Gensler (Partners campus), Elkus-Manfredi (apartments), DAIQ (retail), Copley-Wolff Design Group (landscape), with Federal Realty Investment Trust, 2013-ongoing.
Developed on the site of a Ford Assembly plant closed in the 1950s, this innovative 45-acre mixed-use project has emerged after 30 years of stop-and-go, fragmented development in the area. Its success was shaped by the aggressive, thoughtful intervention of a citizen group dedicated to smart growth strategies.
Following the Somerville Redevelopment Authority’s (SRA) rehabilitation of the former auto plant into a traditional retail mall in the 1980s and the arrival of Home Depot in 1992, the site appeared poised to evolve into big but conventional shopping destination, with Ikea and other big box tenants lining up.
In a noteworthy intervention, a citizens group formed in 1998 to advocate for community interests. The Mystic View Task Force put forward a vision of a pedestrian-oriented, office-based neighborhood with supporting retail and housing that could provide 30 additional acres of usable open space, more than 30,000 diverse jobs, and an estimated $30 million in new net tax revenue. They had one big condition: big-box behemoths were not welcome. They successfully challenged and stalled Ikea’s plan for a store on the waterfront.
This vision strongly shaped what has emerged here. Following rezoning, land swaps, and the involvement of a like-minded developer who had done a similar project (Santana Row in San Jose, CA), Phase 1 boasts a new T Station (the first one in 25 years), outlet retail, apartments, and the consolidated administrative offices of Partners Health Care (Gensler). Over several stages, the project is expected to include 500,000 sf of retail, 2,100 residential units and 1,750,000 sf of office space.
Assembly Row organizes ground-floor retail, eateries, and entertainment with apartments above, on traffic-limited, pedestrian-friendly streets. Parks and recreation areas facing the river incorporate structural elements from the old assembly plant. While it still feels like a manufactured, somewhat sterile place, time and use may help it evolve into a genuine Somerville neighborhood.