Assembly Square is a neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts. It is located along the west bank of the Mystic River, bordered by Ten Hills and Massachusetts Route 28 to the north and the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown to the south. The district's western border runs along Interstate 93. Located 2.5 miles (4.0 km) from downtown Boston, the sprawling 143 acres (580,000 m2) parcel is named for a former Ford Motor Company plant that closed in 1958.
The area is home to Assembly Row, a 45 acres (180,000 m2) mixed-use, smart growth development that broke ground in April 2012. It includes premium retail outlets, restaurants, residential space, state-of-the-art office and research and development space, a 12-screen cinema and a 200-room hotel. The area is also home to the Assembly Station, an MBTA Orange Line mass transit station. Other amenities include a marina, revitalized waterfront park, bike paths and other green space.
Assembly Row's first stage of development was the Assembly Square Marketplace. Completed in 2006, the marketplace is a "power center" that comprises retail stores Christmas Tree Shops, A.C. Moore, Sports Authority, Staples, TJMaxx, Kmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
In the 17th century, the southern bank of the Mystic River, a low-lying tidal marsh and wetlands area bordered by uplands further south in the current Ten Hills neighborhood, was avoided by the early settlers because of poorly draining clay soils. The highland site on Ten Hills offered better agricultural land and the first Governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, chose it for the site of his farmstead. The location of the Ten Hills site on the Mystic River made it a natural choice for the transport of people and goods, and the first seagoing vessel built in this region was launched from there.
Trade and transport led to an expansion of the area’s economy and population. The construction of the Middlesex Canal at the end of the 18th century accelerated this process. By the early 1800s, there were 10 shipyards along the Mystic River. The area had developed into a transportation corridor from Boston to the region. At mid-century, rail surpassed the canal as the most efficient mode of transport and the construction of two railroads across Somerville in 1845 and 1854, along with the opening of a station at Sullivan Square, brought even more development to the area.
It was not until the construction of the McGrath Highway in 1925 that full industrial development, albeit short-lived, took hold in Somerville. The Ford Motor Company built an assembly plant here in 1926, which would, over time, lend Assembly Square its name. Additionally, the Boston and Maine Railroad also owned large tracts of land in the district and the land was criss-crossed by spur tracks. With both road and rail connections, the strong transportation infrastructure was a major draw, and other industries soon followed, including First National Stores, a retail supermarket chain, which opened a grocery manufacturing and distribution center in the area.
Within the next 30 years, Assembly Square remained one of the largest employment centers in the region. However, in 1958, as a result of the failure of the Edsel Division of the Ford Motor Company and the change of Ford’s manufacturing strategies, the Assembly Plant was closed. It hurt the area both economically and physically, taking away hundreds of jobs and leaving a vast complex of empty manufacturing buildings. First National moved into the Assembly Plant site shortly after Ford's departure.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, industries were already making the choice to move to suburban locations along newly constructed highways, where land costs were lower. The construction of the elevated Northern Expressway portion of Interstate 93 in the 1970s segregated the uses on both sides of the highway and significantly reduced its access and visibility from the surrounding areas. In 1976, First National closed its operations, marking the end of Assembly Square as a major industrial employment center.
In 1979, the City of Somerville declared the Assembly Square District to be blighted and substandard, and adopted the "Assembly Square Revitalization Plan," a 20-year urban renewal plan, in an effort to assist in redevelopment. Under the direction of the plan, the area’s focus began to shift to retail, the cornerstone of which was the rehabilitation of the former auto assembly plant into a retail mall, Assembly Square Mall. The next year the shopping center opened with 360,000 square feet (33,000 m2) of retail space, and Kmart and Jordan Marsh as anchors. It was like many smaller “dumbbell” style malls of its era, with an anchor at each end of the mall and a straight hallway between, and a food court in the center. A six-screen movie theater and a four-story office building were also built on the site. Two new roadways, Assembly Square Drive and New Road, were constructed to improve access.
Despite a lack of a cohesive master plan and funding, Assembly took a big step with the arrival of a Home Depot on an 11 acres (4.5 ha; 0.017 sq mi) in 1992 on a site next to the mall, bringing a big-box store to the area for the first time. At the mall, the anchor stores remained the same until 1996 when Macy's acquired the Jordan Marsh chain and shuttered the store. By 1999, the mall had been closed off except for Kmart and Building 19, which had the year prior moved into the old Jordan Marsh space.
In 1998, Mystic View Task Force, a citizens group, formed to advocate for community interests in future Assembly projects. A vision emerged from the forum, of a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development that could provide 30 additional acres of usable open space, over 30,000 diverse job, and over $30 million in new net tax revenue. Mystic View presented evidence that, developed as an office-based neighborhood with supporting retail and housing, Assembly Square could easily achieve those goals. But in order to do that, big-box behemoths — which had dominated much of the Assembly discussion — could not be an option.
In 1999, the internationally known Swedish home furnishings store IKEA purchased two former industrial sites on the Mystic River waterfront. IKEA obtained permits for its proposed retail store; however, the permits were challenged in court by community members opposed to a "big box" use on the waterfront, with the result that redevelopment of the site was stalled for a number of years.
Smart growth development
In 2000, the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) acquired title to a 9.3-acre former railroad parcel in Assembly Square and issued an RFP for developers. At the same time, the City initiated an extensive public planning process, producing the "2000 Planning Study" which set out a new vision for Assembly Square as a 24-hour mixed use district with residential, retail, office, cinema, restaurant, hotel, and recreational open space uses. In 2002, the SRA and the City adopted a 20-year extension of the urban renewal plan with the goal of transforming Assembly Square into the lively, mixed-use district described in the 2000 Planning Study. Assembly Square was rezoned to promote the mixed-use concept, and design guidelines and a design review committee were created provide additional assistance in helping foster the new vision.
In 2005, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT), a Maryland-based real estate investment trust and developer, purchased the defunct Assembly Square Mall along with other properties in Assembly Square. FRIT quickly redeveloped the existing mall into the Assembly Square Marketplace. The next year the strip mall opened, with Christmas Tree Shop, A.C. Moore, Sports Authority, Staples, Inc. and other big-box stores.
Later in 2006, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone aided in bringing FRIT and IKEA together to come up with a feasible redevelopment plan consistent with the new vision. FRIT and IKEA agreed to trade parcels, moving IKEA inland from its initial site and leaving the waterfront open for FRIT to create pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development. This new plan was welcomed by those who had previously opposed the IKEA development. The land swap was executed in October 2009 solidifying the vision of the district.
After more than a decade of planning, IKEA formally pulled out of the Assembly Square project in July 2012, stating that its Stoughton store was sufficient to serve the state. The next year, it was announced that FRIT would purchase the 12 acres (49,000 m2) from IKEA. This sale means that FRIT owns nearly all of the property at Assembly Square.
After two years of preparing the former brownfields site, ground was broken in April 2012 for two residential apartment blocks, a new main street, and a new MBTA transit infill station. The apartment buildings, the Avalon at Assembly Square (195 units) and AVA Somerville (253 units), are designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects and developed by AvalonBay Communities Inc., a US-based Real Estate Investment Trust and manager of luxury apartments.
Ownership and occupants
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The first Legoland Discovery Centre in New England and seventh in the United States is located on the property. The indoor family entertainment center based on Lego construction toys is housed in a 44,000 square feet (4,100 m2) space opened in Spring 2014. In addition to Legoland, Nike has signed a deal to open a store at Assembly, as did the French cookware maker Le Creuset. Other retailers will include Brooks Brothers, women’s clothier Chico's, and the ice cream shop J.P. Licks. AMC Theaters is also opening a 12-screen cinema on the property. Among the new restaurants will be the Mexican eatery Papagayo, and Earls Kitchen + Bar, a Canadian bistro that will open its first Northeast US location at Assembly Row.
In December 2013, Partners HealthCare System, the state's largest hospital and physician organization, announced it will consolidate administrative operations from 14 sites in eastern Massachusetts and move 4,500 non-hospital employees into 700,000 square feet (65,000 m2) of a new office building set to open in late 2016. While the company’s executive headquarters will remain in Boston, offices throughout the region, including locations in Charlestown, Wellesley and Needham will close.
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- Assembly Row project site
- Developer website
- City of Somerville page
- MBTA Project for Assembly Square Orange Line station