Turnaround Experts

5 min read

Adam Stein on WinnDevelopment’s Adaptive Reuse Strategy.

Winn is a national real estate company that specializes in the acquisition and redevelopment of residential and mixed-use properties, as well as the management of affordable and market-rate housing. Winn is also an industry leader in the rehabilitation and turnaround of troubled properties, especially dilapidated landmark and historic structures and 19th-century mills that can be converted for modern use through innovative financing mechanisms and improved management practices. Winn’s expertise has allowed the company to complete 18 large-scale historic rehabilitation projects, converting these properties into community-enhancing spaces. MHN Editorial Director Diana Mosher recently interviewed Adam Stein, vice president of WinnDevelopment, about the company’s work turning around troubled and historic properties.

Do you mainly focus on market-rate or affordable projects? 

The vast majority of our adaptive reuse projects consist of mixed-income communities. This mix allows for a broader market segment, range of incomes and [an] overall healthier community.  More than 80 percent of the WinnDevelopment portfolio consists of an affordable or workforce housing component.

What are you currently working on and what have you recently completed?

This past month, Winn completed an 84-unit acquisition rehab [joint venture] called Phoenix Apartments in Providence, R.I., as well as major renovations to the Samuel Kelsey Apartments in Washington, D.C., which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These were both big neighborhood turnaround projects. We also recently completed a historic mill rehabilitation of the former Malden Mills complex in Lawrence, Mass., where we converted 160,000 square feet of vacant mill space into 75 units of mixed-income housing called Loft Five50 and a [joint venture] with the Fitchburg Housing Authority called Fitchburg Place, an affordable senior housing community. Most notably, two of our developments in Boston—
Oliver Lofts and Castle Square Apartments—were recently awarded LEED Platinum certifications.  We are currently working on a historic mill conversion at the former Cliftex Mills in New Bedford, Mass., a 96-unit scattered site in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston and a major, 1-million-square-foot mixed-use project in Rochester, N.Y. As you can see, Winn is busy and has made a name by entering urban areas, converting underutilized or vacant structures, developing quality mixed-income housing, and becoming a positive community stakeholder.

Why do you think units in these historic- minded projects are so popular with apartment dwellers?

Residents like the unique architecture of the mills. They are nostalgic of the past, and they also appreciate convenient locations. You can’t build buildings like that today, nor can you find loft-style units with 14-foot wooden ceilings, brick walls and huge windows, along with other unique architectural features. We cannot replicate what’s there; costs would be too extensive. A lot of the old mills Winn has redeveloped are Landmark structures. They are symbols of the community and connect to the people who worked there and are now either vacant or underutilized. People are drawn to the fact that we are taking these vacant, landmark structures and making them viable once again. Communities generally support this type of redevelopment, as the projects provide not only quality stable housing but also provide an economic benefit to the community in the form of continued growth and investment in the area.

Does each project present its own learning curve?

Generally, for most new developments, we need to show the benefits and reshape the stereotype of workforce housing.  With the mill buildings, there are often environmental and structural issues that we’re not aware of upfront, and if the buildings have been vacant for a long period of time, this brings up other challenges as well. In addition, there is a balancing act between the National Park Service historic design criteria and the USGBC LEED criteria. The challenge is to deliver a historically sensitive, energy-efficient building that is marketable and functional.

WinnCompanies is known for innovative financing mechanisms. Tell us about that.

We typically layer between eight and 10 financing sources for each project. Our success comes from our ability to effectively combine these sources (from state, federal or local resources, as well as private investment and commercial banks) with our indepth understanding of the complexity and timing of all these different layers. These are true public-private partnerships. The housing tax credits are the most competitive source of financing and tends to be the driver. Winn, through a diverse portfolio, proven track record and never missing a mortgage payment, has the ability to attract favorable financing.

How and when do you decide a dilapidated historic structure is not worth the investment?

It is very important that the local municipality supports the project. We also take into consideration the location, market saturation and condition of the structure. Some of the buildings have tight column grids, small windows or very wide bays that don’t lay out well for housing or require too much capital to make work. Another reason could be extensive environmental issues.

Is there anything we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to add?

Winn has been busier than ever and increasingly active over the past five or six years during the economic downturn. Through the leadership of our development principals Gilbert Winn and Larry Curtis, we have identified a niche in the market and proven to be a pioneer in revitalizing communities through the creation of quality mixed-income housing. Our development projects have produced hundreds of new construction and permanent jobs and, we hope, have bettered the quality of life for many, many residents.

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