Developers hoping to bring TopGolf to Dedham Street

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More than three years after first dazzling town leaders with a plan to bring its innovative, year-round golf entertainment concept to the former Cumberland Farms property at 777 Dedham Street, Dallas-based TopGolf has reaffirmed its interest in building on the property — and the town once again appears to be fully on board.

“It can’t be called a homerun, but this is a hole-in-one. I think this is an ideal project,” said Selectmen Chairman John Connolly following a brief presentation from the development representatives at last week’s BOS meeting.

Topgolf location in Houston, Texas

Topgolf location in Houston, Texas

Connolly joined his fellow selectmen in voting to unanimously support a town meeting warrant article that would rezone the property to a newly created Limited Industrial C District, which would help pave the way for TopGolf and was drafted with the Dedham Street site in mind.

Specifically, the new LI(C) District encourages a mix of uses, some of which would be allowed as of right and some by way of a special permit from the zoning board. The proposed article would also empower the ZBA to grant dimensional relief to provide additional planning flexibility and includes changes that would be needed to accommodate an indoor/outdoor golf facility, such as allowances for driving ranges outside of an enclosed structure and height increases for “catch” netting and associated support poles.

Additionally, the Canton Planning Board is working on a series of separate zoning articles that it plans to submit onto the 2018 town warrant, some of which call for changes in an LI district that would potentially benefit the proposed development. However, planners also believe that the changes would be beneficial to other potential sites and intend to move forward with their own set of sponsored articles at the upcoming annual town meeting in May.

According to Tim Sullivan, attorney for the development team, his clients plan to invest “upwards of $40 million” and breathe new life into the Dedham Street site, which has been vacant since Cumberland Farms departed for Framingham in 2009. Sullivan said that TopGolf has genuine interest in the site and would be a great fit for the area and is a “great organization for community involvement.”

Founded in 2000 by British twins Steve and Dave Jolliffe, TopGolf offers a unique, hi-tech golf experience featuring climate-controlled hitting bays and microchipped golf balls that instantly score each shot’s distance and accuracy. TopGolf locations also include a full service restaurant and bar and caters to a diverse clientele ranging from families to young adults to corporate patrons.

The company has grown considerably in recent years under new ownership and there are now 36 TopGolf locations throughout the United States with 12 more “coming soon.” By contrast, when TopGolf representatives last made their pitch to Canton selectmen in the winter of 2015, there were 12 U.S. locations.

Despite the company’s rapid expansion, TopGolf has yet to break into the New England market and the proposed Canton location, if approved and constructed, would potentially be the first facility of its kind in the entire six-state region plus New York. Currently, the nearest TopGolf is located 250 miles away in Edison, New Jersey.

Whereas TopGolf had initially expressed interest in purchasing the Dedham Street site as the sole developer, the latest effort is a joint venture spearheaded by the Aspen Group and its principal owners, Brian Kelleher, a longtime Canton resident, and Randal Lilly. In addition, New England Development, a major player in the industry and one of the leading developers for the nearby University Station project, is now “very much in the mix as potential owners,” according to Paul Schneiders, one of the attorneys for the development group.

Schneiders said the exact arrangement is not known at this time but indicated that the development team “has every intention of doing this project.”

Representatives from the Aspen Group had originally announced plans to purchase the site and build a mixed-use development consisting of a variety of potential uses, including a hotel, restaurant, offices, and possibly residences. Schneiders said his clients continued to explore that avenue over the past year but found a new and exciting opportunity when TopGolf expressed renewed interest in the property.

At last week’s selectmen’s meeting, Connolly stressed to the development group that the town would much prefer a use such as TopGolf at the site over a residential development of any kind — a point that was later echoed by Selectman Kevin Feeney.

“I think it’s an exciting prospect,” said Feeney, “particularly given the other projects that have been proposed in recent years that have involved dense amounts of residential development at that parcel.”

Located near the I-95 underpass on Dedham Street, the 15.4-acre property has been marketed extensively since Cumberland Farms departed and has drawn interest from a number of prospective buyers, including FedEx, UHaul, and TopGolf. This time, however, Schneiders said the new development group is determined to follow through with the project and there is a renewed sense of optimism among local officials that something will finally get done at the site.

While located on the outskirts of Canton, the property has been designated as a Priority Development Site and is considered one of the top available commercial assets in the town. Its location is also appealing from a development standpoint as it offers nearby access to I-95 southbound as well as the Route 128 MBTA/Amtrak station and University Station in Westwood.

In addition to the existing on-ramp to I-95 south, construction on a new off-ramp from I-95 north is also slated to begin soon as part of a major state highway project focused on alleviating congestion on Dedham Street and reducing cut-through traffic on Canton roadways. The project, which officially got underway last spring, calls for the widening of Dedham Street from two to four lanes in the vicinity of the proposed new development; construction of new sidewalks and bike lanes; installation of new traffic signals and street lighting; and the addition of a dedicated turning lane to allow vehicles traveling westbound on Dedham Street to turn left onto I-95 south.

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