A major transformation is planned for a somewhat overlooked corner of downtown Haverhill with Historic New England buying its twin neighbor and creating a mixed-use district, possibly featuring a hotel, retail and artist live-work space.
Historic New England President and CEO Vin Cipolla said Thursday the more than three-acre redevelopment is made possible with the purchase of the concrete Burgess building at 143 Essex St.—the twin of Historic New England’s existing Lang building next door at 151 Essex St.—and adjacent parcels.
“We are committed to establishing a very public presence in Haverhill,” said Cipolla. “Historic New England is an extraordinary organization with 38 museums across the region, majestic farms and landscapes and award-winning programs for both children and adults. We believe it’s now time to open our collections headquarters in Haverhill, reimagined, to a wide audience with exhibitions and education programs, to benefit the local community and visitors from around the region and the world. Our downtown real estate can be activated to make a dynamic contribution to Haverhill’s center, while helping us carry forward our mission to share New England’s history.”
The organization said the mixed-use complex would be anchored by a new Historic New England Center for Preservation and Collections “at the doorstep of Commuter Rail and Amtrak.” Historic New England leased the Lang building in 1988 and bought it in 2006.
William H. Burgess and Howard W. Lang were instrumental in commissioning the first fire-proofed buildings that bear their names. They were designed by prominent architect C. Willis Damon. At the time, they were the largest concrete shoe factory buildings in the world.
Attracting a hotel to downtown Haverhill was one of the aims of the city’s ill-fated urban renewal project of the 1960s and 1970s.
Deborah L. Allinson, chair of the board of trustees of Historic New England, said the Center for Preservation and Collections is a key strategic priority that will also help “fuel revitalization in Haverhill.”
“Culture has proven to be an extremely successful driver of economic impact and public engagement both in Massachusetts and around the country, adding some one trillion dollars to the US economy in 2021, and 135,000 jobs in the state. We expect that local business, cultural and educational communities, as well as Haverhill residents, will experience powerful, positive impacts from this initiative and our investment,” she explained.
Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini said in a statement, “Historic New England’s bold, future-oriented vision for this new cultural district is tremendously exciting given its potential impact on strengthening the many facets of the greater Haverhill community.”
Other kudos came from state Rep. Andy X. Vargas, Sen. Barry R. Finegold and Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Alex Eberhardt.
Historic New England owns the world’s largest collection of New England artifacts. The Haverhill Center will feature creative exhibits from Historic New England’s 125,000- piece collection of historic objects, 1.5 million archival documents, interactive programming, demonstrations and other activities. The organization said it is building a team of experts and launching an effort to attract public and private partners to realize redevelopment of the area.