Town Looks to Team With Arsenal Yards Developers to Fast Track Arsenal Park Improvements

An illustration made by developers of Arsenal Yards of what how the redeveloped Arsenal Mall could interact with next door Arsenal Park. The final buildings and park design, however, will not look like this drawing.

A portion of the Arsenal Park renovations may be fast-tracked if the State Legislature allows the Town of Watertown to team with the developers of Arsenal Yards on the design and construction of the East End park.

Town officials have been discussing how to renovate and upgrade Arsenal Park for a few years, but progress has not be fast enough to keep pace with the work at the next door property – Arsenal Yards. Developers of that project, Boylston Properties, approached the Town to see if they could speed up work on the east side of the park if they are able to provide funding and construction crews, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon.

To do so, however, would require avoiding the typical procurement process that the Town is required to work on a public project, said Town Attorney Mark Reich.

Tuesday night, the Town Council voted to allow Town officials to seek a public-private partnership with the developers, Boylston Properties, to allow the construction contractors employed by developers to do the work on a portion of Arsenal Park next to the mall. Developers would also contribute funds to cover part of the cost of the work. To form the partnership, the Town will have to get a Home Rule Petition by the State Legislature, Reich said.

Work on the former Arsenal Mall is in full swing, and Magoon said that businesses will likely be moving into the buildings next to Arsenal Park by this fall. The partnership would allow the park reconstruction to be finished around the same time.

“They would be able to do the work more quickly than we can,” Magoon said. “The requirements for procurement would not work with the timeline.”

Magoon said that if construction on the park begins in August, it could be completed by late October or early November. The design work, Reich said, could proceed before the partnership is approved.

Councilors wanted to know if the Town would lose control over the Arsenal Park project. if they let developers take over construction.

“The design of project is being done by the Town’s designer (CDM Smith),” Reich said. “The Town is not giving up any control. It was discussed whether developers would pay designers directly, but I raise concerns.”

The latest proposed designs for the renovation of Arsenal Park, with Arsenal Yards buildings shown along the top. The right (east) side of the drawing shows the area where the Town of Watertown and Boylston Properties want to join forces to fast track construction. It would not include the community gardens (the squares) or the hard court area to the west.

The section of the park that would fall under the partnership is currently a hardtop area, but would be turned into a grassy area. It includes what is being called the grassy knoll, as well as, a flat grassy area and a pavilion, Magoon said. It will not include the proposed hardcourt area, he added, which has been a source of disagreement at meetings about the park renovation.

The project has been discussed by the Conservation Commission at multiple meetings, because the care and custody of the park falls under its authority. The designs are at the 25 percent stage, Magoon said.

Councilor Lisa Feltner wanted to make sure that Tuesday’s vote was not approving the design for the project. Magoon said the design has not been finalized, and will come before the Town Council before being approved.

Meanwhile, work on the rest of the park would wait. Councilor Angeline Kounelis wondered if the I-Cubed funds would be coming to assist with the renovation of rest of the park. The money would come from another public-private partnership — this one between the Town, Athenahealth (which owns nearby Arsenal on the Charles) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Town Manager Michael Driscoll said the Town still seeks to go ahead with the I-Cubed partnership, but added “we are waiting to hear from Athenahealth about how they want to move forward.” Several other projects would fall under the I-Cubed partnership.

Magoon noted that the I-Cubed funds would be used to extend the Community Path through Arsenal Park, and other work could go ahead without those funds.

Councilor Tony Palomba asked if Boylston Properties would contribute mitigation funds for any of the work on the rest of Arsenal Park. Magoon said the money from developers earmarked for the park will all be used on the eastern portion of the park. Boylston Properties has also contributed money toward improvements to Arsenal Street.

10 thoughts on “Town Looks to Team With Arsenal Yards Developers to Fast Track Arsenal Park Improvements

  1. Any hardtop plan should include dedicated Pickleball courts. Pickleball courts around the metro are crowded while tennis courts are idle.

  2. So no coordination of funding/upgrading for the remainder of the park? Seems a bit short sited? We could have the old tennis courts(1/2 of them) sitting there while the East furthest end is upgraded? Does Watertown have the funding to finish off the left side of the design(planting areas/tennis&pickeball/basketball/…)? Can the town change things down the road, ie: there are no stipulations on changes tied to the donation to that portion of the park? The devil’s in the details, can we get the agreement public so that we can all understand the constraints and caveats? Can be a good thing though depending on the ‘deal’. Will there be a very needed green buffer between the hard-line buildings of the Arsenal and the park? The drawing doesn’t show any and a green buffer(trees/shrubs) should soften the lines/noise.

    • Wait the blue prints do show trees which is good along the building sides. That and nice shrubs or flowers would be great to soften the hardline to the park.

  3. I hope there isn’t going to be any of catch or condition to this plan.
    IIRC, at one of the community meetings or previous plans submitted by
    Boylston Properties, they would contribute to the costs of renovating the park,
    but they also wanted a portion set aside for the exclusive use by the
    biotech/office employees.

  4. There is no portion of the Arsenal Park set aside for the exclusive use of the biotech/office employees. The park will continue to be open to everyone.

  5. There may not be any portion of the park currently “set aside for the exclusive use of the biotech/office employees”, but that doesn’t mean that the developer didn’t ask for it and it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen in the future.

    • Arsenal Park is under the care and custody of the Conservation Commission. The developer has never asked for exclusive used the park. The Con Com would never allow for that nor would the residents of this town. Folks from Brighton and Allston come to use the park and new residents and employees at Arsenal Yards likely will also enjoy the park.

  6. I hope the town planning/building department doesn’t allow the developer to do anything they want like everywhere else in town. Seriously, they’ve allowed Watertown to be ruined with no oversight, quality of buildings, etc.

  7. Does anyone know the reason why Boylston Properties rescinded its original offer of $500,000 towards Arsenal Park improvements? What will the contribution be through this partnership? It’s unfortunate that this was not negotiated at the time the $500,000 offer was made, more than 2 years ago.

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