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Romeo Brothers Revitalize Downtown Millbury Economy

Friday, May 17, 2013

 

Gianni and Mario Romeo give Felter's Mill a new lease on life.

The mills of Worcester and other towns along the Blackstone Valley corridor once served as major contributors to the local economy. Remnants of empty and dilapidated mill buildings are a common sight throughout all Worcester County, often deemed an eyesore and a fire hazard. Six years ago, brothers Mario and Gianni Romeo decided it was time to take a chance and flip some of these historic mill properties in an attempt to reinvigorate the local economy.

Local builders and visionaries from Millbury, the Romeo brothers have been in the construction business for over 15 years. Their father was a stonemason, constructing driveways, chimneys, and stone walls. Growing up, they too found their calling in construction and today run the family business.

Giving Felter’s Mill a new lease on life

Gianni and Mario knew about Felter’s in Millbury for years. Home to a large assortment of mills, the town once bustled with activity from the manufacture of guns to the red stitching that lines major league baseballs. Felter’s sits atop 2.3 acres of land nestled against the Blackstone River on West Street in Armory Village of downtown Millbury.

“During the world wars, Felter’s was over 200,000 square feet,” said Gianni Romeo. “They ran three shifts around the clock making uniforms and other items for the army. At one point, the mill employed nearly half the town.”

For the last 20 years the mill sat vacant amidst an uncertain downtown economy. In September 2011, however, the Millbury Board of Selectmen deemed the property an Economic Opportunity Area. Once the site went up for auction, the Romeo’s realized it was their chance to make a difference. “I’ve had my eye on it for a long time,” said Mario. “It’s a unique building because it is round in the front, and I always thought we could do something beautiful with Felter’s.”

“In theory, we didn’t make any money from Felter’s,” Gianni said. “But we made equity. So it’s a long term investment, which is one of the biggest reasons why we took this project on.”

Long term investors in the local community

The Romeo brothers are known for their expertise in converting old mill properties into newly thriving economic centers. Two such examples are the complex which houses Calabria Italian restaurant in Millbury, and the site of Pepe’s Restaurant at 274 Franklin Street in Worcester.

The Franklin Street project, completed four years ago, was recognized by The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Silver Hammer Award. “This award is given each year at the Annual Business Meeting to acknowledge construction or rehabilitation projects that have an extraordinary visual and aesthetic impact on our physical landscape and that have brought new life to some of the region’s most historic assets,” the Chamber of Commerce said.

When the Romeo brothers bought Felter’s, they were faced with over 120,000 square feet of space, much of it rotted from neglect and suffering severe roof leaks. They tore down nearly 80,000 square feet the first year.

Today 33,000 square feet has been converted into rentable space, along with 104 parking spaces. Fifteen businesses have already made their home in the historic mill. When the renovations are completed, the Romeo’s are hoping to house an additional 15 businesses including a restaurant with an outdoor patio overlooking the Blackstone river.

Creating jobs and growing new businesses

“All the businesses moving in here have been doing great,” said Mario. “We opened our doors to the first tenant a year ago this month; we mostly have people who are in business for the first time. One of our tenants has actually doubled in size since she’s moved in and needs more space!”

While there are currently no plans in the works for future mill projects, many in the community express gratitude for what the Romeo brothers have accomplished for the town. Rob Brunell, lifelong Millbury resident and owner of a local plastering company that assists the Romeo’s in their venture, expressed excitement and appreciation for the project.

“They brought a lot of jobs to the town,” he said. “Local businesses are bringing more revenue to the town and Romeo’s brought construction workers employment for the past two years. There’s a lot of grateful people around here for what they have done.”

The brothers admit the Felter’s project has been stressful and rife with challenges, but their determination remains steadfast. “We fell through the floor a few times, quite literally” Mario said. “But we’re sticking with it till the end!”

 

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