Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo has found life after Amazon. Turns out, it involves Amazon, too.
This isn’t HQ2, not by a long shot. But it’s something big, nonetheless: The Seattle-based tech powerhouse has agreed to lease the entire former Necco candy factory, all 830,000 square feet, for one of its “delivery stations” — aka the last stop before goods get to customers.
For Arrigo, the lease comes at an opportune time as he clashes with his political nemesis, former mayor Dan Rizzo, in a heated campaign leading into the November municipal elections. But Arrigo wants to portray this Amazon news, which became public Thursday, as a victory for his city, not for him.
Here’s why. The Suffolk Downs and Wonderland racetracks, Revere’s primary employment engines at one point, have shuttered. Necco once employed hundreds, churning out Sweethearts and Sky Bars and the like. But the plant suddenly closed in 2018, the candy brands scattered far and wide. All those jobs, gone.
Arrigo has been under pressure to find private-sector employers to take their place. With Necco’s untimely demise, the city’s two biggest private sector employers are supermarkets, a Market Basket and a Stop & Shop. Everyone needs to eat. But it’s not enough to build a vibrant economy.
For a while there, Arrigo seemed to be pinning his hopes on the Amazon HQ2 process. The Boston-area bid in that national competition had included the 161-acre Suffolk Downs site, which straddles the Revere-Boston line. Boston made it to the final 20. But Amazon eventually opted for Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., for the grand prize.
Necco’s future in Revere had been uncertain long before the last candy machine stopped running. It’s one reason why city officials, working with property owners Atlantic Management and VMD Cos., rezoned the American Legion Highway property in 2017, to specify the kinds of future industrial uses they wanted. Among them: robotics and technology-related warehousing and distribution.
Wishful thinking or a self-fulfilling prophesy? Maybe a little of both. Revere officials made sure to tuck mentions of the development potential for the Necco and Wonderland sites, separated only by commuter rail tracks, in the Amazon HQ2 bid. (The owners of the Wonderland property, meanwhile, began formally marketing it for redevelopment this past summer.)
And along came Amazon again. This time, the company was hunting for a warehouse, not offices. The company said it expects to employ hundreds of people after it opens in the Necco complex next year, though it declined to specify the exact number. Arrigo says he was told it would be between 600 to 800 people, which would make it the city’s largest employer, by far. (Sorry, Market Basket.)
Amazon will bring jobs and property taxes (no tax break here), plowing as much as $40 million into the site. But Arrigo sees another potential benefit: a long-awaited commuter rail station that would also link the Necco and Wonderland sites. Maybe Amazon could contribute to the station costs, along with whatever private development eventually takes place at Wonderland. Commuter trains cut through Revere, but do not stop there. Arrigo hopes that will change as these two key properties get redeveloped. Plus there is the potential to connect to the nearby Blue Line terminal.
The Revere warehouse will dwarf Amazon’s other three delivery stations already operational in the state — in nearby Everett, as well as Milford and Dedham. The massive size of the property raises questions about whether Amazon might add some other activities at the Necco building at some point. (Amazon also has “fulfillment centers” here, too, including in Stoughton and Fall River.)
Aaron Jodka, a managing director at real estate services firm Colliers International, says the Amazon deal in Revere takes the largest single block of available industrial space in Greater Boston off the market. Amazon isn’t stopping there, though. A developer is advancing plans for a roughly 3 million-square-foot complex in North Andover on Amazon’s behalf, Jodka says, and the company is close to leasing another 2 million square feet among buildings south and west of Boston. This kind of expansion has major ripple effects, making it that much tougher for smaller industrial users to find space they can afford.
To an outsider, this Necco project might seem like just another warehouse. From Arrigo’s perspective, though, the positive impact is huge: A new chapter for his city can finally begin.
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.