Development Turning Chelsea Around
Chelsea is being “discovered” as the Boston development boom drives up prices for multifamily and commercial space in the big city. But back in the day, Chelsea—at 1.8 square miles, the state’s smallest city—was known for the nefarious nature of its nightlife.
By mid-year, projects valued at about $200M will be in construction or recently completed, while another $500M (including 2,200 housing units) are in the pipeline, city manager Jay Ash tells us. Coming out of the ground are a multifamily rental building and two hotels. This summer, a new $100M regional HQ for the FBI is slated to get started. The feds coming to town “wasn’t always good news,” he quips. Here's why: In the late '90s, the only hotel in town was “rented by the hour, not the night,” says Jay, who grew up here. Since 1997, he’s worked for the city, first as a planner and then for 13 years as a manager.
Now developers are calling every day, Jay says. Since it borders Boston on three sides, Chelsea is a logical choice for spillover projects during the good times. When the market slows, it'll be a location for less costly developments. The city’s reputation took a turn in ’01, when its first new hotel, a Wyndham, opened. That project led to the 2010 opening of a new 133k SF Market Basket (above), the largest food-only supermarket on the East Coast. Soon, the state will build a new Silver Line station at this 25-acre redeveloped mall, and Market Basket is considering partnering in a $300M mixed-used project at this site.
ACS Development plans to start construction soon on the 200k SF FBI HQ on vacant land across from the Wyndham and Residence Inn hotels (above). While the city was built out 100 years ago, crime became rampant by the 1980s. (A good marketing mind might've called it "A City for Adventure Seekers.") In ’91, the city was put under state receivership, the first such action since the Great Depression, Jay says. Later, Chelsea became welcoming to development by eliminating graft at City Hall and streamlining permitting. The state allowed the city to form the Everett Avenue Urban Redevelopment District in ‘97, giving it power to take land that it’s since been redistributing to developers. The state has also granted the city tax relief and tax credits. By declaring Chelsea a “gateway city,” it has priority for other state grants, Jay says.
TransDel Corp’s Mark White is a Chelsea believer. He built the Wyndham and—in a JV with Gate Residential—is building and leasing the 230 apartments in Phase 1 of One North of Boston. Jay hopes that the team starts construction on Phase 2 (similar in size) by year's end. Dubbed "value luxury," the apartments are ample and sport condo finishes, a fitness center, club suite, pool, and pet care and concierge. A 1,000 SF, two-bedroom, two-bath here is renting for about $2,000/month. One North is a block from the site of the new commuter rail station and proposed Silver Line that will boast the rare ability to stop at North Station or South Station.
Chelsea Clock, built in 1897, may soon make way for a 535-unit residential complex. (We've all got clocks on our phones now anyway.) Jay is talking to local attorney/developer Anthony Rossi about the project, which would substantially enlarge the city’s 12,000-unit housing supply. The clock maker will relo to a new 20k SF production facility in town. (Fun fact: Chelsea Clock, which has long supplied timepieces for US naval vessels, also made its way onto Elvis Presley's Christmas list; he picked-up 26 as gifts, Jay tells us.)
Foundation work is underway for a new 130-key Marriott TownePlace Suites. XSS Hotels is developing the project, due to open in November. XSS is also building another hotel—a Holiday Inn slated for a March ’15 opening—and planning two more. Jay says that these developments create jobs, while the market-rate housing brings in new residents. The activity helps him and other officials deal with any remaining inner-city problems. “We don’t hide them,” Jay says; they're figuring out how to overcome them.