Looking at the Suffolk Downs Project

The Suffolk Downs Master Plan proposal by the HYM Investment Group, the new owners of the huge site, holds enormous promise for the East Boston and Revere communities to dramatically enhance the quality of life of their 100,000 residents. The HYM proposal would transform Suffolk Downs into a 161-acre, mixed-use development that would generate thousands of new jobs associated with retail, office, labs, hotel and other uses, and create about 7,000 new housing units of a variety of types including townhouses, apartments, condominiums and senior housing to meet the needs of surrounding neighborhoods. These new homes and businesses would partially replace the thousands of homes and businesses that East Boston has lost over time to many huge public projects such as Logan Airport, the Sumner/Callahan Tunnels, Route 1A et al.

The Suffolk Downs Master Plan proposal is also notable for its commitment to designate one quarter of its total site development, 40 acres, to publicly-accessible open space which will include wetlands, a 15-acre central common, a landscaped amphitheater, active and passive recreation acres, playgrounds, dog parks and several neighborhood plazas. This major open space system is designed to connect the adjacent East Boston and Revere neighborhoods with bicycle path and walkable neighborhood street networks which will also serve to provide enhanced connectivity to surrounding regional assets such as the East Boston Greenway, Belle Isle Marsh, Constitution Beach and Revere Beach.

The HYM Suffolk Downs proposal would be a true Transit Oriented Development (TOD) community by capitalizing on its immediate proximity to both the Beachmont and Suffolk Downs MBTA Blue Line stations, and inclusion of bicycle stations and walkways throughout the site to provide direct connections between the T stations and on-site businesses and residences. This TOD priority will maximize transit access to the entire site for employees and residents and minimize vehicular access.

The Suffolk Downs Master Plan fully addresses current awareness and concern about the reality of sea-level rise by pro-actively planning for the effects of future climate change, storm surge, precipitation and extreme temperatures. Major portions of the project site will be raised and re-graded to provide protection against storm surge and potential sea-level rise impacts. A network of open spaces will be strategically designed to accommodate potential flooding impacts associated with sea-level rise, and to provide further protection to the nearby buildings and areas outside the project site.

A new and complementary potential opportunity has been added to the Suffolk Downs Master Plan proposal in the form of the Amazon search for its new HQ2 facility. Both Boston and Revere have designated Suffolk Downs as their preferred site in response to Amazon’s HQ2. It is the only single-owner site within the Boston metropolitan area that meets Amazon’s site selection criteria including direct access to public transportation and proximity to an international airport. If Amazon selects Suffolk Downs as their HQ2 facility the economic benefits to East Boston and Revere would be enormous, especially in terms of new job opportunities for local residents. Amazon has a demonstrated history of commitment to environmental priorities including public transportation that would be an excellent fit for the HYM Suffolk Downs Master Plan. The Amazon HQ2 site selection decision timeframe is a closely guarded secret, but indications are that it will occur sooner rather than later.

Regardless of Amazon’s final determination the HYM Suffolk Downs Master Plan proposal’s benefits to East Boston and Revere are not only intrinsically immense but important also because of their value in preventing once and for all the development of Suffolk Downs’ 161 acres for purposes detrimental to the best interests of these wonderful communities.

John Vitagliano is a former BTD commissioner and Massport board member

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