In the leasing office of the West of Chestnut apartments, under construction in Quincy Center, there is a sign promoting the complex as “The Biggest Thing to Happen To Quincy Ever.”
Despite the small print noting that the “City of Presidents” is home to two US presidents — and is the birthplace of Dunkin’ Donuts — the sign is only partly tongue-in-cheek.
The $60 million project is the first big piece of the long-promised redevelopment of Quincy Center to actually happen: 169 apartments on a site that sat vacant since the push to revive this old downtown fizzled. The first phase is set to open this spring.
As work crews fitted out apartments on a recent morning, developer Kyle Warwick with Gate Residential showed off a one-bedroom unit and described his vision for the place. Young professionals. “Destination” restaurants. A lively — and accessible to the public — courtyard in the middle.
“The buzz starts happening here,” Warwick said.
This current revival is a noticeable shift from the so-called New Quincy Center plan the city launched more than a decade ago, when it partnered with a single developer, New York-based Site-Works, on a $1.6 billion remake of 50 acres. That deal collapsed two years ago, leaving an empty hole smack downtown. And it prompted City Hall and local partners such as Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Co., which owned the site, to try a different approach.
“Instead of one master developer, this is going parcel by parcel, piece by piece,” said Chris Walker, a spokesman for and top aide to Mayor Thomas Koch. “We expect to have several more developers involved as we move forward.”
The city is making the streets more attractive by widening sidewalks and burying above-ground power lines. Quincy Mutual partnered with Gate Residential to build West of Chestnut on its empty lot. Nearby, other developers are starting to push ahead, too.
Down Hancock Street, demolition began on a former Woolworth’s earlier in February to make way for a pair of condo buildings. City officials are negotiating with a developer for a 15-story residential building on a parking lot near Quincy District Court. Another developer has plans for a hotel on Hancock Street.
All told, there are about 500 units of housing either proposed or under construction in Quincy Center, Walker said. City officials expect that number to double over the next several years.
“We have some momentum for the first time in, really, decades,” he said. “People are starting to see the value of what’s here.”
Some of that is tied to Quincy Center’s proximity to public transit, and the opportunity to live or work in a walkable downtown just 20 minutes on the Red Line from South Station. Some of it is rents that are significantly cheaper than in Boston.
West of Chestnut, which opens in May, will rent one-bedrooms at $1,900 a month, a third the cost of comparable buildings that have opened recently in Jamaica Plain and Allston. Warwick is hoping to woo young professionals who want high-end amenities, without quite-so-high-end rents.
“We can’t be Cambridge. We can’t be Southie,” he said. “But we’re trying to be luxury, at a discount.”
It’s a strategy that Gate Residential and other housing developers are trying in cities along the T, such as Chelsea and Medford, where John Hancock paid $90 million in February for a 222-unit apartment building — a very Boston price of more than $400,000 per unit — near the Orange Line Wellington station.
But Warwick said for such projects to be successful, they need more than just housing. Gate Residential is bringing two restaurants, a fitness center, and a coffee shop to the ground floor of West of Chestnut. More restaurants are opening nearby, including an outpost of Chinatown’s Pho Pasteur and a high-end pizza place connected to acclaimed chef Barbara Lynch.
To old standbys such as Leo Keka, who opened Albanian restaurant Alba on Hancock Street 15 years ago, the resurgence is quite welcome, even if it has been a long time coming.
“People come in and say, ‘I haven’t seen Quincy in a long time. It’s changing so much,’ ” said Keka, who has expansion plans of his own. “It’s very exciting.”
That energy is spilling over to the office market, said Sean Kenealy, president of Key Realty, where the vacancy rate has fallen below 7 percent. And retail storefronts are leasing quickly, some to national chains.
“There’s just a great vibe in downtown right now,” he said. “You’re seeing years and years of work coming to fruition.”
There might be more coming. Quincy Mutual owns another parking lot across the street from West of Chestnut where Gate is planning a second phase, dubbed “East of Chestnut.”
And with 220 apartments, it could just be the next “Biggest Thing to Happen To Quincy Ever.”