Will Somerville’s Union Square become the next Kendall? Developers think so

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Another developer is betting that Union Square may become Somerville’s version of Kendall Square.

A New York real estate investment firm on Tuesday will disclose plans for two new buildings of office and lab space along the Green Line extension near Union Square, the second big project in that neighborhood that may get underway this year.

DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners recently filed plans for a complex of nearly a half-million square feet in what’s known as Boynton Yards, a warren of scrapyards and industrial properties just south of Union Square and near where one of the new Green Line stations will be built. Later phases of the 3.4 acre project could include as many as 400 apartments and more office space.

The proposal is separate from a much larger redevelopment of the Union Square area that the City of Somerville is overseeing, a project that’s being led by Chicago-based Magellan Development Group and Mesirow Financial, a partnership known as US2.

Like other developers descending on this underbuilt urban area, DLJ is banking on corporate tenants that want access to the talented workforce in Cambridge and Somerville but can’t find — or afford — space in burgeoning Kendall Square, about a mile away.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand right now,” said John Fenton, DLJ’s development manager. “There are lots of companies that started in Cambridge, got bigger, and now need more space than they can find in Kendall Square. This is going to serve those tenants.”

DLJ is meeting with neighbors and working through city permitting and plans to break ground this fall, Fenton said. The company is confident enough in the market that it will start construction even if no tenants are signed up, he said.

US2 also plans a fall groundbreaking on the first phase of its $1 billion Union Square project, which has been in the works for several years and won final city approvals last fall. That portion includes a 175,000-square-foot office-and-lab building and a 25-story, 400-unit apartment tower along Prospect Avenue, just north of a future Green Line station. 

The developers have also been talking with potential tenants and ultimately plan to build more than 2 million square feet of office, housing, and open space on more than a dozen blocks covering half the neighborhood.

Both projects are essentially trying to create a new market for large-scale office tenants in a part of the metropolitan area long known for smaller-bore business, trucking, and light industry. That playbook has worked in other places as companies strive to be close to the core of Greater Boston without having to pay downtown rents, said Brendan Carroll, director of intelligence at Perry Brokerage, a real estate firm.

“Look at Boston Landing or Assembly Row. Not long ago these were not great places to go,” said Carroll, who is working on the Boynton Yards project with DLJ. “Now the projects there are smash hits, with tech companies leasing space there.”

Boston Landing and Assembly Row have both benefited from new rail stations: an MBTA commuter rail stop funded by New Balance that was built on the boundary between Brighton and Allston, and the new Assembly Station in Somerville on the Orange Line. The Union Square Green Line station, scheduled to open in 2021, is key to commercial development in the area, which is not on a highway. 

“It’s critical,” he said. “When the T gets there it’s going to change the entire area.”

 

Rebecca Rutenberg