Hopedale vacant mill owner opposes historic restriction

BY Zachary Comeau

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Photo | Zachary Comeau
The vacant Draper Corp. building sits at the intersection of Hopedale and Freedom Street in Hopedale.

The owner of a 1-million-square-foot vacant mill in Hopedale is pushing the town against including the property in a proposed historic district, in order to maintain its commercial and redevelopment viability. 
The formation of the district -- which has yet to be approved at Town Meeting -- would essentially create another regulatory body and criteria should the former Draper Corp. building ever be sold or redeveloped. Sitting in the center of town, the massive structure has been vacant since the 1970s. The town is considering including the properties -- once the engine of Hopedale and the surrounding area -- in the Blackstone Valley National Historical Park.
The property is owned by First American Realty, a Worcester-based firm. President Philip Swachman has owned the property via various entities for about 30 years.
In a letter to the town via attorney Mary Feeney of Bowditch & Dewey, Shwachman asks the town to remove those properties from the proposed district. 
“It is Mr. Shwachman’s opinion, in which we concur, that any inclusion of his property in a Local Historic District will result in his inability to sell or develop any of his property,” Feeney wrote. 
Swachman said in April 2016 the building would be going on the market, but no buyer has come forward and no redevelopment projects have been announced. A reuse committee consisting of local and state officials was organized in 2006, but the effort lasted only two years and the committee eventually stopped meeting. 
The Draper Corp., once one of the largest maker of textile looms in the country, operated out of the building for nearly a century. 
The factory once employed more than 3,000 people, but it closed in the late 1970s after demand for textile looms ceased and after the building changed ownership to Rockwell International.