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Assembly Square complex in the works

Site of former cinemas could house next big project in Somerville

Assembly Square in Somerville is booming with new development. Now a longtime landowner is hoping to get in on the act.

Somerville Office Associates is proposing to redevelop a 9-acre parcel as housing, a hotel, and up to 1 million square feet of office and lab space there. The property is in front of the newly built Assembly Row complex and was the site of the old Assembly Square Cinemas, which were torn down last year.

The owners are trying to capitalize on the success of the neighboring development, where Federal Realty Investment Trust has built four full blocks of retail and apartments at Assembly Row and recently began site work on another.


Next door, Partners HealthCare has begun construction of a complex that will be as large as 1.1 million square feet, including administrative offices for 4,500 employees.

A new MBTA Orange Line station also recently opened at Assembly Square.

Somerville is also poised to benefit if rising office rents in red-hot Kendall Square in Cambridge continue to pressure companies to look for less-expensive space nearby.

The company is looking to get a major tenant to commit to a portion of the office space. It hopes to start construction as soon as next summer but has yet to file plans with the city. Managing principal and developer Michael Ades said he has talked with several lenders interested in the project and was confident he could line up financing, once the project is approved.

“It’s been our intention for many years to redevelop that site if the opportunity was there and the market was there,” Ades said. “With what’s going on in the Boston metro and in Somerville and Assembly Square, it behooves us now to do it.”

31assembly - Map of Assembly Square development.
31assembly - Map of Assembly Square development.

The company has owned the property since the late 1970s, Ades said. It currently holds a four-story office building surrounded by parking lots. Last year, the company tore down a long-empty Loews movie theater and began designing a redevelopment plan.


The details are still in flux, but Ades’s current plan is to build condos, a hotel, and two office or lab buildings of about 500,000 square feet each, along with ground-floor retail spaces — about 1.2 million square feet of construction in all. He’s hoping to attract companies moving from Cambridge or downtown Boston that want good highway and MBTA access.

“We feel that there’s very strong potential for biotech and lab space. Also for tech companies,” he said. “We’re trying to move as expeditiously as possible.”

Ades’s property falls within a 73-acre swath that Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone is pushing to redevelop now that the first phases of the Assembly Square transformation are well along. Still, city officials have little to say about the proposal because Ades’s group has not submitted anything. Somerville’s economic development director, Ed O’Donnell, said the city has had early discussions about the project, but without more details it’s hard to know what to make of the proposal.

“The possibility of 1 million square feet of office and lab space with ground-floor amenities would be of great interest to the city,” O’Donnell said. “We’d look forward to the opportunity to work with them once they’ve filed a plan. That hasn’t occurred yet.”

So far, the ideas floated by Ades generally fit with what Somerville wants to see happen at Assembly Square, O’Donnell said, particularly the office development. But the city wants to do a more detailed master plan for the area, much as it did for Assembly Row next door. That could take time.


“This is a very extensive economic development opportunity with a lot of moving parts,” O’Donnell said.

Ades said his group is close to finalizing a master plan for its site. And he thinks the nearby Partners building proves the case for high-end office space in Somerville. But the sooner he lands a major tenant, the easier the project will be to launch. So his company began marketing the site — a brochure calls it “the jewel of Somerville” — about two months ago.

There’s been good interest so far, said Phil Giunta, a broker at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank who’s working on the project. But Giunta acknowledged it will be hard to land a tenant before the site wins city approvals. Still, there’s a lot of momentum in Assembly Square these days.

“It’s an extremely desirable area right now,” he said.

Somerville’s Assembly Square has seen recent redevelopment, including shopping, housing, and a new Orange Line train stop.
Somerville’s Assembly Square has seen recent redevelopment, including shopping, housing, and a new Orange Line train stop.Clennon L. King for The Boston Globe/Clennon L. King

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.