For decades, stretches of prime waterfront property remained vacant in Lynn. From high-tension electrical wires that restricted access along the Lynnway, to potential projects that failed to materialize, it seemed that swaths of the shore were destined to remain abandoned.
But city and state officials’ persistent efforts and focus on bringing development opportunities to Lynn are beginning to pay off.
In August, a new Market Basket provided 344 jobs to Lynn residents. This spring, construction will begin on North Harbor, a 332-apartment complex that’s the first project that fits into the city’s waterfront plan.
Finally, it seems that developers are looking at Lynn and seeing potential instead of problems. Mayor Thomas McGee, who took office this month, hopes he can build on his success as a state senator to bring development to the city of more than 92,000 residents.
“I think there’s substantial potential and opportunity sitting in the city of Lynn,” McGee said. “It’s time to think outside the box and think big.”
McGee, a lifetime resident of Lynn, served as the region’s state senator for 15 years before being elected mayor in November, ousting incumbent Judith Flanagan Kennedy. As a senator, McGee spent years advocating ferry service between Lynn and Boston. Now, that service — and the appeal of the waterfront — is one of Lynn’s attractions to developers.
“With Lynn being on the ocean, 12 miles from Boston, we thought, ‘If there’s any place that’s going to work, this is it,’” said Eric Loth, the managing director of Minco Corp., the North Andover development firm that is turning a vacant lot on the Lynnway into the North Harbor apartments.
Construction will begin on the site in April or May, Loth said. Building plans include an extension of the boardwalk that connects Heritage State Park to the harbor, allowing North Harbor residents to walk from their front door to the ferry landing in a matter of minutes.
“Enhanced water transport has unlimited potential,” McGee said. “Particularly through that 25-minute ride from Lynn to the South Boston waterfront. It gives us opportunities, but also links us to the economic engine of the region.”
Ferry service between Lynn and Boston began in May 2014, and Lynn officials are now working with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to expand boat rides from the summer months to year-round.
“I’ve seen a dramatic shift in people’s perceptions when it comes to business and development interest,” said Jim Cowdell, executive director of the Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn. “The ferry site goes with changing people’s perception.”
McGee said he also will continue to pursue an expansion of the MBTA’s Blue Line into Lynn, an improved commuter rail system, and the approval of a bike path through the city.
“Those ideas are what we need to look for our future, those opportunities that come through Lynn,” he said.
Some major improvements to the commuter rail will come with Gear Works, developer Charlie Patsios’s $500 million project on 65 acres of former General Electric land at 1000 Western Ave. Last May, Patsios signed an agreement with MassDOT to open the River Works commuter rail stop — currently only accessible to GE employees — to Gear Works residents and eventually the public. Patsios has pledged to make upgrades to the station and platforms, as well as fund a new bus station and provide 80 parking spaces.
The Gear Works development will include 1,262 apartments, some ground-floor retail, and outdoor common spaces.
“We’re well down the road in the permitting process,” Patsios said. “We’re at the site work point of the project, removing old foundations so that we’re ready to start the project in earnest in the spring.”
Patsios said he sees Lynn as Greater Boston’s latest real estate opportunity, with waterfront property available at comparatively low prices.
“Historically, Lynn has been ridden hard and put up wet, and I think it’s unfair,” he said. “The stereotypes have expired. I don’t see how anyone else can look at this and not see what I see.”
Patsios said that a two-bedroom apartment Gear Works would rent in the $1,900 to $2,100 range. North Harbor’s Loth said studios will start around $1,400, one-bedroom units at $1,700, and two bedrooms at $2,200, “though we will do a rent survey when we are closer and seek to be competitive to the market.”
A singular focus on developing housing, however, may not be the way to establishing broader economic development and jobs for the city, said Alicia Sasser Modestino, a policy and economics professor at Northeastern University whose work focuses on labor market dynamics. But she said such a focus may attract people who have been priced out of the Boston housing market.
“If they could capture some of that demographic, that could be beneficial,” she said. “Once you do develop a vibrant downtown and waterfront feel, then people consider Lynn a viable alternative, whereas it’s being overlooked now for not having those amenities that other surrounding towns do.”
Developers at MG2, headquartered in Quincy, are hoping to appeal to such a demographic in downtown Lynn. They opened The Vault, a 48-unit renovated apartment building, in September. The building’s first floor includes a restaurant and a café, opening next month.
“It’s a great time for residential and retail, restaurants, and breweries to come back into the downtown,” said Joe Donovan, MG2’s vice president.
McGee is hopeful that a focus both on waterfront development and on cultural opportunities downtown will help reestablish Lynn as a destination on the North Shore.
“What I’d like to see, years from now, is an expansion of the early success we’re starting to have,” he said. “I really see more development, an expanded and vibrant arts and cultural district, more restaurants, and a broader group of people coming in to experience what Lynn has to offer.”
■ 1000 Western Ave. (former GE Riverworks site)
■ 1,262 market-rate apartment units, park area, some retail
■ Projected opening: 2022
■ 254 Lynnway (former Beacon Chevrolet site)
■ 332 market-rate apartment units
■ Projected opening: summer 2020
SOURCES: Minco Corp., Lynnway Associates, LLC
Gail Waterhouse can be reached at email@example.com.