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EXCLUSIVE: Route 1 Renaissance Could Pave Way For Boston Casino Business

Route 1 north of Boston may be known for its novelty restaurants and neon signs, but a $2.5B casino under construction nearby and a state push for more housing is turning the area into Greater Boston’s newest development hotbed.  

Rendering of Essex Landing on Route 1 in Saugus

“When we started, the casino vote hadn’t even happened,” developer Michael Barsamian said. “Now they’re bringing in up to 6,000 employees, and our next residential buildings will marry right into when it opens.”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker at the end of 2017 called for the construction of an additional 135,000 homes across the state over the next eight years. The town of Saugus north of Boston issued a report the prior year warning more housing was needed to accommodate demand in the municipality, where overall housing vacancy was at 4%. That was enough for Barsamian and his co-developer, Michael Touchette, to pull the trigger on their project, Essex Landing. 

The mixed-use development will feature 255 one-bedroom apartments, 100K SF of retail space, an extended-stay hotel and a luxury boutique hotel operated by Saunders Hotel Group, all of which Touchette said he hopes can be finished in the next 28 months. 

The pair of developers bought their Saugus property in 2014, when existing demand for housing may have been enough for them to move forward. Essex Landing was pitched as a development that would capture renters priced out of downtown Boston and Somerville, but then came word the largest single-phase construction project in state history would lead to Greater Boston’s only casino opening a little over 4 miles away. Suddenly, people would be flocking to the area for more than the Kowloon Restaurant.

Encore Boston Harbor rendering

Wynn Resorts is scheduled to open its $2.5B Encore Boston Harbor casino resort in Everett in June, and surrounding communities are scrambling to accommodate the expected rush of visitors and employees to the complex. While Lower Broadway in Everett is being widened to handle an expected increase in car traffic, housing new employees at Encore Boston Harbor is a different challenge, and it comes at a time when there is already a shortage of homes in the area. 

The Essex Landing developers think they are primed to capture a lot of the casino workforce down the road from the Encore on Route 99. The plan is to appeal to casino employees with housing that starts at $2,100/month and shuttles that will run from Essex Landing to the casino as frequently as every half hour. The 250 hotel rooms spread across the development’s two hotels will be positioned to capture guests who want to gamble, but aren’t able to get a room, at Encore. 

Essex Landing partner Michael Barsamian in front of a 48-unit residential building under construction at Essex Landing

“We based this project on the needs of the town. The bonus is 6,000 workers are coming, and we have a route that connects us directly to the casino,” Touchette said. “We’re going to be able to accommodate a lot of the guests that are overflow because there aren’t any hotels between us and the casino.”

The developers also plan on making Essex Landing its own destination with retail operations, particularly with a 3,400 SF shop and hub of operations for Kane’s Donuts. 

The popular, family-run, Saugus-based doughnut company began in 1955, but it has been selective with its expansion. It opened a smaller outpost at Two International Place in the Financial District in 2015 and briefly operated a pop-up store at Chestnut Hill’s The Street in 2016, but the Kane’s team said it is purposefully cautious when opening somewhere new.

Essex Landing partner Michael Barsamian and Kane's Donuts President and co-owner Paul Delios at the Kane's Donuts under construction at Essex Landing

“I get approached by a million people, but [Barsamian and I] started talking at a party, and it was a great conversation,” Kane’s Donuts President and co-owner Paul Delios said. “This is great for us because it’s right on the highway, and we can run all our deliveries into Boston from this location. It’s a 10-minute trip to downtown.”

The Kane’s at Essex Landing is supposed to be a more interactive experience than its two other locations and will feature an open kitchen that enables guests to watch employees make doughnuts. The Route 1 location will enable easy access from Boston and the North Shore, and Barsamian jokingly discussed the need for a police detail the first two weeks of operation when Kane’s opens later this fall. 

While it has been two years since their first conversation and sunrise Sunday tour of Essex Landing, Delios said he is more than happy to wait for Barsamian and Touchette to finish the build-out.

“We’re taking our time trying to move forward with it and do it in a smart way,” he said. “All good things are worth waiting for.”