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(NECN: Peter Howe, Somerville, Mass.) It's taken more than 20 years to get here, but Monday was ceremonial groundbreaking day for a $1.6 billion redevelopment of Assembly Square here, widely seen as the biggest example of "transit-oriented development" now underway on the East Coast.
Fifty-four years after the closing of a Ford Motor Company car-assembly plant that gave the area its name, Federal Realty Development Trust and AvalonBay Communities Inc. joined state and city officials to unveil plans for a dramatic transformation of a 67-acre industrial zone into a whole new transit-anchored neighborhood they hope will one day be as big and thriving as Davis Square or Porter Square or Kendall Square or others.
The Massachusetts bay Transportation Authority Orange Line crosses by the eastern end of the project site, and the T and developers are building what will be a new stop opening by mid-2014 between the existing Sullivan Square and Wellington stops. That puts Assembly Square just three subway stops from downtown Boston.
"It's really been about 20 years of discussion in the community,'' Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said. "This is a city that has its hopes and dreams, and I think Somerville deserves a round of applause for pursuing those hopes and dreams."
Jay Gonzalez, Governor Deval L. Patrick's secretary of administration and finance, said, "This is the poster child of what we should be doing across the commonwealth and what we are trying to do across the commonwealth … Public infrastructure that supports private investment to grow jobs. That's what this project is all about.''
Officials estimate the project has received $130 million in public funds, including $15 million in 2009 federal stimulus act funds that were used to construct a key access road, that have in turn unlocked plans for $1.5 billion in private investment. Those include two Avalon apartment complexes with 453 apartments, opening between mid- and late 2013, including a new "Ava" complex with smaller apartments aimed at urban hipsters with amenities like gear racks for storing bikes and stadium-seating public common spaces designed to encourage socializing.
The project in future phases could include up to 1,500 more apartments, 2.2 million square feet of office space, a hotel, a cinema complex, and numerous stores and restaurants, and it will also feature a six-acre waterfront park on the Mystic River connecting to miles of bike paths with a new underpass under busy Route 28 at the Mystic. Swedish furniture giant Ikea is evaluating whether to build a flagship Boston store at the site as well.
Gonzalez said extensive studies shared with bond-rating agencies show that the city and state will more than recoup, in new income and sales and corporate tax receipts, what they've invested in the project.
"This is the real deal," Gonzalez said. "We are going to get that new tax revenue, and it is going to pay for itself.''
With videographer John J. Hammann