Transit Hubs: A Growing Lure for Developers

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By Joe Gose, May 23, 2017

Rail stations, it turns out, are delivering much more than passengers to surrounding neighborhoods.

Young workers who prefer to walk or take the train — rather than drive — to eat, work and shop are pushing up property values and reshaping the way developers approach their plans.

Few places make this shift more evident than the Somerville suburb of Boston. A new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority subway station was crucial to bringing Partners HealthCare to a new 825,000-square-foot office building at the Assembly Row complex last year, said Chris Weilminster, the president for the mixed-use division of the developer Federal Realty Investment Trust.

The station, which opened in 2014, has also driven Federal Realty’s broader development of Assembly Row, which broke ground in 2012. The trust has transformed a 45-acre industrial site — a barren expanse of broken concrete and scrub — into a neighborhood where housing, offices and restaurants rub shoulders along streets intended to be inviting to pedestrians. Public spaces throughout the development bump up against the Mystic River shoreline.

A second, $280 million phase will add commercial space and homes, including condominiums on top of a boutique hotel.

“You can’t underestimate the importance that the investment in transit infrastructure has had,” Mr. Weilminster said. “Assembly Row would not be what it is today without the station. We wouldn’t have built it.”

Putting a commercial development near a rail station also reduces the need to build parking, which can be costly. And even millennials who do not use the train may not require a parking space; many are indifferent toward car ownership, particularly given the rise of taxi and car service technologies like Uber and Zipcar.

Such trends give transit-oriented developments an edge over traditional suburban office parks when companies are searching for space, real estate experts say.

The growing number of transit-oriented developments has spurred rail projects in markets of all sizes. Areas that have experienced development near new rail systems or station openings include Fulton Market in Chicago; downtown Kansas City, Mo.; Austin, Tex.; and the RiNo neighborhood of Denver, to name a few.

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