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Boston Developers Are The Tool The MBTA Needs To Unlock Future Growth


While Massachusetts is finally tackling its rail transportation network’s backlog of costly repairs, developers say they can contribute in giving the region the transportation system it will need for tomorrow.

An Orange Line train pulls into the Assembly MBTA station, partially funded by Federal Realty Investment Trust

“The MBTA is focused on today because they need to be. They don’t have the luxury to focus on tomorrow,” Jefferson Apartment Group Senior Vice President Sandi Silk said. “As a region, we have to focus on tomorrow so, by the time 2050 comes around, we’re ready.”

After years of snowy shutdowns and regularly disabled trains, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is pumping money to bring the MBTA up to working order and reliable service. The MBTA invested $3.8B in capital improvements in fiscal years 2014-2018 and is projected to spend $8.1B between fiscal years 2019-2023. Ranging from new cars on subway lines to signal and track improvements, the investment boost in the reliably unreliable system is music to developers’ ears.

“Certainly, any improvements made to the public transportation system are a benefit to projects like Boston Landing,” NB Development Group Managing Director Jim Halliday said. “We need ways to not only bring folks in from the suburbs with companies moving to the city, but also a way for the urban labor pool these companies are striving to hire to get to sites like ours.” 

Silk and Halliday, both of whom are speaking at Bisnow’s Boston Transit-Oriented Boom event Aug. 14, have projects outside downtown Boston that are capitalizing on improved rail service helping with regional connectivity. Their companies have even lent a hand in improving MBTA service to their projects.

Rendering of Boston Landing

The 15-acre, 1.8M SF Boston Landing has been successful at luring athletic teams like the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics for their practice facilities. The project has also landed a string of life sciences and technology companies like Bose because of the $20M, on-site, infill commuter rail station built from a public-private partnership between New Balance and the MBTA. 

“From the kind of mixed-use development on the commercial office side to creating a seven-day/18-hour neighborhood, we could not have done it without the train station,” Halliday said. “It’s what unlocked the value to do a development of this size.”

The model is being explored at other projects in Lynn, Quincy and Cambridge, according to Massachusetts Department of Transportation Chief Strategy Officer Scott Bosworth. The Assembly Orange Line station was also an infill station partially funded by Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developer of the adjoining Assembly Row mixed-use development. 

“Generally, there is a recognition by the development community that public and private investment in our transit systems are important and beneficial,” Bosworth said. “We have the same customers, so it is important that we focus on their needs and work together to provide safe, convenient, dependable connections and service.”

Rendering of Jefferson at Malden Center

Silk’s company is developing a project on the MBTA’s northern stretch called Jefferson at Malden Center, a 500K SF, transit-oriented development at the Malden Center Orange Line station. The project will replace the old Malden City Hall with 320 residential units, 23K SF of retail and 45K SF of offices that will serve as the new City Hall. The project will also reconnect the train station with downtown retail on Pleasant Street, which was cut off when the old City Hall was built in the 1970s. 

Jefferson Apartment Group worked with Malden officials to find ways to improve its station through Massachusetts economic development tools like the Housing Development Incentive Program. The measure provides Massachusetts Gateway Cities with tax incentives to increase market-rate housing while also supporting economic growth and neighborhood stabilization. 

“When you’re trying to generate economic development beyond housing, you have to think about what that station reads to an investor or CEO of a company with hundreds of employees in the area,” Silk said. “I think it’s a joint effort between the state and developers in the commercial sector to think creatively to get those improvements to happen.”

Hear Silk, Halliday, Bosworth and other panelists discuss the future of real estate and transportation at Bisnow's Boston Transit-Oriented Boom event Aug. 14 at the Westin Copley Place.