Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo is about to figure out what life after Amazon HQ2 means for his home city.
Arrigo, like the rest of us, officially learned last month that Amazon will divide its new headquarters between Queens, N.Y., and Arlington, Va. It wasn’t exactly a surprise that the Boston-Revere bid, a finalist in the HQ2 sweepstakes, didn’t make the cut. Arrigo hadn’t heard from Amazon for months.
This North Shore city of 54,000 could badly use some new job opportunities. The Wonderland dog track is long gone. The Suffolk Downs track is on its last legs, its once-busy horse barns gone quiet. And the giant Necco candy factory abruptly closed in July, after the company’s private-equity owners ran up the debt. That left two supermarkets and a movie theater as the city’s largest employers.
That’s one pressing reason Arrigo is embarking on a new master plan, to create what would be Revere’s first comprehensive planning document in five decades. City officials and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council have talked about doing this for a few years. Now they’re getting serious. About a month ago, the council kicked off a “listening tour” to meet with community leaders, with the first public forum planned for Jan. 15. (The master plan will cost about $130,000 to complete by early 2020, with the MAPC paying for about a third and Revere picking up the rest.)
As is typical, Revere’s master plan won’t focus solely on economic development. But attracting big employers could hinge on other areas, such as transportation and education. Planners will take a closer look at a potential commuter rail stop that would connect the Necco and Wonderland sites, for example, and possible school programs that could better prepare students for the city’s future workforce.
Still, economic development will be front and center. The biggest potential opportunity: Suffolk Downs, a 161-acre property that straddles the Revere-Boston line with two MBTA Blue Line stops on its fringe. Its role in the Amazon bid accelerated the permitting process. Track developer HYM Investment Group will start construction in 2019 on a 1.4-million-square-foot, mixed-used project near Beachmont Station. That first phase will mostly consist of housing, with some restaurant and retail space and a co-working area. But HYM has committed to ensuring that half of its Revere construction will be devoted to commercial uses by the time the site is fully redeveloped.
Hotels are big in Revere now: At least a half dozen are fully permitted, or are in the final stages. Another one will go up in HYM’s first phase. They bring a modest number of new jobs, as well as visitors and tax revenue. Arrigo is trying to ensure that restaurants open in these hotels and in some of the apartment buildings going up around town, as a way to bring more vitality to Revere’s streets.
And the former Necco factory has been rezoned, to allow a wide array of high-tech industrial uses.
But this waterfront city still needs to land its big fish.
Arrigo learned valuable lessons from the dance with Amazon. Among them: how to quickly draw up a compelling pitch. (Focus on the city’s pluses, such as its access to the MBTA and Logan Airport; its diverse neighborhoods; and its relatively affordable housing stock.)
To Arrigo, Revere’s empty spaces represent opportunities to write a vivid new chapter for his city. He views Amazon not as a loss, but as a catalyst for a broader vision.