Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Business thrives at Waumbec MillMIKE COTE
October 26. 2013 1:19AM
In the commercial real estate world, securing 95 percent occupancy in a 450,000-square-foot building is a feat worth celebrating, even more so when you're talking about a century-old Manchester mill building no one much wanted when Shane Brady and Arthur Sullivan bought it for $10,000 plus $200,000 in back taxes in 1995.
Waumbec Mill - the equivalent of a 20-story office tower flipped on its side - is now home to a major insurance company, a national auction house and an assortment of tech startups, research and development firms, salons, nonprofits and other small businesses that have set up shop at 250 Commercial St.
Brady Sullivan recently announced the completion of 10 deals totaling about 18,000 square feet it has signed over the past several months. But the property began inching toward its latest peak about 18 months ago, says Benjamin Kelley, an associate broker whose first project was Waumbec Mill when he joined the company more than seven years ago.
"We just finished what we consider a transformation of the building. We took it from a mixed-use quasi-industrial building and turned it into a creative, flexible work environment," Kelley said. "It's attracted a real eclectic mix of tenants. And we've shifted away from those older traditional industrial uses that you used to see in the Millyard in the '80s and '90s.
Those spaces boast 14-foot ceilings, exposed bricks and beams, and room to grow as those startups expand and need additional space.
PillPack, which fills, sorts and delivers medication in personalized packets and mails them to customers, recently moved its pharmacy operation to the Waumbec from Cambridge, Mass., though it retains its engineering, design and marketing team in the Boston area.
"They had some New Hampshire roots,"Kelley said. "We've seen a lot of that: newer, dynamic businesses that don't want traditional concrete and steel."
The flexible spaces can accommodate two- or three-person businesses that just need 500 square feet to large corporate clients, such as the RiverStone Group, an insurance company that occupies the fourth and fifth floors and leases nearly 150,000 square feet.
"They were one of our main tenants when we started developing it, and we built the building around them," Kelley said. "They developed their own space, but they were crucial to our further developing of that building."
During a tour of the building Friday hosted by Kelley and Sullivan for the Union Leader, Carol Baldwin, human resources manager for RiverStone, offered a view of the company's renovation project, which aims to replace its remaining Dilbert-style cubicle environment on one side of the building with the sleek open-concept look of its already renovated space. The new version eliminates private offices for managers and dumps those gray-carpeted workspace walls in favor of lower-rise, etched-glass partitions.
RiverStone moved to Waumbec in 1999 and has been a major presence in the building since its arrival.
"RiverStone was in downtown Chicago and they were looking at where they wanted to relocate in the country. They relocated here because of the airport," Sullivan said.
RiverStone is among the companies that have employees living across the street at 300 Bedford St., a building now known as the Lofts at Mill Number One Brady Sullivan converted to 110 apartments that opened several months ago and is fully occupied.
"We've been able to get huge synergy between those two buildings," Kelley said. "During the day, when those tenants are gone, it provides overflow parking for the Waumbec and vise versa on the weekends when those tenants are there and they can use the Waumbec parking for guests."
Kelley said it's the environment that many professionals crave, one that eliminates a commute.
"It speaks to the bigger picture of what's going on - people coming out of suburbs and moving to the city to live," he said. "It's about as close as you can get to a live/work combo. There is nothing like that right now that truly exists in Manchester, but this is pretty close to it. .
Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.