Breaking Ground in Bedford: Journey of a Resilient IRF Project

January 25th was a time for celebration in Bedford, when a small group gathered with shovels and reaffirmed their commitment to a project that is rebounding from a devastating fire a year ago. “There have been many twists and turns along the path to today’s milestone event. There have been setbacks that could have easily derailed the project, and perhaps deterred a community of lesser character,” said Town Manager Bart Warner. “We move forward today with great hope and optimism and with the expectation that the new chapter in the life of this property will have a positive effect on the overall history of Bedford which is yet to be written.” That’s the spirit!

The Bedford Campus consists of 4 buildings being repurposed by Waukeshaw Development.

The Bedford Campus Redevelopment project has been in the works for years, receiving an Industrial Revitalization Fund award from DHCD in 2019 for $550,000. The 11 acre property, owned by the Town of Bedford, consists of 4 buildings: the former middle school from the 1930s, the former elementary school from 1912, a 1964 cafeteria, and a gymnasium constructed in 1999. After listening to proposals from a number of developers, the Town decided to partner with Waukeshaw Development, the powerhouse behind many successful projects in Bedford and across the state, and they got to work on their plans for a mixed-use campus with a hotel, apartments, work, and recreational space. Their proposal was one of four chosen in 2019 to receive funding through DHCD’s IRF program. On January 23, 2020, however, an intentionally set fire caused extreme damage to the former middle school building, slated for the apartments. Amidst this tragedy, the group rallied – “It’s brought us all together,” said Dave McCormack from Waukeshaw, “We’re doing this as a team like no other project we have before.”

During the groundbreaking the team further discussed the plans for the property. The original elementary school, a three-story distinctive Spanish Colonial-Revival style building, will be transformed into a 30-room boutique hotel named Cardinal Rule. Work will begin on this in February and is expected to take about 18 months. The middle school, which suffered the damage from the fire, will be transformed into 60 market-rate apartments as Phase II of the project. Selective demolition has already taken place following the fire, with as much of the remaining structure being incorporated into the plans as possible. The former cafeteria will be utilized as a business incubator space and the gymnasium and fields will serve as athletic facilities.

“What’s most interesting to me about this project is how many components there are to it: the boutique hotel, apartments, the gym and soccer field. This is really a celebration of what makes Bedford so special, all in one campus setting,” said McCormack.

DHCD’s Industrial Revitalization Fund provides competitive annual grants for vacant and deteriorated properties that are being redeveloped for any market-driven purpose. The funding is meant to help leverage local and private resources for the redevelopment of these structures, creating a catalyst for long-term employment opportunities and on-going physical and economic revitalization in the area. “The repurposing of this campus will act as a physical book-end for Downtown Bedford and greatly enhance the sense of place one experiences when in the area,” the Town wrote in their IRF application. Since 2021, the IRF has funded 34 projects, which have generated over $121 million in public and private investment, and resulted in the creation of more than 485 jobs across the state.

The team breaking ground on January 25, 2021. Photo from News & Advance.