Everett's Development Wave Hasn't Hit Its Riverfront — At Least Not Yet
Everett, once an industrial hub in Greater Boston, is seeing an economic revival in its downtown area, but the large-scale developments planned along its waterfront have faced a series of setbacks this year.
In the Commercial Triangle, a 93-acre downtown district that Everett rezoned for mixed-use development, a string of major projects has moved forward from Greystar and other real estate firms that is adding hundreds of new multifamily units and retail.
City leaders say this surge of development is turning the once-quiet industrial area into a thriving commercial district, but a similar resurgence along the city’s waterfront could take many more years to materialize.
"When people see this critical mass of people moving into the city of Everett, they're going to see that a lot more development is needed," Everett Planning & Development Department Director Matt Lattanzi said.
While Everett’s waterfront area welcomed the Encore Boston Harbor in 2019 and the casino has recorded strong revenue growth, the remaining major development sites along the river still sit vacant, without any cranes in the sky.
Big-name companies like The Davis Cos. and The Kraft Group, owner of the New England Patriots and Revolution, have pursued huge development sites on the waterfront but have seen pushback from conservation advocates, and their efforts have stalled.
In September, The Davis Cos. terminated a deal it was negotiating for Exxon Mobil’s 95-acre tank farm on the Mystic River. The reason for the broken deal wasn't revealed, but Exxon has been in an ongoing lawsuit with the Conservation Law Foundation, which argues that the gas company didn't prepare the site for storms and flooding that could lead to unintended petroleum and chemical spills into the Boston Harbor.
While the deal falling through will likely delay the start of any new development on the site, efforts are underway to move forward with a project. Lattanzi said he has heard Davis is trying to renegotiate a deal with Exxon, and the other two companies that previously bid on the site, Marcus Partners and DH Property Holdings, have reached out to Lattanzi reiterating their interest.
“It’s not dead in the water,” he said.
Davis didn’t respond to requests for comment on the status of the deal. DH Property and Marcus Partners declined to comment.
Conservation Law Foundation Vice President of Health and Resilient Communities Deanna Moran said the organization brought the lawsuit in 2016 to ensure that any development on the site is done responsibly.
“We said very clearly that if Exxon sold the site, it doesn't absolve them of liability,” Moran said. “They need to be held accountable for failing to adequately address those risks. Whoever ultimately buys the site, it has to be redeveloped in a manner that addresses those risks.”
The nearby 43-acre site of the Constellation Energy generating station has been eyed by The Kraft Group for redevelopment into a soccer stadium for the New England Revolution, but that has also run into issues this year. The site is a Designated Port Area, which limits its use to water-dependent industrial development, and efforts to remove those restrictions this year have been unsuccessful.
Lawmakers this summer tried to add language in the state's economic development bill to remove the site’s DPA designation and allow for mixed-use development, but that language didn't make it into the final version of the bill that was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker last week, Moran said. She said her organization pushed back against the effort because it sees the port designation as an important protection for this part of the waterfront.
“Sometimes we're painted out to be kind of anti-development, and we are definitely not,” Moran said. “We would love to see all of these sites be redeveloped and be great public amenities for residents who live in these communities. We just want to make sure that developers play by the rules and that they do what they're supposed to do.”
Encore Boston has also tried to expand its Everett waterfront property with its proposed East of Broadway development, which would include a 999-seat event room, 20K SF of restaurant and retail space, and 2,300 parking spaces.
But the casino owner has faced pushback this year from local theater operators concerned that the new venues would hurt their businesses.
Lattanzi said a primary reason why development has been slow to move forward on the waterfront is that the area consists of large parcels of land controlled by a few owners.
“There are very few developers that can afford to purchase these and redevelop them,” he said.
While it may be years before the transformation of these large waterfront sites comes to fruition, a wave of development has already begun in the city’s Commercial Triangle area.
The 93-acre district was only zoned for industrial use. But the city underwent a new master plan process in 2015 and 2016, and in 2018, it passed a new zoning ordinance that encouraged developers to build mixed-use projects.
“For decades, the Commercial Triangle housed industrial uses that, unless you worked there or were passing through, you never knew they existed,” Lattanzi said. “When we had a focus on rezoning that area, it was really well-intentioned that this growth would be smart growth.”
Greystar has been active in the city, bringing more than 1,500 units into the commercial district with three developments. The Maxwell, the second phase of Greystar’s 85 Boston St. development, broke ground this month, and the total development will feature over 600 units.
Gary Kerr, managing director of development in the Northeast for Greystar, said the company saw an opportunity because the city was transparent and straightforward with the type of development it wanted to see.
“The city has been very clear about the type of uses they want in that area, and we have responded to that,” Kerr said. “It’s been a very straightforward process. This has allowed us to move forward with a lot of conviction.”
Greystar isn't the only one seeing opportunities in the Commercial Triangle. In March, V10 Development, a partnership between John Tocco of Encore Boston and Ricky Beliveau of Volnay Capital, proposed a 21-story tower on Spring Street. The project, featuring 366 units and a new rooftop restaurant and bar, was approved in May.
Lattanzi said that the retail component of the Commercial Triangle is one of the most important parts of the district in bringing in nearby residents and outsiders. The zoning requires any new residential developments to have ground-floor retail.
“We wanted to create something that they could actually use,” Lattanzi said. “We wanted it to be a destination that people actually sought to go out to, both from Everett and outside of Everett.”
Everett has a shortage of housing units that needs to be met, Lattanzi said. Multifamily vacancy in Everett in the third quarter was at 3.9%, which was less than Cambridge's 4.4% and Somerville's 4.5%, according to Colliers' Q3 multifamily report.
Colliers Research Director Jeff Myers said Everett has multiple drivers of residential demand, including its location near transportation and its proximity to the region’s life sciences hubs, and he said its relative affordability positions it to be competitive with neighboring cities. He said the rezoning was a forward-thinking move to help add more housing to the area.
“Across the commonwealth, we are underhoused and there are not enough units out there,” Myers said. “By creating this area in town where you’re allowed to go in and build bigger buildings, you make it easier for developers to go in and make more housing.”
Myers also said he sees the city’s waterfront as a significant opportunity for growth if the projects are able to move forward.
“Having large-scale underutilized sites this close to the heart of Boston is rare, and that’s one of the reasons you’re able to go in, as a large developer, and build bigger buildings,” Myers said.
Lattanzi said that with all of the residential units and retail being built, he hopes the city will receive more infrastructure investment to improve its transportation system. He added that the momentum the city has today in its Commercial Triangle will eventually reach the waterfront.
“There are a few ways to get that development, and I understand that there are different barriers, but I think we are hurdling them,” Lattanzi said.
Greystar's Kerr said he sees a connection between the development in the Commercial Triangle and waterfront areas.
“That waterfront is a wonderful opportunity, but there’s a lot that will have to happen there,” Kerr said. “There’s a long way to go before those areas get redeveloped, and I think by the time they do, the Commercial Triangle will be fully established and standing on its own.”