By Brian Arrigo
I decided to run for office to ensure I brought the highest standards for our city: high standards for city government, high standards for constituent services, and creating a culture for high standards for what we envision well into Revere’s future.
We all know about the great assets we have: smart, engaged and hard-working residents; three MBTA stops, located minutes from the economic center of New England; and the best beach in the region. Properly leveraging these assets has the potential to turn Revere back into a true destination city. It can build jobs and resilient small businesses, create economic development, and build a foundation upon which the city will thrive.
We cannot support projects that sell Revere short. Those are the projects, which set our vision back. A fly-by-night proposal to build a slots parlor — just a mile from a resort casino — only does our city a disservice. Last year’s proposal to build 300 residential units at the former Shaw’s site with no commercial component — with few jobs, little life and virtually no consideration for Revere’s needs — had to be opposed until the proponents understood what the city was asking for.
Shortly after I took office, the proponents of the Shaw’s site project came back to the table with a desire to work cooperatively with the city to deliver a suitable plan.
This resulted in a new mixed-use proposal includes a 132-room hotel, with floor-level restaurant and lounge that is open to the public, as well as a reduction of over 30% in the number of total residential units, all market-rate units catering to a demographic that will not add any additional strain on city services or our school system. The 220-unit residential element is almost 80% studios and one-bedrooms, with a small count of two-bedrooms under 1000 square feet. This proposal would provide 36 permanent jobs, eclipsing the number of jobs that last year’s proposed development would have created and the jobs that being created by the by-right development that has been taking place along Revere Beach. This proposed project is also half the density of any of the already approved buildings going up along the beach. Keep in mind that these projects were approved before I took office.
In addition to creating local jobs, the proposed Shaw’s site project would allow the city to leverage about $3.5 million in state funds dedicated to infrastructure improvements. These monies would go toward upgrading the decrepit water main that runs under Revere Beach Parkway and Winthrop Ave. that services the Beachmont neighborhood. They would also go toward a complete upgrade of the infrastructure in that area, including large sidewalks, islands, improve dangerous pedestrian crossings as well as a new traffic signalization system along Winthrop Avenue and the Revere Beach Parkway from North Shore Road to Eliot Circle. This would represent a direly needed total infrastructure overhaul of the entire old Shaw’s site area.
In addition to all of the infrastructure improvements, the city would see an multi-million dollar revenue increase over the next five years which would help finance improvements to city services, from public works to open space. All in all, the city would be looking at $12 million dollars of net new revenue over the next 5 years. Currently, the city gets about $100,000 annually from the vacant and blighted property that is Shaw’s.
This is about the ability to provide that we need and the city deserves. The Department of Public Works building could be a multi-million dollar expenditure. Investing in public works and public safety equipment to allow our men and women to do their job safely and effectively would be another multi-million dollars expenditure. Investing in our crumbling roadways and street infrastructure is yet another recurring multi-million dollar expenditure. Lack of appropriate open space is another issue residents have brought up during my campaign and since I took office. These types of funds are exactly what should be utilized to address these pressing issues.
I have heard over the past few weeks, some hesitation regarding this project. So let me address the issues that have been brought up.
Some fear a huge increase in vehicular traffic generated from this proposed development. That is just not going be to be the case. The residential component of this mixed-use project is geared toward and attracts folks who want to take advantage of the proximity to the Beachmont T station. They will generate significantly less traffic that the old Shaw’s supermarket generated. The hotel portion of it will rely mostly on shuttles transferring customers from and to Logan Airport.
Some have brought up the fact that these units would create a burden on our school system. That is not supported by the facts. Quite the contrary, this project is part of the solution to our school funding problem, contributing over $400,000 of net income annually to our school budget. Additionally, none of the similar units built by the proponents of this project have resulted in additional strain on our school system. In fact, out of 621 units built by the proponents of this project in the metropolitan area, there were 4 school aged children; a far cry from the dozens that folks worry about. The facts are out there and they clearly do not support the “school burden” thesis.
Others have expressed their desire to see more commercial development in our city and that this proposal is a step in the wrong direction. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact is, there is a huge strain on the entire Boston metropolitan region’s housing stock. Consequently, there is a push to build as many residential units as possible. Our goal is to make sure that we establish a standard requiring that any type of residential development would be accompanied with a significant commercial component. That is exactly what we have here.
In addition, what happens at Shaw’s will be a signal to the region about Revere’s economic vitality and viability. Right-sized, mixed-use development adjacent to the T has served is an economic development catalyst as we see in surrounding communities. The development of a thriving small locally owned business economy with coffee shops, restaurants, lounges and entertainment venues that employ local residents, make the city more vibrant, more attractive and more livable. It is the kind of signal that helps attracts the big office tenants and multinational corporations, as shown in other communities in Massachusetts; and that is an especially timely and relevant message to send as we are about to begin planning for redevelopment of the long vacant Wonderland site, where our greatest office and commercial potential lies.
Unfortunately, most of the residential development that happens in Revere happens by-right due to our current zoning, without the city having much input. It creates family units, builds far from public transportation nodes, increasing traffic congestion and not creating any local jobs or revenue. People are rightly concerned about the burden this type of building has placed on our roads, our schools and our budget. A project like this — mixed-use, smaller in residential scale (half the density seen in all by-right projects), and adjacent to the T — is not part of that problem, it is part of its solution. And given that the real estate market is pushing lots adjacent to the T in the direction of more housing, my administration will continue emphasizing commercial uses, public amenities, and infrastructure improvements as an integral part of any new housing development.
I speak with residents every day about their hopes for the direction of our community; opinions vary, but rarely does a day go by that someone doesn’t ask why we don’t have our own version of Lynnfield’s MarketStreet, Medford’s Station Landing, or Somerville’s Assembly Row. I, too want a thriving, similar mixed-use project in Revere, but the success of those developments relies in large part on healthy residential components. Take a quick trip to any of those locations and you will notice that the commonality among them all of them is the market-rate residential component.
That is why I opposed last year’s short-sighted, politically motivated proposal for a “moratorium” on all new residential building. In addition to being impractical, illegal and an economic damp blanket, it precludes the creation of an Assembly Row or a MarketStreet, and blocks the much-needed development of senior housing stock. We will stand against poorly-conceived residential development, as I did as a city councilor and as I continue to do as Mayor. But opposition to that development wasn’t an opposition to all development. We must intelligently, carefully and rationally plan the city’s future.
I understand and appreciate the fact that historically, Revere has not always gotten the best deal for its residents. As a result, there is well-deserved skepticism about whether or not proposed development proposals will deliver on their promises because they have often not done so in the past. That is the trend we are looking to change by working collaboratively to deliver mixed-use projects with substantial shared community benefits.
If we reject this kind of constructive effort, that will send future investment elsewhere. It will send transit-oriented development to other cities along the MBTA corridor; and Revere will continue to miss out on the opportunities that other communities get from the jobs, revenue, and public infrastructure improvements that only such development brings. We cannot and will not allow that to happen.
I am confident that the Shaw’s proposal represents is the kind of project that Revere needs now; and it is one that also reflects substantial improvement and significant progress over what was proposed last year. After careful consideration, I welcome it; and I encourage you to do so as well.