John Preotle
Partner, Preotle Lane & Assoc.
Industry experience: 40 years 

Like many complex redevelopment projects that span decades, River’s Edge reinvented itself to ride out boom-and-bust real estate markets. At the dawn of the new Millennium, officials envisioned a “Telecom City” tech cluster replacing a run-down industrial area on the Medford MaldenEverett border. After the telecom industry meltdown, plans for multifamily housing were added and two apartment complexes totaling 504 units were completed by Criterion Development. Preotle, Lane & Assoc., the designated master developer of the 30-acre site since 1999, pursued traditional office tenants to round out the mixed-use project. In September, the 115,140-square-foot Building 400 was completed and occupied by telematics specialist Agero, Financial Recovery Technologies and Cross Country Group. 

Q: What was your first acquisition in Massachusetts?
A: I had been at a Wall Street firm involved in real estate finance and investments, and we thought it would be a good time to start our firm in 1993. That time was a very good opportunity to buy some assets. You could buy some things at significant discounts to replacement costs. You only know after the fact [when the market bottoms out], but we did buy a few things that worked out pretty well. In hindsight, we should have bought more.  

We had bought a building in Post Office Square in Boston and one at 350 Main St. just south of River’s Edge. The first office building was 200 River’s Edge and the first tenant was Marriott International. They are still here and they just renewed for another several years. We thought we could lease office space in this market and offer a value play compared with places such as Cambridge. We think there’s a real value to being on [the Malden] River. Plus, we knew a couple of the mayors, and we found they were very honest and intelligent and we said, “This project is going to take a long time.” It was an urban renewal project and there were 12 owners and 18 parcels, so the Mystic Valley Development Commission assembled the site. At one point, they ran out of money and we began to lend them money to continue with the assemblage. In 2008, once it had been fully assembled and we demolished one of the buildings ourselves, we did acquire the entire parcel. 

Q: How did the development plan evolve across several economic cycles?
A: There were two buildings that started almost at the same time: an office building at 200 River’s Edge Drive and a parcel we sold to Criterion Development for a luxury residential building. And we built the Tufts University boathouse. Our responsibility was to clean up the site and they built the boathouse. The Telecom City strategy was not our idea. That was the urban renewal authority, and a couple of things happened. The market just got tremendously overbuilt. It became clear if you wanted to progress, you were going to have to move away from telecom and even the name, frankly. Whenever you’d talk to somebody, you’d spend four minutes talking about the problems in the telecom industry. River’s Edge sounded good to us, and that’s why we renamed it. 

Q: How much additional development capacity do you have?
A: We can build another 210,000 square feet of office space without MEPA reviews.  

Whether we could do the next building on a spec basis, I don’t know. It’s a much bigger building and would require its own parking. We would consider it though. We’re just starting the plans for that building. By and large, we copied the first building with a few tweaks.  

Q: How have recent road projects near Wellington and Santilli circles affected the property?
A: The Woods Memorial Bridge was completely reconstructed and that has helped a lot. Roads & Bridges magazine named it one of the best bridges of 2019. These areas are heavily trafficked like everywhere around Boston and there’s nowhere that’s perfect, but it’s better. We’re just under a half-mile from the Wellington MBTA station so it’s very much a transit-oriented project. We run a shuttle from the property to Wellington and it works well. We’re dropping people off in the morning from the residences, and in the afternoon it’s the opposite. There’s seldom a period in which the shuttle is going in one direction without the passengers. It runs three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. 

Q: What effects have you seen at River’s Edge and the Wellington submarket since the opening of Encore Boston Harbor?
A: I’d say neutral. I’ve talked to the apartment managers and one said we had four or five people who work in the casino, but out of 282 units that’s sort of nothing. We have not seen traffic problems as of yet. I guess we view it as sort of an entertainment venue. 

Q: How did you approach the retail leasing strategy and settle on tenants such as The Porch, a Southern-style restaurant?
A: We were trying to complete the project. We had housing, we had office, we had recreation and we thought we needed a retail component. We wanted to do some things that people say, “God, that’s really neat.” The Porch had a small operation in Wakefield. I wouldn’t say I’m a great connoisseur, but people like it. They have a 50-foot curved linear bar. The Freerange Market is doing well, but it needs more marketing. There’s a lot more competition and we don’t have road frontage, so you’ve got to get people back in here. 

Q: Aren’t barbecue restaurants difficult ground floor tenants because of odor issues?
A: That’s a very good question. The city thought it might be, so we got the opportunity to introduce a scrubber, so it has not been a problem. We have to thank the city of Medford for that. I think it was well over $100,000. The other thing is the Porch does have live entertainment, so we had to add some soundproofing and we might even have to add a little bit more. 

Q: Any plans for additional acquisitions in the region?
A: I wish we knew in terms of acquisitions. From time to time we look at things. The focus is probably more on new development. After you’ve built new stuff, the quality is just not the same as the sustainability and efficiency of these new office buildings. The question is, where is the next opportunity, and obviously today there is tremendous competition. It’s surprising how many billion-dollar projects are being announced. We like urban and semi-urban projects, and we’ve tended to do things maybe a little ahead of everyone else. Maybe too far ahead of somebody else. And those are the opportunities we’ll continue to look for. 

Preotle’s Five Favorite Public Spaces in Greater Boston 

  1. Boston Public Garden
  2. Boston Public Library 
  3. Post Office Square’s Norman B. Leventhal Park 
  4. Rose Kennedy Greenway 
  5. Park at River’s Edge in Medford

This article has been updated to correct the developer of the multifamily projects at River’s Edge.

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