Mayor Brian Arrigo welcomed the Suffolk Downs Development Advisory Group to its inaugural meeting Wednesday night, commencing an important phase as the project developers craft the Planned Unit Development proposal that will be submitted to the City Council later this year.
With the vast Suffolk Downs racetrack visible through the windowed wall of the former Suffolk Downs Topsider Lounge as a backdrop, Mayor Arrigo began his remarks to the group “Welcome to history.”
“It’s not hyperbole,” he said. “The ideas and opinions that will be shared in this room over the next three months will contribute to the most significant real estate development in the City’s history.”
He said to the group, “Let’s get ready to go from horse barns to history.”
The Development Advisory Group was created by Mayor Arrigo to gather community input and feedback before the Suffolk Downs construction gets underway. The Group, though not mandated under the Suffolk Downs Overlay District legislation approved by the City Council of this year, will meet six times through August and address various phases of the Suffolk Downs project at each meeting.
Thomas N. O’Brien, Managing Director of the HYM Investment Group that will develop the 161-acre site, described the project’s overall scope and design strategy, utilizing a PowerPoint presentation that included depictions of the site’s intended future. “Twenty-five per cent of the land area will be devoted to publicly accessible open space, which is almost unprecedented in a development such as this.”
O’Brien, who has met extensively with civic and neighborhood groups in both Revere and East Boston during the year since HYM acquired the property, emphasized how at least 50 per cent of the developable land on the Revere portion of the project will consist of commercial space. “Local commercial, colorful, funky…restaurants and shops, not big box retail,” he said.
The development of Beachmont Square will comprise Phase I of the overall project, which is expected to stretch over 12-15 years before completion. In all, the project will comprise some 16.5 million square feet of mixed-used development, with nearly 6 million square feet of that in Revere.
O’Brien reminded the group that the Suffolk Downs site remains in the running to become the second headquarters for internet giant Amazon. Should Amazon choose Suffolk Downs, construction of an office complex on the East Boston side of the site would jump to Phase I, with Beachmont Square Phase 1B. “Without Amazon, Phase I begins in Beachmont, with the innovation center, a high-end hotel, retail, and three residential buildings,” O’Brien said. “Phase I would comprise 1.4 million square feet, which itself would be the largest single development in the city’s history.”
Though residents at neighborhood meetings have expressed concerns about traffic, O’Brien explained that the developers are sensitive to the issue and will detail their plans in subsequent meetings. He was enthusiastic, however, about the public transportation features of the Suffolk Downs site. He described a “retail mile” that will connect the Beachmont and the current Suffolk Downs MBTA stations. Ultimately, the developers envision “a mixed use walkable neighborhood,” O’Brien said. “We aim to make it a place where people will live and enjoy, then it will be more attractive to employers to locate there.”
“We see the two Blue Line T stations at the site as our front doors,” O’Brien said. An innovation center is envisioned for Beachmont, as well as public open space that will utilize the natural resource of Sales Creek and an existing pond on the property. “For over 80 years, no one has ever walked on that infield. It’s really beautiful,” he said.
The Development Advisory Group will meet six times through the summer, with future meetings each addressing specific aspects of the development. The next meeting is June 20, 6 p.m. and will focus on urban design, infrastructure and resiliency planning.
After its series of meetings, the Development Advisory Group will prepare a consensus recommendation for consideration when the City Council deliberates the developer’s application for a Special Permit for the project. Though the entire project will develop under a single special permit, each phase of the project, and each specific building, will be subject to local review processes such as Site Plan Review and zoning compliance.