of Ashland. 


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