ApartmentsArt/Live SpaceCondosCommercial SpaceBefore & After Photos
shrinkstop

Home : Press : Press Release #1Printer-ready page    


Mr. Fix-it: Developer has gained reputation by fixing faded gems
By CHRISTOPHER SCOTT ([email protected])
Lowell Sun Staff

Chris at HQLOWEL (March 16, 2002) - A $15,000 mistake changed Chris Natale's life. Working full-time as an electrical engineer at an Andover high-tech firm, Natale bought the building at the corner of Dutton and Broadway and started fixing it up.

Each day, he'd shoot over to Lowell at lunch - "took me 12 minutes, one-way" - to check on the job.

During one visit, Natale told workers to preserve the original windows because they had historic value.

Signals crossed. The windows were trashed. Replacements cost Natale $15,000.

Natale calls the window episode the "trigger point" - when he went from dabbling in a dream to living it.

"My dream was always to do this kind of work," says Natale, 41. "But I needed the financial backing to do the job, so that's why I stayed in engineering as long as I did."

Natale's purchased and developed 14 buildings, and just started number 15: 16 Merrimack St., above the downtown Burger King.

He bought four of those properties, including 16 Merrimack St. and the Dutton Street property, from the city, which picked up the languishing buildings through tax title proceedings.

Natale won't discuss specifics, but says the net worth of this holdings - assets minus liabilities - has grown at a steady 55 percent annually
since his first job on Bowers Street in the Acre in 1986.

"He takes a lot of the tough-luck cases and makes the most of them," Historic Board Administrator Stephen Stowell said. "He really cares about the projects he undertakes."

Most developers would do cartwheels to skip Historic Board review of their projects. Not Natale. He often consults with Stowell on what's appropriate - even though Historic Board review isn't required. Such moves mean a lot to city officials.

"He really cares about the city and the projects he undertakes," City Manager John Cox said. "That's okay for us."

City Councilor Armand Mercier, chairman of the panel's Economic Development Subcommittee, agreed.

"He does a tremendous job with the tough ones - abandoned properties," Mercier said.

Natale was born in raised in Burlington, the son of an electrical engineer and a Lowell school teacher. He graduated from Burlington High School in 1979 and earned undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

He studied industrial and manufacturing engineering. But he always loved carpentry and woodworking, a fondness he traces back to Burlington High and the janitor, Fred Brundige.

"Fred used to take me into the high school shop and show me how to use all the machines," Natale said. "He really kind of took me under his wing."

Natale also says Brundige helped him stay in college. He says he was struggling with dyslexia, and studying plastics engineering on the undergrad level. Brundige recommended Natale switch to another form of engineering with less comprehensive reading requirements.

"If he hadn't been there, I probably would have flunked out," Natale says. "I owe a lot to him."

Brundige, 76 and retired, proudly boasts: "We're still friends."

"But I'm not surprised Chris is doing well up in Lowell," he added. "He was always driven."

Excluding the Merrimack Street job, Natale has created 64 units of housing and several commercial spaces.

For example, the Lowell Community Health Center on Merrimack Street, which is busting at the seams, rented out first-floor administrative space in Natale's most recent project, 586 Merrimack St.

Blair Burkes, who lives in one of the Dutton Street apartments, says he loves the spot.

"It's been a great place to live," says Burkes, a bartender who moved to Lowell from North Reading five months ago. "It's bright, it's airy. I've had no problems with anything."

The ceilings are high. The floors are wood. The walls are white.

Oversized windows - yup, the replacements - let natural light pour in.

Before he rents an apartment, it must pass a sort of litmus test.

"I ask myself: Would I allow my mother to sleep here?'" Natale said. "That keeps me honest."

Natale's sudden emergence as a player in city development circles, however, has city officials closely evaluating his applications to
acquire city properties to ensure he's not getting too big, too fast.

"He's buying everything in sight, and that's good," Mercier said. "But I don't want him to get into the position where he puts his other
successful projects at risk."

Such talk makes Natale nervous. He maintains he's conducting business well within his means.

Natale declined to discuss specifics, but says that on one recent $1.2 million job he financed less than half.

"I let more deals go than I can shake a stick at," Natale said. "I'll do one job at a time, maybe two, but that's it."

Natale, who lives in Melrose, owns more than a dozen other rental properties from Cambridge to Portland, Maine.

"But Lowell's the place to be," he said. "The architecture is great, the community is great."


[ top ]






295 Dutton St., Suite 2, Lowell, MA. 01852 | ph: (978) 937-2000 | fx: (978) 455-3317 |

Copyright © 2020 Mill City Properties, Inc. All rights reserved.