A New Future: Suffolk Downs Redevelopment Approved by BPDA Board

The largest single development in Boston’s history was approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) last Thursday.

After a seven hour long marathon BPDA board meeting with housing advocates calling for the BPDA to delay the vote, the board unanimously approved HYM Development’s project to transform the historic 161-acre Suffolk Downs site in Eastie and Revere into a mixed-use development. 

A street view of the entrance near Suffolk Downs MBTA station that shows the vision for the mixed use development on the historic 161-acre Suffolk Downs site.

The project, which will be one of the largest developments in Boston history, will include 10,000 units of housing, almost three million square feet of office and retail space, and create an estimated 18,810 new construction jobs and 22,000 new permanent jobs. 

According to HYM and the BPDA Suffolk Downs will deliver the largest amount of affordable units for a development through 930 on-site affordable units and 500 off-site units, totaling approximately 20 percent of its units. In addition, the project will be contributing $400,000 to a rent stabilization fund to assist local residents with rent payments during this COVID-19 crisis. 

“We are pleased to have the confidence and approval of the Board, and grateful to all the members of the East Boston and Revere communities who have participated in the public review process and helped shape the project over the last several years,” said Thomas O’Brien, founding partner and managing director of The HYM Investment Group. “We have a tremendous opportunity to create this new neighborhood from the ground up, and for Suffolk Downs to serve as a model of how to thoughtfully design a modern development with climate resiliency, transit access, housing and public space in mind. We look forward to moving ahead towards building a new future at Suffolk Downs, creating housing, improved transit, and jobs for residents and the Greater Boston community.”  

Thursday’s vote marks the end of a three-year community review process, during which HYM has held over 450 meetings with community group members, elected officials and staff, and neighbors to hear and incorporate community feedback.  

“East Boston has a long, rich history of community advocacy,’ said City Councilor Lydia Edwards. “The last few years of community meetings, workshops, information sessions, emails, phone calls, and negotiation around the Suffolk Downs development is the latest chapter in that history. The BPDA approval and if the project is subsequently approved by the Boston Zoning Commission, it will mark the end of one fight and the beginning of another.”

Edwards said she will now shift focus to ensuring that commitments are met and expanded upon. 

“The commitments are floors, not ceilings,” said Edwards. “I have faith that the community will continue to be engaged on Suffolk Downs for the next 20 years and beyond. I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together over the past few years.”

After the vote, Edwards highlighted some of the wins for the neighborhood throughout the community process. They include:

• An increase from 13% to 20% in the total affordable housing

• A $5 million housing stabilization fund independently controlled by East Boston with continued funding over the course of the project

• A wider range of incomes and more family sized units

• Immediate rent relief for East Boston families up to $800,000, with $400,000 coming immediately after the vote

• The site will be held to the standards of the upcoming fair housing amendment to the zoning code which will ensure housing for seniors, working families, and people with disabilities at the site for generations

• Publicly owned streets and sidewalks. Park space deeded to the city. First amendment protections on privately owned publicly accessible space.

• A Carbon Net Zero feasibility study with a commitment to pursue funding to implement the results of the study

• Updates to city zoning regarding environmental standards will apply to the site

• A Belle Isle Marsh visitor impact study and funding for an additional ranger at the marsh

• A Project Labor Agreement to guarantee union jobs for the construction

• $1 million for workforce development and ESL classes for East Boston families

• $1 million for apprenticeship programs to get East Boston residents into the trades 

• Expanded vocational education for East Boston residents and priority in the hiring process

• Daycare facilities on-site to support our families

• $200,000 for a learn-to-swim program for East Boston children

• An Implementation IAG to ensure compliance with agreements

• Continuous review to ensure commitments are being met before new buildings can be built

“None of the above would have been possible without the continued engagement and advocacy of East Boston residents,” said Edwards. “Again, let’s remember that these are only minimums and with every building we can fight for and ask for more. I am proud to represent this community and look forward to continuing the fight over the coming years.”

In addition to planning an infrastructure that encourages walking and biking as viable transit options, HYM has committed $20 million in funding for public transit improvements in East Boston and Revere that will go towards Blue Line enhancements, Beachmont Station upgrades, Suffolk Downs Station reconstruction, and Better Bus improvements, and $41 million in funding for Route 1A upgrades and intersection improvements. 

In addition, HYM has committed to funding the annual operating costs of an additional Blue Line train for 15 years and will include the design and construction of a new major extension of the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway.

“I am deeply grateful to everyone who participated in meetings, made calls, wrote their elected officials, and shared their concerns throughout the last three years of community feedback and negotiations,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “As your State Representative, I have worked hard to amplify your voices and make sure that Suffolk Downs benefits our community, not just out-of-state investors. I am thankful to my colleagues, Councilor Edwards and Senator Boncore, for their steadfast partnership in these negotiations. As a result, East Boston achieved some important wins in this agreement, including additional investments in affordable housing, public transportation, and the environment. Like you, I am also concerned about what Suffolk Downs will mean for our community. While this project was approved, our work is not over. Now we must ensure that the commitments made to the community are fulfilled and expanded upon.

As we continue in this process, I am committed to stand by Eastie residents, to hear your concerns, and advocate for your priorities. We are building a new neighborhood, and together we must ensure that the future of Suffolk Downs is the future that we want for East Boston.”

Senator Joseph Boncore, who represents Eastie and Revere, added, “HYM’s development at Suffolk Downs has the potential to transform the face of East Boston over the next 20 years,” said Boncore, who represents Eastie and Revere. “Recognizing this potential, our delegation has worked to ensure this project meets the affordable housing and transportation needs of our community. Still, given the long term nature of the development, it is critical that we continue to work together as a community in partnership with the City of Boston to continue to hold HYM accountable to these needs.”

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