Developers are lining up to place their bets at the old Wonderland dog track. Yes, the greyhounds stopped racing there a decade ago. This is a new kind of gamble: figuring out the right mix of uses for the 33.6-acre property, and calculating how much to risk on it.
Pretty much everyone in Revere wants to know how this will play out, and the high-profile property’s fate could come up during the mayoral race this fall as the incumbent, Brian Arrigo, gears up for a rematch against former mayor Dan Rizzo.
Brokers at Newmark Knight Frank say there has been intense interest since they began distributing an offering memorandum a few weeks ago on behalf of the property owner, CBW Lending, a group that includes local businessman Joe O’Donnell and Vornado Realty Trust of New York City. There had been rumors of a possible buyer in the past, but this represents the first formal marketing effort for the site.
It’s easy to see why developers would find it enticing. We’re talking about a blank-slate property just six miles from downtown Boston with enough room for up to 3.6 million square feet of development. The site is across from Wonderland Station on the Blue Line, still considered the Cadillac of MBTA lines (even with the occasional mishap). And then there’s the possibility of tax benefits for investors — “190 Wonderland,” as it’s called now, sits within a federally designated Opportunity Zone.
Newmark Knight Frank will accept offers in mid-September, and hopes to identify a winner by early October. The brokerage is marketing the place as a mixed-use development — akin to what has sprung up at the similarly sized Assembly Row property in Somerville — with offices, apartments, hotel rooms, restaurants, shops.
If Arrigo and other Revere officials have their way, the new housing would be limited. They want a heavy emphasis on commercial development, such as offices and labs — the kind of construction that brings permanent jobs.
Can you blame them? The dog track wasn’t the only major local employer to close. The Suffolk Downs horse track on the Boston-Revere line has gone quiet to make way for development, leaving only a small cadre of workers at the simulcasting operation. And the Necco candy factory closed abruptly last summer, the Sweethearts and Sky Bars scattered among various hungry buyers. The city’s two biggest remaining employers are supermarkets: a Market Basket and a Stop & Shop.
Arrigo had hopes for Amazon and its HQ2 beauty contest. Boston’s bid, which roped in Revere because it focused on Suffolk Downs, made it to the final 20. But the retail giant headed elsewhere. Significant employers are still expected at Suffolk Downs eventually, but the first phase of that development on the Revere side is primarily residential.
Drawing businesses to Wonderland could have another benefit: more public transit. Commuter trains rush past the back of the property but do not stop. City officials have long wanted a train station there, to serve the Wonderland site and the Necco property across the tracks. Developers might be enticed to help pay for a station if it would help bring workers from the North Shore. After all, Federal Realty did something similar at Assembly, helping to pay for a new Orange Line station, and New Balance did the same with the Boston Landing commuter rail station. A connection between the commuter rail and the Blue Line is also envisioned at Wonderland.
All the betting in Revere might be happening in the real estate market these days, but on hotels and apartments for now. We may soon find out just how many chips developers will put down on an expansive project that would attract major employers, too.