More Than Meets the Eye:Breaking Down the Plans for Assembly Row

By Seth Daniel

Though it isn’t exactly in Charlestown, Federal Realty Investment Trust’s massive Assembly Row development in Somerville is only a stone’s throw from the Town on the other side of Sullivan Square – and looks to be a long-time complement to the future plans for the region that include Everett’s Lower Broadway area, the Wynn Boston Harbor casino and long-term plans for Rutherford Avenue.

Many in Charlestown have already begun to patronize the Assembly Row businesses in Phase 1, including the movie theatre and the Lego Land – not to mention the shops. However, officials in the area eye the larger plans that are in the works now and on the verge of coming to fruition. Though the existing development is obviously very well known in Somerville and the surrounding area, it is still a mystery to most about what’s on the drawing board for Assembly Row in the near-term and long-term.

The development at its full build out looks to be as much a part of Charlestown’s future as anything else.

“It’s really been exciting to develop this because typically when I’ve developed elevation it’s usually a parcel…or something in an existing neighborhood,” said Patrick McMahon, director of development for Federal, and until recently a Charlestown resident for several years. “This was a wind-swept tract…The transformation has been exciting to see. What’s been most exciting is equal parts the buildings and the spaces in between the buildings. In between is where life happens…To watch that transformation in between always has been the most exciting part for me and that has certainly been the case as we’ve developed Assembly Row.”

In a recent tour of the development, officials from Federal said they are currently building out Phase 2 of their project and have a Phase 3 that is also permitted with more than 1.6 million sq. ft. of space. While that is still mostly up in the air, pieces of that giant potential development are moving forward.

“Beyond the Partners Building, we do have 1.6 million sq. ft. with 832 units of housing permitted,” said McMahon, who has spent a great deal of the last 10 years developing Assembly Row and living in the Town. “If the market dictates, we’ll build that out. We are currently designing a 250,000 sq. ft. office building to prepare for a tenant. There is no tenant now, but we’re pushing the design and making efforts so if we find a tenant, we can advance quickly to construction.”

That 250,000 sq. ft. office building on the eastern side of the massive site – once home to a Ford Assembly Plant (hence Assembly Row) – is part of the larger expansion plans for the future.

And at the pace that Federal is building, the future might be right around the corner.

McMahon and Matt Ehrie, general manager of Federal, said they began the development in Phase 1 with a 100,000 sq. ft. office building that is fully occupied right now. There are also 450 units of rental units that were built with partner Avalon Bay. Those two developments are in concert with 225,000 sq. ft. of retail offerings that make up the current Assembly Row that most already know.

“We have one restaurant space that was open, but that is about to be occupied with a ramen noodle concept,” said Ehrie. “When that opens up, we have 100 percent open and operating. That’s a big milestone and marks the end of Phase 1.”

However, that doesn’t mean that Phase 2 hasn’t started construction.

Most of Phase 2 is already underway, with some of it completed.

The Partners Healthcare building on the eastern end of the site was the first part of Phase 2, and workers for Partners began to report for work at Assembly Row last June. Administration functions from the health care giant have been consolidated from all over Boston and the surrounding areas to locate in that one location.

McMahon said the 830,000 sq. ft. Partners building will also include two floors of retail totaling 100,000 sq. ft. Already, the world –famous Mike’s Pastry of the North End has announced it will have a location in the Partners building and another entertainment company in Boston will also debut a new concept in the building soon. There is also a new fitness concept that will be rolled out in the near future, McMahon said.

All of that will be dovetailed with a Commonwealth Avenue style mall walkway that is envisioned to connect the doorway of Partners, through the current streets and all the way to the Mystic River. On the actual mall walkway, McMahon said they will have an open-air coffee shop and bakery in two glass-enclosed retail spaces. While it is now a parking lot and staging area for construction work, he said he hopes construction can begin next summer and that the outdoor walking mall would be finished in 2018.

All that aside, perhaps what has turned a lot of heads on the other side of the Mystic are the giant new buildings that are under construction and have just recently topped off – one of them at 20-stories tall.

While both are in Phase 2, the first building is comprised of 447 units of housing with a “meaningful mix” of styles of units. McMahon said there are a lot of one-bedroom and studio developments now hitting the market in the Boston area, and they wanted to include more two-bedroom units and three-bedroom units.

“We think there is sufficient demand for the entire mix of units,” he said.

On the ground floor of that building will be another 40,000 sq. ft. of retail, with a brewery coming and an Italian restaurant concept as well. The building sports 174 units in a courtyard layout and 273 units in the tower. A Sky Deck on the 20th floor will boast enduring views of the area.

“We believe we will have the retail portion of this building ready in the summer and by November of 2017, most of the building will be open and ready for occupancy,” he said.

Literally across the street from that 20-story building is a 13-story building that is currently under construction and has also just recently topped off.

McMahon said that building will have another 21,000 sq. ft. of ground floor retail, while floors 2 to 5 will have a 159-room hotel flying a national branded flag. Beyond that, floors six through 13 will have 122 condo units, which McMahon said are selling briskly.

Federal reported that 50 percent of the condo units in the building have been pre-sold, even though they don’t expect to deliver the product to the market until February 2018.

McMahon said they are aware of the developments around them, and the role they play in the region beyond Somerville – as their popular development draws regionally and impacts Everett and Charlestown greatly. He said they are committed to the Lower Mystic Valley planning efforts and will participate in that moving forward.

“We’re very deep into trying to understand our impact on traffic flow as we work with everyone else’s,” he said. “As we continue to move forward, we’ll be talking to everyone else on our border…We’ll continue to monitor what others are doing and what’s coming along because there’s a lot happening.”

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