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Needham hoping to revitalize commercial base with TripAdvisor

Posted by Laura Franzini  November 16, 2012 10:50 AM

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The town of Needham is looking to revitalize its downtown by building a new business park and luring technological companies to the area.

Its first potential catch? TripAdvisor, the international travel website that began in Needham and is currently headquartered in Newton.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted Wednesday to approve a tax incentive proposal, known as a TIF, which would make the move to Needham more favorable for the company.

The Selectmen also voted to schedule a Special Town Meeting on Dec. 3 for the final approval vote.

A spokeswoman for TripAdvisor declined to comment Thursday.

According to Needham’s economic development director, Devra Bailin, the town is looking to commercially redevelop the area along Route 128 as a business park called New England Business Center, a process that started back in 2007 when the town designated it as an economic target area and modified its zoning laws.

TripAdvisor has outgrown its corporate headquarters in Newton, and has been in contact with developer Normandy Real Estate Partners to build a 230,000 sq. ft. office space, according to Kate Fitzpatrick, Needham’s town manager. The company is considering building a second office space after the first has been completed, she said.

Bailin said preliminary conversations between the company and the developer brought the project’s focus to Needham.

The goals in bringing TripAdvisor to Needham include diversifying the town’s tax base by increasing commercial tax revenue and relieving the burden on the residential base, reusing the vacant and obsolescent office and commercial buildings along Route 128, and bringing more high paying jobs for residents and people in region, Bailin said.

TripAdvisor would be relocating 450 jobs and looking to add another 250 jobs over a five-year period, Fitzpatrick said.

“This is exactly what we hoped for when we rezoned and created the economic target area,” Bailin said. “We did that in the very hope that we would be able to entice development along 128 and attract really first class tenants.”

Granting the municipalities’ TIF is the next step in the process.

Fitzpatrick said the tax incentive would be an agreement between the town and TripAdvisor to share the incremental tax revenue over a 13-year period. For the first five years, the company would be exempt from paying 76 percent of its taxes to the town, and would be exempt from paying 1 percent of taxes for the remaining eight years.

TripAdvisor would end up paying $1.8 million less in taxes over the 13-year period, but the town would still garner more than $6 million more than it would have without the project, Fitzpatrick explained.

She said the hope is to begin construction next summer.

Both Fitzpatrick and Bailin emphasized the unusually quick pace of the approval process.

“The important thing is the timing on this is so tight,” Fitzpatrick said. “In order to meet the company’s need to move out of its current location, we have to go to the state board to approve the incentive agreement by its December 19 meeting.”

To prepare for the Special Town Meeting, the town is focusing on educating Town Meeting members and the community about the project and its potential benefits, particularly since this is the first time Needham is pursuing a TIF.

Fitzpatrick said the Selectmen are organizing a public information session and are putting related documents online. She said TripAdvisor is also planning an open house at its existing Newton location for the week after Thanksgiving.

“This will mark the beginning of the area’s revival,” Bailin said, adding that she believes the town stands a “very good chance” of convincing Town Meeting to approve the TIF and the project, particularly since all of the Selectmen voted to support it.

Needham’s chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Jerry Wasserman, said TripAdvisor would help draw other technology companies into the Business Center.

“This is a real beginning of growth for the park,” he said, which was initially zoned in 2001 but failed to lure in any business.

“It’s a great thing for Needham,” said Selectman Moe Handel.

The Special Town Meeting to approve the TIF proposal will be held December 3 and, if it is approved, the town will bring the proposal to the state’s Economic Assistance Coordinating Council meeting on December 19.

Laura Franzini can be reached at laura.franzini@globe.com.

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