PLYMOUTH — Plymouth Plantation is a must-see for schoolchildren and history buffs, and the town’s 37 miles of coastline is a big draw, too. Now, thanks to a flurry of activity and development, home buyers are giving “America’s hometown” a second look.
The continuing development of the upscale Pinehills community helped kick things off, but downtown Plymouth, in particular, has seen a vigorous revitalization. Restaurants and boutiques have moved in, and dormant old structures have been transformed into community buildings. The Spire Center for the Performing Arts, a former house of worship, has become a venue with 19th-century architectural details and superior modern acoustics and lighting made possible by $650,000 in Community Preservation Act funds. The Plymouth Center for the Arts, located in a graciously restored 1902 building, hosts an array of exhibits. A 1920s building on Obery Street will house the town hall, and the library has a new home on South Street.
Indeed, Plymouth is preserving its history (Pilgrim Hall Museum, anyone?), but the town is undergoing a cultural and construction boom.
Two years ago, Rick Vayo, president of MEGRYCO Inc., set about transforming the 1906 brick armory on Court Street from a barracks and training facility into a 20-unit condominium complex. “We thought this type of project could be a catalyst to bring residential life back to the immediate downtown,” Vayo said.
His hunch was spot on.
Before construction was completed on the building last August, 75 percent of the one- and two-bedroom units, priced from $275,000 to about $620,000, had sold. Today, all but one has gone under agreement. Plymouth has come a long way from thatched roofs and dirt floors.
Buyers at the Residences at the Armory range from first-time home buyers to empty-nesters. “Our residents are a group of people from their 30s through their 70s who love the idea of living downtown,” Vayo said. “Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have given Plymouth a second thought, but the metamorphosis Plymouth proper has undergone in recent years is unbelievable.”
During construction of the Armory, Vayo purchased another downtown landmark, the 1904 building that housed the Registry of Deeds until the mid-2000s. Dubbed The Registry, the 19 units in the Russell Street condominium project will have a slightly higher-end feel with private patios and balconies, custom finishes, and water views. Homes will range in size from 800 to 2,000 square feet and be priced from $329,000 to $899,000. The groundbreaking took place in late May; six units have already been sold.
“It’s a good feeling to take an old building and repurpose it. It’s fun to see these old structures come back to life,” said Vayo, who has worked closely with the town on the projects. “Unlike a lot of towns, Plymouth is extremely proactive and good to work with.”
“It’s a group effort,” said the town’s director of planning and development, Lee Hartmann. “The town has invested in a new promenade on the waterfront, and we’re about to begin construction on the new town hall. There’s a lot of positive things going on.”
Hartmann has embraced the new downtown developments. “We think it’s great to have people live there because they are more likely to support businesses and contribute to the vitality of the downtown area,” said Hartmann. “It’s a win-win.”
The development isn’t solely concentrated downtown. Redbrook is a new community on the southwestern edge of Plymouth focused around a village concept, with a town green, retail stores and office space, a cafe, and a YMCA. A series of single-family and multifamily homes, condominiums, apartments, and assisted-living facilities are planned.
A.D. Makepeace is the developer behind Redbrook, which stretches out on a vast parcel of land that encompasses a series of ponds and reservoirs, woodland, and abundant trails, said Tom Berkley, vice president of A.D. Makepeace Development Services. “The property has a land area of over 1,300 acres, and we plan to build on 400 acres of that — about 30 percent of the overall land area. The balance will remain open space in perpetuity.”
The single-family home prices are in the high $300s to the low $400s. The Falmouth-based builder behind Redbrook, Valle Group, is offering seven three-bedroom, 2½-bath home styles. Several model homes and a visitors center were unveiled during the grand opening in June; 18 homes have already sold.
Most of the homes will be a quarter to a half mile from the village center, Berkley said. “Similar to downtown Plymouth, there will be relatively dense housing around the center, but as you move north and south, lots will get bigger.”
At just over 103 square miles, Plymouth has the largest land area of any municipality in the Commonwealth, and about 25 percent of the land is protected, according to Hartmann. Good thing the town is so big. Between 2000 and 2010, its population increased by roughly 9 percent, from 51,701 to 56,468 people, according to US census tallies. By 2030, the population may grow to more than 75,000, according to town forecasts.
Along with its growth, Plymouth has had its share of problems, particularly with drugs. The town has formed a task force to tackle its heroin epidemic. It counted 15 drug-related deaths last year and 313 overdoses, a total 50 percent greater than Taunton’s, a city that once had been considered the face of the heroin epidemic.
These days, the median value of a home in Plymouth is $309,100, a 7.1 percent increase since last year, according to May figures from Zillow.com, an online real estate site. The average condominium goes for $226,000, which still makes it an affordable place for first-time home buyers and young families to gain a foothold.
Hartmann said there are even more residential developments on the horizon. In North Plymouth, on the site of Plymouth Cordage Co., once one of the largest rope and twine manufacturers in the world, a 675-unit residential development by Janco is in the works as part of a planned community. And Vayo’s MEGRYCO has permitting to create another 19-unit complex on the grounds of the old Ellis Curtain factory in North Plymouth.
With the town’s 400th anniversary only five years away, Plymouth is poised to showcase its revival.