By Sue Ellen Woodcock
Beachmont Roast Beef has been a mainstay on Winthrop Avenue since 1978, but the current owner only purchased the business two years ago.
A few months ago, he was approached by developer Tom O’Brien of HYM Investments, and given an undisclosed offer to sell his business.
“He made offers to buy me out, but I’m not interested,” said owner Andy Orphanos. “To me it was a low offer. They think I’m not business oriented, but I’m here to stay, and I want the rumors to die.”
Orphanos is sitting on 8,500 square feet, with parking, right on the corner of the Beachmont section of the proposed development of Suffolk Downs.
“Some of my customers have been coming here since 1978. I’d like to knock down the building and make my own place,” Orphanos said. “Businesses will be coming, and that will be good for my own business. There is no negotiation. I walked into a gold mine that was already here. Support the local businesses.”
“They want to improve that area because it’s at the opening of the Beachmont Station,” said Bob O’Brien, head of Revere’s Economic Development Department.
Monday night O’Brien explained that he sees the Beachmont Roast Beef site as part of a great civic plaza for the community, not for further development. He said that area also plays a part in the resolution of the present bus traffic since the MBTA bus turn stops at the corner of Winthrop Avenue to pick up and drop off passengers, which blocks up all the traffic behind the bus. Those trying to turn onto Bennington are also blocked.
“We can help control that area if we have that (Beachmont Roast Beach) parcel,” O’Brien said. “Plus we know we can create a nice plaza, a entry point going in.”
Across Winthrop Avenue at Luigi’s, owners Candy and Frank Pioppi, haven’t had any offers, but they are waiting for this development to unfold.
“We lost 800 jobs from the stables, that hurt,” Pioppi said. “Now they say this will create 50,000 jobs. That would help the neighborhood.”
He has owned Luigi’s, a 32,000 square-foot pizza parlor with parking for 37 years, and he doesn’t have much concern.
Ralph Toretta, owner of Toretta’s, said he’s not sure where his business will be fitting into the grand scheme of things. No one’s made any offers and he has met O’Brien.
“I’m just concerned about myself,” he said.
O’Brien said they have no plans to buy any houses on Washburn Avenue.
“We want to be good neighbors, and I’m sure they’re fine owners who want to continue to live there,” O’Brien said.
HYM shares zoning ideas with Council
Just on the heels of the big news that Boston and Revere are still in the top 20 in the running for Amazon HQ2 site, the City Council had another visit from HYM Investments on Monday night, to discuss a zoning overlay district and a zoning map amendment for the Suffolk Downs Overlay District, which covers parts of Revere.
The zoning overlay district includes the Beachmont portion of the 160-acre site, 40 percent, which lies in Revere that HYM intends to develop whether or not Amazon decides to come to the expansive land of Suffolk Downs. The Suffolk Downs Overlay District runs from Tomasello Drive, to Winthrop Avenue and down Washburn Avenue.
Last week HYM filed a zoning petition with the city.
“It’s important redevelopment for the whole region,” said Tom O’Brien, of HYM Investments.
He reminded people of the vision he has for the site; it includes a mixed-use, walkable neighborhood.
“We want to make it a place where people walk, shop, work, eat a meal, it’s got to be mixed-use,” Tom O’Brien said. “We need to create great open space and parks. We also want to create neighborhood retails, which means restaurants, not big-box retail like Target.”
The renderings show that “allowed” heights will vary between 50 feet up to 200, staggered as developers said like a “wedding cake.” There will be an allowance of 50 feet on the corner of Winthrop and Washburn Avenues.
“It’s not going to be a 200-foot building on the corner,” Mayor Brian Arrigo said. “There are setbacks and layers so it’s not imposing.”
“There will be allowed uses of retail, laboratories, residential, office and hotel,” Tom O’Brien said. “There is also a buffer zone with Washburn Avenue.”
Bob O’Brien, head of the Revere Economic Development Department, said it’s important in the overlay district that what is being proposed is “allowances” as compared to actual project proposals “which they have yet to come forward with.”
“We want to make this a place where economic development happens and jobs are created,” Tom O’Brien said. “If we can make it a place where people live and shop then we can bring in commercial.”
Arrigo said the zoning plans also call for a Project Review Committee and a Public Advisory Group. He explained that the Public Advisory Group is more driving the public process, their meetings will be public.
“There will be members with a wide range of backgrounds who will represent the city in their conversations. This will be a transformational development for the city,” Arrigo said.
Tom O’Brien said there would be dog parks, ballparks and exercise trails running through the site. There will also be a landscaped amphitheater, located in Revere. Tom O’Brien said for 99 percent of the time this area will be a grassy amphitheater, the rest of the time it will be an area where water is stored and released during 100-year flood events.
Beachmont Square and Belle Isle Square (to be created at Suffolk Downs T-stop) will be neighborhood retail areas, Tom O’Brien said. “The we would like to connect them with a main street that runs all through the site,” he explained.
Tom O’Brien said commercial use of this area would be limited to under 50 percent.
The creation of an Innovaton Station in the Beachmont Square area with the idea to pull in commercial business especially startup companies is being suggested.
“This could create jobs and a place that will have a significant amount of commercial influence,” Tom O’Brien said. “This sets the table for the city.”
“I’m pretty humbled by the opportunity as a community,” Arrigo said. “I am in support of the overlay district. They have become a community partner in a short amount of time and have proven it, even with snow removal during the Jan. 4 storm and allowing a staging area for work that’s going to be done on Winthrop Avenue.”
Ward 6 Councillor Charles Patch was a bit leery and pointed out Overlook Ridge and how the city got stuck with apartments and no commercial development. Councillor Dan Rizzo suggested that perhaps a memorandum of understanding be entered into with HYM to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“So basically we’re creating a community in a community,” said Councillor George Rotondo.
On Feb. 26 there will be a public hearing on the zoning issues presented Monday night.
Arrigo excited, but cautious
People are really starting to take notice now that Amazon has narrowed down its picks for it’s East Coast headquarters, which includes 161-acre Suffolk Downs site located in East Boston and Revere.
“I’m proud and excited that Boston has made Amazon’s short list for its HQ2. With a highly educated, technology-friendly workforce, Boston is the perfect place for Amazon to put down roots,” said Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo.
There were originally 238 cities in the pool and now there are 20.
The Seattle-based giant is seeking to expand with a second headquarters primarily on the East Coast. Boston, including Revere, made the list as did a proposal from Somerville. Other northeast sites include New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Toronto and Washington D.C.
“We’re thrilled. It really puts things in perspective,” said Mayor Brian Arrigo. “I have been saying, even before I became mayor, we have great potential – the beach, public transportation, sites like Suffolk Downs. There’s a lot of potential in the City of Revere
“It’s important for us to put our best foot forward,” Arrigo said. “I’m working with (Boston)Mayor Martin Walsh and HYM to make sure we do that. But, it also has to be noted that we’ve been through this high-stakes process before. One of the things that we learned from that was not to put all your eggs in one basket. That’s why we’re moving forward with an overlay district. I’ve said time and time again that this will be a transformational development with or without Amazon.”
Revere was one of two potential casino sites when it lost its bid to Wynn Casino in Everett a few years ago. The city is now also looking at setting up a long-range, financial plan that could reach well beyond 50 years.
“We have to have a plan whether or not Amazon happens,” Arrigo said. “It’s humbling that we are in a place to chart a course for our community for the next several decades.”
Whatever city wins, Amazon could bring a $5 billion project that could last 15-20 years and bring 50,000 new jobs.
“It’s kind of amazing to think we are in this kind of competition,” Arrigo said. “Not only are we in the top 20, but the analysts are saying we’re one of the top three.”
“The Legislature has focused on providing a stable and predictable environment for business, and we have backed programs like the Intern Partnership, MassCAN and STEM Starter Academy to prepare the innovators of tomorrow,” DeLeo said.
Waiting in the wings for word from Amazon is developer Tom O’Brien and his HYM Investment Group. It has already purchased Suffolk Downs and is moving forward with some zoning work in East Boston and Revere. HYM will develop the site whether or not Amazon lands in Boston. A decision from Amazon is expected later this year.