Draper Mill in Hopedale to be 100% demolished

After announcing in August that a quarter of the 1.8-million-square-foot Draper Mill in Hopedale would be demolished to make the site more amenable to new development, the owner of the historic centerpiece of the town said Tuesday the facility now will be entirely torn down.

In its previous announcement, the mill’s owner Hopedale Properties, which is run by principal Philip Shwachman, had hoped the majority of the original structure built in the mid-19th century could be repurposed with new development. After assessing the many environmental and safety deficiencies of the Draper Mill, Shwachman informed the Hopedale Board of Selectmen he plans to proceed with full demolition of the structures on Hopedale and Freedom streets, according to an announcement from the Worcester Business Development Corp., which is helping Shwachman fix up the property for potential development.

“The decision for Hopedale Properties to pursue complete demolition did not come easily,” said Craig Blais, president & CEO of the WBDC, in the announcement. “While it is difficult to reckon the loss of this historic gem, it is to the larger community’s benefit to focus the time, effort and resources on future development opportunities within the site.”

The originally planned 25% demolition of the site has already been completed, and the demolition of the remainder of the structures on the 80-acre site is expected to be completed by June.

“We are optimistic for the future prospects of this key development site in the heart of Hopedale and very pleased with the enthusiastic support from local residents and community leaders alike,” said Shwachman, in the announcement.

The dilapidated former Draper Corp. building, vacant for roughly four decades the center of the small town of Hopedale, has until the demolition plans announced in August hardly moved any closer to visions of a new development. The Draper Corp. operated out of the site for about 130 years, making power looms as part of the textile industry, and was the largest employer in Hopedale.

The town filed a mixed-use plan for the site in 2018 to revitalize it at a cost estimated at $50 million. The plan relied on nearly $30 million in state and federal funding to be viable. The project, called Draper Falls, would have knocked down all but 73,000 square feet of the mill building.

The town sought to potentially take the property by eminent domain but ran into a legal battle with Shwachman, the CEO of Worcester-based First American Realty. In 2019, Shwachman settled a lawsuit with the Hopedale Housing Authority, local developer Lobisser Building Corp. and others who planned to develop the property.

As part of the new efforts to redevelop the property, Shwachman and Hopedale Properties conducted a market study to determine the potential best use of the site. Those findings have so far included multi-family and senior residential, industrial/flex space, open space, and destination and/or cluster retail.