Knox 2, First Resource Development – 2021

Knox 2, First Resource Development – 2021

Knox building — once a Springfield automobile factory — getting $57M makeover into apartments

The former Knox Automobile Factory at 53 Wilbraham Road in Springfield.Don Treeger / The Republican

Gordon Pulsifer — the developer behind the ongoing rehab of Indian Motorcycle, Mason Square Fire Station and the Outing Park apartment complex in the South End — plans a $57 million, 114- apartment rehab of the long-derelict Knox Building just across Wilbraham Road from Indian Motorcycle.

Fifty-four of the 114 apartments would go in the front portion of the old Knox Building, a 66,000-square-foot property the city took for back taxes back in 2009.

The council voted Monday night to sell Pulsifer and his compan  — First Resource Development Corp. — the city-owned portion of the factory at 53 Wilbraham Road and an adjacent city Redevelopment Authority-owned vacant lot on Waltham Avenue for $11,000.

A second vote on the sale is required however, and that vote will be Feb. 3.

That's where Pulsifer said he plans to build 54 apartments at a cost of $32 million in the building he bought from the city.

He still needs a zoning change from the city in order to move forward with the project. He hopes to apply for the funding this summer.

Pulsifer said Monday night that he has an agreement in place to purchase the next section of the building, a 55,000-square-foot space at 42 Waltham Ave. now owned by James C. Hwang of Longmeadow. The purchase price was not disclosed.

But the plan is to 60 units in the 42 Waltham Ave. property at a development cost of $25 million.

Gordon Pulsifer, president of First Resource Development Co., explains his vision for the Knox building Monday at a meeting of the Springfield City Council in City Hall. He plans to build 114 apartments in a $57 million project. (Jim Kinney/ The Republican)

Brian Connors, Deputy Director of Economic Development, said Pulsifer has not purchased the next section of the building, owned and occupied by an active business called Luster-On Products.

But Pulsifer’s larger vision stretches all the way down the block to include the site of the old Massachusetts Career Development Institute, which burned in 2017 arson fire.

The city owns the MCDI site. But the city has its own redevelopment vision for that space.

The Knox Building was once a vital part of the city's automobile industry. It's where where the Knox company-built cars, trucks, fire trucks and farm tractors from 1900 to 1924. The building itself was built in stages from 1900 to 1910 and once featured its own internal railroad line.

"I've never rehabbed a building that had its own book before," Pulsifer told the Springfield council Monday night. 'The history is fascinating."

But the building has been vacant for decades and the city has pitched it for years as a redevelopment site with no takers before now.

"It's in as bad a shape as any building I've ever worked on," Pulsifer said. "Our professionals cannot go on the top floors. What we need to do is to stabilize the building. We need to fix the giant hole in the roof that is there now. Then we will rehab it from the ground up."

Councilors Monday expressed surprise at the deal. But were generally elated to have Pulsifer on board to spend.

“My district is the 'hood,” said newly elected Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown. “My district is the ghetto. I need you to bring your dollars into my district.”

Pulsifer said Monday that he will finance the project through state and federal low-income housing tax credits, state and federal historic preservation tax credits, and permanent debt with the Mass Housing Partnership.

He said he plans to build a separate building on the property replicating the long-gone Knox railroad station that once stood on the property. That building will be the offices and a community room for his residents.

Pulsifer plans to wrap up work this July on the $35 million, 60-unit apartment project in part of the old Indian Motocycle factory and in the old Mason Square Fire Station on State Street.

Pulsifer’s company also rehabbed the 23-building Outing Park at a cost of $83.6 million with a project that wrapped construction in 2014.

"We love Springfield," he said. "We love our residents. They have jobs. They like living with us."

Pulsifer said he sees continued demand for well-built, quality, well managed affordable housing.

Connors said the city's economic development plan calls for more projects like what Pulsifer wants to build at Knox. Existing apartment complexes are at 95% to 100% occupancy, he said.

Pulsifer took councilor’s questions about security at Indian Motorcycle. He said the security camera a system is still being installed and he knows that without it, homeless infiltrate the building after workers go home.

But those problems went away at Outing Park once the camera system went in.

“I watch it at home in the evenings. I call police,” Pulsifer said.

Knox auto
AKnox automobile on display at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.

Article Credit: Mass Live