Somerville Aldermen Approve $25M Loan for Assembly Square redevelopment

Somerville Aldermen Approve $25M Loan for Assembly Square redevelopment

Somerville —
With a $25 million investment from the city, the stage has been set for a shiny new Assembly Square with a planned Orange Line station, at least three new buildings – both residential and commercial – and the infrastructure to support about a dozen more.

By a 9 – 1 vote Monday night, the Board of Aldermen cleared the way for the city to borrow approximately $25.8 million to fund new roadways and a stormwater outflow into the Mystic River. That commitment will trigger investments from the state and federal governments as well as private developer Federal Realty Investment Trust to pay for a $38 million MBTA stop.

The site of a former Ford Motor factory on old marshland and landfill, Assembly Square was home to a movie theater and the raucous Good Times Emporium most recently.

Its redevelopment has been the golden ring that city officials have tried to grasp for at least 14 years.

Mayor Joe Curtatone first proposed the creation of a District Improvement Financing scheme last November to jumpstart the development. Since then, the aldermen’s Finance Committee has met late into the night, going over the specifics of a tri-party agreement between the city, the state and the developer, and quizzing the mayor and the developer about guarantees that would limit the city’s risk.

New property taxes from the first three buildings, which will include a new cinema, will pay the debt service for that $25 million borrowing over the next 30 years. Any further development in the square will go directly into the city’s coffers.

Aldermen President Rebekah Gewirtz remained skeptical until the very end, casting the lone vote against authorizing the borrowing. Ward 7 Alderman Bob Trane has taken himself out of the decision-making process because his brother has business interests in the development.

“My instinct is that we do not have enough assurances to go forward,” said Gewirtz. “There’s no promise that after we do this they won’t come back looking for more money.”

However, the other aldermen – many of whom had been skeptical during Finance Committee meetings – said the risks were worth it, and there was a greater risk of allowing the project to lie fallow.

“Perhaps she’s looking for a sure investment,” said Ward 3 Alderman Tom Taylor, about Gewirtz’s opposition. “I don’t think that there is such a thing.”

After the vote, developer Don Briggs, had a quiet word with Curtatone and then shook all the aldermen’s hands. Briggs waited for Gewirtz to step down from the president’s podium before greeting her with a handshake and a quick word.

“I’m tired,” said Curtatone, who said he has talked about how to redevelop Assembly Square every day since taking office in 2004. “I’m exhilarated. I’m happy for the people of Somerville.”

Though Curtatone and Briggs had both pushed for this outcome, there were no wild celebrations following the vote. Briggs said he was going to “go home and have dinner with my wife at 10 o’clock,” and Curtatone said he caught the rest of the Bruins 3-2 overtime win in the second round of the playoffs.

By Andy Metzger Somerville Journal

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