The MBTA Blue Line: Overlooked Real Estate Corridor Turned Hotbed for Investment Update

08/02/17


By Matthew M. Robare

May 19th, 2017


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A map of the Blue Line route connecting Downtown Boston to East Boston and Revere.


Spanning from Bowdoin Station in the heart of Downtown Boston to the enticing Wonderland Station overlooking picturesque Revere Beach, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)’s Blue Line is the shortest and least-ridden of all the rapid transit lines linking Downtown Boston to outlying neighborhoods, yet also one of the Boston area’s most untapped transit-oriented real estate corridors. For years, the Blue Line has been something of a hidden treasure; land values and rents in East Boston and Revere remained consistently low, while residents were treated to fast, reliable rapid transit service to and from Downtown Boston.


East Boston and Revere have traditionally been overlooked given the nuisance factor of the adjacent Logan International Airport and the area’s reliance upon tunnels under Boston Harbor to reach Downtown Boston by car. However, in recent years, once-untouched neighborhoods of East Boston have been discovered by renters, condominium buyers and developers, who have been drawn to the relative real estate bargains, the convenience of the Blue Line for getting to and from Downtown and breathtaking views of the Boston skyline. Likewise, areas of Revere have become increasingly desirable for investment. Much recent development has already taken place along the Blue Line corridor, and there is potential for many more projects of significant scope.


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A view of the Boston skyline from Piers Park in East Boston. (Courtesy 617 Images)


Nearly 30 major developments are currently proposed, approved or under construction in East Boston’s Maverick Square, Jeffries Point and Eagle Hill districts. This past March, it was revealed that the 161-acre Suffolk Downs racetrack property, located in East Boston along the Blue Line, will be sold to The HYM Investment Group, a prominent developer involved with major Boston projects including Boston Landing, Bulfinch Crossing and NorthPoint, signaling that even more change is sure to come to East Boston.


The majority of development along the Blue Line is currently taking place around Maverick Station, capitalizing upon the area’s location directly on Boston Harbor just one subway stop from Downtown Boston. Important steps are being taken to enhance these new developments’ climate change resiliency, which will be critical moving forward as much of East Boston is built on fill and even a moderate change in sea level would result in increased flooding and bad storm surge.


Waterfront developments such as The Eddy, with 258 apartments and the new Reel House waterfront restaurant; Seville Boston Harbor, with 66 luxury condos and 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail; Portside at East Pier, with 176 apartments completed and 296 more on the way; and Clippership Wharf, with 478 residential units and 30,200 square feet of retail will be most heavily impacted by climate change, particularly sea level rise. The City of Boston added Article 37 to the zoning code in 2007, which addresses climate change resiliency. Article 37 mandates that new construction be at least LEED certifiable and encourages developers to make use of climate projections. Clippership Wharf, for example, is being built about eight feet above ground level in order to head off sea level rise. Many buildings, such as The Eddy and Portside at East Pier, are being built with mechanicals on the roof instead of in the basement for added sea level rise resiliency.


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A rendering of Clippership Wharf, which will feature 478 waterfront residences and 30,200 square feet of retail.


Orleans Street, running parallel to the East Boston Greenway, has proved a popular street for developers. Demolition has begun at 31 Orleans St, clearing the way for a four story, 14 unit building. The Residences at 245 Sumner Street, a 34 unit building with around 2,250 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, is located at the intersection of Orleans and Sumner Streets. Another project along the Orleans Street corridor is 47 Webster Street, a four story building with four apartments, a yoga studio and a new restaurant, Cunard Tavern, which opens this month. Cunard Tavern reflects East Boston’s history as a former stop for the Cunard Line, a steamship company which still operates the Queen Mary 2 and other cruise ships. A new five story, 23-unit apartment building with ground level parking was recently proposed at 114 Orleans Street, and a 19-unit condominium development, Everett Street Residences, was recently proposed at 10-16 Everett Street just off of Orleans Street.


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The newly proposed 114 Orleans Street, which would feature 19 condominium residences.


In Revere, the area around Wonderland Station is seeing significant development. Former surface parking lots surrounding the station are being transformed into Waterfront Square, an 8.8-acre, 1.3 million square foot beachfront mixed-use development featuring residential, retail and hotel space in addition to pedestrian-friendly plazas and open space. 194 apartment residences recently opened at Vanguard at Waterfront Square, the first phase of Waterfront Square, and 230 more residences will open this Spring at Waterfront Square’s next phase, Ocean 650 Apartments.


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The Ocean 650 Apartments are part of the Waterfront Square project in Revere.


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Waterfront Square development plan.


Across Route 1A from Wonderland, the 51.2-acre NECCO headquarters property, on which stands a 829,000-square-foot office and industrial building, was recently purchased by developers Atlantic Management and VMD Companies for $54.6 million. Development plans for the property have not yet been revealed. A sale of the 38-acre Wonderland dog track site, also located across from Wonderland Station, is also rumored to be in the works.


The ultimate prize on the Blue Line is Suffolk Downs. Not only is Suffolk Downs the largest single undeveloped parcel in the City of Boston, spanning 161 full acres, but it is served by two rapid transit stations, Suffolk Downs and Beachmont. HYM could build an entire new neighborhood at Suffolk Downs; with high lot coverages, narrow streets and little parking such as in Boston’s North End, thousands of units of housing could be built on the site, with a variety of ground-floor uses including retail, restaurants and entertainment venues. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits heights in the Suffolk Downs area to 125-175 feet, still allowing for the construction of buildings with considerable height and density.


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Aerial view of the Suffolk Downs site.


The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has considered extending the Blue Line north to Lynn from Wonderland, as well as within Downtown Boston from its current standalone terminus at Bowdoin Station to meet the Red Line at Charles/MGH Station. The latter would create fast, frequent train service from Downtown Lynn to Downtown Boston, supplement the existing MBTA Commuter Rail and bus service.


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A map of the proposed extension of the Blue Line north from Wonderland to Lynn.


Even without the Blue Line, Lynn, which is currently served by the commuter rail and buses, has started to see development. Gateway Residences on Washington, a 71-unit building with 2,000 square feet of retail space, is currently under construction in the heart of Downtown Lynn steps to the commuter rail station. On the Lynn waterfront overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, 350 residential units will be built at 254-258 Lynnway, a 5.4-acre parcel steps to the commuter rail. In addition, a $500 million, 65-acre development is planned at a former General Electric factory in Lynn. The development will feature 1,260 apartments and a newly expanded and publicly accessible Riverworks commuter rail station.


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254-258 Lynnway, which will be located on the Lynn waterfront.


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A locus map of the General Electric factory site and future Riverworks Station.


In Downtown Boston, the connection of the Blue and Red Lines would make the neighborhoods along the Blue Line even more attractive to workers looking for a faster commute to Downtown Boston or, given the Red Line access, Kendall Square and the Alewife Station area. With the Red/Blue Connector, businesses priced out of Cambridge and Boston could ultimately consider the Blue Line for cheaper, larger office space.

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