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Former state hospital to anchor new community

Brian Kladko – Boston Business Journal

FOXBOROUGH — A century ago, Foxborough State Hospital was home to a state-of-the-art effort at rehabilitation. Known at the time as the Massachusetts Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates, it specialized in getting alcoholics off the bottle.

Now its cavernous Gothic buildings and 93-acre campus will undergo rehabilitation of their own — into a self-contained, mixed-use community, the likes of which are rarely seen in suburbia.

Construction is set to begin as early as this spring at Chestnut Green, about a mile from Gillette Stadium. When complete, which VinCo Properties Inc. expects to be in about three years, it will have 203 condos, townhouses and single-family homes, 100,000 square feet of office space and 55,000 square feet of retail — enough for a smattering of eateries and stores catering to everyday needs.

“You’ve got everything here,” said Jeffrey Brooks, a partner at the Abrams Group LLC, which has teamed up with VinCo on the project and is building the development’s 70 condos. “You’ll be able to cross the street and walk to Walgreens. You could potentially go to the hardware store, you’d be able to go to Dunkin’ Donuts for a cup of coffee.”

The conversion of the hospital, which has been shuttered for more than two decades, is one of several that are planned or under way for similar state institutions. For some developers, the copious amount of land and historic structures — the 115-year-old Foxborough State Hospital is on the National Register of Historic Places — presents an unusual opportunity to deviate from the look and feel of typical suburban subdivisions.

At Chestnut Green, the deviation will involve more than the “smart growth” concept of mixing residences with office and retail; it also will mix residents of several generations. Using different types of housing and deed restrictions, the development will have a cluster of aging baby boomers living just yards from hipster, 20-something echo boomers.

Vince O’Neill, owner of Boston-based VinCo, bought the property in a February 2005 auction from the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management for $5.2 million. After being approached by a team of losing bidders — residential developers Douglas A. King Builders Inc. of North Easton and Intoccia Construction Co. of Foxborough — he agreed to sell them the land for the project’s 73 new single-family homes and 60 townhouses. The single-family homes, ranging in size from 2,200 to 7,000 square feet, will start in the high $400,000s and go as high as $1 million.

The Abrams Group is concentrating on renovating part of the hulking main building and some adjacent structures into condos, townhouses and a combination media, business and fitness center, with VinCo remaking the remainder into office space and building new retail space from scratch. The condos are expected to sell from the low $200,000s to the high $300,000s.

O’Neill specializes in turning old factories into new uses, so when he got his first glimpse of the somewhat Hitchcockian setting in Foxborough, he was hardly put off.

“Buildings like this, you couldn’t build them for any amount of money today,” he said.

Foxborough officials didn’t envision as much office space on the site as O’Neill plans to build, because it’s not on a highway exit or a major road. And the office market isn’t exactly booming. But he is confident that companies will find the space equally irresistible.

“If you do like it, it moves you, and you’ll do anything to be there,” he said.

Brian Kladko can be reached at