A golden opportunity for Newton (maybe Needham and Wellesley too)

As discussed at our chamber event Monday, Newton has a golden opportunity to get a slice of the life sciences real estate boom, thanks to a proposal by Mark Development to revise its Riverside T station project.
 
The developer is proposing eliminating a planned hotel (no surprise given the state of that industry) while trimming back some office, retail and housing (but adding more affordable units) in favor of adding two life sciences buildings to the 10 building project in partnership with life sciences sector leader Alexandria Real Estate Equities.
 
This move is exciting in many ways, bringing quality jobs here and making substantive contributions to Newton’s commercial tax base (the changes represent a net gain of $800K annually) with the added bonus of a projected decrease in vehicle traffic.
 
But most importantly, along with another Alexandria project right next door, it would firmly establish Newton (and perhaps Needham and Wellesley too) as a player in the growing life sciences sector.
 
“Newton had been left behind in the region’s life sciences explosion,” Andrew Martinez writes in Bisnow, “but it is now entering the fray.”
 
The City Council approved Alexandria’s 63K SF life sciences build-out, just next door at 275 Grove St. on March 1. It will be occupied by Corindus, a company developing medical robotics.
 
Now it's up to the City Council to do the right thing and approve the change at Riverside. The first Land Use committee meeting is in April.
 
“After [the Riverside Station] site, there really is no scalable areas here that can be redeveloped to create an appropriate ecosystem or life science node, and it'd be a shame to miss that opportunity,” Mark Development CEO Robert Korff told Bisnow
 
Here’s the video from Monday’s event…

 

Could Needham be next?
 
Another project that may benefit from life science companies’ interest in our region is the proposed rezoning of the Muzi/Channel 5 parcels just down I-95 in Needham.  
 
The project faces stiff opposition from some abutters and the Planning Board has just watered down the project, yet again, to help win support when it goes to Town Meeting in May. (It goes before the finance committee tonight.)
 
The proposed up-zoning allows for labs, office, a little bit of retail and housing.
 
But as I’ve explained before, I believe a rejection of the new zoning could result in an ecommerce warehouse ending up on the site.
 
I explore exactly why that’s a bad idea in this Needham Times op-ed.
 
Marijuana shop move creates space W-Town life sciences project
 
Watertown’s Zoning Board of Appeals has given the green light for Natural Selections, which operates Ethos Cannabis marijuana dispensary to move to the former Monro Muffler site at 390 Arsenal St., across from the Arsenal on the Charles.
 
Ethos’ current location at 23 Elm was also before the ZBA as part of a proposed 78,000 sq. ft. of floor space biotech project to be operated by BioLabs.
 
Watertown News has details about both projects.
 
SBA cuts restaurant red tape
 
After months of advising restaurants to obtain a SAM number from the feds in advance of applying for the $28.6 billion restaurant relief grant program, Uncle Sam now says “nevermind.”
 
According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, the SBA has agreed that operators no longer need to acquire a DUNS number or SAM.gov account to apply.
 
Now the wait is on for the SBA to release the applications and guidance sometime in April. The IRC has added info here.
 
In other SBA news, President Joe Biden signed the PPP extension into law yesterday, extending deadline to May 31.
 
 
Need to knows
  • Newton Neighbors Helping Newton Neighbors have created flyers with information on vaccination appointments for essential workers eligible to book appointments as of March 21. The flier is translated into Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Hindi. Flyers here.
  • Your chamber will be awarding scholarships to deserving high school seniors who either live in Needham, Newton or Wellesley and/or who attend school in Needham, Newton or Wellesley. We’ve just extended the deadline to April 13. Details here.
  • Wellesley’s Select Board will discuss a resolution to designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day on April 5 at 6:30 p.m. Comments or a request to speak at the public meeting can be sent to sel@wellesleyma.gov
 
CDC’s Walensky wouldn’t take the bait
 
If you’ve ever watched Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID press conferences (I think I’ve seen ‘em all), you’ll know that there's no microphone to help you hear the reporters’ questions.
 
But it was easy to guess what the press was asking CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky as she stood by Baker’s side yesterday.
 
One day after warning of "impending doom" about a nationwide spike in COVID cases, reporter after reporter appeared to be asking Walensky if she thought Baker moved too quickly this month to reopen parts of the economy.
 
The Newton resident and former Chief of Infectious Diseases at Mass. General, didn’t bite.
 
"I'm not going to comment on individual states,” Walensky said.
 
“What I will say is I'm really pleased to see everybody here is masked. Everybody outside is masked and people are doing their part to try to contain the virus here in Massachusetts.”
 
Baker didn’t announce any new restrictions either, but reminded the public that "no one in Massachusetts can afford to let their guard down now," reports Matt Murphy at State House News.
 
The governor said most of the increased spread is being recorded among people 30 and younger, and urged people to stick to their pods over the Passover and Easter holidays.
 
I got mail
 
Speaking of Walensky, I received a few emails in response to my headline on yesterday’s newsletter headline: “Newton mom tells it like it is (and she's scared).”
 
“I do wish you had not used the above headline today,” wrote one. “While Dr. Walensky is a Newton mom, that headline undermines her accomplishments, education, and position as head of the CDC.”
 
I don’t disagree. And as I told that reader, I had second thoughts about that headline too. Ultimately, I decided to use it, since -- if you’ve watched that video of Walensky’s comments -- you’d know that she specifically said she was commenting “... as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter.”
 
So I followed Walensky’s lead.
 
I’m still not sure it was the right choice. But I did think about it both Monday night when I wrote that headline and, again, yesterday morning before I hit send.  Was I right?
 
I appreciate and welcome any feedback. Thanks to those who wrote.
 
 
What's this? An actual in-person event
 
As chamber regulars know, back “before” we typically hosted 100 in-person events annually. I think our record was 120 events in 2018. 
 
That changed last year when our only in-person event after the COVID shutdown was our annual golf tournament last August.
 
Fingers crossed that we’ll have several in-person events in the second half of 2021 (maybe even our annual fall business breakfast?).
 
Today we’re announcing plans to hold our 30th annual Children’s Charitable Golf Tournament on Aug. 2 at the majestic Wellesley Country Club, the first time we’re holding the event there. 
 
Registration opens very soon.
 
That's all folks.....only one day until Opening Day!
 
 
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
 
Dine outTake out. Shop locally. Mask up. And tip generously.

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