By Joe Clements
Read The Real Reporter.
SOMERVILLE — The logo for developer Union Square Station Associates (US2) is colored orange, but the Midwestern firm’s ambitious $1 billion plan to transform a swath of gritty real estate here into “an economic engine” of laboratory and office space saw green lights across the board in late 2017 when city planners backed its “Coordinated Development Plan” and the Board of Alderman awarded $63 million of District Improvement Financing infrastructure funding including $5.5 million to support the long-awaited Green Line MBTA extension to Medford. The rail line is a linchpin of the US2 proposal for 2.4-million sf of build out, not to mention an item long on the wish list of other property owners in Union Square.
“We are really excited about what has happened . . . the end of last year was great for the CDP,” concurs US2 President Greg Karczewski in an interview with Real Reporter, explaining the city’s affirmative rulings “set the table” for the opening phase launching in 2018 where a 175,000sf commercial building is to be constructed alongside the new Green Line station.
JLL is exclusive leasing agent for the building, with inner suburban advisors Peter Bekarian and Molly Heath leading the charge, abutting Cambridge in their sphere of expertise. Commanding New England’s highest rents for both laboratory and office space, Cambridge is expected to be a conduit for tenant demand going forward in Somerville and other inner suburbs, with market watchers concurring the proximity to Kendall Square could give Union Square a leg up.
As designated master developer, US2 at full build out intends to deliver 2.4 million sf of laboratory, office and retail space on top of residential units favoring workforce housing, considered key to helping millennials and other employees afford to reside in one of the country’s most expensive sectors. CDP is designed to “propel Union Square into the future as an economic engine” providing 5,000 permanent positions after the 4,000 construction workers finish up years of development and incorporating lush open space into the mix.
In promoting their endeavor, US2 offered an intriguing metric showing 80 percent of Somerville residents leave the city every day for jobs in surrounding communities. “We are proud to be creating a true economic hub and place where startups and entrepreneurs can grow, families can work and live, and residents can enjoy new amenities and more open space,” Karczewski says, with $11.3 million in annual tax revenue part of the positive impact for the host community.
US2 further maintains the activity will carry over a daytime energy into the evening, “bringing in significant new spending to neighborhood businesses.” Indeed, Karczewski calls the CDP “a blueprint” mapping goals set by the Union Square Neighborhood Plan, the foundations of which champion “a dense and diverse network of public spaces that serve a variety of people.” About 60 percent of the built portion will be commercial and 40 percent residential.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone also hails the planning board and aldermen for supporting US2’s revitalization campaign, saying in prepared statements that board members “have secured a bright future for Union Square,” and tying it to a broader effort this millennium that has created entire new neighborhoods in Assembly Square or helped areas such as Davis Square attract investment at the public and private levels. “This is one more step in the progress we have made towards creating the employment center we have been envisioning for so long,” Curtatone says of the CDP/DIF milestones he says are intended to address multiple shortcomings. “We are eager to keep moving forward so Somerville residents will have more job opportunities, access to housing and new amenities within their community,” he says.