Location: Assembly Square is located along and to the west of the Mystic River bordered by Charlestown to the south and the Somerville neighborhood of Ten Hills to the North. The district’s western border runs along Interstate 93.
Access: Improving access to Assembly Square via all modes of transportation is a major priority related to the redevelopment of the district. Currently, Assembly Square is directly accessible from Interstate 93 and State Route 28. It is approximately 2.5 miles from downtown Boston and is a ten-minute walk from the Orange Line MBTA station at Sullivan Square. Direct bus routes within the district include the 90 and the 92. Additionally, Assembly Square is within three quarters of a mile to stops on the following bus routes: 86, 89, 91, 910, 911, 93, 95, 101, 104, 105, 109, 194, and CT2.
Retail Attractions: The following stores are currently open in Assembly Square: A.C. Moore, Bed Bath and Beyond, Christmas Tree Shops, K Mart, Sports Authority, Staples, TJ Maxx, and Home Depot.
History: Assembly Square, a unique neighborhood district with a land area of 145 acres, is so named after the Ford Motor assembly plant that opened in 1926 and was an important employer in the Boston Metropolitan Area, particularly during World War II. The assembly plant was one of many industrial businesses that thrived in Assembly Square during the 1900's. Boston & Maine Railroad also owned large tracts of land in the district and many of the businesses received shipments by rail. The land was crisscrossed by spur tracks and there were few roadways. The Ford Motor Plant closed in 1958 and by the late 1970's, a number of other industrial businesses had closed as well.
In 1980, the City of Somerville declared the Assembly Square District to be blighted, substandard, and decadent and adopted a 20-year urban renewal plan. The cornerstone of the urban renewal plan was the rehabilitation of the former auto assembly plant into a retail mall known as the "Assembly Square Mall". Other development included a new Home Depot. In 1999, the internationally known Swedish home furnishings store, IKEA, purchased two former industrial sites on the Mystic River waterfront. IKEA obtained permits for its proposed retail store; however, the permits were challenged in court by community members opposed to a "big box" use on the waterfront, with the result that redevelopment of the site was stalled for a number of years.
In 2000, the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) acquired title to a 9.3-acre former railroad parcel in Assembly Square and issued an RFP for developers. At the same time, the City initiated an extensive public planning process, producing the "2000 Planning Study" which set out a new vision for Assembly Square as a 24-hour, mixed use district with residential, retail, office, cinema, restaurant, hotel, and recreational open space uses. In 2002, the SRA and the City adopted a 20-year extension of the urban renewal plan with the goal of transforming Assembly Square into the lively, mixed-use district described in the 2000 Planning Study. Assembly Square was rezoned to promote the mixed-use concept, and design guidelines and a design review committee were created provide additional assistance in helping foster the new vision.
In 2005, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT), the oldest real estate investment trust in the United States with over $4 billion in assets, purchased the Assembly Square Mall along with other properties in Assembly Square. FRIT redeveloped the existing mall into the Assembly Square Marketplace which opened its doors in early 2006. Later in 2006, Mayor Curtatone aided in bringing FRIT and IKEA together to come up with a feasible redevelopment plan consistent with the new vision. FRIT and IKEA agreed to trade parcels, moving IKEA inland from its initial site and leaving the waterfront open for FRIT to create pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development. This new plan was welcomed by those who had previously opposed the IKEA development. The land swap was executed in October 2009 solidifying the vision of the district.
FRIT has taken the lead in applying for permits for the overall project, including the IKEA store. In December of 2006, the Somerville Planning Board approved FRIT's Preliminary Master Plan. The Preliminary Master Plan outlines the development scope and phasing of the project then called "Assembly on the Mystic." The IKEA special permit, which included authorization for Assembly Square Drive, was initially approved in October 2007 with two subsequent amendments and an approved reapplication in August of 2009.
In 2008, the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development designated Assembly Square as one of the first sixteen “Growth District’s” in the Commonwealth. This designation comes as part of the state’s Growth District Initiative (GDI) aimed at making appropriate locations development ready and competitive on national and international levels for significant new commercial, residential or mixed-use growth.
In March 2010 FRIT submitted its final Environmental Impact Report for Assembly Square Mixed-Use Redevelopment to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
In August 2010, FRIT under the name Street Retail, Inc., in its individual capacity and as designee of each of the following tenants in common FR Sturtevant Street, LLC, SRI assembly Row B2 LLC, SRI assembly Row B3 LLC, SRI assembly Row B4 LLC, SRI assembly Row B5 LLC, SRI assembly Row B6 LLC, SRI assembly Row B7LLC, SRI assembly Row B8 LLC, SRI assembly Row B9 LLC, FR Assembly Square, LLC (collectively “the Proponent”) received approval from the Somerville Planning Board for revisions to the approved 2006 “Assembly on the Mystic “ Preliminary Master Plan renamed as “Assembly Row”. Minor revisions to the layout, design, and project phasing were required but the development program stayed the same. Added was a section called “Design Guidelines” that add context to the overall vision.
The revised Preliminary Master plan calls for the redevelopment of 56.2 acres of former industrial land into a mixed use, transit oriented neighborhood. Assembly Row is permitted to create 1.75 million square feet of new office space, 852,000 square feet of retail (including restaurants, a cinema, and a 340,000 square foot IKEA home furnishings store), up to 200-room hotel, and 2,100 new residential units.
This project is expected to result in an estimated $1.36 billion construction investment in the City to include new public and private infrastructure, publically accessible open space, public amenities and public benefits. The project is forecasted to generate $24 million in annual municipal tax revenue and $16.7 million in annual state tax revenue (gross). It expects to generate an estimated 9,700 permanent jobs, 10,300 construction jobs, while retaining 590 existing permanent jobs.
Public Funding Overview:
In late 2008, FRIT announced that underwriting changes had changed for the worse since the financial analysis that preceded permitting and design of the project. In essence, the value of the land decreased so significantly during the economic downturn that the necessary financing available for the project to continue was limited. On July 20, 2009 Governor Deval Patrick along with Senator John Kerry, Congressman Michael E. Capuano, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and other locally elected officials, and FRIT announced that dedicated cooperation coined as a Public Private Partnership would ensure the project’s success.
In 2009, the Assembly on the Mystic Project received a $2 million GDI grant to construct sub-surface infrastructure (water, sewer, etc.). The project also received final approval from the City of Somerville and the Commonwealth for Infrastructure Investment Incentive (I – Cubed) bond funding in the amount of $50 million. Additionally, $15 million in Federal Stimulus American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding for roadway construction and off-site improvements was made available.
All told, Assembly Row is projected to cost an estimated $1.36 billion. Of this, $73 million in public funds were identified and awarded in 2008 and 2009 from state and federal sources:
State’s Infrastructure Investment Initiative (I-Cubed) Bond Program $50 million
Federal Stimulus (ARRA) Grant $15 million
State’s Growth District Initiative (GDI) Grant $2 million
Congressional Multi-Modal Earmark $6.29 million
Total Public Funds identified in 2009: $73 million
*Does not include public funds allocated for new MBTA Orange Line
In the autumn 2010 it was clear that Congress was not set to appropriate the balance of the promised $25million earmark designated toward the construction of the MBTA Tranit Station in Assembly Square within the scheduled timeframe thereby creating a $24 million project deficit. Concurrently, the State Legislature passed a special act in August 2010 that extended the time limit for existing permits across the state. The act indicated that any permit issued between August 2008 and August 2010 would be automatically granted an additional two years beyond the date they would otherwise have expired. IKEA’s second Special Permit which was issued in August 2009 would have expired if not exercised by August 2011. As a result, this automatically extended their permit until August 2013.
As a result of IKEA’s time extension, the timeline for obtaining $20m of the $50m in I-cubed bonds has been delayed. These funds were designed to reimburse FRIT for certain Phase I public infrastructure expenses (Assembly Square Drive and associated off-site traffic mitigation), thereby providing resources to begin the second phase of public infrastructure (i.e., Assembly Row’s “mixed-use” roadway network and associated utilities and streetscapes). Without these funds, FRIT’s pro forma specific to Assembly Row no longer worked and the project was positioned for significant delay.
To help close the train station gap, Mayor Curtatone submitted a letter to the Department of Transportation (MassDOT) in October 2010 requesting that the $6.2 million “Assembly Square multi-modal” federal earmark be applied to the station. On February 17, 2011, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted to program an additional $12 million in federal highway funds (for the second head house) and $6.2 million in multi-modal funds for the construction of the T- Station.
The Commonwealth, the City, and FRIT united in seeking ways to quickly continue progress in Assembly Square. In a Tri-Party Agreement executed in March 2011, the State agreed to fill the remaining $18 million gap for the train station if the City would make a $25 million contribution toward the funding of public infrastructure in Assembly Square.
District Improvement Financing (DIF) in Assembly Square was found to provide Somerville the most financing flexibility while providing assurance that required infrastructure would be installed by FRIT in advance and in a timely manner. On December 2, 2010, the Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to create the Assembly Row DIF District and Development Program. On December 21, 2010, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Economic Assistance Coordinating Council (EACC) unanimously approved the City’s application to create the Assembly Row DIF, Somerville’s first DIF District. No further state approvals are required. On February 10, 2011, the City Clerk swore in members to the City’s DIF Governing Body (DIFGB) and the Mayor convened its first meeting.
By adopting a DIF boundary and a financing plan, the City showed its commitment to reinvest a portion (11.9%) of the ultimate growth potential in property tax back into the district to facilitate the start of construction of Blocks 1, 3, and 4 per the revised Preliminary Master Plan.
DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS UNDERWAY IN ASSEMBLY SQUARE
Assembly Row - Blocks 1, 3, and 4 per the revised Preliminary Master Plan & Associated Infrastructure
Project Description: In the winter of 2010, FRIT partnered with Avalon Bay for the residential construction of Blocks 1 and 4 per the chart below:
Retail Space (SF)
* The Hotel is not being constructed as part of this construction phase.
FRIT is developing Block 3 which shall include a cinema and retail components with a future hotel component. For a more detailed explanation of Blocks 1, 3 and 4 refer to the revised Preliminary Master Plan in the right hand column.
Also included in this project are the following infrastructure components:
1. Improvements to Assembly Square Drive and associated intersections
2. New storm water outfall travelling under the extended Foley Street (currently owned by FRIT but to be accepted by the City) and through State MBTA and DCR right-of-way, terminating at the Mystic River
3. Improvements to a new network of streets, including sidewalks and public utilities within the Assembly Row mixed-use development site.
Project Schedule: Construction of Blocks 1 and 3 are anticipated to break ground by the winter of 2011. Construction of Block 3 is anticipated to break ground by spring 2012. All three Blocks are scheduled to be fully constructed by spring 2013.
Relating to the infrastructure, items 1 and 2 above are projected to be complete by fall 2011. Item 3 is projected to be complete by summer 2013.
New MBTA Orange Line Transit Station – Assembly Square
Project Description: A new MBTA Orange Line station is planned for the area between Wellington and Sullivan Square to provide regional transit access and an alternative to auto traffic for those traveling to and from Assembly Square. In January 2010, the MBTA worked cooperatively with active community constituents and included a second head house into their design.
For more information including updated plans and meeting notices visit the link under MBTA in the right hand column.
Project Cost and Funding: Design of the MTBA Orange Line Station in Assembly Square is at 100% engineering design and is expected to be ready for bid by spring 2011. Currently, $50 million is required to build the station including two head houses. To date, the funding sources include:
Federal Transportation Earmark $1 million of the original $25 million
State (MPO) $10 million
State (Other Grant Sources) $18 million
Private Contribution $15 million
Congressional Multi-modal Earmark $6.26 million
Schedule: The initial preliminary design meeting was conducted publically June 29, 2009. The 30% design meeting was held January 12, 2010. The MBTA plans to hold the final design meeting in the spring of 2011. The project is on schedule to be bid by the spring of 2011 with construction expected to be complete in 2013.