First phase of University Station set to open in springBy Jay Turner
After experiencing numerous delays, protracted negotiations with local and state officials, and a major downsizing and revival under a new team of owners, the long-awaited University Station development in Westwood is now officially back on track with the first major retail phase slated for an opening sometime in the spring of 2015.
Located just over the Canton border on a 130-acre former industrial park along University Avenue, the project, when complete, will be among the largest of its kind in the region, yet still less than half the size of the originally permitted “Westwood Station” project that was conceived nearly a decade earlier by Boston-based developer Cabot, Cabot & Forbes.
The latest incarnation of University Station, led by a team of developers that includes New England Development, Eastern Real Estate, and National Development, is expected to top out at around two million square feet and will function as both a shopping destination and a self-contained mini-city, consisting of a mix of retail shops, restaurants, housing, offices, and a hotel — all within walking distance of the Route 128 MBTA/Amtrak Station and with easy access to Route I-95.
Construction on the first phase of the project, which includes approximately 500,000 square feet of retail space as well as 350 apartments and a 64-unit assisted living facility, began in late 2013 and is currently ongoing.
Paul Cincotta, vice president of New England Development, said the retail component should be ready by the upcoming spring and will include the two anchor stores, Target and high-end grocer Wegmans, along with a variety of smaller shops and restaurants. He declined to name any of the other tenants but said it would include a “broad range” of retailers and food choices, adding that the retail space is approximately “90 percent leased so far.”
Also opening in spring 2015 will be a three-story, upscale fitness club. Cincotta described it as a “family-oriented” facility and said it will be the first New England location for the operator, Minneapolis-based Life Time Fitness.
As for the housing component of the first phase, Cincotta said the apartments, consisting of a mix of one- and two-bedroom units, will be available for occupancy in the late summer or early fall of 2015, while the assisted living building, which will be dedicated to serving memory care patients and operated by Epoch Senior Living of Waltham, is slated for opening sometime this summer.
Cincotta said the master plan approved by Westwood voters in the spring of 2013 allows for an additional 300 units of housing to be built as part of the second phase of development; however, doing so would require additional approvals and would depend upon occupancy levels in the first 350 units reaching certain thresholds.
Other components of the second phase include 350,000 square feet of office space and a 160-room hotel, and Cincotta said the development group is exploring its options on both fronts.
“We’re working to find different users,” he said. “Nothing has landed yet, but we’re working on the office component and looking at hotel opportunities.”
Meanwhile, progress continues to be made on the roadway and infrastructure improvements that were approved in conjunction with the development, including the reconstruction of a portion of University Avenue itself and the intersection with Canton Street (Dedham Street).
Both projects began last month and have led to heavy traffic delays in Canton, prompting the School Department to alter its morning bus schedules. The situation has improved somewhat in recent weeks after Westwood officials agreed to delay the start of morning construction, and Cincotta said both local projects should be “substantially completed by Thanksgiving time.”
Beyond the construction in the immediate vicinity of the development, the state Department of Transportation is also slated to begin work on the Canton Interchange Project, which includes $38 million worth of roadway and bridge work on Dedham Street, construction of a new I-95 off-ramp on Dedham Street, and a major reconfiguration of the I-93/I-95 interchange itself.
In the meantime, Canton is expected to embark on a series of smaller roadway projects — including a recently announced redesign of the Chapman/Washington Street intersection — that will be paid for by the University Station developer as part of a sweeping mitigation agreement signed last August.
On the Westwood side, Cincotta said that MassDot will soon begin construction on the I-95 ramp at Blue Hill Drive. He said there will likely be certain improvements made before the opening of the retail shops, although the entire project will likely take a “couple of years” to complete.
For more information on the University Station development, go to www.universitystationwestwood.com.
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