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At long last, University Station opens for business

University Station is opening its first stores in March, part of 2.1 million square feet of retail, office, and residential space. Gables Residential

WESTWOOD — Paul Cincotta credits his Boston Marathon training and stamina in getting him through the grueling process that led this month to the first businesses opening at University Station, the long-awaited mixed-use development near the Route 128 train station.

Originally proposed almost a decade ago, the project survived the financial crisis and insolvency to emerge with new partners in a pared-down version that started construction in 2013.

The biggest hurdle most recently was getting rid of countless truckloads of snow from the buildings and parking lots, an endeavor that added “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to the more than $700 million total cost, said Cincotta, who is overseeing the 120-acre project as vice president of New England Development.

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“Most development projects are like marathons,” he said. “You cover a long distance over a long period of time; some of it comes smoothly and some not so smoothly. So it’s a great sense of accomplishment when you get to the finish.”

The timing of University Station’s opening was dictated by Target, which for proprietary reasons only opens its stores the first weeks of March, July, and October, Cincotta said.

The other initial businesses in the development include Marshalls/Home Goods, Nordstrom Rack, Sports Authority, PetSmart, Michaels, David’s Bridal, Ulta Beauty, Kay Jewelers, Charming Charlie, numerous restaurants, and offices for Fidelity Investments.

New York-based Wegmans grocery is scheduled to open in the summer, as is Life Time Athletic, a 125,000-square-feet fitness club that likens itself to a giant indoor-outdoor country club.

More than 1,300 people showed up at a 2013 Town Meeting to overwhelmingly approve zoning changes for the project. University Station

When fully built, University Station will have 2.1 million square feet of commercial and residential space and add an estimated $3.5 million to Westwood’s property tax revenue. About half the project is being built this year, Cincotta said.

That includes a 350-unit apartment complex named Gables University Station, with 251 one-bedroom and 99 two-bedroom units. The four-story building sits directly across from the Route 128 station, which has commuter service to Boston and Providence, as well as Amtrak rail to New York and beyond.

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Rents in the apartment complex will range from about $1,900 to $3,000 per month, according to Jorgen Punda, a vice president at Gables Residential, which is developing the community. Gables officials expect to open a temporary leasing office in April and welcome the first tenants in June, he said.

Planned amenities include a private cinema, fitness club, gaming room, conference rooms, business center, indoor private parking, outdoor and indoor pools, a lounge, dining rooms, and a gourmet kitchen that residents can reserve for special events.

“All that common area will be Wi-Fi-enabled, so a lot of these spaces are meant for informal gathering and for working from an iPad or laptop,” Punda said. “We’re targeting the millennial demographic — young professionals — as well as the empty nesters. Both those cohorts have been driving the [apartment] market, and the proximity to retail and to transit will be attractive to both.”

The apartments also will include 68 “affordable” units with lower rents, he said.

Westwood’s town administrator, Michael Jaillet, said the affordable units will put the town over the state’s requirement that 10 percent of a community’s housing stock fall within affordability guidelines. Developers can bypass local zoning rules if the quota has not been met.

“It’s a huge deal,” Jaillet said. “What it does is it ensures that future affordable-housing projects will have to meet local requirements and be designed in ways the town can be comfortable with. There won’t be any unfriendly housing proposals imposed on the town.”

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Jaillet said the town also is happy that assisted living is part of the University Station package. Bridges by Epoch, a 64-unit residence specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, is scheduled to open this summer.

“We have memory care already in the community, but it’s certainly a need in the Commonwealth, so it’s a good use for that land,” he said.

The entire project is a welcome addition to Westwood, where more than 1,300 people showed up at a 2013 Town Meeting to overwhelmingly approve zoning changes that allowed University Station to move forward, Jaillet said.

“That’s a clear demonstration that the community is very solidly behind this development,” he said. “It’s a good example of how you mix office, retail, and residential together near a train station. And it’s a significant boost to our property tax revenue: about $3.5 million net annually, after you subtract the services that the development will require.”

The developers also have given the town more than $6 million in mitigation money, with $2.5 million going directly to the schools and another $2.5 million for traffic improvements, he said. Money also went to rebuilding a playing field and to the town’s general government.

“We’re excited,” Jaillet added. “It’s a fairly large remake of our primary commercial area, so it’s a big deal.”

Westwood has been trying to get the property developed for years as a way to increase its declining commercial tax base. Twenty-five years ago, commercial property paid about 40 percent of the town’s tax burden; last year the figure was half that, Jaillet said.

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When University Station is fully built, it will bring the percentage paid by commercial property taxes up to about 27.5 percent, he said.

The property originally was developed in the 1960s and 1970s as an industrial park for warehouses, and then offices and light manufacturing, Jaillet said.

In 2006, a local developer acquired more than half the land — from 17 separate property owners — and proposed Westwood Station, a dense mixed-use development of 4.5 million square feet that included condominiums and several parking garages.

That project ran into trouble getting permits, though, and then skidded to a halt three years later when the economy collapsed and financing disappeared.

One of the original development partners — New England Development, which developed Pinehills in Plymouth and CambridgeSide Galleria — joined with new partners to acquire the Westwood property in April 2012. The new team proposed the scaled-down University Station, which won local approval and has been chugging ahead ever since.

“Westwood Station could be viewed as a failure, but it [brought] the property one common ownership, which was huge,” Jaillet said. “And the second thing it accomplished is they knocked down all the buildings there, cleared the land, and got it ready for development. It was ripe for a project.”

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Cincotta said the next phase of construction will take place on 20 acres close to the train station on the opposite side of University Avenue from the bulk of the development, and will include offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, and a hotel. Other plans call for as many as three office buildings on nearby land.

“There’s potential for 300,000 square feet of office space; that will all be driven by the end users,” Cincotta said.

Although Dedham’s Legacy Place shopping mall is just one exit away on Route 128, Cincotta said University Station’s “shopping opportunities are different, and I think it’s a pretty good complement. Retail tends to like retail. I think it will help the region.”

“It’s a high-quality development,” Jaillet said. “Besides giving us some financial stability, I think it will be a destination point that we’re proud of.”


Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.