One of Boston’s biggest developers appears ready to join plans to redevelop Somerville’s Union Square, a move that could kick-start the long-debated project.
Skanska USA wants to develop the first new building in the Chicago company US2’s 15-acre remaking of Union Square, US2 and Somerville officials said Tuesday.
Contingent on city approvals, Skanska and US2 would build a seven-story lab space near the neighborhood’s new MBTA Green Line station.
The announcement is a sign of confidence in the massive project, which the city hopes will bring thousands of jobs to the neighborhood.
“We’ve been trying to get more jobs, more office space, in Union Square,” said George Proakis, head of Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. “So this is kind of a breakthrough moment.”
No details were available on terms of the potential deal between US2 and Skanska, but the companies are scheduled to appear before the Somerville Redevelopment Authority Thursday night to discuss a “joint venture” partnership on a 177,965 square-foot lab building at the corner of Somerville Avenue and Prospect Street.
It would be the biggest step forward yet for US2, which has been pushing the complicated project through permitting — and sometimes-contentious community negotiations — since it won the rights in 2014 to build 2.4 million square feet of office, housing, and other space across a big swath of Union Square.
The company is planning to open the first phase — including the lab building, a 450-unit apartment tower, and a third building — around the same time as the new Green Line station opens in 2021.
Having a strong partner will solidify those plans, said US2’s president, Greg Karczewski.
“We have been working hard for several years to identify the right partner and are confident that Skanska, a globally recognized leader in construction and development, is the perfect partner to deliver our life science building in Union Square,” he said in a statement.
Skanksa USA has worked on several prominent buildings in Boston in recent years, including the just-opened office tower at 121 Seaport Blvd. and a $128 million office building at 2 Drydock Ave., where construction started last year.
In a statement, Charley Leatherbee, executive vice president for commercial development in Skanska’s Boston office, would not confirm a deal exists for Union Square but said his company is looking for “well-planned, transit-oriented” projects in and around Boston.
“We look forward to exploring future opportunities in the City of Somerville that can further enhance the vitality of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods,” Leatherbee said.
One question is how fast it might move. Skanska has built several office buildings “on spec,” or without a major tenant signed on, which is fairly unusual in Boston. The bold strategy reflects the formidable finances of its parent company. By the time those buildings opened, they were fully leased.
A Skanska spokeswoman would not say whether the company was planning spec construction in Union Square, though Proakis said he believed that’s the case.
The neighborhood, a little more than a mile from Kendall Square, is one of several that are pitching themselves as alternatives to Cambridge’s crowded and expensive life-sciences hub. A spur of the under-construction Green Line Extension is set to open in Union Square in 2021, steps from Skanska’s building.
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone has said he hopes to bring 30,000 jobs to the largely residential city, boosting its commercial tax base and giving residents opportunities to work closer to home.
The city has had success at Assembly Row, where Partners Healthcare has a 4,000-person office and the shoemaker Puma last week broke ground on a new North American headquarters.
“This is the first substantial new job-creating building in the core of Union Square in a generation,” Proakis said. “It’s continuing to prove our theory that Somerville is a good place to work.”
Still, hurdles remain.
The building itself will need design and other approvals from the Planning Board, Proakis said, while the broader Union Square plan is still undergoing state environmental review.
Meanwhile, US2 remains in negotiations with neighborhood groups about details of the plan, including community benefits such as housing, open space, and job-training programs.
Several aldermen have said they won’t approve the transfer of a key piece of city-owned land — which includes some of Skanska’s site — until those negotiations are done.