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‘Transformative for city’: Fitchburg building massive affordable housing project for local artists

FITCHBURG, Mass. — The city of Fitchburg has an “artistic vision” for addressing two big issues: the high cost of housing and jumpstarting the local economy.

Three abandoned buildings are being converted into affordable housing for artists. The goal is to create a new sense of vibrancy in this central Massachusetts city.

Construction is going full throttle for what will be known as the Fitchburg Arts Community.

The project is right across the street from the Fitchburg Art Museum.

“This is going to be transformative for the neighborhood and the city,” said Nick Capasso, Ph.D., director of the museum. “It’s going to be a campus of 68 units of affordable artist-preference housing. 1-2-3-bedroom apartments. It will also have shared studio and rehearsal spaces and an exhibition gallery.”

“The vision is to take advantage of these beautiful old buildings, to take advantage of Fitchburg’s assets,” said Marc Dohan, executive director of NewVue Communities which is developing the site.

He believes this project will help the local economy by “getting more creatives into the community” and “more people living and working right close to downtown.”

The Fitchburg Arts Community is one part of a strategy to grow the economy.

For example, Fitchburg State University took over a theater on Main Street.

“What we’ve decided kind of collectively here in Fitchburg is that part of the way forward is reclaiming our mantle as the regional center for the arts and culture,” said Capasso. “Just this year in Fitchburg alone we’ve had seven new restaurants open on Main Street in formerly empty storefronts.” Affordable housing for artists could be a blessing for people like Nick Nogueira, a freelance photographer who grew up in Fitchburg but got priced out of the city.

“It’s tricky. A lot of us freelancers don’t know when our next check is going to come.”

Nogueira thinks artists can add a good vibe to the downtown area and allow the city to take advantage of an untapped resource.

“It’s good to know the city kind of has our back especially a city like Fitchburg with so many great artists. You may not know it, but there is a good artists hub in the area.”

Dohan and Capasso believe converting an old mill town into a cool destination is already showing signs of lifting the city up.

Capasso added that this rejuvenation will also help local companies with workforce attraction and retention. “We’re not saying arts and culture are going to solve all of our economic problems, but it’s an important and actually necessary part of the puzzle because people don’t want to live and work in cities where there’s nothing interesting to see, do, or engage with.”

The price tag for the project is $45 million.

It took about 10 years of planning before construction could start.

The units should be available for occupancy in early 2025.

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