City examines Inner Belt and Brickbottom districts for development
A professional soccer stadium could be coming to Somerville to jumpstart commercial development in a long-underutilized business district. Last week city officials announced a study, funded by Herb Chambers and the Kraft Group, “designed to help the City promote economic development in both neighborhoods” of Inner Belt and Brickbottom according to the June 23 release.
Last year, Somerville officials and the Kraft Group, owners of the New England Patriots and Revolution, held preliminary discussions about building a Major League Soccer stadium in the Inner Belt. According to the release, that possibility will be examined in the new study, but Lesley Hawkins, spokeswoman for the city, said no formal proposal has been made.
Whether or not the Inner Belt is decided upon as the stadium's destination, the Kraft Group will have a vested interest in the district; they underwrote a portion of the study's expected $200,000 price tag, said Charlie Lord, executive director of the Urban Ecology Institute, the financial facilitators of the operation.
Stacey James, spokesman for the Kraft group, said, “The Kraft Group has been contacted by officials from multiple municipalities regarding development opportunities. We have had preliminary discussions with Somerville regarding a development project that could potentially include a multi-use soccer stadium.”
Lord said the city is still looking for individual donors because, according to the statement, the only other current investor in the study is auto dealership Herb Chambers. Steve Mackey, CEO of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, said the company has an existing interest in the district, with a showroom and maintenance facility in Brickbottom and their headquarters and another property in the Inner Belt.
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said, “[Herb Chambers] is one of the best community partners [Somerville] has. He has an interest in the city achieving success, reaching our goals, and realizing our vision.”
The Inner Belt has become an attractive parcel of land after plans to extend the Green Line into Somerville included Brickbottom as a proposed stop.
Bill Shelton, former president of the Mystic View Task Force - a grassroots group of citizens involved in the development of Assembly Square, said a soccer stadium in the area could boost tax revenue for the city - if developed the right way.
“The city's press release mentions the stadium almost as an afterthought, but the Krafts are paying for the study. The stadium could produce significant new tax revenue while burdening the neighborhood only a dozen or so times a year. That's good. Or the stadium could discourage future higher value development that could net the city more revenue than the stadium. That's bad. Whether it's good or bad will depend on the competence, honesty, and independence of those conducting the study, and the quality of the developer,” Shelton said.
One complicating factor to Inner Belt development is the Executive Office of Transportation's insistence that a maintenance facility be placed in the area. The move could take up land essential for the area's development.
Currently the MBTA's proposal for the facility is located in Yard 8 on Inner Belt Road, now a grassy lot adjacent to the Telecom building, directly between McGrath Highway and Interstate 93.
Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said in a statement, “While I strongly support the Green Line extension, I remain concerned regarding the MBTA's proposal to build a maintenance facility near the Brickbottom arts district. However, if this area turns out to be the best choice, any facility must be designed in a way that does not discourage surrounding development.”
Hawkins said, “We are continuing to explore the feasibility of building above the proposed maintenance facility. We are working closely with EOT to ensure that the City of Somerville has the air rights over the property and we are confident that the facility, if designed correctly, will not hinder any future development.”
According to the press release, Ken Greenberg/CBT Architects is leading the study, but will be collaborating with various firms, which “were selected for their expertise in land use planning, architecture, traffic engineering, green building design, and transit/railway design.”
Monica Lamboy, Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, said the team is examining “what kind of uses could go into the property, what kind of infrastructure exists or is needed, and what sorts of transportation exists or is needed.”
Hawkins said, “The key is to identify the current strengths of the area as well as what will be needed to truly unlock its potential for development.”
Once the study is concluded, Curtatone said a “much more expensive” full-blown master plan would take place, which possibly would require public funding. Kishore Varnasi, a lead Urban Designer with CBT Architects, said the team is currently in the “data gathering and preliminary scoping stage” of the study.
“We wish to start that community discussion after we have gathered sufficient background information to understand the strengths and challenges faced in the area,” he said. “Once we complete the scoping analysis, we can begin to define sustainable, multi-use, transit-oriented development scenarios that can transform this area into a world class development.”