Improved transit, like the city’s rush hour dedicated bus lane, is seen as critical to Everett’s attempts to attract investment in the 67-acre Everett Square urban revitalization district. Photo by Steve Adams | Banker & Tradesman Staff

The city of Everett is sending the word to regional and national developers that its downtown is ready for a long-overdue refresh. And the message seems to be hitting its target. 

City officials last year sought proposals for a mixed-use development in the heart of Everett Square, replacing a parking lot and aging row of commercial buildings. Only two developers responded, neither with a submission that met the city’s criteria. 

Fast-forward to late August, and a second request for interest produced five responses, including one global investor and a development group including a North Carolina developer, city officials said. The Everett Redevelopment Authority will begin reviewing the proposals, which have not been made public yet, at its Sept. 16 meeting. 

“For the most part they are wide-ranging and offer a couple of different solutions, which is exactly the response that we were hoping for,” said Tess Kohanski, Everett’s economic development planner. “We’re interested in a mixed-use, high-density development. We’re seeing this as a catalyst for the entire neighborhood.” 

 Multifamily, Office Projects Sought 

The neighborhood in question is the 67-acre Everett Square, designated by the city as an urban renewal area. Approximately 28 private parcels could be acquired and combined with 11 city-owned parcels to create larger blocks that would be marketed to developers. To sweeten the pot, the city is looking at increased height limits and lower parking requirements to attract multifamily and office projects. 

Most of the buildings in the square were built prior to 1950, and while the neighborhood maintains a healthy retail occupancy rate, many properties suffer from deferred maintenance. And upper-floor spaces are underutilized, said Richard O’Neil Jr., CEO of Everett Bank and an attorney who represents real estate developers in the city. 

“What they have planned is long overdue and it shows some good vision,” O’Neil said. “A lot of the properties have sat underdeveloped and underutilized for a long time. The retail properties haven’t changed hands, so there hasn’t been a lot of investment.” 

The city would have the option of taking the privately owned parcels by eminent domain, but details of the land acquisition strategy will become clearer after the selection of a developer, said Tony Sousa, Everett’s director of planning and economic development. It’s asking developers to give the existing retail tenants the first option to occupy the future buildings. 

“We thought that was critically important,” Sousa said. “Private-to-private transactions are the best without having the city intervene.” 

A municipal parking lot and adjacent private commercial properties off School Street are the first redevelopment opportunity in Everett Square’s revitalization plan. Image courtesy of the city of Everett

School Street Parcels Are Starting Point 

The state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development approved an urban renewal plan in August for the entire 67-acre district. 

The logical starting point, city officials said, is the School Street municipal parking lot. The 1.1-acre parcel could be combined with a group of adjacent commercial properties on School and Norwood streets, giving developers nearly 1.8 acres for a mixed-use project. 

“I’m certain the development on that’s been happening on the fringes of Everett is going to move downtown,” said Andy Montelli of Connecticut-based Post Road Residential. “That might be the property that precipitates that.” 

Montelli’s company has completed over 600 apartments in a pair of Everett apartment complexes, the Batch Yard and the Pioneer, located on Charlton Street and Revere Beach Parkway, respectively. 

Post Road Residential first tested the city’s potential in 2014 for apartment construction with the Batch Yard, redeveloping a former Charleston Chew candy factory as 328 apartments. The complex attained rents topping $3 per square foot, Montelli said. 

The Batch Yard’s successful lease-up encouraged Montelli to pay $8 million for another Everett property, a 2.7-acre former Harley-Davidson dealership. 

“You won’t see those prices again,” Montelli said. “Developers are pricing Everett the same way they are pricing Medford and Somerville, because we’ve shown that people want to live here.” 

Since completion in March, the building is 67 percent leased, with average rents of approximately $3.30 per square foot, Montelli said. 

City Remains a Transit Desert 

The Encore Boston Harbor casino’s opening in June has brought nationwide attention to Everett as a destination, but some of the city’s most notable recent projects have reflected the broader development climate in the near-north suburbs. A recent multifamily boom has brought 2,000 new apartments to neighboring Malden’s downtown, along with a pair of speculative office projects. 

Steve Adams

But unlike Malden, Everett lacks MBTA train service and relies exclusively on buses for its public transit connections to rail hubs such as Sullivan Square and Wellington stations. In fact, the city is the largest within the MBTA’s service area that lacks direct transit connections to downtown Boston and Cambridge. 

The city of Everett established a dedicated bus lane running inbound on Broadway from Glendale Square to Sweetser Circle between 5 and 9 a.m. in December 2016. It’s now studying the feasibility of an outbound dedicated bus lane during the evening rush hour, Souza said. 

In the longer term, the city is banking on a potential extension of the MBTA’s Silver Line from the existing Market Basket station in Chelsea to Malden Center via Second Street, Broadway and Ferry Street. A Massachusetts Department of Transportation study from 2016 estimated the extension would reduce travel times between Everett and Boston’s Seaport District by up to 40 percent. 

In the meantime, residents can opt for the Encore casino’s free “Neighborhood Runner” shuttle, which runs 24 hours a day from the Silver Line in Chelsea to Everett Square, Rivergreen Drive and the casino. 

A First Step in Everett Square’s Renewal

by Steve Adams time to read: 4 min