Future of Weymouth huge development is unclear after summer of setbacks
When the developer of the former South Weymouth air base landed a Dutch robotics company two years ago, it marked a major milestone for the 1,500-acre property: finally, a major commercial tenant.
But construction on what would be the US campus of Prodrive Technologies still hasn’t started, and the developer of the project now known as Union Point has yet to find another big tenant. Instead, financial problems and infighting between the developer’s two main partners have put much of the work there on hold.
Meanwhile, one of the developer’s lenders successfully won a court injunction, essentially blocking the company from selling any parcels until a $2.5 million loan is paid off.
For a project infamous for false starts over two decades, this past summer was a particularly brutal time. As a result, Union Point, one of the biggest redevelopment efforts in Eastern Massachusetts, is still largely a big blank canvas.
It now appears that the developer, LStar, is turning to an outside partner to help shore up Union Point, according to Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund. In late September, Hedlund sent LStar a letter threatening to remove the company if the developer did not reverse its “inability to transact business on this project” within 30 days.
But prior to meeting with LStar executives Tuesday, Hedlund was hopeful LStar would have a partner that would reenergize the redevelopment.
“There was probably a lack of focus on what would have been a reality for this market,” Hedlund said. “We haven’t given up.”
The mayor could not be reached after Tuesday’s meeting. LStar would only say that it has “a solid plan in place to move Union Point forward.’’
Union Point, once known as SouthField, reaches across parts of three communities: Weymouth, Abington, and Rockland. LStar and its predecessors have had some success on the residential front. About 1,200 units of housing went up over the past decade, and some 2,200 residents call the former air base home — many drawn by a commuter rail stop within walking distance, and the promise of a busy minicity with millions of square feet of entertainment, office buildings, shopping, and restaurants within Union Point.
But that bigger buildout has long eluded LStar and its predecessors. Inadequate water and sewer options have been partially blamed, though the developers say they have design and permitting plans in the works for an on-site wastewater treatment plant and water connections to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority system.
“This is a huge opportunity for the region, if not the state. You don’t have many of these large master-planned communities in a great location,” said April Anderson Lamoureux a local economic development consultant. But, “until they get a handle on the infrastructure, the commercial development is going to struggle.”
LStar had pitched Union Point to Amazon for its second headquarters, but was dropped from the online retail giant’s HQ2 race early in the competition. The developer also aggressively pursued the Pawtucket Red Sox to relocate the team’s minor league park here, but chairman Larry Lucchino and his team decided to move to Worcester instead.
Hedlund said he’s not happy LStar hasn’t started a single construction project this year within the Weymouth portion of Union Point.
Among the things that have made Hedlund and other local officials concerned: the breakdown between the two partners behind LStar, Kyle Corkum and Steve Vining. Corkum had been the top point person for Union Point. But in June, Vining had Corkum removed from overseeing the project. Corkum was replaced by another LStar executive, Gerry Kavanaugh, a longtime political operative and former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth official who has pitched the location as a satellite campus for local universities.
The feuding between Vining and Corkum went public with the filing of a lawsuit in September in North Carolina, where LStar is headquartered. In that suit, first reported by The Patriot Ledger, Vining accused Corkum of mismanaging the Weymouth project and misappropriating “several million dollars” from LStar and its subsidiaries. In an e-mail Vining sent in July and included in the lawsuit, he blamed Union Point’s “dire straits” on Corkum’s “mismanagement and wrongful acts,” and told him to stop interfering in the project.
The lawsuit describes Corkum as a “former managing member” of LStar; Corkum disputes that assertion, saying he still owns a majority stake in LStar.
In an interview, Corkum also denied the allegations in the lawsuit, placing the blame for Union Point’s misfortunes on Kavanaugh and Vining. “They have grossly mismanaged this project and put it in financial jeopardy,” Corkum said.
As the fighting between the partners intensified, one of its lenders, Berardi Lending, pressed for repayment of a $2.5 million loan. In late August, Berardi won a court order blocking LStar from selling or transferring any parcels at Union Point until it repays the loan.
Meanwhile, plans are still in the works for the Prodrive complex, although the first building was supposed to be well underway by now. Vining said it has been delayed largely because of redesign work.
Two years ago, Prodrive’s arrival was greeted with much hoopla — and with public subsidies. Weymouth offered Prodrive property tax breaks worth $4.7 million over 20 years, and the Baker administration offered nearly $1.4 million in tax incentives, in return for the promise of 110 new jobs. (Prodrive, at the time, said it would employ as many as 300 people in Weymouth by 2020.) Prodrive hasn’t yet claimed any of the state tax credits.
Vining said he now expects Prodrive to sign a lease within the next 30 days. “I would say we would have all liked it to go a little bit faster,” Vining said. “There are some things we have waiting in the wings here, and we expect the commercial growth of the project is going to be pretty strong, frankly, over the next 12 months.”
Peter Forman, chief executive of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said local business leaders remain optimistic about the project despite the latest setbacks. “I realize commercial development is a slow process, but it’s still viable,” Forman said.