Once an eyesore, former project seems fit for King’s

LYNN – Back in 1970, America Park was among the worst housing projects in Massachusetts. Dilapidated and crime-ridden, it’s residents mostly poor and unfortunate. It was also in Lynn.Thirty-seven years later, long since its transformation into the well-manicured King’s Lynne Apartments, the property has been selected as a finalist for the Urban Land Institute’s Awards for Excellence.The Washington, D.C.-based organization’s Americas Competition is widely recognized as the land use industry’s most prestigious recognition program. The 2007 finalists were selected from 170 entries, and King’s Lynne was the only one from New England.”My husband, Daniel, and I were the ones who put the King’s Lynne project together with the developers and the state officials,” said Eleanor Wessell, a former America Park tenant who was among the first to relocate to the new buildings at King’s Lynne.According to Wessell, construction began in 1974 and the first apartments were occupied in 1977. The project was completed in phases.”America Park was falling down around our ears,” she said. “It just wasn’t kept up. There was no screening of tenants and everything was in a bad way. I can’t say I was unhappy because it was my home, after all. But most of us didn’t feel that putting all low-income people together in the same place would work, so that’s how we came up with the idea of mixed incomes in the same project.”Wessell recalled that the Resident Council, of which she remains president, worked closely with state officials like former Sen. Thomas McGee, and staff members at Boston-based Corcoran Mullins Jennison, the property development and management company, as well as with architect Claude Miquelle.”It’s still a 50-percent partnership with Corcoran,” she said.The original concept was to create an apartment complex of several buildings in a campus-like setting.”We think it was the first public housing project in the United States to be redeveloped as private housing,” said Suzanne Corcoran of Corcoran Mullins Jennison. “It’s happening all the time now, but this was a first, and it’s all because of Eleanor.”America Park in 1970 had 408 units. Of those, one in four was boarded up and condemned. The tenants organized and refused to accept housing authority renovation funds. Instead, they used grant money to hire a consultant who helped them conceptualize a privately-owned and privately-managed mixed-income community.On Thursday, competition judges from New York and Washington, D.C. are scheduled to visit King’s Lynne for an up close and personal look at the property. The winners will be announced at the Urban Land Institute’s Spring Council Forum in Chicago.King’s Lynne is a finalist in the Heritage Award category, a special award given to projects over 25 years old, and the only category where the jury needs to be unanimous in their decision.”We hope the weather is nice when they arrive,” said Corcoran. “King’s Lynne is such a beautiful place, and so impeccably landscaped.”Since 1971,Corcoran Jennison companies have successfully developed over $2 billion worth of property, including residential communities, schools and institutions, health facilities, condominiums, resorts, conference centers and golf courses.”Mixed-income is a buzzword today, but King’s Lynne was the first in the country,” said Wessell. “After 30 years’ of successful operation, it’s the model for mixed-income housing nationwide, and still going strong.”

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