NORTH ADAMS -- Wheel Estates officially began a new era this weekend with a celebratory event marking its successful transition from a land lease into a resident-owned community after the purchase of the mobile home park.
Anyone driving Church Street over the weekend would have noticed a triumphant new banner flying at the community's gates which reads, "We Own It!"
"Residents are very excited," said Sandy Overlock, president of the Wheel Estates Tenants Association. "... You take more pride in something when it belongs to you and everybody is just really happy it's theirs now."
Saturday also saw the former tenants, who've formed a board of directors, begin discussing infrastructure repairs, park rules and other affairs concerning the purchase.
The most important infrastructure work needed there are water line and drainage improvements. Overlock said she hopes these are underway or completed by the end of construction season. The recreation hall also needs a new roof and windows as well, she said.
At the beginning of the month, the association was approved for a $4.1 million mortgage from ROC USA Capital. Residents had voted to increase rent by $49 per month in February in order to secure the mortgage.
Morgan Management, the prior owner, sold the park for $2.65 million. The balance on the mortgage represents the cost of infrastructure repairs.
Prior interest among tenants in purchasing the park has failed three times in its 42-year-history, as in 1988, when the $15,000-per-resident cost proved too high.
But this time nonprofits ROC USA, of New Hampshire, and Shelburne Falls-based Cooperative Development Institute assisted.
Mike Bullard, Communications and Marketing Manager of ROC USA, told the Transcript on Sunday that of the 103 New Hampshire communities converted to resident-owned since the mid-80s, "none of them has ever failed."
"It's their community now," he said. "... Immediately after beginning to schedule for [infrastructure] repairs and other improvements and starting work on the community rules [on Saturday], some couldn't believe they'd only owned it for 48 hours."
In addition to loaning Wheel Estates the $4.1 million through their ROC USA Capital arm, the nonprofit has helped secure engineers to perform infrastructure designs and in organizing the resident board and its priorities.
Wheel Estates is the 46th community and sixth in Massachusetts that ROC USA has helped convert -- in 13 states and equal to some 3,200 homes.
According to Bullard, the difference becomes immediately apparent.
"To a cooperative, this is what they tell me: In coming together to do the conversion ... they really get to know far more about their neighbors and end up taking more of an interest in each other's lives as they work together to run a community," Bullard said.
Under the new organization, all new residents now must join the resident cooperative, but preexisting residents are free to opt out. Overlock said roughly 63 percent are in so far, and is improving.
"There's more joining all the time, and since Wednesday three have called wanting a slot," Overlock said.
Morgan, under financial strain and seeking to unload many of its local properties, also seeks to sell Pine Valley Motor Home Park in Cheshire. Overlock advised the tenants to think hard about purchasing that park themselves, saying "it's really worth it." ROC USA has already reached out to Pine Valley's tenants offering a similar service.
To reach Phil Demers, email