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Will the Arcade mean game over for Brazilian businesses?

Posted by Ralph Ranalli October 21, 2007 09:11 AM

FRAMINGHAM

While officials are counting on the Arcade at Downtown Framingham, a nearly $60 million mixed-use project, to revitalize the town's commercial core, some worry that the project will help push out immigrant businesses.

After nearly three years of negotiations with developers, community leaders are touting the Arcade project, which includes renovation of historic buildings, a new garage, and an apartment complex, as the cornerstone of downtown revitalization, Globe West correspondent Tanya Perez-Brennan reports in today's Globe West.

"I think it's huge," said John Steacie, chairman of Framingham Downtown Renaissance, a coalition of community groups. "It would bring people into the downtown [who] have discretionary income. They'd be willing to spend, so that's a big economic boom."

The project would include 290 one- or two-bedroom apartments, a six-story, 563-space parking garage, and 50,000 square feet of new commercial space. Michael Gatlin, an attorney for developer Framingham Acquisition LLC, said officials are "pretty optimistic" construction could start as soon as early winter and be completed within 2 1/2 years.

Developers are building multimillion-dollar projects in downtowns across New England, including in area communities such as Lincoln, Franklin, and Westborough. But what's happening in Framingham is an early example of a new gentrification trend, one that pushes out immigrant-owned businesses, according to Jonathan Leit, who wrote his master's thesis on the Arcade project for the urban studies and planning department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After the project's completion, commercial rents could double to $18 to $20 per square foot, which has some existing merchants feeling uneasy, and some, including Brazilian business owners, fearing they could be displaced.

Vera Dias-Freitas, an advocate for the Brazilian community and owner of a jewelry store in the existing Arcade building, one of four Concord Street buildings included in the larger project, said the concerns of local businesses are not being taken into account.

Read more about the benefits and pitfalls of Framingham's downtown revitalization in today's Globe West.

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