MBTA Vote Paves the Way for Big TOD Project in Suburban Boston

Somerville, Mass.--MBTA's recent vote in favor of a new Orange Line T station marks a big step forward for a massive mixed-use, transit-oriented development in Somerville.

Somerville, Mass.–Assembly Row at Assembly Square will be a massive mixed-use transit-oriented development in Somerville, Mass., so the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s recent vote in favor of a memorandum of agreement with developer Federal Realty Investment Trust marks a big step forward for the $1.3 billion project.

Every member of MBTA’s board was in favor of green lighting the MOA, which defines the arrangement with FRIT for the two entities’ participation in the designing and building of a new Orange Line T station that will provide vital access to Assembly Row. “The MOA allows the MBTA to move forward with approving the proposed design of the Orange Line T station,” Don Briggs, president of FRIT Boston, tells MHN. “Once design is approved the MBTA will go out to bid for construction of the project. We expect both of those things to happen this spring.”

With the new T station, the development will be just minutes from downtown Boston. FRIT will contribute $15 million to assist in the construction of the new station, which will be the first to be built on the Orange line in nearly 25 years.

Assembly Row is being touted as what will be the largest new neighborhood to take shape in the Commonwealth since Back Bay. Plans for the behemoth community include 2 million square feet of office space, 880,000 square feet of retail options, a 200-room hotel and 2,100 residential units. FRIT’s housing partner, Avalon Bay, is developing over 400 apartment units spanning two structures as part of the project’s first phase, which, along with 280,000 square feet of retail and substantial infrastructure investments, will cost approximately $250 million. Groundbreaking for phase one is on track for fall 2011.

The first apartments will not be available for occupancy for a couple of years but already, the market is showing signs of demand that is not projected to abate any time soon. Low housing affordability and above-average employment growth pushed Boston up to the position of the third tightest apartment market in the country, as per Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services’ 2011 rankings. Apartment stock is expected to increase a mere 0.3 percent in 2011, and with anticipated acceleration of job growth, the discrepancy between supply and demand will force the vacancy rate to drop 100 basis points to 4.5 percent this year. The residences that will be built at Assembly Row will help fill what appears to be a widening gap. Construction of the new T station is a key move.

“We are building a new urban village at Assembly Row,” Briggs says. “It will be bigger than the North End, with more river frontage than Beacon Hill and more green space than South Boston. It will be complete with build-to-suit office space, riverfront parks, and active urban streets with sidewalk cafes, retail shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. I’m confident these modern conveniences coupled with public transportation into Boston will make moving to Assembly Row very attractive to a lot of people.”

MBTA is just one public entity that is working in conjunction with FRIT to bring Assembly Row to fruition. “In many ways this entire project is a public-private partnership. Mayor Curtatone and the City of Somerville, the Governor Deval Patrick’s administration as well as members of the congressional delegation have been critical in moving this project forward. Whether we are talking about the City of Somerville partnering with Federal Realty to consolidate land parcels that now make up Assembly Row or the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation working with Federal Realty to swap state and private land so the people of the Commonwealth can have a riverfront park, the public-private partnerships in this development have been invaluable and will continue to be as we move forward.”