The transformation begins. Westwood Station at University Avenue on Route 128 will now be known as University Station. A new team, led by New England Development along with Eastern Real Estate, National Development/Charles River Realty Investors, and Clarion Partners recently purchased the 135- acre prime development site. The first phase of the new University Station is expected to open in 2014. The project had been on hold since the market crashed and the previous development team of CC&F/ Commonfund sold the property in 2010 after its lender, Anglo Irish Bank, went bankrupt and was acquired by the Irish government.
While this latest announcement is exciting for the region, credit is due to CC&F for amassing such a large tract of land with direct access to Route 128 and a major transit station and permitting a 4 million square foot, mixed-use, transit-oriented, energy efficient master plan. With an improving economy, the time is right for this landmark project to move forward.
So, what has changed beside the name?
- The project will remain a mixed-use project comprised of retail, housing, office and hotel uses. The market, however, has clearly changed and appears ready for multi-family rental housing and a retail center. It will remain to be seen how much of the development will be office and hotel and when that could happen.
- A supermarket is almost certain to occupy space here. Again, this is not a change in plans, especially with Wegmans expected to be the designee for this location. It will not be surprising if other local grocery store chains continue to oppose such a proposal.
- The state will continue to invest in the highway infrastructure improvements in and around the University Avenue/Route 128 intersection.
- The project will be a multi-modal transit oriented development, taking advantage of the Amtrak/MBTA Commuter Rail station and Interstate Route 95 and State Route 128. Before Westwood Station’s plans, the density of development at this location was one of the lowest of any intersection along Route 128, underutilizing the excellent transit opportunities.
- Although, probably too early to have financing in place, the debt market is sure to be open to investments such as this. Now is a very different economy from the late 2008 economic disaster that began with sub-prime home loans, led to debt swap defaults, and ended in the near collapse of the financial markets.
With the development team set, a strong financing market in place, a growing demand for retail and residential space, and a prime location for corporate build-to-suit office sites, University Station should be the first mega-project to break ground within the next 12 months. Congratulations and best of luck to all involved!