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Development of golf course site begins

Nearly five years after Lynnfield voters approved a zoning change to allow a mixed-use development on the former Colonial Golf Course, the project is finally set to move forward.

In December, workers began demolishing the golf course buildings, opening the way for other site preparation to begin this spring. Once that work is done later this year, construction of the first phase of the development is due to start.

The project, which calls for a town center-style combination of retail, offices, and housing, was originally scheduled for construction in 2009, but stalled in the economic downturn.

“Good things come to those who wait,’’ said Ted Tye, managing partner of National Development, which is joining forces with WS Development on the project.

Tye said that while it has been a long wait, the delays have actually had a beneficial effect. “We’ve been able to improve the project,’’ he said, and learn from “similar projects around the country.

“A lot of the strategy here is to get the right mix of restaurants and retailers and entertainment to make this a place that will be really exciting,’’ he said.

Town Administrator William J. Gustus said Lynnfield officials, who support the project, are hopeful about it finally coming to fruition.

“We are optimistic that things will begin to move and that construction will begin out there some time this year,’’ he said.

The project, MarketStreet Lynnfield, calls for 395,000 square feet of retail space, 80,000 square feet of office space, and 180 luxury apartments – 25 percent of them affordable – on 80 acres of the former golf course.

The first phase, set for completion in late 2013, calls for 280,000 square feet of retail, 15,000 square feet of office space, and the 180 apartments.

The developers have agreed to set aside 7 acres for a local nonprofit to build 48 homes for people age 60 and over. That land will be deeded to the town, which in turn will sell it to the nonprofit Lynnfield Initiatives for Elders.

The agreement also calls for the developers to donate 103 acres to the town for a nine-hole municipal golf course and conservation. Lynnfield until last fall operated its own golf course on a portion of the former 18-hole Colonial course.

“There are almost no new projects of this type or scale that have been started around the country since 2008,’’ Tye said, citing the economy and the “chilling effect’’ it has had on large retail projects. “Fortunately, we are in a situation where we have a great site and excellent demographics.

“We are just trying to build off the success of Legacy Place in Dedham and Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, two similar developments that our development partner [WS Development] has opened and operates,’’ he said. “So we consider ourselves fortunate in that we are a project that has a path to move ahead.’’

The developers have announced three key tenants: a Whole Foods Market, a Legal Seafoods’ Legal C Bar, and Kings, which will open one of its bowling and dining establishments. Tye said the project is substantially leased.

Selectmen last year agreed to a request from the developers to revise the original agreement and allow for the phasing plan.

“We wanted to get a critical mass in there to get it going,’’ Tye said. “We think by building approximately 300,000 square feet in the first phase, it will be a great start to the center and give us the ability to complete it down the road.’’

The Planning Board, meanwhile, last year agreed to site plan changes to accommodate revisions to the design. Those changes include plans for a new market square that could include outdoor dining and other activities, along with more parking close to stores.

The revised plan also expands use of a planned green, which Tye said will be a “great place for people to sit and enjoy a concert . . . or sit with a blanket and have lunch.’’

The Colonial Golf Course and the adjacent 280-room Sheraton Colonial Hotel across the town line in Wakefield were purchased in 2006 in a joint venture by National Development and Pyramid Advisors, a company that took over management of the hotel.

In 2007, Lynnfield’s Town Meeting created an 80-acre smart-growth zoning district encompassing the proposed development site.

National Development in 2008 conducted initial site work that included widening the entry road from the Audubon Road entrance on the Wakefield side. But the company put the project on hold in early 2009 due to the economy.

Last year, National Development entered into its partnership with WS Development, while the hotel was spun off into separate ownership, according to Tye.

The state is completing road improvements in Lynnfield and Wakefield that have long been sought by the towns but were also intended to help advance the planned development. Funded with $5.9 million in federal stimulus money, the work has included intersection and signal improvements at exits 42 and 43 off Route 128.

Gustus said the development, when fully built, is expected to generate $1.75 million in added tax revenue for Lynnfield. Tye estimated the project will result in about 1,000 temporary construction jobs and about 1,000 permanent jobs.

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