Big day at Assembly Square

On May 4, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Everyone agreed that the beautifully restored Edsels added a lot to the sense of occasion – and of history.

There they were, gleaming in the April sunshine. Those Edsels had been built at Ford’s Assembly Square plant between 1958 and 1960, when American cars were long, wide, high-finned and even more highly chromed. As an affordable luxury model, the Edsel was considered a dud in its day. But from the vantage point of 2012, those handsome old cars – with their push-button automatic transmissions, “rolling dome” speedometers, self-adjusting brakes, standard seat belts (unusual for the time), and child-proof locks – can be seen for what they are: regal and magnificent road machines that offer a glowing, solid reminder of the skill, ingenuity and hard work of the people of our city.

Back in the day, thousands and thousands of beautiful cars and light trucks rolled off the Ford lines at Assembly Square.

But yesterday, after nearly two decades of planning, debate and discussion, we saw the rollout of Assembly Square’s next great product: our city’s future.

As we gathered to celebrate the beginning of Phase 1 construction on the new Assembly Row – over 450 units of housing (the number will eventually grow to over 2000) and 300 thousand square feet of rental and commercial space – several of the speakers (including me), mentioned that this kind of progress can only happen when you take the long view.

For nearly two decades, we’ve been discussing, debating, litigating, planning, negotiating, partnering and working to find funding for the new Assembly Square. Finally, it’s starting to happen: the new T station, the mixed use neighborhood, the waterfront park: all of it is happening.

As I said at Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Assembly Square has a lot of moving parts and a lot of crucial participants, and every one of them deserves credit. Congressman Capuano, Senator John Kerry and the late, great Ted Kennedy all delivered in terms of securing and maintaining support for the use of federal transit funds. When our national economy plummeted into recession in 2008, the Deval Patrick Administration saw that Assembly Square deserved, and would make good use of, federal stimulus dollars and funding from the state’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive (or I-Cubed) program.

Our Board of Aldermen did an amazing job of keeping the program moving forward over the past ten years with changes to our zoning regulations and with a crucial injection of $25 million District Improvement Financing (DIF) bonds that will be repaid directly from the tax revenues generated by Assembly Square.

Our state legislative delegation backed us repeatedly on Beacon Hill, and they deserve their share of the credit, too.

Of course, Assembly Square wouldn’t have happened without a superb development partner with the experience, patience and vision to deliver on a project of this magnitude. Since 2005, Federal Realty Investment Trust has been an honorable, reliable and creative collaborator – everything we could hope for in a partner, and more.

We also owe a true debt of gratitude to the activists who fought for – and sometimes with – the City to ensure that the project embodied the best transit-oriented, mixed use, smart growth principles of urban redevelopment. Many of the activists – from Wig Zamore of the Mystic View Task Force to Ellin Reisner of the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership – attended the groundbreaking on Monday. They deserved to be there; this project is better for their efforts.

But, in the end, this was a celebration for every member of the Somerville community – past, present and future. $130 million in public investment has leveraged $1.6 billion in private investment. When fully built out, Assembly Square will spin off thousands of permanent jobs and tens of millions in annual tax revenues. And it will do these things because the people of our city have never given up on their hopes and dreams – and on their shared determination to build a new neighborhood on the banks of the Mystic River that embodies the best characteristics of our entire city: diverse, dynamic, vital and engaging.

Assembly Square is on its way: We should all take a moment to celebrate and ponder this extraordinary achievement.

And then we can get right back to work – because hard work is what got us to this great day and hard work is what will allow us to make the most of it.

Congratulations, everybody.


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