In Somerville, a city is assembled within a city
SOMERVILLE — Michelle Deady remembers when Assembly Square was an area of Somerville where she never felt safe walking alone at night. But two years ago, she moved there with her daughter, excited to be part of something new.
“It was so awesome,” said Deady, 43. “I’d get home on Friday and I wouldn’t have to move the rest of the weekend. I’d go downstairs to restaurants, to shops. Everything was right there.”
Assembly Square has been transformed in recent years by the development of Assembly Row, a mixed-use urban center that includes apartments, condos, outlet shops, restaurants, fitness studios, a movie theater, and a grocery store.
It has mainly attracted 20- to 30-something millennials who want the convenience of city living along with easy access to public transit and the highway (it’s minutes from Route 93). Though it’s pricey, it’s less costly than downtown Boston. When all current buildings are occupied in a few months, the more than 1,600 residents of Assembly Row will comprise approximately 2 percent of Somerville’s population of just over 81,000.
Opened in 2014, Assembly Row is now in its second phase of construction. A 447-unit apartment building called Montaje is nearly complete, and residents began moving in to the 20-story building — Somerville’s first residential tower — in September (there’s also a six-story structure with apartments and retail attached). Across the street, work is underway on the Alloy, a 13-story building that will host a hotel on the first five floors and 122 condominiums above.
Demand for both buildings has been high, even as they remain under construction. Agents at Alloy began selling condos 16 months ago and already have sold all market-rate units — at an average price of $800,000, with some penthouse units more than $1 million — despite the fact that the building won’t be ready until early next year. Fifteen of the condos will be priced to meet low/moderate income guidelines.
“It really validates Assembly Row,” said Mike Ennes, vice president for residential development at Federal Realty Investment Trust, the company that owns Assembly Row. “You start selling condos and no one really sees the building, and you sell out. It’s pretty amazing.”
Karishma Patel, 33, and her husband, Kinjal, both are doctors who moved to Massachusetts from New York hoping to find a better work-life balance.
“We wanted something somewhat central, and a cityish vibe,” she said. Relatives in the area suggested Assembly Row.
In September, the Patels moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the Montaje while they wait for their two-bedroom condo in the Alloy to be completed. Patel has been told it will be ready sometime in February or March.
Coming from New York City, Patel said she was not shocked at the rent prices in Assembly. At the Montaje, rents range from $1,900 a month for a studio, to $4,200 a month or more for a three-bedroom. One-bedroom apartments start at $2,500.
A lottery for the 56 affordable units in Montaje will take place Dec. 11. Those apartments range from $767 a month for the seven available one-bedroom apartments to $1,572 for the affordable three-bedroom apartment.
The Montaje units come with white-and-gray color schemes, spacious bathrooms, and amenities such as in-unit washers and dryers. Once construction is finished, offerings will include a gym, a dog walking service, and a pool.
Two other apartment buildings, AVA and Avalon, opened in 2014 with 56 affordable units, along with the first retail shops. Another building, which will house 492 apartments, is in the design stage, and would bring the number of rental units at Assembly Row to 1,387.
“The buildings were intended to be built simultaneously or close in time to the others in each of those phases,” said Patrick McMahon, Federal Realty’s director of development. “We weren’t going to go ahead with Avalon if we didn’t have the other pieces in place.”
Those other pieces – the retail shops, restaurants, and movie theater – are what have drawn an increasing number of people to move to the area. A Trader Joe’s opened in August, and McMahon said there are also plans for a barber shop and a bank to open soon.
Christopher Patti said being within walking distance to so many amenities drew him and his wife, Michelle Kinberg, to move to Assembly from Somerville’s Winter Hill neighborhood, where they lived for 10 years.
“We had been doing the homeowner thing for about a decade, but neither of us are really handy, and homeownership got to be a drain,” he said.
So they sold their condo and moved to the AVA building last June.
Patti, who is partially blind and cannot drive, said one of the main perks he enjoys is the building’s proximity to the MBTA’s Assembly stop on the Orange Line, which opened in conjunction with the development in 2014.
He can get to his job as a system development engineer for Amazon in Cambridge’s Kendall Square in 35 minutes, or travel to socialize with friends in Boston much easier than he could living in Winter Hill.
“Psychologically, it’s vastly closer because I can hop on the train and be closer to my social life,” Patti said.
Patti, who’s 49, said he appears to be one of the oldest residents in his building. The other buildings at Assembly tend to skew younger as well. Montaje resident Meg Cleghorn, 27, said as far as she can tell, all of the people who have moved in are young professionals in their 20s and 30s.
Some of Somerville’s elected officials are concerned that Assembly’s appeal to millennials comes at the cost of opportunities for families to live in what Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone called Somerville’s “newest, greatest neighborhood.”
“The only families I know that live in Assembly are in affordable housing,” said Alderman Matt McLaughlin, who represents that area of the city.
Curtatone said millennials who are moving to Assembly are having kids and staying there.
“It will pose some interesting questions as [Assembly] continues to develop over the next quarter-century,” he said.
Tasneem Rakla-Anaswala, 32, her husband, Abuzar, and their two young children are an example of a family drawn to the area because of its newness and convenience. They moved to Assembly Row from Texas because of a job relocation, but decided to move out less than a year later when their two-bedroom apartment got too cramped for crawling toddlers.
“We do still miss it sometimes, the convenience, the accessibility,” Rakla-Anaswala said. “But I felt like in Winchester I was looking at a town home for the same price as a two-bedroom apartment.”
What is it like to live in Assembly Square? Read Katheleen Conti’s report at Boston.com.