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In Concord, residents wonder what comes next after sprawling prison closes

MCI-Concord in Concord on February 8, 2024.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Will it become a swank neighborhood of upscale shops and restaurants? Acres of new housing? An organic winery? Maybe a hotel?

And will the rotary please go away?

Since news broke that the state plans to close MCI-Concord, the sprawling men’s prison in tony Concord, questions have swirled about what might take its place. Amid the uncertainty, many residents are hopeful that whatever comes next will be a marked improvement over a working prison — and as a bonus might rid the town of its dreaded rotary.

“Of course, everyone has an idea,” said Marie Foley, president of the Concord Chamber of Commerce, who has fielded questions from dozens of residents and business owners since the Department of Correction announced Jan. 24 that it plans to close MCI-Concord by summer.

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“They’d like it to be retail, or they would like it to be some type of hotel,” said Foley, who also owns three shops in the town center. “Concord does not have many hospitality spots for people to spend the night.”

Eliot Martin, left, and his wife, Katie Luczai, stack bottles of wine at Marzae Wines in Acton on Feb. 8. They would like to open a winery in Concord. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Ask any Concord resident, and they’ll tell you the medium-security prison is prime real estate — adjacent to Route 2 and within walking distance of a commuter rail station, a rail trail, and West Concord shops. And many are ready to close the door on the prison that opened in 1878 and has long loomed over the rotary.

That will happen, though not for a while. Officials said the process could take years, and some historic structures will likely be preserved. But what becomes of the rest of the 182-acre property is up in the air.

“People are very interested in housing,” said state Senator Michael J. Barrett, a Democrat whose district includes Concord. “Others want to make sure that commercial and business opportunities aren’t completely ruled out.”

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One of those opportunities, he said with a slight chuckle, is a winery.

Eliot Martin founded Marzae Wines with his wife, Katie Luczai, after they began researching wines from the Northeast during the pandemic. They began producing their first vintage in August at a facility on the Acton/West Concord border.

They’re using grapes from Vermont and New York but want to grow their own, and they have their eyes on a couple of slopes adjacent to the prison.

Marie Foley, president of the Concord Chamber of Commerce, poses for a portrait in Revolutionary Concord.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“We would love to be able to plant a vineyard as soon as possible, because we think we can do interesting things that no one else in the region is really doing,” Martin said.

Concord resident Laura Davis said neighbors in West Concord have told her they’d like more grocery stores nearby. Davis, chair of the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee, said a mixed-use development would lend itself to establishing local transit service within Concord.

Housing is an obvious priority, given the housing crisis and the town’s efforts to comply with a state affordable housing requirement.

Deputy Town Manager Megan Zammuto hopes to align the redevelopment with both a master plan for the town’s future and a housing policy adopted last year.

“I think making sure whatever is built here is connected to the rest of the community is essential,” Zammuto said.

Though many welcome the impending closure, it’s “bittersweet” for some, according to Barrett.

“Some wonderful people in Concord have spent their entire adult lives providing tutoring and other forms of outreach to MCI-Concord,” he said. Roughly 300 men remain incarcerated at the prison.

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Concord Prison Outreach, a 56-year-old nonprofit that supports incarcerated people, said it would honor its commitments at the facility while preparing to shift its focus to seven other Massachusetts prisons where it offers programs.

“We see this as a pivotal moment to rethink, rebrand, and expand our mission to make an even greater impact across the state,” Sam Williams, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.

Eliot Martin, left, and his wife Katie Luczai taste and top a barrel wine at Marzae Wines in Acton, MA .Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union has opposed the closure, calling on Governor Maura Healey to pause the plan and conduct an impact study. The prison employs 330 workers, most of them correction officers, according to the DOC.

The union said in a Jan. 25 letter to Healey that after maximum-security MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole closed last June, and the men incarcerated there were transferred to Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, disciplinary issues and assaults on correction officers increased at the Lancaster maximum-security facility.

“With Concord closing, we are concerned that inmates there and at other facilities will be re-classified to lower security facilities,” Kevin Flanagan, legislative representative for the union, said in the letter, according to a copy posted by Boston 25 News. “When this happens, it puts officers and inmates at risk.”

Williams and Flanagan did not respond to inquiries from the Globe.

Some hope the transformation can extend beyond the prison walls to the adjacent Depression-era rotary. That section of Route 2, which divides Concord and creates backups and safety hazards, could be addressed more easily if the prison redevelopment is aligned with a Department of Transportation study looking to improve the roadway.

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“The Route 2 rotary is one of the most significant trouble spots in terms of traffic congestion and accidents in our region,” said state Representative Simon Cataldo, a Democrat whose district includes the prison.

Details of the redevelopment process are murky. Healey’s plan, which is subject to approval by the Legislature, would shift control of the prison to the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and give the agency several options — including selling the land to the town for $1 and splitting the resale money.

The property could be subdivided and would likely include housing, officials at the division said.

Concord officials cautioned that any decisions are still far away, and it’s too early to predict how the site might be repurposed.

“We’re in communication with some of the state agencies that have jurisdiction over it, and everybody is feeling their way at this point,” Concord Select Board Chair Henry Dane said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.