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Somerville board OKs $25m for Assembly Square

Posted by Marcia Dick  May 3, 2011 03:06 PM

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After weeks of debate, the Somerville Board of Aldermen voted Monday to authorize a $25 million bond to fund key infrastructure improvements in Assembly Square.

Mayor Joe Curtatone called the special meeting in hopes of approval before tomorrow's MassDOT board meeting.

According to the loan order, the $25,750,000 in funds may be used for "roadway construction and reconstruction, water main construction and reconstruction, stormwater drainage and sewer infrastructure construction and reconstruction, traffic signaling installation and replacement, [and] sidewalk construction and reconstruction," among other improvements.

For its part, developer Federal Realty Investment Trust agreed to construct three blocks of residential and hotel space at the site. Under the Assembly Row District Improvement Financing Plan, the new property tax revenue from these buildings will repay the debt service while the rest of the city's revenue goes untouched. 

Curtatone has argued that the bond was absolutely necessary to allow the project to proceed.

"The T station will not be built if we don't put our money down. Nobody's going to build," he said at an April 13 public hearing.  As if to prove the mayor's point, MassDOT opened the bidding process to build the Orange Line stop earlier that day. The stop will also use $3.5 million of federal transportation funds assigned to Somerville.

The aldermen discussed final questions for nearly two hours Monday. Anne Thomas of the city's legal office reiterated that Federal Realty had signed an agreement to repay the city and state should the buildings not go forward. 

The full plan for Assembly Square includes 2,100 housing units, 850,000 square feet of retail, and 1.75 million square feet of commercial/office space.

Rebekah Gewirtz, president of the board, kept up her opposition to the bond until the end. The order passed, 9-1, with Ward 7 alderman Bob Trane absent. Joan Whitney Puglia and Katjana Ballantyne, already have declared their candidacy for the Ward 7 spot in the fall election.

The new funds "will completely remake the northern gateway to our city, bring in thousands of new jobs, and eventually contribute $17 million a year to the city in new tax revenues," Curtatone said in a statement. "More than that, it will recast Somerville as a business and technology hub, opening the door to redevelopment in places like the Inner Belt, Brickbottom, and Boynton Yards."

Those three areas are, like Assembly Square, underused, largely industrial, and targeted by city planners for a complete overhaul.

Click here for a full text of the loan order.



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