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Old factory towns going upscale

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 1, 2014 09:35 AM

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As prices rise and the biotech boom rolls on, more and more blue-collar towns are going upscale.

We saw it with now red hot inner suburbs like Watertown, Arlington and Somerville and now, a bit farther out, with towns like Medford and Natick.

Is Framingham next?

Framingham just 40 years ago was a major manufacturing center, with a car plant and the massive Avery-Dennison packaging plant, now converted into apartments.

But while the town has gained some big new companies over the past few years, with Genzyme establishing a massive campus, downtown Framingham is badly in need of reboot, looking frozen in time.

Now it looks like Framingham's sprawling center might finally get the kick-start it needs, with town officials embracing an ambitious plan to spur higher, denser development around the town's commuter rail station.

After seeing renderings of new, higher-rise buildings and pleasant looking streets Selectman Jason Smith was apparently ebullient.

"I loved it," Smith was quoted as saying in this MetroWest Daily News account of the meeting. "I thought I was looking at Brookline."

Now Framingham may be a long way from Brookline right now, but heck, you've got to start somewhere.

Certainly home prices are on the rise again in Framingham, with middle class buyers getting squeezed out of neighboring Natick, which has blown past its previous, bubble-years peak.

The median price in Framingham is not just under $300,000, up nearly 9 percent over the first two months of 2013, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. (Natick's median price is now $430,000, up more than 18 percent through the end of February.)

In a sign of the times, the old Brigham's ice cream factory near Route 9 recently sold to a developer who plans to turn it into a fitness center.

A fitting development indeed!

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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